Regarding the Need for Diverse Books

One of my favorite expressions is, “We cannot become what we do not see.” I feel that it succinctly speaks to the importance of representation. When we do not see ourselves reflected in spaces, whether it be politics or media or literature  (or anything else), it becomes harder to see ourselves navigating through those areas. It isn’t impossible, but there is certainly a level of comfort in knowing that someone else has opened the door to a new possibility. 

As it pertains to literature, it is imperative that children of color see themselves reflected in the pages of books.  Reading stories set in their communities, with challenges they face, and a dialogue with vernacular that mirrors their own makes a world of difference.  It validates their experiences. Even in instances of books that don’t directly reflect their life, children can still learn about what other people of color go through.  For example, I loved the Logan family stories by Mildred D. Taylor when I was growing up. Let the Circle be Unbroken, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and The Road to Memphis were some of my favorite books.  All of those stories were set many years before I was born, taking place in a Southern town that was far from my hometown of Washington, DC, and featured a large immediate family that I never had. Still, I loved reading about a Black family that triumphed over their challenges. The love of family was something I understood clearly. The racism they endured was something I studied in school. So those books held a special place in my heart. 

When you hear someone say we need more diversity in books, please understand that the need is extremely real. It is something that will help young people inform their sense of self and influence how they see the world. Book Lovers, how can you commit to ensuring that young people have access to diverse books?


Top 4 Features of a Great Book

Dear Book Lovers,

I thought occurred to me the other day. What exactly makes a good book? We can all name books that we loved, they may be the books that you reread and each time feels like the first time. You can probably even name books you didn’t like at ALL. They may even be the ones you tossed aside and opted instead to “reclaim your time.” Whatever the case may be, I decided to sit down and list out what I feel makes a great, page turning book. 

Compelling Story

This first one feels obvious. The story must be interesting. It should be unpredictable and keep you on the edge of your seat wanting to know what happens next. If there is a lesson to be learned (picture books are often good for this) that’s even better. Take readers to a new place or open them up a new experience through your story and chances are high that you have a great book. 

Engaging writing 

Great writers just have a way with words that draw you into their work. You can picture every scene, have connections with characters that feels real, and find the story resonates with you for whatever reason. I like to say that when the writing is REALLY good, it makes me want to throw something! For my adult book lovers, Tayari Jones is a master at this. I cannot even understand how she strings together words the way she does. Young book lovers, Elizabeth Acevedo also has a glorious way with words. 

Relatable Characters 

When I read a book, I want to understand the characters. Everything they do needs to make sense based upon what the writer presents about their personality and background. As a reader, when I understand a character’s plight or have a really strong emotional reaction to them, that makes everything about the book even better. 

A Strong Opening and Satisfying Ending

Ideally, the first sentence of the first paragraph should hook me. If it makes me laugh or shocks me, I know I am going to keep going to see what happens. Sometimes first sentence doesn’t happen but certainly the opening pages or chapter should set the tone and pique my interest. 

Similarly, the ending should satisfy. That doesn’t mean that all the loose ends are tied up in a perfect bow. Rather, it should bring things to a close in a way that makes given everything that has happened. If a character has been rebellious the entire book and nothing has broken them of the tendency to be that way, I want one final act of rebellion in the end or some self awareness that maybe came about as a result of being rebellious. Something along the lines. I love when I have finished a great book, close it, and just give a happy sigh. Now THAT is some good reading! 


In the comments below, tell me what you think makes an amazing book. I would love to hear from you!


Yesterday I Had the Blue (Book Review)

Yesterday I Had the Blues, written by Jeron Ashford Frame and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, is a lovely picture book written in a style that reads like poetry. The protagonist, a young boy, describes his emotions and those of the people around him, using colors. It contains phrases so vivid that they’ll make you smile or feel a tinge of sadness. When explaining that his father has the “grays” he further elaborates with, “The don’t ask for a new skateboard till tomorrow grays.” Meanwhile, Grams has the kind of “yellows” that will hopefully lead her to make oatmeal raisin cookies. 

This book is very sweet. When I finished reading I had the biggest smile on my face.  Yesterday I Had the Blues is beautifully written and I love the ending message about the togetherness of family. That’s a sentiment that evoke every color of the rainbow. 

  Yesterday I Had the Blues is for young readers 3-7 years old. 

Dearest Book Lovers, what color mood are you in? I’d love to hear from you! I’ll even start. I have the purples. The weekend is almost here, excitement building in my spirit purples. Your turn!

These Hands (Book Review)

Have you ever stopped to think about the power we possess in our hands?  I mean, in this very moment I am using my hands to type this post. I’m using them to push my glasses further up my nose every so often. Earlier I used them to turn the pages of some amazing picture books that I will review here on the blog. So with that idea in mind, I present These Hands written by Hope Lynne Price and illustrated by Bryan Collier. This is a beautiful picture book that will teach young children about everything that hands can do. Some are immediately relatable, such as tickling, writing, and clapping. Others, such as helping grandma to walk, may lead children to learn about new experiences. 

The pictures are absolutely gorgeous. Firstly, many have a textured element that is different from standard illustrations. Secondly, the illustrator does a great job conveying action.  There is a page where the main character is getting her hair done and it looks so lively. I could swear I could actually see her mother parting her hair. 

These Hands is for young readers 3-7 years old.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen (Book Review)

Dearest Book Lovers, do you have older siblings? Can you recall instances where you got frustrated because they were able to experience things first? Perhaps your kiddos can relate and desire the chance to one up their big sister/brother. If these sentiments ring familiar, then you’ll love Debbi Michiko Florence’s Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen.  

Jasmine is tired of doing everything after her big sister Sophie. Just once she wants to lead the way in doing something and she wants it to be something BIG! When her family comes into town to celebrate the New Year, divine inspiration strikes.  Jasmine is going to help pound the rice used to make mochi, a yummy dessert they enjoy during their celebration. Pounding mochi is a task typically reserved for the men in the family as it requires lots of strength to execute properly. Rolling the mochi balls is what the girls and women do and this year is the first time that Sophie is old enough to participate. Yet another task where Jasmine cannot be the first! So she sets out to become the first girl in her family to pound mochi. Will Jasmine’s father think she’s tough enough to join in? Will her mom and grandmother, with their focus on tradition, allow her shake up the rules? Grab a copy of Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen to find out!

Your young reader will enjoy this tale of determination and relate to Jasmine’s desire to create her own path in life.  She is truly a character that you will find yourself cheering on. Bonus? Jasmine Toguchi is a series so you can enjoy more of this spirited character.  The way this page turner gently brings you into its world and makes everything so engaging, I am certain you will like to read more. And if you find that this sweet read leaves you craving a little treat, there is helpful surprise at the end of the book that can help you out. 😉 

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen was written by Debbi Michiko Florence and illustrated by Elizabet Vuković. It is for young readers 6-9 years old.

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground (Book Review)

Grief can be an overwhelming emotion to navigate. How are you supposed to handle seeing and talking to someone everyday and then one day they’re just totally gone? It is difficult for everyone, especially children. With their pure view of the world, they ask the questions that adults don’t have real answers to: What happens when we die? Where does the soul go? 

In the beautifully written Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, Rita Williams-Garcia presents the story of Clayton Byrd–Bluesman in training. He loves nothing more than to spend time with his grandfather and play his harmonica. Cool Papa is a blues musician and Clayton studies under him every chance he gets. This is much to his mother’s frustration since Juanita doesn’t care for the lifestyle that comes along with the music world.  

When Cool Papa dies unexpectedly, it sends Clayton and his mother through a whirlwind of emotions.  Juanita tries to reconcile losing the father that she had a tense relationship with ; the father that she felt abandoned her during childhood. Clayton is shattered having lost his best friend. His mom didn’t love Cool Papa the way he did.  How could she possibly understand how he feels? Wrapped up in emotions Clayton skips school and what follows is a crazy adventure that involves traveling through the subway system, playing music for money with a group of teenage boys, and the police! To learn more about the outcome, grab a copy of Clayton Byrd Goes Underground from your local book retailer or library. 

This book is for young readers 8-12 years old.

Fishing Day (Book Review)

The Jim Crow era found Black and White people living separately, with the latter feeling that they were superior.  Of course we know that thinking was incorrect and prevented Black people from progressing the way we could have (and absolutely should have) if our basic human rights were protected from day one.  Still, there is a lot to be said for how many Black people continuously believed in spreading love to others. After all, hate can be a heavy load to carry in your heart. 

Fishing Day, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Shane W. Evans, explores the experiences Reenie and her mother have when they go fishing. They go to the Jim Crow River with their secret trick sure to make all the fish nibble on their lines. However, on this particular day, Mr. Troop and his son Peter (better known as Pigeon) come along. The two families stay in their separate spots along the river, observing the Jim Crow laws that said Black and White people couldn’t interact. Pigeon starts acting out, throwing pebbles at Reenie and her mom when his dad proves unsuccessful at catching fish. 

Instead of retaliating, Reenie sets out to help Pigeon. She teaches him how to be calm and attract fish. From that day on, Reenie and Peter find ways to be friendly toward each other.  This beautiful display of kindness shows that even in the face of hatred, love can take you very far. 

For young readers 5-9 years old

Nikki & Deja: Substitute Trouble (Book Review)

When Deja’s beloved teacher Ms. Shelby-Ortiz  is out of school unexpectedly due to an injury, her classroom gets turned upside down. Nobody lines up properly, people talk out of turn, students lie about what lesson they’re on, and much more! On top of that, they get the WORST substitute teacher ever! He doesn’t do anything the way Ms. Shelby-Ortiz does and it shows in his classroom management skills (or lack thereof). Deja and her best friend Nikki decide that they don’t like any of this. They set out to give the substitute some helpful tips and try to get their classmates to behave. Unfortunately, their efforts somewhat backfire and the girls learn that not every situation is as bad as it seems. Especially when there are worse situations around the corner!

Nikki & Deja: Substitute Trouble was written by Karen English and illustrated by Laura Freeman.  Your young reader will likely relate to the shenanigans that can occur when a substitute teacher fills in for the day.  It will serve as an excellent reminder that students should respect adults in the classroom and that failure to do so has real consequences. 

This book is for young readers 6-9 years old. 

What’s Your Truth?

I am a writer. 

I know what you’re thinking, “Well, obviously you’re a writer.  I’m reading words you’ve written right now.” Fair point. However, what I mean is that I am more than the writer of this blog. I am a writer of children’s literature. Prior to today I would have inserted the word aspiring. I am an aspiring writer. But no more.  I am claiming who I am and what I want to do with my life. I am standing boldly in that truth. 

What caused this shift? Last week I attended an amazing writer’s workshop at the Highlights Foundation. I learned a lot about the various categories of children’s books, met other writers who have a phenomenal way with words, and spent some time getting my own ideas down on paper.  It was the perfect spark to ignite my flame. So I am done with tip toeing around my dreams. I’m claiming it ALL even if I am still working to get there. 

I know this is a departure from my usual content but I felt it was important to share this with you all. Book Lovers, what is your truth on this glorious Friday? What declarations are you making? What goals are you working toward? I would LOVE to hear from you!


If you are a writer and want to learn more about the workshop offerings at Highlights, check out their website here 

Juneteenth Celebration

Happy Juneteenth, Book Lovers!

For anyone who may need a quick refresher, Juneteenth is a holiday that commemorates African American’s independence from slavery. You see, although President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, by the spring of 1865 most slaves in Texas were still not free. Since Texas was not a battleground during the Civil War, slaves there were not affected by the Emancipation Proclamation unless they escaped. This situation required the influence of the Union Army to help implement the intent of the order. Finally, on June 19, 1865 Major General Gordon Granger read aloud General Order No. 3 which announced the freedom of enslaved people. We now celebrate Juneteenth to honor the long, arduous journey it took for slaves to get their freedom (and a reminder to continue to fight for the human and civil rights we still lack).

It is important that children also learn about this holiday. Here are two great Juneteenth reads to share with the young people in your life.

Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper

(For readers 5-9 years old)

Mazie is used to adults telling her “no” and, much like her peers, she does not like it! Her dad tells her about her third-great grandfather Mose who was a slave. He faced even greater challenges and limitations to his rights. Everything that he endured helped set the stage for the joyous occasion that is Juneteenth.

Juneteenth (On My Own Holidays) by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson & Drew Nelson ; Illustrated by Mark Schroder

(For readers 7-10 years old)

June 19, 1865 started off as a regular day. African American slaves toiled for the White people who own them. It was the way of the time. All of that changed when they received a message that slavery had ended! Now people throughout the United States treat Juneteenth as a day to remember the plight of our ancestors and celebrate their freedom.