In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Diversity in the details

Dear Annie,

Happy post-Thanksgiving!  That was a very impressive list of resources for diverse books.  You talked about getting involved in school book fairs -- excellent!  Most of my knowledge comes from supplying one annual book fair which gets all its books from us, with which we've evolved a really lovely list.  We should talk about book fairs more in the future: I think a lot of schools charge into them without defining why they're doing them.  A blog for another day.

Today we have one more request from your bid for same.  Dawn writes:
 I'd like to learn about more books like *Anna Hibiscus* that are good for gently introducing children to global diversity. At Alice's insistence we read *Anna Hibiscus* together three times, and it was only our insistence on moving on to *The Borrowers* that kept us from reading it again.
Anna Hibiscus is of course a big favorite of ours.  Dawn, I assume you know it's a four book series.  Anna lives in a family compound in a city; Atinuke's No. 1 Car Spotter lives in rural Africa.  So far there are only two Car Spotter books.

I'm interpreting Dawn's question as having to do with more or less contemporary real life situations.  Moving south to Botswana, adult novelist Alexander McCall Smith has written two early-chapter book series for kids.  One chronicles the elementary school life of Precious Ramotswe, the heroine of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books. 

The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case
, Precious solves a case involving an unjust accusation of theft.  Her father, whose legacy funds her detective agency in adulthood, is very present in Precious's young life, a constant storyteller. 

Iain McIntosh's illustrations give a refreshingly different feel to the book series.

They're gentle and engaging mysteries.

McCall Smith's earlier children's series is about a boy named Akimbo, whose father is head ranger in a game preserve.  The stories include everyday life scenes, and adventures he's involved in because of his father's work.  Akimbo and the Lions is a younger variation of Born Free: Akimbo raises a lion cub but then realizes he has to send it back to the wild when it starts scaring his neighbors.  In Akimbo and the Elephants, he tries to catch ivory poachers who have been killing elephants.  They're great stories -- I used to sell a lot of them.  They're all now unfortunately out of print -- links are to alibris used listings.

Back to the north of the continent, a classic picture book:
The Day of Ahmed's Secret
by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland, illustrated by Ted Lewin (written in 1995).   Ahmed, bursting with excitement because he has a secret, drives his donkey cart through the streets of Cairo delivering bottled cooking gas.  (Spoiler alert: the secret will be revealed.)   We get a sense of the intensely rich and varied street life of the city.  When he finally gets back home, he announces the secret: he's learned to write his name.  I once had a customer who used this one as the central book in a first grade book group about urban life.

Another what-life-is-like on the street picture book is On My Way to Buy Eggs, by Chih-Yuan Chen.  A girl in Taiwan walks to the store to buy eggs, finding constant diversion in what she sees: a shadow, a blue marble, a pair of glasses.  Also not available new in the U.S.  Link is alibris.

I hope, Dawn, that these are books you haven't yet discovered.

Happy reading!


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