Sulwe by Lupita Nyongo
Self-esteem issues can affect all of us. Although it may not seem like it, kids can understand when they’re being judged. They learn early on to find the differences between one thing and another. They compare their hair to their father’s and their eyes to their great-aunt’s. In this book, Sulwe compares her skin to her entire family’s. Her skin is described as “the color of midnight.” Sulwe sees that her mother and sister have “bright” skin, something she equates to happiness and sunshine, and she envies it. Until Sulwe learns that the night sky is every bit as beautiful as the sun. This book is especially touching, written by actress Lupita Nyongo who has been outspoken about the colorism she faces daily. She wrote this book to celebrate the differences that make up not only our bodies but the natural world as well.
American Girl Series
My favorite book was Samantha, but also take a look at Julie, Kaya, Josefina, Addy, Kanani, and Luciana. The Samantha series taught me more about the early twentieth century than any class ever could. She opened the door for me to ask my grandma questions about what life was like for her mother. The best thing about the American Girl series is that it evolves. Although there are plenty of period pieces, there are also contemporary characters being launched every year. There are new girls like Luciana Vega whose aspiration is to explore Mars. She teaches kids (and adults) that science and technology are not just for well-off white men, but for Latina girls like herself. I think that there’s at least one American Girl out there for everyone.
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Stephen Colbert
Vice President Mike Pence has a rabbit named Marlon Bundo (aka Bunny of the United States/BOTUS). Stephen Colbert, a comedian by trade, couldn’t resist the opportunity to write a parody book about this presidential bunny rabbit. The book is cute and funny and includes a cute little romance. Wesley, another boy bunny, and Marlon fall in love which, truth be told, was Colbert’s way of poking fun at Pence’s anti-LGBT+ views. Regardless of the politics behind this one, I think it’s an adorable story with a soothing art style.
If interested, the audiobook is read by RuPaul, Jessie Tyler Ferguson, Ellie Kemper, and Jim Parsons.
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry
Just like Sulwe is about a little girl learning to love her skin, this one is about a little girl learning to love her hair. The main relationship in this book isn’t between mother and daughter. Instead, “Hair Love” is special because it explores the connection between a father and his daughter. These encouraging paternal moments are so important for kids and adults alike. “Hair Love” isn’t about learning how to “deal with” the hair on your head. It’s about learning to reach out to your loved ones when you need help with the parts of yourself (whether external or internal) that you don’t feel confident about yet.
When Aidan Became A Brother by Kyle Lukoff
A book about a transgender little boy? Sign me up! I thought that this one would be more about Aidan’s (the main character) transition into a new gender. Instead, it was about Aidan’s transition into a new family dynamic. Already having been “out” as a transgender boy, Aidan wants to make sure that the child his mom is expecting will have the perfect room, perfect name and perfect clothes. The thing about this is that Aidan didn’t have those things. His parents had tried their best, of course, but he didn’t like his pink room, pink clothes or birth name (also known as his “dead name”). In the end, Aidan learns that the most important thing he can do for his new sibling is to show them the very same thing that his parents have always shown him: love and support.
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
From the point of view of a Korean immigrant, this will resonate with immigrants, first-generation Americans and “new kids” alike. Unhei (yoon-hey) doesn’t want the other kids in class to make fun of her decidedly “un-American” name, so, she says that she will choose a new name. Unhei makes a jar for everyone in the class to put their suggestions into, but it soon disappears. No one knows who took it. It’s clear though, that Unhei will still have to pick a name. Her new friends, being more accepting than she ever imagined, encourage her to choose her own Korean name. This is perfect for kids and adults who don’t think that their culture or customs line up with American traditions. It’s okay to have a name that people have trouble pronouncing. As actress Uzo Aduba has said, “My full name is Uzoamaka. I came home one day and said, ‘mommy, can you call me Zoe?’ Without skipping a beat, she said, ‘if they can learn to say Tchaikovsky Dostoyevsky, and Michelangelo, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.”
How Night Came from the Sea: A Story from Brazil by Mary-Joan Gerson and Carla Golembe
This is an unapologetically mythical, yet also historical, storybook about Brazil’s African heritage. As a light Brazilian myself, I can say that the long racist beginnings of Brazil alluded me until my late teens. I thought that Brazil didn’t have much in way of slavery. I was very, very wrong. This is the story of how slaves, the hardest working people in Brazil, were given the gift of night by African goddess Iemanja. All these people want is rest from their back-breaking labor. With the central characters being Iemanja, Iemanja’s daughter, and the earthly man Iemanja’s daughter marries, this is a truly allegorical folktale. A tragic testament to the mistreatment of Afro-Brazilian people, this book is bitter-sweet and so very important to share with others.
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad
If the name Ibtihaj Muhammad sounds familiar it’s because this author is an Olympic medalist in fencing. Both the author and the artist of this book are Muslim women whose main goal was to create something that they would’ve liked to read as little girls. The story evolves as Faizah is about to start her first day of school and her older sister, Asiyah, is about to start wearing a hijab. The first day that a woman dons her hijab is special. For this reason, Asiyah is given a gorgeous blue hijab to wear. Kids are unkind to her, making her feel ostracized because of her religion and her family’s customs. But Asiyah has Faizah, and together they learn how to enjoy the beauty of their lives without heeding the ugliness of other children’s words.
A Church for All by Gayle E. Pitman
One or two sentences per page, this is a quick read that took me an hour to get through. There is so much to look at in the gorgeous art style and so many little details to take in. I never thought that I would see a Christian kid’s book written for and about the LGBT+ community. This is a wholesome story of inclusion in the church. There are mixed race and gender families on every page, and plenty of rainbows to be seen too.