As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I started collecting kids’ books many years before I became a parent. Picture books, picture-story books, Ladybird Sunstart easy readers, beginning chapter books, YA novels– I love them all. And while most of the book and film suggestions that I post on My Sunlit Path are multicultural finds that feature boys from around the world as protagonists, I come across many that don’t fit into that category, ones that I buy or borrow as a treat for the youngster in me.
Growing up, I was an introverted girly-girl who saw books as a way to travel across time and geography. The freedom they made me feel was second only to that which I got from listening to music. I wasn’t a fan of the TV version of Little House on the Prairie, I did love the book version of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods as well as the Encyclopedia Brown series and Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins. Archie, Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes comics were other favorites, and I later became engrossed the Sweet Valley High literary soap opera.
Though my parents divorced and my father spent several of the later years of his life in Japan, Daddy opened a window onto the world for me when he sent me a box filled with (then) rare Hello Kitty stationery as well as a paper parasol, painted paddle fan made of silk and bamboo, tunic and pants in traditional Asian style. Alongside this, the neighborhoods in which Mama chose to raise my brother and me were rich with the speech and manners of home-grown browngirls and brownboys like us as well as friends who began helping me expand my mind beyond Texas, beyond the South. Kids like my bestie Patty Alvarez, a black-haired, blue-eyed mexicana who inspired my interest in folk art when she would bring me back wooden crafts from her visits further South. Or Jenny Lee who taught me about kimchi as well as how to write my name in Korean. Marivel Navarro whose mom would sometimes treat us to her fluffy handmade flour tortillas. The brothers Jung and Stanford Ha with whom my brother and I would watch Go Speed Racer, Go. But being that this was East Texas of the late ’70s and early ’80s and not some culturally hip place like New York, D.C. or Atlanta, any regular access to literature where a broad spectrum of cultures and cultural interaction was pretty limited. I knew of only one Virginia Hamilton title– Zeely– a story that I found both eerie and magical. And I was lucky enough to stumble upon the work of the gifted Newberry Award winning writer Mildred D. Taylor, whose Let the Circle Be Unbroken about the bonds of family and community is one I still adore.
That stroll down memory lane is my way of introducing the books below, a sampling of treasures that I’ve bought or borrowed to delight the little person who still romps around in the back rooms of my mind. Buy them, borrow them, or give them as gifts. No doubt you’ll find each to be a treat.
Pre-school through 1st Grade
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
Spare bi-lingual text and vivid color celebrate the creative spirit of the fierce and fabulous Frida Kahlo
3rd through 5th Grade
Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke
6th through 8th Grade
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
A fantasy about a Chinese girl who uses her father’s nightly folktales as a map that guides her quest to change her family’s fortune. Text is accented with beautiful, full-page and spot illustrations.
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One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia
Gorgeous duo of stories about three sisters estranged from their mother and being raised in a loving home by their father and southern-bred grandmother in Black Power-era New York.
High School (and beyond)
Aya by Marguerite Abouet