Thursday, November 26, 2009

CORA Diversity Roll Call: Early Readers

Twice a month, Ali at Worducopia and I host CORA Diversity Roll Call. Our aim is to introduce readers to books that celebrate diversity. We aren't limited to race though ethnicity and race are major for us. We're also interested in other ways we are different. Our current assignment was inspired by a note from Mary Ann:

I loved discovering Nikki & Deja last year, but I find it very hard to find either early readers or early chapter books with kids from different backgrounds. There are lots of picture books out there, but not many books that young kids can read for themselves.

So, you're assignment is one of the following:

1) Find a book for Mary Ann's library
2) Write the blurb for the book you'd like kids of that age to see on the shelves, or
3) Was this an issue for you when you were first reading books on your own? Tell us about it.

Doret raised a point about how African American picture books could easily be formatted as early readers. She asked if others noticed that AA pictures books are longer and written at a level that an early reader could read alone. Personally, I've wondered the same.

To build on what Doret asks, I wonder if more African American children would be reading earlier on their own if the books marketed to them were formatted as early readers instead of picture books. I have also wondered if other adults' have observed the high number of historical books aimed at African American children. So many of the books with African American titles for children sent to me for review are historical non-fiction or fictional stories based on historical figures. While I appreciated these books as a child, as an adult I've noticed a resistance or lack of enthusiasm for these books among young children. My nephew and niece don't always want a book about black heroes. They want light, fun books with main characters their age who enjoy the same kind things they do. They want contemporary stories.

I checked out a handful of books for the challenge. One was actually a picture book about adoption and the other struck me as rather long for an early reader. I'll focus on the two: Amy Hodgepodge: All Mixed Up by Kim Wayans and Keena Ford and the Second Grade Mix-Up by Melissa Thompson.

The first volume in the Amy Hodgepodge series is about a young girl going to school for the first time in the fourth grade. She's been homeschooled and she lives with her parents and grand parents. Amy has to learn how to make friends, deal with bullies and figure out where she fits in a group. What I liked most about Amy Hodgepodge was the positive portrayal of her family, add the mix of ethnicity and race and it was well off to a good time. I liked how Amy grew and faced her challenges in spite of her doubts and fears. I liked that the school was chock full of diversity but for me, someone whose own circle of family and friends is a lovely mix, I thought the number of mixed race kids at Amy's school was a little much. Despite the mix being less than real for me, I liked the story's take on family, friendship and facing personal challenges. The series is something I'd share with early readers.

Keena Ford and the Second Grade Mix-Up is hilarious. Keena is as I'd like to say, a hot mess. Think Lucille Ball funny only she's much shorter, darker and in grade school. Keena and Eric are best friends, and they are excited about being in the same class (They are very disappointed when they learn the girls and boys are being placed in separate classrooms). Keena prefers Eric and building a homework hangout to sipping paper bag tea with another little girl.

I liked Keena from the start. And there are some choice, funny lines like when Keena says her dad asks her to try harder in school so teachers won't call him during the day using up his daytime minutes. I was close to falling to the floor laughing. Of course on the first day of school, Keena sets an episode into motion. She mistakenly writes her birthday wrong on the board and it only snowballs from there. Keena means well but like most of us at her age, we'd rather try to find a way out of mess instead of confessing. Keena and I share a birthday, too. What's not to love about a girl who shares your birthday, makes you laugh and reminds you of your younger self?

I highly recommend both titles.

Can you recommend any early readers with children of color? What did you read as a child? Was there diversity in the selections available to you?


Ali said...

Nice finds. I'm always interested in how homeschooled kids are portrayed in books and movies.

susan said...


I think I shared with you that I have two cousins who have very large broods. They have successfully homeschooled 12 children between them. I also have several friends who homeschool. Nothing but mad respect for what you do. You provide your children an incredible gift and opportunity.

Doret said...

Hotmess should be a word. Webster needs to get on it.

Jessie Carty said...

both of these books sound great!

ya know, i don't remember there being a lot of diversity in the books i read as a child although i was always drawn to the ones that were "different."

i started reading around 1980 and i fell in love with anything that was native american or set in another country which is generally the only way you came across people of color that i can recall.

so glad there are better choices now! or at least people who are promoting them.

love the new look of the site, btw.