Picture Book Review: Sam! by Dani Gabriel

A child with short brown hair and a yellow and green dinosaur hoodie stands in the foreground smiling out at the reader. Behind them is a small house with a porch. In front of the porch stands the child's family, a father, a mother, and a younger sibling. They are looking at Sam and waving happily. The title of the book is slanted over the roof of the porch.
Image description: A child with short brown hair and a yellow and green dinosaur hoodie stands in the foreground smiling out at the reader. Behind them is a small house with a porch. In front of the porch stands the child’s family, a father, a mother, and a younger sibling. They are looking at Sam and waving happily. The title of the book is slanted over the roof of the porch.

Sam! written by Dani Gabriel, illustrated by Robert Liu Trujillo

From Goodreads: Sam loves riding his bike and learning about the American Revolution. He is full of laughter and joy. There’s just one problem: Sam’s family knows him as a girl named Isabel.

Sam feels a sense of relief when he finally confides in his annoying but caring sister Maggie, and then his parents, even though it takes them a while to feel comfortable with it. But with lots of love and support, Sam and his family learn and grow through Sam’s journey to embrace his true self

I shared this book on my Instagram in honor of Trans Remembrance Day on November 20th. I’ve tweaked the review a bit to fit the blog, but it’s mostly the same.

Sam loves a lot of things including dinosaurs, bike riding, and learning about the American Revolution. He also has an annoying older sister, Maggie. But Sam is only Sam inside. Outside people call him Isabel and use she/her pronouns. This doesn’t feel right at all to Sam and often makes him sad. One night, after a bad day, he tells Maggie about who he really is and Maggie, after taking it in stride and accepting him wholly and completely, steps up to help Sam tell their parents and show the world his true identity.

Beautifully illustrated as always by Robert Liu Trujillo in his signature soft watercolor spreads and spot illustrations. The pictures bring this sweet story of coming out and acceptance to life. Sam is an adorable little boy and his smiling face is hard to resist. Trujillo is also gifted at depicting neighborhoods. They feel like specific places while also feeling like they could be just about anywhere, which makes them easy for young readers to see their own communities.

I especially love how the book treats Sam as Sam until a reveal part way in tips the reader off that the rest of the world isn’t privy yet to who Sam is. And after the rest of the world knows, the book treats Sam as Sam, not a caricature, lesson, or token.

This is a great book about finding yourself and telling the world who you are and while the book is specific to a trans child, the theme is still relevant to all audiences. More importantly this book should be in school, public, and home libraries for trans kids who need to see themselves, for their siblings to see support and love modeled, for parents to see support, learning, and love modeled, and for cis kids who need to see transphobia and transmisia (hatred for trans people) dismantled.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

Picture Book Review: When I Breathe Deeply by Jill Guerra

A light blue wall with wood panel texture serves as the background. A young girl with dark brown skin stands with her arms crossed over her chest. She is wearing jeans and a pink t-shirt. Her eyes are closed and a small smile is on her lips.  She looks very peaceful and calm. To the left is the title of the book in large purple letters.
Image description: A light blue wall with wood panel texture serves as the background. A young girl with dark brown skin stands with her arms crossed over her chest. She is wearing jeans and a pink t-shirt. Her eyes are closed and a small smile is on her lips. She looks very peaceful and calm. To the left is the title of the book in large purple letters.

When I Breathe Deeply/Cuando Respiro Profundo by Jill Guerra, translated by Morelia Rivas

From Goodreads: With her latest publication, Jill Guerra celebrates the power of the breath as a liberation tool. Amplifying the images and words of the youth of Oakland, When I Breathe Deeply, offers insight into the ways in which the youngest amongst us use the breath to inform, energize, and heal themselves and their communities. (this is from a blurb on the back of the book by Amy Love, meditation teacher)

When I Breathe Deeply is part of Jill Guerra’s work as a mindfulness and mindful movement teacher in the Oakland public school system. Her Love Curriculum helps empower children and teaches them about the power of love.

Perfect for parents or teachers working on mindfulness and peace with their children. This book probably couldn’t have come at a better time. Deep breathing is a simple strategy we can teach children for finding a moment to pause and check in with themselves, calm themselves down if they’re getting upset, and, over time, reduce stress. The back features a page that walks readers through how to take deep breaths designed to calm the nervous system down.

The whole book package is exceptionally beautiful. A bright cover with a smiling kiddo invites you in. Each two page spread features, on the left side, a solid color that ties in with the photograph on the opposite page. The text is large and clear on the colored page and is in both English and Spanish. White curlicues and swirls move from one page to the next further tying the spread together and drawing the eye from the text to the photos. Reminiscent of Tana Hoban’s books, the photographs are of real children in Oakland taking deep breaths. They are soothing and beautiful.

Many Montessori classrooms have a peace table, a place where children can go to calm down and resolve conflict. Maybe take a cue from this and start your own peace corner with some books and pillows. Be sure to include When I Breathe Deeply.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links). Please, in this uncertain time, if at all possible, purchase from an independent/local bookstore. They need our help right now.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

Chapter Book Review: She Hit Me First by Robert Mossi Alexander

Green watercolor background. With the title in red at the top. A large profile of a woman with short hair and a headband is behind a profile of Jamillah who had brown skin, a pony tail, and a yellow hoodie. The faces are looking to the right.
Green watercolor background. With the title in red at the top. A large profile of a woman with short hair and a headband is behind a profile of Jamillah who had brown skin, a pony tail, and a yellow hoodie. The faces are looking to the right.
Image description: Green watercolor background. With the title in red at the top. A large profile of a woman with short hair and a headband is behind a profile of Jamillah who had brown skin, a pony tail, and a yellow hoodie. The faces are looking to the right.

She Hit Me First! written by Robert Mossi Alexander, illustrated by Lauryn Taylor Alexander, cover art by Robert Liu Trujillo

From Goodreads:

When Jamillah started Parker Elementary School it was hard for her to make new friends. Unlike her old school, no one there seemed to want to play with her. So, hitting was the way Jamillah solved most of her problems at school. It didn’t make sense to her why it was so important for her to behave and be good when she saw other people around her being rude and unconcerned with how they treated others. With no good examples to model Jamillah continued to find every excuse to hit, but most of the time her excuse was “She hit me first!”

Jamillah’s teacher Miss Raspberry knew there was more to Jamillah than what she was showing. When it looked like Jamillah was about to face the ultimate punishment, suspension from school, Miss Raspberry stepped in to save her. Though grateful in the moment Jamillah had no idea what Miss Raspberry had in store for her. When her other efforts failed to help Jamillah, Miss Raspberry decided to try something different, she introduced Jamillah to a new way of thinking about the world around her.

At its core, She Hit Me First! is a book about exploring kindness, education, and conflict resolution without the use of violence. Jamillah learns through a series of events that she is worthy of kindness and that she has the power to create change in the world around her.

This was a throughly enjoyable little chapter book. I read it through once on my own and then out loud to my older kid who kept asking for just one more chapter before bed. The book has a clear messages about people’s ability to change, to be a model for others to change, and to overcome difficult situations, but the story they are woven into is charming and engaging.

I deeply appreciated the message to parents, caregivers, and educators the importance of having an adult in your corner. Jamillah’s teacher Miss Raspberry (what a great teacher name) makes a commitment to help Jamillah stop hitting when she gets frustrated and to make friends. Kids need someone who will advocate for them and believe in them. Having that one person is so critical to all people, especially children.

Jamillah is dealing with some stuff in her home life that is modeling the coping mechanism of hitting in frustration. She learns to have compassion for her mother’s struggles through a visit and talk from her aunt as well as through reading the story of Maya Angelou. Jamillah doesn’t learn to excuse the behavior, but she does learn that it is not something inherent in her that causes her mother to want to hit. I think this aspect of the story can help kids in similar situations both see their realities reflected and hopefully give them some insight into what lies behind it.

I found this book through the artist who did the cover illustration, Robert Liu Trujillo. We’re big fans of his work in our house. I was doubly excited to see that this was written by an author from the Bay Area which is more or less local to us. The illustrations inside accompany the end of each chapter. They’re really cute and add just a little more to the story. I would say the book is around a third/fourth grade level and the pictures are a nice touch to support readers who want to read chapter books, but need a little break to the actual text. The chapter length is also really good (it made it easy to read “just one more” every night too).

All in all, a great addition to classroom, home and public library emerging chapter book collections.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

Picture Book Review: Daddy, There’s a Noise Outside by Kenneth Braswell

A family of four is crossing a city street. The two children are turned to face out from the picture but they are looking at a shaded group of protestors holding signs and a bullhorn. The kids look surprised, worries, and curious.
Image description: A family of four is crossing a city street. The two children are turned to face out from the picture but they are looking at a shaded group of protestors holding signs and a bullhorn. The kids look surprised, worries, and curious.

Daddy, There’s a Noise Outside written by Kenneth Braswell, illustrated by Joe Dent and Julie Anderson

From Goodreads: This engaging story begins when two children are awakened by noises in the middle of the night outside the window of their inner-city neighborhood. Both their Dad and Mom spend the next morning explaining to them what was taking place in their community.

I posted a brief review of this book on Instagram on election day 2020. I’m editing it a bit here to fit more with the blog and lengthening my commentary.

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Audre Lorde

Daddy, There’s a Noise Outside is a perfect resource if you need something to explain protest to the kids in your life. It is, hands down, the best for doing that. The language is clear, concise, and simple; it doesn’t water protest down like the other books I’ve seen for kids; and it links current protest to historical movements.

The illustrations are bright and inviting, but also spare. The text is written as speech bubbles, which makes the book feel more modern and alive. The open space in the illustrations really allows for focus to fall on the words and makes it easier for younger readers to follow the dialog. It’s a perfect pairing.

There is excellent information in the back for grown ups to help you have the conversation about why protest is necessary. This might be very helpful for parents who are not currently involved in doing movement or liberation work. But even as a parent who is, I still found it had tips and phrasing that I was able to use with my own kids.

I know a lot of libraries and families have the other two mainstream publishing company kids’ protest books on their shelves. They’re…okay. My complaint is mostly that they focus on happy marches, probably led by white people and respectability politics. And yet, that’s not what our kids end up seeing on the news and quite frankly those types of marches don’t effect change. Daddy, There’s a Noise Outside helps show kids how the protests that make most white people (especially good white liberal people) uncomfortable, are actually an important and necessary form of resistance. It centers on protesting police violence but it’s applicable no matter the circumstance.

Don’t let the idea of more destructive and in-your-face protest deter you from allowing your patrons (or family) to understand what is really going on in those spaces. If you have those other books on the shelf, such as Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights, you must also have this on the shelf. It is the counter point to those books and quite frankly is more relevant and important than those others from mainstream publishing.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

  • From Father’s Incorporated (the author’s organization): hardback
  • On Amazon: hardback

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

Picture Book Review: Being Different Is the Name of the Game by MeMe Taylor Davis

Five friends stand on a hill of green grass. The sun shines above them. There is an alligator, a female lion, a cat wearing a fruit hat, a monkey wearing large purple glasses, and a blue dinosaur. They all wave at the reader and are smiling.
Image description: Five friends stand on a hill of green grass. The sun shines above them. There is an alligator, a female lion, a cat wearing a fruit hat, a monkey wearing large purple glasses, and a blue dinosaur. They all wave at the reader and are smiling.

Being Different Is the Name of the Game by MeMe Taylor Davis, illustrated by Jorge Mansilla

From Goodreads: Being Different is the Name of the Game is story for children to identify differences in the animals. Read along as each character embraces their uniqueness and creates a community of friendship, acceptance, and a celebration of distinct qualities.

In addition to publishing a series of books geared towards supporting Black children, Melanin Origins has a series of books that are excellent for building empathy, respect, and social-emotional intelligence in children. Being Different is the latest in this (informal) series of books.

This will be hard for children to resist with bright, friendly colors and adorable animal kids on the cover. Right off the bat the book is hitting the right notes. Simple, snappy, rhyming text introduces each character making this a perfect read aloud for preschool and kindergarten age kiddos.

Each animal has something about them that makes them different from other animals like themselves. A blue dinosaur, a kind lion, long alligator ears, and even glasses.

The glasses is especially interesting. There are a handful of books that address children needing to wear glasses with the intent of normalizing it and introducing the idea to their peers. Certainly those books are worth reading, but the fact that glasses wearing is integrated into a number of other differences positions it in a larger context of diversity along with skin color, temperament, and physical appearance.

I know books that tackle diversity often use animals as a proxy for humans. That gets criticized for not being more explicit and while that is a valid argument, I think it can veer into the territory of wanting one perfect book to present diversity and discrimination to children. A one-and-done type resource. The reality is children need a host of resources that can act as entry points into lots of discussions about diversity and oppression. As with the books about glasses, this is a great book to have on shelves with other books that open conversations about difference. Pair it with The People You May See for a robust discussion about being respectful and accepting of human variety.

Schools with SEL curriculum and parents looking to up their kids acceptance of diversity should have this on their shelves. Kids will love the illustrations and positive message. I suspect it will be a favorite, read again and again. And again.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links)

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

Picture Book Review: The People You May See by Lisa Marie Koehler

Black and white hyper-realistic pictures of people laid out in a grid. From left to right, top to bottom there is a woman wearing a bindi, a girl with an eye patch, a man with a brightly colored beard, a boy with a red birthmark on his face, a child with a hearing aid, a woman in a hijab, , two men holding a baby together, a woman with a large bow on her head, a baby with a helmet, and a toddler wearing glasses. . The title of the book is in the middle in black text.
Image description: Black and white hyper-realistic pictures of people laid out in a grid. From left to right, top to bottom there is a woman wearing a bindi, a girl with an eye patch, a man with a brightly colored beard, a boy with a red birthmark on his face, a child with a hearing aid, a woman in a hijab, , two men holding a baby together, a woman with a large bow on her head, a baby with a helmet, and a toddler wearing glasses. . The title of the book is in the middle in black text.

The People You May See written and illustrated Lisa Marie Koehler

From Goodreads: Sometimes you will see someone that makes you curious about what they are wearing, saying, or doing. Many of these people experience strange looks, personal questions, and bullying. Volunteer models have agreed to be part of this book in an effort to spread awareness and to educate. Children are curious and have many questions about what they are seeing. You can use this book as a guide to approach the world with kindness, understanding, and an open heart.

Children are deeply curious people so long as you do not kill their desire to constantly ask questions about the world. They are sorting through the things they see to make sense of how the world works and how they fit in it. This is a double edged sword. On the one side, they are incredibly open and affirming of human variety. On the other, if you are not explicit in discussing what they see (and don’t see) they are open to broader societal ideas about white supremacy, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transmisia (hatred for trans people), anti-semitism, fatphobia, etc.

If you are a school or family who doesn’t have a diversity of people around you, first you need to take a hard look at why and do the work to fix that. Then you need to present your children with places to see diversity before you’re out and about. Head some of these questions off at the pass, so to speak.

This was a long intro to a beautiful book that celebrates the diversity people come in. The illustrations are hyper realistic portraits of real people. Mostly in black and white pencil some feature small splashes of color, such as the person with a beard featured on the cover. For the most part it works well, but my one complaint is that race is not directly addressed and the black and white illustrations make it hard to see that the people don’t all have white skin. Instead of discounting the book for that, it merely points to the need to have a variety of books that showcase skin color and other physical differences.

I appreciate the range of people shown and it may be the first (or only) place a child sees themself reflected. For that reason alone it needs to be on book shelves everywhere. It’s also a book you can come to after your child has seen or noticed someone different and a book you can read to prep them for what they might see out in the world. Let your child be curious about these things. It’s completely normal and not malicious. By explicitly talking to them about these things, you can help them make sense of the world in a positive and affirming way. Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers to all their questions. You should stay curious too and be honest when you don’t know the answer. This book is a great starting point.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links). Please, in this uncertain time, if at all possible, purchase from an independent/local bookstore. They need our help right now.

I bought this book several years ago and apparently never reviewed it. Since then the book appears to have been release in a second edition with both English and Spanish. I am linking to both options.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

The Swan Book and Racism in Book Reviews

A close up of a black swan's head, neck and shoulders. The bird is well lit so they feathers shine and look like scales. The bird's eye and beak are white. The background is a dark charcoal grey and the author's name and the title of the book are in red and orange overlaid on the picture.
Image description: A close up of a black swan’s head, neck and shoulders. The bird is well lit so they feathers shine and look like scales. The bird’s eye and beak are white. The background is a dark charcoal grey and the author’s name and the title of the book are in red and orange overlaid on the picture.

The Swan Book by Alexis Wright

From Goodreads: The Swan Book is set in the future, with Aboriginals still living under the Intervention in the north, in an environment fundamentally altered by climate change. It follows the life of a mute young woman called Oblivia, the victim of gang-rape by petrol-sniffing youths, from the displaced community where she lives in a hulk, in a swamp filled with rusting boats, and thousands of black swans, to her marriage to Warren Finch, the first Aboriginal president of Australia, and her elevation to the position of First Lady, confined to a tower in a flooded and lawless southern city.

I recently read a book and shared my thoughts about it on Instagram. I think this is an important conversation so I have put the review here too and edited it a bit to fit better with the blog.

I don’t normally post about books I’m currently reading, but we need to talk about racism and white supremacy in book reviews. The subject has come up several times recently on Instagram, but it’s by no means a new discussion. There is a lot of gate keeping and upholding of white supremacy in the publishing industry (and its review arm) and in libraries. I’ve seen it for years now in the library space, which is part of why, as a librarian, I started reviewing books here and on my blog that do not go through traditional channels.

But the conversation hit home with the book I just finished reading. I knew if I looked at reviews I would see white supremacy on full display. It scores in the low threes on GoodReads with quite a few obliviously (and overtly) racist one-star reviews.

The Swan Book is intense- it’s a dystopian, post apocalyptic story. The book is poetic-Wright is a brilliant writer as evidenced by the language and weaving in of her #ownvoices storytelling. The book is dense- each sentence is filled with imagery and requires thought to parse them. It also clearly has a lens on it that is very Indigenous/Australian Aboriginal and therefore probably not what most of us (white folks and Americans) are used to reading. It might take more focus than we are used to giving our fiction. This is no beach read.

But many of the reviews I read called out all those things and decided that they indicated, not a brilliant book written with an indigenous way of seeing, understanding, or interpreting the world, but as a bad book that was a word salad and too hard to understand or worse, there was no meaning.

But none of that is true. This book is brilliant and it is entirely possible that it is not written for you. It might not be the right book for you right now. It might never be the right book if you prefer light hearted fiction or despise dystopias. But to call it a mess and write it off with one star ratings when your dislike is clearly tied to white expectations of your world view being reflected, that is white supremacy at work. It’s the expectation that everything will be written with the white world view and white ease/comfort in mind.

I tried reading this not long after my first daughter was born. My mind was mush between lack of sleep, anxiety over being a new parent, and the newness of it all. I put the book down. Coming back to it now with years of parenting under my belt and a stronger reading practice I was captivated and blown away. It is stunning. It took me longer to get into it, to get the feel for how Wright uses an Aboriginal worldview to tell the story of Oblivia, a girl raped in her youth, promised to a man who becomes a world leader and also a sort of sellout.

The book handles trauma and its effect on our perceptions of reality and life but again with a very distinctly not-white view of time, space, history, future, and connection to the land. It also looks deeply at the impacts of climate change, colonialism, tokenism, and assimilation. And because of a fluidity between past, present, and future these things interlock on the page and flow together. It makes for a powerful reading experience if you put in the effort.

I hope more people read this and get outside themselves. I know I read to expand my world view not to limit it.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

Final note: If you do read this book, please post a review of it on GoodReads and Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and will drown out the ignorant, racist reviews on those platforms.

Picture Book Review: Maxine’s Hands by Dr. Lynda Jones Mubarak

A night time scene in a bedroom. Maxine, a brown skinned girl with large round glasses, sits at her desk looking at her laptop and writing in a notebook. To her right is a dollhouse and to her left is her orange cat.
Image description: A night time scene in a bedroom. Maxine, a brown skinned girl with large round glasses, sits at her desk looking at her laptop and writing in a notebook. To her right is a dollhouse and to her left is her orange cat.

Maxine’s Hands written by Dr. Lynda Jones Mubarak, picture by Adua Hernandez

From Goodreads: Have you ever been busy with an important project and discovered another situation that is just as important as your current challenge? Follow reading detective Maxine Hill as she finds another surprise waiting in her local neighborhood. A little investigation will often lead to new knowledge.

Maxine is back in this third installment. She and her family are still planning their camping trip and Maxine is now working on building a model house. Inspired by seeing an unhoused family, Maxine wants to learn how to build houses, how recycled and reused supplies can be incorporated into the design, and how she can use this skill to insure everyone has their basic need for housing met.

As always Maxine’s curiosity and enthusiasm for her projects is incredibly endearing. Max is a little better organized and a lot smarter than I was at her age, but I was totally the kid who got inspired and did my own research and projects (like writing books and building things) to satisfy my curiosity. I think kids like that will see themselves reflected here in a positive, encouraging way and those who may be curious but aren’t quite sure what to do with that feeling can see Maxine model a way forward for them.

Mubarak uses a lot of great vocabulary here and in the other Maxine books. That gears the books toward kids who are about Maxine’s age if they’re reading on their own or makes for a rich shared reading experience if read aloud to younger kiddos. The length and fewer illustrations make this better suited to second grade and up.

As I’ve said with the other Maxine books, a small form factor for the physical book might make this more appealing to the audience it’s targeted for. There are fewer pictures in this installment, which is perfect for the fourth/fifth grade readers who the book should inspire.

Adua Hernandez continues to make enticing, sweet illustrations. Maxine, with her huge glasses, and bright colors is very inviting and relatable. I can’t help but feel that in the hands of a Big Five publisher Maxine would be illustrated as white because no mention of her race or ethnicity are ever made. Thank goodness for Melanin Origins publishing Black authors and BIPOC illustrators. To me the illustrations by Hernandez are perfectly suited to Maxine’s stories and in other books she has illustrated for M. O. she drops little culturally specific details that you just don’t see in the conventional publishing industry.

Certainly have this on the shelf for fans of the previous books, but also hand sell it to the kids who love the science fair or always do the extra credit. They’ll see themselves in Maxine.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

Picture Book Review: Beautiful Black Girl by Keshia Johnson

A pink background with large script-like letters along the top that spell out the title Beautiful Black Girl. Below a little girl with brown skin and black hair up in two puffs has her hand on her hip. She is turned slightly and is looking sideways at herself in a mirror. She wears a sparkly yellow dress and two white bows in her hair.
Image description: A pink background with large script-like letters along the top that spell out the title Beautiful Black Girl. Below a little girl with brown skin and black hair up in two puffs has her hand on her hip. She is turned slightly and is looking sideways at herself in a mirror. She wears a sparkly yellow dress and two white bows in her hair.

Beautiful Black Girl written by Keshia Johnson, illustrated by Mark Mas Stewart

From Goodreads: Read along as renowned author, Keshia Johnson of Beautiful Black Girl, tells the story of a young girl Mila, whose grandmother Molly takes her on a journey of falling in love with her beautiful black skin. The story of Mila’s journey to self-love inspires and encourages black girls everywhere to embrace who they are and conquer the world.

Melanin Origins publishes a line of books designed to bolster the self esteem of Black children, and especially Black girls. These books are necessary and it is amazing that Melanin Origins continues to bring them into the world. Beautiful Black Girl joins the ranks with Penelope Embraces Her Uniqueness, Perfect As I Am, and I Love My Mocha Skin.

If for no other reason, Beautiful Black Girl should be on library shelves to tell Black girls they are beautiful, capable, and worthy. This message feels even more urgent in the current time with the pandemic and kids being out of their routines and elements. Morale is low, kids are struggling. Getting some extra love and encouragement to wrap around them and reminding them that they are loved is crucial right now.

This also works as an anti-bullying book. Mila comes home from school feeling sad because the kids made fun of her hair and lips and also her desire to be a doctor when she grows up. This is the beauty of picture books- they are meant to be a shared reading experience and allow for discussion about the illustrations, the story, and/or the messages within the story. If used as a read aloud in classrooms or libraries this first scene can open up discussion about how these comments made Mila feel, what the children could have said instead, how to care for yourself when someone says something hurtful, and what a bystander could have done if they over heard these hurtful comments. Sometimes young children are curious and helping them learn to rephrase their questions or who might be a more appropriate person to ask questions of is an important skill they need guidance with as is the skill of not saying everything that pops into your head and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand how comments can hurt feelings even if that wasn’t the intent.

One of the aspects of this book I love the most about is that the focus is not just on Mila’s appearance. Her grandmother encourages her to dream big and not let the narrow minds of her classmates hinder what she sees herself as capable of accomplishing. I know a lot of Black children, and especially girls, are teased for their appearance- skin that is “too dark”, hair that is “too natural”, etc. – and it is critically important that adults explicitly counter those messages and call out the anti-blackness of them. But girls also need messages beyond their appearance, because they are more than their bodies. Mila wants to be a doctor when she grows up and her grandmother pushes her to keep that dream and elaborate on it.

Finally Mila takes the book out to her friends at the end to encourage them and boost their spirits as well. The model of sharing the love with those you care about is also a critically important skill for kids to witness and internalize. The illustrations here, as with all Melanin Origin books are adorable. Keisha has endearing hair puffs and big, sweet eyes.

I also want to use this as a reminder to adults not to put your own ideas about this book onto children. It is written for Black girls and that by itself is perfect. But even if you have an all white patron base at your library (this should concern you, by the way!), you never know what child will connect with the message. I have seen my own daughter, who is so pale she looks blue, pick up these books in Melanin Origins’ catalog and love them and get a boost from them. I’m not saying kids are colorblind, but kids don’t always need the trappings of race to connect with a book and adults should be mindful of this when offering them books on the library shelves.

All in all, a great addition to the books that support Black girls. There are a lot of possibilities for this book in the hands of parents and educators. It would be perfect for kindergarten, first, and even second grade discussion and reading.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

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Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.