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.)

¡Sí, Se Puede!/Yes We Can!: Janitor Strike In L.A. (Diana Cohn)

¡Hola amigos, y feliz cinco de Mayo! To celebrate, we wanted to read a book that recognizes a group of brave Latin-Americans, as well as their language, with the wonderful ¡Sí, Se Puede!/Yes We Can!: Janitor Strike In L.A., written by Diana Cohn and illustrated by Francisco Delgado, the story of the 2000 L.A. janitor’s union strike through the eyes of one Mexican-American family.

Carlos, or Carlitos as his mother calls him, is tucked in every night with her warm words: “Sleep with the angels.” Then his Mamá takes a bus downtown and spends all night cleaning the office buildings. As hard as she works, she still must work two more jobs to make ends meet, and she cannot afford Carlos’s abuelita’s medication. So one night, she sits Carlos down and explains that she and the other janitors in her union are going on strike, demanding fair compensation for all the hard work they do. Carlos supports his mother’s choice, and wishes he could help her. Finding that his classmates also have family members on strike, he knows exactly what to do. Following his mother’s example, he organizes, makes signs, and takes the lead to support the striking workers in their fight for fair pay.

This was a wonderfully moving story about a strike that changed that lives of many disenfranchised workers. Through the events of the strike, Cohn also tells a story of family, community, and the fundamental right to equal pay for equal work. The illustrations are gorgeous, blending the colors and styles of traditional South American art with a modern tale. The length might be stretching it for the littlest readers, but JJ sat through it happily and loved the art. Best of all, the text is presented in both English and Spanish, so readers of all ages and levels of fluency in each can enjoy the story AND connect the two languages to each other. This book is positively fantastic, and we highly recommend it. Definitely Baby Bookworm approved!