Why?: A Conversation about Race (Taye Diggs)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Why?: A Conversation about Race, written Taye Diggs and illustrated by Shane Evans, a timely title about racial and social justice.

A series of child characters have complicated questions for their caregivers: “Why are those people shouting?” one asks his father, seeing a group of protesters. “Why are those people crying?” another questions her mother as they pass mourners at a sidewalk memorial. Their caregivers do their best to answer tactfully yet honestly, explaining that their communities are fighting back against systemic oppression and violence. “Oh,” the children reply, before one pair decides to take matters into their own hands.

Racial injustice is obviously a complex topic, especially for a picture book. However, as disenfranchised groups continue to fight for equality and justice, it’s a subject in need of representation in kidlit, especially as kids find themselves with questions about current events. Diggs’s text approaches this conundrum in a bold manner, with varying results. The first half of the story is strikingly powerful, and has the added benefit of giving real-life caregivers a script for dealing with tricky questions their own kids may have. However, when the topic of property destruction comes up, adult readers may have mixed opinions on informing young bookworms that “sometimes buildings must burn”. The resolution has very strong religious overtones that, while appropriately hopeful, also seem to suggest that faith and prayer will be the thing to fix civil unrest. It feels like an odd stance to take, especially after the candidness of the preceding section. Evan’s artwork is flawless, especially in his use of color to suggest both twilight and dawn, endings and beginnings. The length is good for a storytime, but while JJ was very invested, she definitely struggled to grasp the more serious themes. I won’t attempt to speak on the black experience or review this one on the basis of its message to black audiences. However, I will say that it’s worth checking out and deciding for yourself – it’s a book on a complex topic with a realistic yet optimistic tone. Overall, Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

We March (Shane W. Evans)

Hello, everyone! Today, we’re wrapping up our Black History Month series with We March by Shane W. Evans, an account of the 1963 March on Washington written from a child’s point of view.

Set against the background of the seminal civil rights protest, We March tells the story of one family’s experience, presenting the history of the day in one short sentence and concept per page (“The sun rises,” “We pray for strength,” “We walk together,” “We sing,” etc). The simple yet dramatic art tells the rest of the story, of people of all ages and walks of life coming together to take a stand against discrimination and inequality.

This book is a great way to introduce a vital historical event to young readers. The simplicity of the text is perfect for pre-readers, and keeps the length fairly short, enough that we were able to read through it twice. The art then invites a closer examination of the events of the day, and a discussion between children and adults about the people, places, and motivations that unfold on each page. JJ really enjoyed this one, and loved exploring the illustrations long after we had finished our read-throughs. A great way for little ones to experience the March through the eyes of another child, and definitely Baby Bookworm approved!

Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa (Donna L. Washington)

Happy Holidays Week, Day 2: Hello, everyone! Our book today is Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa, written by Donna L. Washington and illustrated by Shane W. Evans, a sweet tale about a rabbit who learns the true meaning of the Nguzo Saba, or Seven Principles of Kwanzaa.

L’il Rabbit is not having the best Kwanzaa; he simply can’t find a good way to contribute to the celebrations like his parents or siblings. To make matters worse, his mother is busy caring for his sick Granna Rabbit, so she won’t have time to make the Karamu, a traditional Kwanzaa feast. Feeling sad, L’il Rabbit decides to place all his energy into finding a special gift to give his Granna, and sets off on a search for something that may make her feel better, along the way learning about the power of community, kindness, and faith.

Okay, to be frank, everything I knew about Kwanzaa I had learned from a half-forgotten episode of The Proud Family I watched when I was a kid, so I was looking forward to a refresher, and to encouraging JJ to learn about the holidays and traditions of others. Fortunately, this book is perfect for that! The story is sweet and has a wonderful message, all while showing the Seven Principles through the characters’ actions. The length is good for baby bookworms, perhaps bordering on a bit long for the youngest readers, but JJ had no problems, so not too bad. The simple illustrations are very cute and full of personality, and most importantly, the book embodies the principles and spirit of Kwanzaa while educating about the holiday itself. Baby Bookworm approved!