We read A LOT of books here at Jambo Book Club HQ to find the best ones for our members. Our basic criteria are that the books star a child of color, be fiction, have an interesting/engaging story that kids can immediately drop themselves into. Beyond that, we are looking for engaging illustrations (in the younger books) and characters or plot lines that will stay with our readers long after they’ve closed the books.
We’ve chosen 4 books in each one of our age categories that exemplifies the best of the year’s books.
A little girl makes friends with all of nature in My Friends by Taro Gomi. More More More Said the Baby is a classic. Vera B. Williams beautifully captures 3 separate vignettes of babies playing with their loved ones, each time wanting more more more loving attention. The scenes will be familiar to anyone who has spent time with a baby who loves affection and attention. Hush a Bye, Baby by Alyssa Satin Capucilli highlights the daddies and male caregivers. A beautiful book for new dads and their babies, Hush a Bye, Baby celebrates modern parenting with soft, soothing colors. Arree Chung introduces us to a biracial, non-gender-specific baby and the family dog in Out! The baby and dog go on adventures all night long – the world outside the crib is just too interesting to miss!
Our 3-4 year old members were treated to some truly great books this year and it was very difficult to choose only four. Lucia the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza delighted our readers with her spirited take on mixing playground fun with the superhero hidden inside each of us. The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan pulled us in not only because it 100% mirrors our very own home but because we fell in love with the protagonist’s sparkling confidence. Speaking of confidence, Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall is a thoroughly relatable story of a little boy drumming up the courage to jump off the diving board at his neighborhood pool. His father builds him up and gives him the space to make that leap of faith. Tiny, Perfect Things by M. H. Clark immediately pulled our heartstrings because it allowed us to see the world through the eyes of a child falling in love with nature. Our own daughter collects rocks, sticks, acorns and pinecones that don’t look like much to us, but to her, they are tiny, perfect things.
One of the best things about being a kid is the freshness and innocence of the sense of wonder they are able to experience. Our first two books, A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman and Rocket Says Look Up by Nathan Bryon, capture the immensity of the awe of space. A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars introduces kids to enormous numbers in a way that is both awe-inspiring and accessible. Rocket is the little girl at the center of Rocket Says Look Up. A meteor shower is imminent and Rocket is on a mission to make sure the adults around her get their faces out of their phones and into the sky to share in a communal transformative experience. Super Satya is not sure she can be Super without her cape. Luckily, she finds that what is super resides inside and even without her cape, Super Satya Saves the Day by Rakhee Mirchandani. Thank You, Omu by One Mora was one of our November picks. We are always trying to teach our children about abundance – the more you give, the more you will have. Thank You, Omu is a beautiful illustration of this principle. The author did not include a recipe for Omu’s stew in the book precisely because she wanted to emphasize that the book is not about food, but about prosperity through generosity.
I could not pry Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier out of my 7 year old’s hands. It took twice as long to review the book because every time I went to read it it was nestled under her pillow or stuffed in her backpack at school. Ghosts is a graphic novel telling the story of two sisters who have moved to a Northern California town that is very comfortable with the spirits from the other side who reside there. The younger sister, who has cystic fibrosis, is delighted by the possibility of communing with ghosts, her older sister, Catrina, is much less enthusiastic. The ghosts bring the family together in unexpected, but welcome, ways. Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott introduces us to Jaxon. His mother is experiencing landlord troubles and leaves him with a gruff woman named “Ma”. Ma has secrets and Jaxon is determined to figure out what they are. Are there dragons in Ma’s bag? Spoiler alert: Yes! Read this chapter book for a fun romp through alternate universes with creative characters and a black male protagonist.
The last two books are advanced picture books that your 7-9 year old may be able to read independently. In The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, our hero begins to learn that we’re not all the same and that’s quite wonderful. When she finds strength in her uniqueness and the commonality of difference, she finds she’s no longer alone. Kaylee, the star of How to Trick the Tooth Fairy by Erin Danielle Russell, thinks she is the GOAT of pranksters, but she may have met her match in the tooth fairy.
Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older is an action-packed adventure in an alternate universe where humans and dinosaurs co-exist. In it, Magdalys Roca is an Afro-Cuban orphan living in Civil War era NYC. She and her friends are living in the Colored Orphan Asylum when the Draft Riots break out. They have to escape the clutches of the Kidnapping Club who wants to sell them into slavery. Piecing Me Together follows the maturing of young Jade, a girl from a working-class/working poor neighborhood who has to determine what success looks like for her as she goes to a private school where she is a minority, makes new friends, and wonders what her future can look like.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds follows 7th-grader Castle Cranshaw, or “Ghost”, as he prefers to be known, as he joins an elite squad of runners and figures out what it means to fit in, make friends, and confront the past. Mai was born in the United States to parents who were refugees from the Vietnam War. Mai’s American friends call her Mia. Mia is dreaming of a summer spent on the beach with her best friend and a boy she has a crush on. Mia’s parents have other plans. She and her father are going to accompany her grandmother to Vietnam where there may be news of the grandfather she never met. Listen, Slowly is an incredible deep dive into Vietnam in the past, Vietnam today, the people who stayed, those who left, and how we relate to roots we’ve never seen.
Whew! This has been a long post! I hope you’ve been able to find some great recommendations for the children in your life. Multicultural books serve as a mirror and a window. Children of color can see themselves reflected in literature that gives them a greater sense of belonging and value. Children in the majority culture get a window into other people’s lives and values and find that in many ways our desire for love, adventure and inclusion is universal.
Happy reading! And Happy New Year!