Picture Book Review: Momma, Did You Hear the News? by Sanya Whittaker Gragg, MSW

A Black boy wearing a sports shirt and blue baseball cap has a worried look on his face and holds the back of his head with his hands. He is in a living room with a sofa and coffee table. The title of the book is arched over the top of the picture.
Image description: A Black boy wearing a sports shirt and blue baseball cap has a worried look on his face and holds the back of his head with his hands. He is in a living room with a sofa and coffee table. The title of the book is arched over the top of the picture.

Momma, Did You Hear the News? written by Sanya Whittaker Gragg, MSW, illustrated by Kim Holt

From Goodreads: Little Avery becomes concerned after seeing another police shooting of an unarmed man. His parents decide it is time to have “The Talk”. They teach him and his brother a catchy chant to help remember what to do if approached by an officer, while also emphasizing that all policemen are not bad. A to the L to the I-V-E…come home ALIVE….THAT is the key!

This is the review I wish I didn’t have to write. What kind of fucked up world do we live in where parents have to have conversations about how to stay alive when you get pulled over by the police? That’s rhetorical- I know exactly what kind of world we live in and I suspect if you’re even considering this book for your home or school or public library collection, you know too. I’m going to use positive language to describe this book, but I want to be clear that the subject is not something positive and we need to be working on tearing down and rebuilding the world that requires that this book be written in the first place.

Written to help BIPOC families have “The Talk” with their children about protocols for when they encounter law enforcement, the book uses rhyming text and a snappy, easy to remember acronym to give kids the skills they need to survive those encounters. It is critical that kids practice these skills so they are second nature if they are pulled over.

The terrible thing is, the book says these are things you need to do as a Black person to come home alive if stopped by the police and yet, we know that doing everything “right” still might not save you. I think the general sense of firmness and authority from the parents is reassuring for children. I am all for honesty, but at some point being overly honest may not serve them, especially if they’re very young.

I think this book, and books like it, are jumping off points for families rather than the whole conversation. Start here or incorporate this into what you’ve already talked about. Case in point, the book hints at the cops not being the heroes a lot of media and white people make them out to be. There are two pages that suggests the idea of “bad apple”cops. While I personally want to see more ACAB picture books, I recognize that that is not really the message or point here. You can skip those pages if that is not the message you want to give your kids. There aren’t a ton of these books out there so I think it’s fine to use what is helpful here and skip what is not.

While I believe that all books are for all people, you never know what you might connect with, this one is clearly for Black families to share. I have read this with my white daughter, but we had a slightly different discussion around encounters with police. As an activist I know we’re surveilled and I know there’s a higher likelihood that my kids will encounter law enforcement in a more adversarial situation, so they also need to know how to interact. My point here isn’t to take the focus off Black families who need this conversation starter or to make a book for Black people about me and my white family, but it’s to demonstrate that there can be a wider audience for this work. All libraries with families of color should have this available as a resource. Families should have it on their shelves if they need help having this conversation or if they want something their kids can pick up and read on their own to reinforce any conversations they have had. The acronym ALIVE and its catchy phrase to go with it may be really helpful in getting kids to remember what they should do when they have contact with law enforcement.

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.

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: I Am Sausal Creek by Melissa Reyes

Image description: Two children play in a small creek. They are looking at the rocks in the creek bed. Both children have brown skin and brown hair. One wears jeans and a red and white shirt; the other wears jeans and a yellow shirt. Behind them is a lush, green forest.

I Am Sausal Creek/Soy El Arroyo Sausal written by Melissa Reyes, illustrated by Robert Trujillo, translated by Cinthya Jeanette Muñoz Ramos

From Goodreads: I Am Sausal Creek/Soy El Arroyo Sausal is a bilingual children’s book about the environmental and cultural history of Oakland told through the voice of a local waterway, Sausal Creek.

I love everything about this book. It’s part natural history, part human history, part resistance. The story is the history of the Oakland, CA area which is usually pushed aside for its shinier, tonier neighbor San Francisco. Sausal Creek narrates, sharing what the natural world was, then follows the Ohlone people onto the land, then European, Mexican, and American settlers, the Gold Rush, and then the city of Oakland being built. Finally, the Creek tells how some people are helping to free it from the concrete that has bound it for so long and how nature is ever present and encouraging us to live more harmoniously with it.

I was surprised to learn that the Fruitvale area, now infamous for the murder of Oscar Grant, was named because of the fruit that was grown there nearly a century ago. I haven’t thought of the Bay Area as a fruit or food producing area since in my lifetime it’s always been very built out. For my own family this was a good conversation to have since my daughter knows Fruitvale Station for its tragedy and I’m glad she can see the area (generally and specifically) not just for trauma but for its changeful beauty. The end of the book includes a three page history of the area that will appeal to older children who want more information and will help teachers and caregivers tie it in with historical and ecological curriculums.

Trujillo always does beautiful pen and watercolor illustrations. I think his style lends itself especially well to nature with rich colors and flowy edges. His people are always wonderful and he plays with perspective in a unique and fun way in this book. I think my favorite illustration is one of the final pages where the reader looks up through the creek, as if laying on the bottom, past some fish and toward two boys one of whom is reaching down into the water. It’s so beautiful. Other pages require you to flip the book 90 degrees to show how tall the redwoods once were and to take in a sweeping view of the mouth of the creek as it flows out into the Bay.

We own at least one other book that takes the perspective of a natural object, an oak tree in that book. Neither that book nor this one anthropomorphize the tree or creek and I think it’s a fascinating way to connect children to the natural world. It shows them that these plants (or animals or natural features) do not require human-like feelings or sentience to still matter in the world and to have life, intelligence, and a right to be.

In this strange time that is COVID-19, I think this is a story we all need. One that encourages us from the first lines to sit quietly and listen to a story that is older than any of us, older than our cities, older even than most civilizations and peoples. It’s comforting in its long view that even this shall pass, bring change, and, if we play it right, change for the better of nature and us.

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.

Picture Book Review: The ABCs of the Black Panther Party by S. Khalilah Brann

The ABCs of the Black Panther Party written by S. Khalilah Brann and Chemay Morales-James, illustrated by Uela May

From Goodreads: The ABCs of the Black Panther Party introduces and gives an overview of the Black Panther Party for children (suggested ages 7-12). The ABCs of the BPP acts as a catalyst for research, supports the expansion of oral and written language and helps to develop the social political consciousness of our children.

Our book utilizes the American alphabet to lay a foundational understanding of the aims of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, discuss the impact of various members and explores the lasting effect of the Black Power Movement of the 1960s. It is our aim to empower the next generation of leaders to help build strong communities of color focused on Positive Racial Identity Development through Education (PRIDE).

We are reclaiming our sheroes and heroes and providing our young with a blueprint for their own liberation movement.

This is such a necessary book. It’s up there for me as a parent and educator with The People Shall Continue and A Coyote Columbus Story. All these books share history that is both hard and obscured in favor of white-centric and white-washed narratives of our country’s history.

For all the years I had to take American history in school we rarely made it into any history post WWII and when we did I assure you the Black Panthers were never mentioned. My general impression of them, probably formed from pop culture references, up until a few years ago was that they were a Black militant group. That’s not exactly untrue, but the implication was that they were bad and nothing could be farther from the truth. I live in Sacramento and had no idea that they took over the capital building. Nor did I know we had an active chapter here in one of our historically Black neighborhoods.

The ABCs of the Black Panther Party is the kind of book I was hoping to eventually find so I can share the Panthers with my daughter. I hope librarians and teachers also purchase this book and push its use in classrooms and within history curricula. While the authors write books and materials intended to uplift Black history and, in turn, Black children, there is nothing about this book that cannot be read by any audience. We all need to know the real history of this country and the Black Panther Party is part of that. No more vilifying them.

Their history is particularly important because it lays some of the foundation for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Compare the BBP Ten Point Program (the letter T in ABCs) with the BLM principles. They are different, affirming many of the things that the resistance efforts of the 60s and 70s left out such as queer identity and contributions, but are still remarkably similar in their demands. Many of the Black liberation movements today continue the programs of the BBP, such as copwatch (check out Oakland’s APTP), freedom schools, and other community support programs. It’s essential for families involved in racial justice and abolition work to know the history of where their movements come from.

All libraries need this beautiful book on their shelves in with their 900s and, really, it should be out on display. Have you heard of Black August? Put it out in August. Put it out in February, obviously, but also in January for MLK Day, and in October to commemorate their founding on the 15th.

A note on using it in the classroom or the home: there are 26 letters in our alphabet and each one has a short lyric and then a more detailed description of the concept or person associated with the letter. It makes for a very long read if you want to do it cover to cover. I recommend dipping in and out over several days. This keeps it moving for kids, as well as gives you time to reflect and process and discuss further. In the classroom you could use it to frame a whole unit on Black resistance or the history of that time period, introducing a letter or two each day that guides discussion and further research. We treated it like a chapter book at bedtime in our house and read three or four letters a night for several nights in a row.

I would love to see more books about the Black Panthers for children. I would really love some biographies of the leaders and friends of the party- Huey Newton, Fred Hampton, Kathleen Cleaver, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture. Maybe Melanin Origins would be up for producing a special series of Snippet in the Life biographies that are a little longer and geared toward slightly older children that focus on four or five of the BBP leaders and the Oakland Community School? 😉

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 Royal Alphabets by Maame Serwaa

A blue background with the outline of the African continent. Over this outline are two children with brown skin and natural hair. The girl is in a pink dress stands on a golden stool. There is a crown on her head. She is handing the boy in black pants and a white t-shirt another crown. They both look out at the reader.

The Royal Alphabets: A Collection of African Empires in World History written by by Maame Serwaa, illustrated by Fleance Forkuo

From Goodreads: Take a trip back to the riches of African history and brace yourself as this book utilizes the alphabets to educate readers on pre-colonial Africa. The Royal Alphabets is a unique and positive representation of Africa and its many cultures dating back thousands of years and into present time. In this captivating book, readers will learn of Royal figures throughout the continent as well as gain understanding of the importance of African history as it relates to the rest of the world. This page turner is sure to leave readers enlightened and curious for more.

I consider myself lucky. In my sophomore year of high school we studied “World Cultures” in our history class. This started with the three famous empires of West Africa (Mali, Ghana, and Songhai). It then continued into China and only China. The previous year was Ancient History- Egypt, Greece, and Rome- and while you might think Egypt opened up the ability to look at African and Middle Eastern cultures, you would be wrong. It was very whitewashed. The following years focused on U.S. history and European history, the later of which conveniently started after 1300 AD and after much contact with non-white empires had occurred. I think it’s telling that the single year we studied “the World” was actually a very small snapshot of the diversity of peoples and cultures that have lived on this planet across time (but it is not a coincidence).

In college I took anthropology and history classes that focused on West Africa, the Southern Pacific islands, and Indonesia. But once again, a lot of it was both contemporary and seen through the lens of colonization. I am forever grateful I had any and all those classes despite their flaws because they planted the seeds that the World is not White by default nor a place where White people were the only ones to create history or civilization.

And yet, knowing this, I am still stymied as a parent trying to find ways to teach my kids about history that doesn’t involve the slave trade or Black folks being enslaved. (As a White parent I am talking about those things with my kids, but just as Black parents want their children to know about the rich history of Black and African people, I do too, although maybe not for the same reasons.)

All of this is a long, roundabout way of getting to the book The Royal Alphabets which features twenty six kings, queens, armies and empires of African civilizations. This is another important book from Melanin Origins and author Maame Serwaa. Each letter entry has tiny tidbits of information about the historical figure, figures, or empire. In some ways I wish there was more, but I think as with many of Melanin Origins books, they aren’t complete history lessons. Just good introductions that encourage the reader to follow their curiosity to research and learn more. The book brings to mind From Ashanti to Zulu, which is quite lovely, but also incredibly boring and isn’t without its own issues of representation. I think Royal Alphabets strikes the perfect balance between giving information and keeping it moving. My own daughter was really excited about the Dohemian Female Army because she made the connection to the Dora Milaje from Black Panther.

I know I say this all the time, but here is another book that should be on your shelves. Black parents can use this as a confidence builder around culture and Micah and Myra, the two narrators, say as much in their introduction. Black and African people have accomplished so much through the ages, but traditional education has completely erased their contributions or reduced them to slavery and the Civil Rights Era and maybe peanut butter. Other students of color and White students will also be better off knowing that it wasn’t only White, Christian, cisgender, heterosexual men who accomplished things and are worthy of history books.

I think all types of libraries can find a place for this in their collections. Schools should, of course, be committed to giving students access to a robust history curriculum and resources. Public libraries I am sure have families of all stripes that would like to share these people and accomplishments with their children. Home libraries, daycares, classrooms all have the same commitments and audiences, too.

I have one criticism of the book, the entry on Sundiata Keita. He was physically disabled and the entry on him uses the word “crippled”, which is a word that can be hurtful in the disabled community as it has been used as a slur. It also says he “overcame” his disability. I think it might be more accurate and less ableist to say he was both physically disabled and a successful, just, strong king. Overcoming implies that it was something that was deficient in him, which considering his power, fame, and success, he was clearly not at a deficit. Despite this, the rest of the book is strong and necessary. Maybe subsequent editions of the book can change the language a bit?

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):

  • On Amazon: paperback, hardback, and ebook.
  • On IndieBound: paperback and 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: Taylor’s STEM Adventures Texas by Dr. Mary Payton

Taylor’s STEM Adventures Texas written by Dr. Mary Payton, illustrated by Jorge Mansilla

A little boy dressed in a cowboy outfit stands on a lawn in front of the Alamo. He has his arms crossed over his chest is is looking up at the title of the book which is over the Alamo in the sky.

From Goodreads: Taylor’s STEM Adventures Texas is the second book in a series of stories about the young son of two military members from STEM career fields. As his family moves to various duty locations Taylor guides you through his adventures in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at each base. Taylor gives military children the insight into the STEM adventures and activities that await them in their next military move.

I am so excited that Taylor is back for his next adventure in STEM! You can go back and read my review of the first book where Taylor explores Hawaii with a STEM lens here. In the newest installment, Taylor and his parents have moved to Texas and he’s here to share about all the science based learning he’s doing in the new place.

I mentioned this last time, but was reminded how much I love that these books feature a military family. So many books that include military families are specifically about being a military family. This one is not and it’s so important for kids with parents in the military to see themselves doing regular things (like learning about science and visiting touristy spots). It’s equally important for kids who don’t have family in the military to see that military kids aren’t that different.

Texas families will be happy to see their home state being shown as more than cattle ranches, White cowboys in big hats, and barbecue. I’m a California girl born and raised and I found it a relief to see that there’s more to Texas than some antiquated (and White) history. I was personally really interested in the caves and caverns the book talked about. I love caves and cave-dwelling creatures, especially bats.

I think this time around Dr. Payton has continued to provide just enough information to give an overview and pique interest. But I think the book has leveled up in the best possible way. It’s longer this time around and a larger format (there was absolutely nothing wrong with that last time, for the record) making it appeal to a slightly older crowd. It aged up with my own daughter who was excited about Taylor’s trip to the Johnson Space Center.

There is a lot here making this another great addition to collections designed to grab kids interest and encourage them to explore further. Taylor explores architecture, bats, caves, dinosaurs, and NASA. School libraries should definitely have both of the Taylor books on their shelves and anyone with science oriented kids should too.

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: Kiddo Lingo! by Tiffany K. Daniels

A little girl with brown skin and a purple outfit stands in the middle of a playground waving at the reader. Behind her are play structures with a slide, a see-saws, and a swing. They have kids playing on them. The girs on the swing is talking to a boy i an a wheel chair.
Image description: A little girl with brown skin and a purple outfit stands in the middle of a playground waving at the reader. Behind her are play structures with a slide, a see-saws, and a swing. They have kids playing on them. The girs on the swing is talking to a boy i an a wheel chair.

Kiddo Lingo!: Early Childhood Development Book Series written by Tiffany K. Daniels, illustrated by Jorge Mansilla and Ridho Mendari

From Goodreads: Tiffany K. Daniels, Speech-Language Pathologist embarks on a creative series that inspires and encourages children, in particular those with special needs to excel in their developmental skills. With Kiddo Lingo, the goal is to provide exposure to daily activities that children of all diverse cultures experience, so we can better understand the common goal that we all share: wanting the best for our children .

There are a lot of concept books out there intended to work with kids on early school-readiness skills like ABCs, 123s and colors. Most of them are pretty run-of-the-mill and a lot are downright boring. Then there are a newer crop of hip concept books that seem made for the entertainment of the parent/educator rather than the actual child (creepy hipster ABC book, I’m looking at you).

Thankfully Melanin Origins does not seem to be falling into these traps with the concept books they have published (check out John Ensley II’s My ABCs for a beautiful and culturally relevant concept book). Kiddo Lingo! is not quite your traditional concept book, as it doesn’t focus on ABCs or 123s. It takes on more complex school-readiness concepts like paying attention to detail, following directions, actively listening, and answering questions.

The book is broken into short sections with illustrated short narratives followed (or sometimes preceded) by instructions for an adult . This means the book is designed to be read together and talked about/interacted with. Nothing in it is difficult and nothing requires more than a caring adult and a child. This would make it a great book to take along to restaurants where young kids need to be wrangled and entertained. The games, such as a version of Simon Says and look-and-find pictures, can be done sitting down quietly or standing up and moving around. The length of the shorts are perfect for short attention spans (hello paying attention to realistic, age-appropriate expectations!) and allow the book to be picked up and put down without losing the thread between readings.

Not only does it have activities to do together, it features a diverse cast of characters including a child pictured in a wheelchair. We need more visual diversity like this because representation matters (I can’t say this enough). Thank you Jorge Mansilla and Ridho Mendari for adding those details in and keep up the good work to Melanin Origins for ensuring that representation is being published in books for kids. The illustrations are bright and inviting with big-eyed, charming kiddos.

This is the perfect book for a shared reading experience. Picture books are designed with that in mind, but not all of them hit the mark in the way this one does. Highly recommended for preschools, daycares, and home libraries. Kiddo Lingo! lives up to its subtitle “Early Child Development Book Series”. These are great skills for adults to work with kids on and they are developmentally appropriate for young kids (the 3-5 set). Grab a couple copies and give them out at toddler birthday parties and tuck them in the diaper bag for restaurant and doctor appointment outings.

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):

  • On Amazon: paperback, hardback, and ebook.
  • On IndieBound: paperback and 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: They Call Me Mix by Lourdes Rivas

They Call Me Mix/Me Llaman Masestre written in English and Spanish by Lourdes Rivas, edited in Spanish by Alicia Arellano, illustrated by Breena Nunez

From Goodreads: The story starts with Lourdes recalling childhood and noticing how gendered everything about existence is since before we’re even born. Lourdes points out how people create categories to make life easier but when it comes to people, gender categories can make life so difficult – restrooms, clothing stores, toy stores, sports teams, fitting rooms. They have a hard time even imagining where they’ll ever fit in.

Then they find queer and trans community where they feel empowered to reinvent language that works for them and we see them doing fun everyday things with friends like play games, watch movies, build bonfires, etc. It ends with the message that people who identify as non binary look, dress, and sound all kinds of different ways and that gender is something everyone can decide for themselves at any moment in time.

I kind of wish that sometimes I was braver and less shy and awkward when meeting people. We drove out to Oakland on a rainy Saturday to go to the Turn the Page Book Fair just so I could meet Lourdes Rivas and buy copies of their book. I don’t remember how I came across They Call Me Mix, but several months ago I came across it on Instagram and started following them. So when I saw that Rivas was going to be at this (kind of) local book fair I geeked out, did a happy dance, and announced that we’d be hopping in the car and driving the two hours to go.

This is such a needed and necessary book. It starts by explaining how Rivas’ gender was assumed at birth and then how they were pushed into gendered expectations around dress, toys, appearance, and interests. They then go into how they don’t feel like the gender they were assumed to be. Some days they’re no gender, some days they’re everything in between. They do normal everyday things like hang out with friends and gender doesn’t have to define that. Then Rivas talks about becoming and educator and how they talk about what it means to be non binary with their students. They validate that kids can play with how they want to identify and try out words to describe themselves. Rivas themself uses Mx. instead of Mr., Mrs. or Ms. (hence the title of the book).

The illustrations are soft and plain. I’m a sucker for rainbows (a hold over from my Lisa Frank and My Little Pony days) so I loved the cover from the moment I saw it. At first I wondered about the choice to have simple black and white line drawings, but I quickly realized the brilliance of this because the only colors are pastel pink and blue which really serves to highlight that gender binary and tap that part of our brain that has been taught to see gender as only male/female. I was shocked when my own daughter was about three and said something about pink being only for girls, despite my being explicit about colors being for everyone. That association is strong and I think it serves the book well to have the illustrations really draw our attention to what is going on.

I think I sound like a broken record saying this, but this book NEEDS to be on your shelves, at home, in the library, and in the classroom. You NEED to be creating welcoming, inclusive, accepting spaces for children to be their whole selves and live their truths and to play with their identities. The reality is, you may be a child’s only space to do that. And you are teaching other children who have gender privilege to see how others may not fit a binary and be open and accepting of all the ways people can be in this world. It’s also validating for kids, like me, that identify as female (or male), but don’t fit the stereotype. Even I kind of felt like something was wrong with me growing up for not liking dresses or caring about pink and purple (my favorite color has always been orange) or painted nails. Sharing books like this in read alouds, having them on your shelves, and encouraging children to visit them again and again is a critical piece of doing the work of breaking down white supremacy (the gender binary is a facet of white supremacy).

The book is also in both English and Spanish. Woohoo! That makes the book that much more accessible to kids and families. If you have a Spanish language collection in your library, get two copies, one for both your English and Spanish language kids shelves.

The traditional publishing industry sure isn’t stepping up and offering #ownvoices works around gender (or race or religion or ability or…) and we can’t be waiting around for them to get with it. I say this because, again, I know indie books can be a hard sell to administrations and book buyers. Beyond your students, patrons, or children who need to feel seen, I also think you may have teachers who also need to feel supported and welcome and need a book like this to help kids (and parents) who haven’t been exposed to nonbinary folks open the conversation. Everyone, from children to adults, deserve to feel seen, supported, and loved and having books that represent them and their experiences can help with that.

For as much of a book nerd as I am, I freeze when I meet these authors and illustrators. I’m so star struck. I have met movie stars before, no big deal. But kidlit celebrities, I can’t formulate a thought to save my life. I totally froze when meeting Lourdes Rivas and I’m sure I was super awkward, even though I went specifically to meet them! If you see this, Lourdes, hi, sorry I was weird. I just have such a soft spot for books that embrace all children and people and I cannot express how brave I think it is that you are out there sharing your experience, how much I appreciate you doing it, and how excited I am to get these books into kids hands.

New to the idea of breaking through the gender binary with children? Check out these three blog posts from author, illustrator, and artist Maya Gonzalez. She links to a whole curriculum she has created (some of which I have reviewed here and here) to create loving and inclusive spaces.

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.