This is the final month in a series of author guest posts about diversity in children’s literature and the BookPeople Modern First Library initiative. We’ve enjoyed many posts by local Austin authors and now look forward to sharing guest posts written by national authors. For more about BookPeople’s Modern First Library initiative, and for more recommendations of wonderful new and classic picture books to read, visit bookpeople.com.
Previous posts in this series:
Varian Johnson: A Better World
Meghan G., Kids book buyer: Introducing BookPeople’s Modern First Library
Chris Barton: A Modern First Library List
Chris Barton: Loved, valued, unique? Yes. Center of the universe? No.
Cynthia Leitich Smith: Books as mirrors
Cynthia Leitich Smith: This book is for you
Liz Garton Scanlon: Soul reflecting 101
Liz Garton Scanlon: Fear No Difference
Liz Garton Scanlon: All the World Is All of Us
Don Tate: When I Began to Read, I Began to Exist
Don Tate: Maybe It’s Just Plain Fate
Varian Johnson: Diversity for Our Youngest Readers
Varian Johnson: A Better World
Grace Lin: The Wishes Many Readers Don’t Know They Have
Mike Jung: More Than a Start
LeUyen Pham: My Kids See Themselves in Every Book They Read
Phil Bildner: Firsts
Yuyi Morales: I Am My Hero and So Are You!
When author Chris Barton and BookPeople children’s book buyer Meghan Goel told Elizabeth Bluemle, co-owner of The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont, about the Modern First Library initiative, she was delighted. “What a concrete, meaningful way to turn diversity talk into action!” In her own words, Elizabeth shares her feelings on the importance of books for children:
As a former NYC school librarian and now longtime Vermont bookseller, I’ve spent more than twenty years seeking out wonderful books that just happen to feature kids of all backgrounds and races. I want to share with kids books that reflect and celebrate and enrich their lives, books that take for granted that kids and families come in all colors and creeds, that the heroes of stories are not by default white, that friendships span and tolerate many kinds of differences.
There’s no better place to start than with books for the very young. Children absorb the world around them with curiosity, open minds, and a lively interest. They identify with the little girl who falls in love with the teddy bear, Corduroy, and Peter who explores a snowy world for the first time on his own, and all the joyful toddlers whose relatives make them shriek and giggle in ‘More, More, More,’ Said the Baby.
Thousands of customers have walked through the door of my bookstore, and all of them share one thing: they want to walk out with a great book. The books I’ve chosen below are enduring classics, some older and some newer. All of them stand the test of time and, even more important, all of them are books kids ask for again and again. And that’s the best test of a picture book!
Tickle, Tickle; All Fall Down; Clap Hands; Say Goodnight by Helen Oxenbury
These four very simple, short rhyming board books are perfect for a baby’s very first library. They feature round-headed babies in many shades, having everyday baby adventures in just a few pages.
Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox; illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
More adorable babies illustrated by Oxenbury, this time accompanied by Mem Fox’s joyful, cozy rhyming text about all the things different babies have in common. As Publishers Weekly put it, this is an “instant classic.”
More, More, More, Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams.
This Caldecott Honor book remains as fresh and fun to share with toddlers as it was when it was published almost 25 years ago. The three little ones in this book (one African-American, one Asian-American, and one Caucasian) are loved loved loved by the grownups in their lives. Each of the brief stories positively beams warmth and joy.
So Much! by Trish Cooke
As the doorbell rings DING-DONG again and again, more and more relatives pile in (for what turns out to be the dad’s birthday party), and all of them want to hug and kiss and squeeze the baby they love “so much!” I’m clearly a sucker for joyful babies in big happy families, and So Much! is one of the best of the best at showing a loved child in the circle of family.
Bee-Bim Bop! By Linda Sue Park; illustrated by Ho Baek Lee.
A little girl and her mother rush to shop for and prepare a favorite dinner dish for the family. The rhyme and rhythm are energetic and fun to read aloud, and any child who loves to help grownups in the kitchen will relate to this preschooler’s excitement.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
This timeless book, first published in 1962, won the Caldecott Medal, and it is still just as perfect and compelling to young children as it ever was. Young Peter goes out into a newly snowy world to explore, sliding down hills, making snowballs, making satisfying trails with a sticks – all of the simple pleasures new snow brings, ending in a cozy warm homecoming.
Mama, Do You Love Me? By Barbara M Joosse
A lyrical call-and-response book between parent and child gains extra beauty and depth by its atypical characters and setting: an Inuit family living in the Pacific Northwest. This child, when seeking reassurance about being loved even when she is naughty (putting salmon in her mother’s parka, ermine in her mittens, and lemmings in her mukluks, etc.), learns that yes, her mother would be angry, but still love her. “I will love you until the umiak flies into the darkness, till the stars turn to fish in the sky, and the puffin howls at the moon.” Ahhhh, just lovely.
Corduroy by Don Freeman
There’s a reason this delightful book has been in print since 1968, and it’s because every child can relate to both the little department store stuffed bear who wants a home where he’s loved and the little girl who finds him.
Yo! Yes? By Chris Raschka
How do friendships start? Sometimes with just a few words, and one person brave enough to make the first move. This is a unique, brilliant picture book about two boys meeting and sizing each other up a bit before deciding to become friends. It’s fun to read aloud especially with slightly older children (ages 5-7) who can take one or both of the characters’ parts.
I’d Really Like to Eat a Child by Sylviane Donnio
This story is more about Achilles, the crocodile, than it is about the little girl who comes along late in the tale, but it’s great fun. Achilles refuses to eat the food his parents prepare, insisting that he is going to eat a child that day instead. But when he meets a little girl by the riverside, his grand plans go awry in a very amusing manner.
Sam and the Tigers by Julius Lester; illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
I love how Julius Lester reclaims the story of Little Black Sambo, celebrating the smart clever Sam and his outwitting of the tigers. Wonderful to read aloud, and the artwork is striking.
Charlie Parker Played Be-Bop by Chris Raschka
This irresistible picture book is made of jazz from start to finish, with flawless rhythms and rhymes that kids will love to repeat, along with deliciously offbeat illustrations that suit the text perfectly. One of Raschka’s masterpieces.
Ish by Peter Reynolds
This is only one of Peter Reynold’s many fine books featuring a diverse cast of characters. I adore his warm, friendly, inclusive, joyful world; he is another of the rare new timeless author/illustrators. In Ish, Ramon loves to draw, until his older brother makes fun of him. When little sister Marisol asks to keep his crumpled drawings, Ramon discovers that she has created a gallery of his art on her wall. He complains that he can’t draw. For example, that vase doesn’t even look like a vase. “It’s vase-ish,” replies Marisol, opening a whole new “ish” world to Ramon that shatters his perfectionism. Note: this book isn’t just for kids. I’ve given it to a lot of adults.
ELIZABETH BLUEMLE is the author of four picture books, all published by Candlewick Press: MY FATHER THE DOG, DOGS ON THE BED, HOW DO YOU WOKKA-WOKKA? (which has a great diverse cast of characters!) and TAP TAP BOOM BOOM (ditto!). She co-owns The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont, and blogs about children’s books and bookselling for Publishers Weekly. She has written many articles about the need for diversity in children’s literature and maintains a diversity database of books for babies, kids, and teens featuring main characters of color (where race is *not* the driving force of the story) at http://www.librarything.com/catalog/shelftalker.