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July Books: America’s Birthday is a Celebration of Diversity

By on July 1, 2016

Summertime and our nation’s birthday bring together books that feature the infinite variations of cultures and traditions which mingle to strengthen the freedoms we share. These freedoms make our country strongest when we include each other by emphasizing what draws us together, and valuing what makes us most remarkable. Happy Birthday to us!!

By Meribeth C. Shank

Red, White, and Boom!

By Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Huy Voun Lee

BOOKboomIf you’re looking for a perfect book to give youngsters a taste of Fourth of July celebrations, choose this! Cut-paper patterns bounce with energy and vivid textures. The flag colors are central in Wardlaw and Lee’s joyful rhyming picture book. Detailed collages of people at a parade, picnicking on the beach, and watching fireworks span the generations. This story poem is a fine representation of the cultural variety in gatherings across our country. Readers and listeners can hear the match as rhythmic words and pictures combine: “Shoulder seat/Thumping beat/July 4th drums down the street!” And as the day continues: “Shoulder seat/Seagull fleet/July 4th with sandy feet!” Until the fireworks conclude the day: “Rockets wing/Crackle, sing/Burst and zoom/Red, white, boom!” This delightful picture book is a rainbow commemoration of our country’s heritage of freedom. Henry Holt, $16.99 Interest Level: Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 2 (This book is available to borrow at the Miami Dade Library: Main Branch. Also, may be purchased from local and online booksellers.)

My Freedom Trip: A Child’s Escape from North Korea

by Frances Park and Ginger Park, illustrations by Debra Reid Jenkins

freedomA small Korean girl, Soo, escapes in the middle of the night with Mr. Han, a guide. They travel by train, climbing through the woods, and up a mountain, to cross a river, where her father waits. Footsteps in the woods signal danger from soldiers on patrol.  Her mother remains behind. “Less people means less danger of being captured,” her father tells her before he leaves. When it is Soo’s turn, her mother tells her, “Be brave, Soo!”  Glowing oil paintings capture the intensity of the threat Soo’s family feels. She longs for her mother, as she and the guide hide in the bushes away from the moonlit night. Despite their care, a soldier with a gun confronts them as they near the river. Mr. Han must go back, but the guard allows Soo to cross to freedom where her father is waiting, waving from across the blue water.  Despite the sad ending – Soo never sees her mother again – this solemn tale of quiet bravery is mesmerizing. The universal need for freedom and the independence we celebrate this month lend power to this story. This story is an excellent beginning for a conversation about the heroic experiences of many immigrants to our cherished country. (A paragraph at the beginning and end bookend the story with a brief explanation of the setting and aftermath.)

Boyds Mills Press, $18.95 Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3 (This book is available to borrow at the Miami Dade Library: West End Regional. Also, may be purchased from local and online booksellers.)

My Shoes and I

by Reni Colato Lainez, illustrated by Fabricio Vanden Broeck

BOOKshoesWith his father, Mario leaves home in El Salvador to reunite with his mother, who sent him new shoes from the United States. He is confident that his shoes will take him across three countries.   They walk, ride buses, climb mountains, and cross a river on their trip north. There are many difficulties on the way: hungry dogs eat their food, Papa loses his wallet. Mario’s shoes get dirty and muddy, a nail tears a hole; even a rainstorm drenches them. Yet, each time he takes care of his shoes, singing a familiar Hispanic nursery rhyme parents use to comfort a hurt child: “Sana, sana, colita de rana…” (The poem and its English translation are included at the back.)  On the book’s cover, title page, and at the back, as well as at each page turn, the shoes are the main focus. Weathered backgrounds strengthen the intensity of brilliantly colored illustrations. The authentic emotional power of the story is highlighted by the encouragement the boy repeats, “my shoes and I keep going,” and by the determination and courage highlighted in the artwork by dramatic details of city and countryside.   This timely tale gives readers a poignant sense of both the hardships and adaptability of those who must uproot their lives in their search for freedom. Boyds Mills Press, $16.95 Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3 (This book may be purchased from online booksellers.)

Time to Pray

by Maha Addasi, Arabic Translation by Nuha Albitar, illustrated by Ned Gannon

BOOKtimeDuring her first night visiting her grandmother, in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, Yasmin hears the call to prayer. Her understanding of a few Islamic customs increases as the story continues. Especially highlighted are the five daily prayer times. Teta makes prayer clothes for her granddaughter, buys her a prayer rug, and takes her to the mosque. The oil paintings, in warm golden tints, show lovely geometric designs and Arabic architecture. Regional cultural characteristics in the illustrations are thoughtfully chosen. Carefully woven with a heartfelt family story, together they engage readers and listeners.  When she returns home to her family, Yasmin finds a surprise gift from Teta to help with her prayers. A translation in beautiful Arabic script is paired with the English text on each page. An explanation of Prayer Times is included at the end. Especially during this time in our nation’s history, this story offers beginning understandings of family and freedom.  Boyds Mills Press, $17.95 Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3 (This book may be purchased from local and online booksellers.)

Chik Chak Shabbat

by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker

BOOKshabbatThis wonderful story celebrates multicultural America, with the pleasures of good neighbors and friends. Every week the neighbors in Goldie’s apartment building smell the fragrance of the cholent (stew) she makes beginning on Friday afternoon. Vegetables, dried beans and barley simmer in a broth until Saturday supper. Then Goldie invites everyone in for Jewish Shabbat. Gathered around the table they discuss what makes cholent so delicious: The Italian neighbor says tomatoes. Barley, suggests the neighbor from Korea. The family from India believes it’s the potatoes. But the Latino family agrees it’s the beans. However, for Goldie, “the taste of cholent is . . . Shabbat!”  One week, when Goldie is too sick to prepare cholent, each neighbor brings something to the table: Indian potato curry, Korean barley tea, Italian tomato pizza, Spanish beans and rice. Combined with their concern for Goldie the usual splendid meal becomes superb. Brooker’s oil paint and collage illustrations are humorous and detailed. Distinctive characteristics showcase the individuals. The food traditions shared around this warmly welcoming table strengthen the loving bonds while highlighting the differences. A recipe for cholent is included: a stew that cannot be hurried, chik chak.

Candlewick Press, $15.99 Interest Level: Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 2 (This book may be purchased from local and online booksellers.)


Meribeth Shank works in the Media Center at Miami Country Day School, an independent school in Miami Shores, Florida, has taught classes on Writing Books for Children, and earned her MFA in Writing for children from Vermont College. You can also find her on the web: http://meribeths.blogspot.com

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