Great Books for African American Children: Lola Reads to Leo

We picked up Lola Reads to Leo a few weeks ago and Annika was very charmed by it. It’s a sweet, simple book, really for slightly younger kids, more for 3-4 year olds, but she still likes simple storybooks sometimes even though we are reading chapter books for most our nighttime reading now.

Annika enjoyed this book because it was about a little girl whose mom is pregnant. Her parents are prepping her for her new little brother Leo. When Leo  finally arrives, Lola tells him stories. She reads to him while he is nursing. She reads to him while he is getting his diaper changed (and while she is on the potty). She reads to him while he’s in the bathtub. And big sister reads to him while he is tired. She tells him her best “sleepy story.”

Lola is becoming a big sister and as the story progresses, she matures. She is a big sister and she helps her mommy and daddy. But at the end of the day she reads her little brother another story.

Lola Reads to Leo is just the type of book that parents with children of color are always on the lookout for. It’s not about race or slavery or segregation. It’s just a nice story with people who happen to look more like our family. And that, is why I like it.

Lola Reads to Leo is written by author Anna McQuinn, a British children’s author who has written a number of storybooks with children of color as well as books with white children and books with both as friends. I think we will definitely be checking out more of her books.

Pick it up here on Amazon or check it out at your local library, like I did.


Great Books for African American Children: Luke on the Loose

Annika has always liked the illustrations in stories as much as the stories themselves. Around age 3, she insisted, more than once, on checking out some Japanese anime books even though we couldn’t read them and the story lines were most likely not even appropriate for her age level. She just liked looking at the pictures.

As for me, I’ve never been one for comics much, but she likes comic books too. I haven’t introduced her to many comics, mostly because it’s not my thing and therefore, not on my radar, but I was thrilled to  find this post over on Planet Jinxatron, 11 Good Comics for Kids. We started out with her first recommendation, Luke on the Loose (Toon) mostly because, as Skye points out, it’s one that actually has a healthy dose of diversity, which is sadly lacking in kids comics (and most media).

Annika loved it! As a beginning reader, the text was very simple enough for her to follow along with and the graphics were interesting enough that the story kept her attention even though it’s normally not something she would be interested in. But it was perfect for her. She has taken to lying in bed some nights before bedtime looking at a book for a few minutes and this was heavy in the rotation for the first several nights that we had it around.

The story is just about a kid who chases pigeons through the big city, starting in the park, while his dad chats with another father and doesn’t notice his son running off.

When he does notice, of course there is a frantic effort to find him while Luke just continues running through the city.

I recommend this book for early readers who love graphics, with the bonus of diversity. Not only are Luke and his parents black, but the background people scattered throughout the book at a nice mixture and there’s even a biracial couple in one scene.

Check it out at your local library as I did, or get it on Amazon here:

Great Books for African American Children: My Brother Charlie, by Holly Robinson Peete

Last month I made a pact with myself to keep a regular stream of books with good African American models for Annika. We’ve always read books with black children as much as possible, but with February being Black History Month, it was, frankly, a lot easier to pick up several at our local library with them being prominently displayed on the end shelves in the kids’ section. Now that Black History Month is over, I’m sure I will have to do my due diligence to find a good selection coming in, but I’m determined to ensure that Annika has a regular view of black children in literature, even though she doesn’t always get that in real life. Hey, it’s something.

One of her favorite books we picked up was, My Brother Charlie, by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete. The book wasn’t about black history. It was nice to have some books that had nothing to do with history mixed in with all the Civil Rights books we read during February.

My Brother Charlie is a story about twins, a girl and boy, Callie and Charlie. They are always together. They love the same things. But Charlie is different than Callie. Charlie has autism.

The book was written by Holly Robinson Peete and her daughter, Ryan. Ryan’s twin brother, Holly’s son, also has autism.

Annika enjoyed the book immensely because they were two kids who look like her. It was also a great book to read because, coincidentally, we have recently hung out with some friends who have two children with autism. They are friends we knew when Annika was a baby, but haven’t seen them much lately. I was able to explain to her that Charlie was similar to our friends.

This book has beautiful art and a real sense of love and belonging. It is clearly written from the perspective of a family who loves someone with Autism and they happen to have brown skin.

I liked this book for a variety of reasons, but one was because it was a kids’ book with brown-skinned children that wasn’t talking about negative aspects of our history or making a big deal about their skin color.

I highly recommend this book. It is a touching, sweet story with beautiful artwork and any child will enjoy it.

If you like this book review, check out another one for more great books to read with African American children as the main characters.

White Like Me: A Book Review

Reading White Like Me, a memoir and reflection on white privilege, by Tim Wise, an antiracist author and essayist, was the most eye opening experience on race I’ve had in a long time.

In White Like Me Tim Wise details his life’s history through the race lens, noting experiences from his life that led to his work as a white antiracist.

When I first began reading Tim Wise, I was all agape, like, “holy shit, I am so ignorant about race and racism.”

And I feel like I understand racism better than the average white American.

But we are. White people are unbelievably ignorant about race. It’s not our faults. Schools and history books whitewash (pun intended) our education to make Euro-Americans look like heroes and pioneers rather than than invaders and land thieves.

But if we ever want race relations to get better in this country, we have to tell the truth. And that’s what Tim Wise does.

His first book, White Like Me is a memoir of his life with examination of his own racist past, racism in his family, his own white privilege and how he understands that in order to fight racism, we must start with our own minds.

I highly recommend this book, White Like Me, as an introduction to examining your own racial bias and a good primer for your self education on racism.

If you don’t do it, nobody will.

One of the first thing you will learn from White Like Me is this:

Tim Wise teaches workshops on racism and when he begins, he asks people to tell about their first experience with race.

White people, he writes, usually look dumbfounded. Some will try to tell of their first experience with “racial others.”

But he says, the black people, always know the answer.

It began when you were born.

You have race. You have skin color. And it has colored your experience.
The fact that there are no people of color around is not an accident.

“Although white Americans often think we’ve had a few first-hand experiences with race– because most of us are so isolated from people of color in our day-to-day lives– the reality is that this isolation is our experience with race. We are all experiencing race, because from the beginning of our lives we have been living in a racialized society, where the color of our skin means something, even while it remains a matter of biological and genetic irrelevance. Race may be a scientific fiction, but it is a social fact: one that none of us can escape no matter how much or how little we talk about it.”


A Lesson In, Uh, Civil Rights?

The Story of Ruby Bridges

Last night I read a book to Annika on civil rights called, The Story of Ruby Bridges. It’s an elementary version of school integration about a 6-year-old girl, one of the first black children to go to school in white school.

The story details a mild version of the girl who was honored to be the first black child in her all-white school.

I had been given the book as a gift and wasn’t sure that Annika was ready for it, but when we moved, she found it sticking out of a box and insisted on reading it. We’ve been reading it for the past four nights, every night.

I have finally come to the conclusion that most books should not be edited much since she will mostly tell me when she doesn’t like something. Knowing my own curious nature, I understand the need to explore things that are uncomfortable.

So, I read the book about a 6-year-old, (in my head screaming, “Oh my god, she’s a baby! How could her parents make her go through this??!!”) walking through an angry mob of white people angry that this child is going to “their” neighborhood school, while being guarded by armed federal police.

Ruby spends the day all alone in her school room, with her teacher, Mrs. Henry, who wonders how this child is so calm in the face of such adversity.

She's been a reader from the beginning.

As I’ve read this book over the past few nights, tonight, I decided to ask Annika what she thought of the book. Before I did, however,  about halfway through, she stopped me and asked me, “Mama, what’s a mob?”

I explained in small detail that its a crowd of people who are usually angry about something.

Then at the end of the book, I finally say, after wondering what she’s thought of the book all week, “Do you have any questions about this story?”

And she says to me, “Why is the teacher’s name Henry?”