Multicultural and Nature Books

(Updated Dec. 12th, 2022). In addition to our Annual Book Awards, we also recommend multicultural and nature books in our regular issues and in this column. Check out these recently published books at your public library. Our 2022 Annual Book Awards Reviews can be downloaded from the website. Here are some recently published books that we recommend. Our 2023 Book Awards will be announced in June 2023. 

Mattie and the Machine by Lynn Ng Quezon, Santa Monica Press. Ages 12-18. ISBN 9781595801180. 

A California-state licensed engineer has written this fictionalized story based on the life of the real world female inventor, Margaret E. Knight, who strived for the recognition of her ingenuity in the male-dominated field of mechanical industry of post Civil War America. In this novel, Mattie, a 15-year-old female paper-bag factory mechanic, discovers payment inequalities between the “factory girls” and recently hired male Civil War vets, and she confronts her boss. The boss tells her men are better with machines and that’s why he pays them more. She does not agree with him, and tells him she can design and build a fully automatic paper-making machine to prove that. But he puts a condition that her machine would have to work better than one that a newly-hired mechanic, Frank, would build. Mattie proves her boss wrong by meeting the challenge successfully. Women can excel in any and all fields of study, including the STEM-related fields. Her journey catapults her beyond the factory and into a wider, women-distrusting world. A wonderfully written novel that is hard to put down to the very end!

A Costume for Charly by C. K. Malone, illustrated by Alejandra Barajas. Beaming Books. Ages 6-10. ISBN 9781506484051

This timely book is an exploration of gender identity through the lens of a bigender kid. Charly is trying to find a costume that fits them for Halloween; one that doesn’t disguise their female or male identity, but lets both shine through. A Costume for Charly is illustrated with playfully detailed pictures with a spark of seasonal whimsy by masterful illustrator Alejandra Barajas. 

Explore with Me at the Salish Sea, poetry by Nancy Oline Klimp, illustrated by Jared Noury. Nature Speaks To Us. All ages. ISBN 9781735184425

This is a gorgeously illustrated, artful, poetic guide to the Pacific North West’s Salish Sea (located in the border region of the American Pacific Northwest and British Columbia in Canada). The author writes about the nature, like the tides, birds and mammals but also the modern human functions. The book contains verses that describe both the seasonal changes and human events that take place in and around the biologically diverse Salish Sea, as well as a glossary for the terms used in the book.

Hello! A Welcoming Story by Gina K. Lewis, Illustrated by María José Campos. City of Light Publishing. Ages 5-8. ISBN 9781952536281

This is a story told in two parts. One part consists of welcoming an immigrant (or refugee) to one’s country, and the other of the person being welcomed into a new community. This picture book explores the feelings of leaving a home you love but you had to leave because of violence or some other unbearable problem. It also explores feelings of uneasiness in a new surroundings and the feeling of being accepted in your new home. Sensitively illustrated. The author is an ESL teacher and she wrote the book based on the experiences of her students.

Love Your Amazing Self by Ofosu Jones-Quarterly (Recording name: BORN I) of You Are Enough, illustrations by Ndubisi Okoye. Storey Publishing. Ages 8-16. ISBN 9781635865479 

Ofosu Jones-Quarterly fills these colorful pages of Love Your Amazing Self with a lovingly-written advice, a key to understanding oneself and others. The advice is shared through verses, and also through recommended activities, ranging from thought exercises to getting outside and blowing bubbles, for finding one’s inner-self and joy. 

A Taste of Honey-Kamala Outsmarts the Seven Thieves by Rebecca Sheir, illust. Chaaya Prabhat. Storey Publishing. Ages 6-10. ISBN 9781635864922.

This is a modern adaptation of a South Asian folktale, brought to life with rich, colorful illustrations by Chaaya Prabhat. Can Kamala, a rare example of a heroic female breadwinner of this folktale, use her wits to continue to maintain her family’s beekeeping business despite many challenges that it is facing? How will the seven thieves end up helping her in unintentional ways? In the Now It’s Your Turn section, the author provides playful methods of telling a story, such as demonstrations on how to make a shadow puppet show or imagining the auditory narrative of the story. Brought to readers by Circle Round, a production of Boston’s NPR news station that adapts international folktales for youth.

If You Read This by Kereen Getten. Delacorte Press. Ages 10-14. ISBN 9780593174005

Written by the author of the acclaimed book, When Life Gives You Mangos, Kereen Getten brings to life a tale of joy, grieving, and growth set on the Caribbean Islands nation of Jamaica. Through her deceased mother’s final letters—a gift she had received for her twelfth birthday—Brie discovers her family’s secrets and forges a deeper connection with them as she explores her grandfather’s house with her friends. 

Raising Feminist Boys by Bobbi Wegner. A parenting resource from New Harbinger Publications. ISBN 9781684036677. Paperback.

How do you teach your son to be kind and conscientious? How do you shape his moral compass in a world that sends him so many conflicting messages? How do you ensure your son is empowered to make empathetic decisions? How can you bring up conversations about sexism and bias, without it feeling forced and/or uncomfortable?

In this practical, hands-on parenting book, Raising Feminist Boys, author and psychologist Dr. Bobbi Wegner explores all of these ideals and provides practical strategies to achieve them. Dr. Wegner addresses a variety of issues, all stemming from the importance of gender equality and empathy. The ideas range from gender roles, to sex education, to empathy and collectivism. The concepts are simple yet useful, and Wegner divides them into age appropriate categories, making the book practical for parents of any age children. Pragmatic ideas of how to talk to children about these concepts are also dispersed throughout, giving parents tangible ways to interact and apply the information.

Bobbi Wegner is herself a mother and expert in the field, and interjects from her own experience throughout the book, making the book conversational and relatable. With a strong background in psychology, Wegner emphasizes the importance of continuous, two-way conversations with your sons about hard topics, such as sex and bias, instead of a once off lecture. She also describes the importance of looking inward at one’s self, addressing your own history of gender norms and stereotypes, and how this can affect the way one parents.

Raising Feminist Boys, is a practical guide to building empathy and justice in the hearts of our youth, and an important accompaniment in any parent’s journey.

Dr. Rosie Helps the Animals by Jennifer Welborn, Illustr. Rozillia MH. Waterbear Publishing. Ages 4 to 8.

What happens when an elephant has a stuffy nose? Or when an owl has an allergy? These are some of the puzzles that Rosie, whose aspiration it is to be a veterinarian, tries to figure out in this delightful book for young children.

It is by now a truism that too few books focus on girls interested in the fields commonly known as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics); even fewer celebrate African American and other girls of color and, when they do, such books tend to be devoid of a sense of humor and whimsy. Dr. Rosie Helps the Animals fills all these gaps. Written by Jennifer Welborn, an award-winning middle school science teacher, the book is an imaginative but not fantastical take on how Rosie, the protagonist, envisions her future life as a veterinarian to a host of unlikely patients including a rabbit, a pig, and even a giraffe, among others. Throughout the story, Rosie’s mother, a real-life veterinarian, guides her in looking for ways to help them. The cures recommended are both natural and understandable to even the youngest readers, with a caveat: “Important: Consult a licensed veterinarian before using any of the natural remedies listed in this book.”

With each animal she meets, whether a rabbit with an earache, a pig with a tummy ache, or a giraffe with a sore throat, Rosie tries to help with science-based remedies. There are no magical cures, just simple but reasonable treatments. For example, she treats the rabbit who has an earache with an aloe plant to help alleviate the pain, and the giraffe receives water with honey to help soothe his very long throat.

Readers are certain to be engaged in the remedies Rosie comes up with. I especially like the fact that the title reinforces Rosie’s future ambition to be a veterinarian by using “Dr.” in front of her name. This is the kind of gesture that will help readers, particularly girls, know that they have a right to dream, and that their dreams are attainable. This book will be a welcome addition to any classroom for young children by teachers who want to introduce their students to the world of veterinary science in a relatable way, and by parents who want to expand their children’s understanding of some of the medical problems animals might really have. The text is both humorous and convincing, with illustrations that are colorful and appealing. This is sure to become a staple for young children of all backgrounds. 

Reviewed by Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Reconstruction:The Rebuilding of the United States After the Civil War by Judy Dodge Cummings; Illustr. Micah Rauch. Ages 12-15.

“To help navigate the present, Americans must understand their past.” A true statement, and the main reason this book is so timely and should be greatly appreciated by teachers and high school students alike. From 1865 to 1877, democracy expanded because Americans (black & white) worked across racial lines to bring about positive change. Author Judy Cummings weaves the nearly eleven years following the Civil War (known as the Reconstruction Era) with events in the last ten years in America. She compares the criminal acts of today, fueled by white supremacy doctrines and racism with the violence, which destroyed the progress achieved during reconstruction. These criminal acts have opened the eyes of “white America” and forced some laws to change. The justice system has been compelled to apply the laws we have fairly to each person regardless of their race.

Students are asked to compare the politics of the reconstruction era with today’s policies regarding race. Readers are compelled to clearly study the platforms of the Democratic and the Republican parties. How are they the same and how are they different? All Americans need to understand that during the first eleven years after the Civil War there were black men seated in the House of Representatives and at least two senators were black. There were black men & women who owned and operated restaurants, hardware & clothing stores, etc.

Black people could sit anywhere they wanted to on public transportation and inside theaters. There were several flourishing (mostly) black towns. You may ask, what happened? Promises were broken. The federal troops were withdrawn from the rebel southern states. The KKK was formed and Jim Crow Laws were established in nearly every state. Black towns, and black owned business were burned down, destroyed. Hundreds, maybe thousands of black men, women & children were killed or run off of their property.

Reconstruction is often downplayed or overlooked entirely in the classroom. Usually students are just getting into the Civil War when school is over for the year. Today, most Americans, (both white & black) don’t know about the accomplishments achieved during this period. Even in 2022 there are still too many people who never want the truth to be told. That’s the real truth behind today’s controversy labeled “Critical Race Theory.” We are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again if we are unwilling to make a hard, painful study of the Nation’s past, and determined to make changes for the future.

This book is well organized, which makes it easy to understand. It is divided into eight chapters. Each chapter contains many useful photos (both black & white and color), one purposeful comic strip, bullet points to consider and a list of suggestions to help readers better understand the era. In addition there is a two-page timeline with pictures in the front of the book. Also found in the back is a five-page glossary and an index. There is a list of useful resources readers can refer to for more information.

Reviewed by Paulette Ansari, retired librarian, storyteller, and Skipping Stones board member

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole B. Weatherford; illustr. Floyd Cooper. Lerner. (Winner of the 2022 Skipping Stones Book Award). This year, the nation observed the 100th anniversary of probably the worst ever racial violence in the country. In 1921, a mob of armed whites attacked the Greenwood district, home of a thriving African American community, looted homes and businesses, and burned them down. As many as 300 blacks were killed and 8,000 were left homeless. The police did nothing to stop the violence. In fact, for 75 years after this massacre, there was no official investigation. This picture book offers a sensitively written, powerfully illustrated introduction to this massacre and helps young people understand the history so we can move forward to a better future for all. Ages 6-10.

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom; illustr. Michaela Goade. Roaring Brook Press. Inspired by the recent Indigenous-led movements (like the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline) to protect the sacred Native lands and the nourishing waters that are absolutely necessary for life, this beautifully illustrated book invites us to join the rallying cry to protect our water from ecological destruction. Both the author and illustrator are Native Americans and they infuse their traditional culture and wisdom in this important, ecologically sensitive book. Ages 5 -9.

Reconstruction: The Rebuilding of the United States After the Civil War by Judy Dodge Cummings; illustr. Micah Rauch. Nomad Press. This book examines the period 1865 to 1877—the time when the country began to address the questions of equality and justice for blacks. Who should be eligible for the full rights of citizenship? How should the state and federal governments share powers and responsibilities? Can all people of all races be treated equally? The book offers pertinent context, hands-on activities, critical thinking exercises, and discussion questions. The book includes historical photos as well as useful illustrations. Ages 12-15.

Aurora: A Tale of the Northern and Southern Lights  by Richard T. Parr; illustr. Endre Lothe. KDP/Amazon. A young boy discovers there is really no Santa Claus as he has been told every Christmas. Realizing he doesn’t have presents for anyone he climbs out his bedroom window and runs away. Tired, he falls asleep under a tree in the freezing cold. He is shaken awake by an old man who asks him why he is not home in bed. He tells him there is no Santa Claus, and he doesn’t have presents to give anyone in his family. The old man comforts him by telling him a fascinating story he can retell on Christmas morning as his gift to them. He carries the boy back to his room and as a parting gift tells him how to whistle down the northern lights and be granted one wish. Ages 7-70.

Guru Nanak: First of the Sikhs by Demi. Wisdom Tales. Guru Nanak was the founder of Sikh religion. Guru Nanak, born in India over 500 years ago, traveled through South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula for 25 years sharing his message of one God, heartfelt worship, honest work, peace, sharing, service to humanity, and equality for all. There are now over 25 million Sikhs in the world. Learn about his remarkable life in this beautifully illustrated picture book. Ages 5 – 9.

Finish Strong: Seven Marathons, Seven Continents, Seven Days by Dace McGillivray. Nomad Press. Are you a runner? A sports fan? This is the inspiring story of Dave McGillivray who successfully completed the World Marathon Challenge. He ran seven marathons in one week—that’s running 26.2 miles each day for seven days in a row—then discovered that he needed to have a heart surgery. Six months after his heart surgery he was back to running marathons and finished the Boston Marathon! Ages 7 – 11.

Firdaus Learns About the Heart by Dr. Sara Kulsum Alavi; illustr. Aurica Safiulina. This is a really cool way to learn about human anatomy and the heart, in particular. Firdaus is an elementary grade student at Medina Academy, and she loves science because her teacher, Mrs. Ahmed, makes it exciting and easy to understand. Using activities, diagrams, experiments and fun facts, she teaches students about the human heart. Along the way, we also learn a little about Muslim culture through the student and family interactions. Ages 9 – 12.

Accused: My Story of Injustice by Adama Bah. Norton Young Readers. Adama came to the U.S. from Guinea, Africa at the age of two. She grew up sheltered by her parents in New York City. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11th, 2001, she began experiencing prejudice and hatred because she was a Muslim. Then, in 2005, when she was just 16, she was falsely accused of being a suicide bomber and arrested. In this engaging book, she shares her harrowing experiences of harassment and humiliation in the detention center. (Also available from the same publisher, Hurricane: My Story of Resilience by Salvador Gómez-Colón. The book offers the true story of Salvador, a high schooler who helped rural residents of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Both of these first person, non-fiction accounts are part of a new series called I, Witness.) Ages 10 – 14.

The Golden Key of Gangotri by Eval N. Danon. Blue Branch Press. Harley is a 21-year-old student in New York, whose father vanished in the high Himalayas. This soul-stirring adventure, set in Northern India, takes readers on Harley’s journey of self-discovery, in which she uncovers the answers she had been desperate to find. Ages 13 – 18.

Honey on the Page: A Treasury of Yiddish Children’s Literature. Edited and translated by Miriam Udel. New York University Press. This wonderful collection of translated stories and poems from 20th century Jewish literature is an outstanding resource for today’s Jewish children in the United States and other English-speaking regions of the world. Arranged by themes including Jewish holidays, history, family, fables and folktales, this 325-page anthology covers both prominent and lesser-known authors from Eastern Europe as well as New York and Latin America. Anyone who would like to understand the Jewish diaspora and its religious, cultural and ethnic heritage will find Honey on the Page a fascinating read! Ages 14 – adult.

Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter by Veronica Chambers with Jennifer Harlan. Versify/HMH. This outstanding book, with many telling photographs, shares the history of the Black community. The rise of Black Lives Matter during 2020 resulted from a long history of oppression and racism in the country. In this 152-page book, we learn about systematic racism, the art of protesting, people power, and much more, including how to become an activist. The last chapter offers excerpts of conversations with four BLM leaders. The black and white vintage photos of the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s and color photographs from the recent street protests after the brutal killings of unarmed Blacks illustrate the rage and desperation that helped fuel this powerful movement. Ages 13 – adult.

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