No matter if words or illustrations, books or e-books, every form of modern children’s books struggles with issues of representation and inclusion of children and families of all cultures, races, religions, classes, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Far too often works for children do not reflect the diversity of the world, English-speaking or otherwise. Since our own forum is cyber-based, it only makes sense that the question of multicultural e-books for children should arise on this PaperTigers feature. Here is a far from conclusive set of suggestions for initial forays into the multicultural children’s e-book world, arranged approximately by reading age, youngest to oldest. This post rounds up our focus on multicultural children’s e-books. If you’ve just arrived in the discussion, do take a look at my earlier post, e-troducing the e-book, as well as our interviews with authors Janet Wong and Hazel Edwards.
Janet Wong, illustrated by Sladjana Vasic,
Once Upon A Tiger: New Beginnings for Endangered Animals
Learning has never been this interactive. Poet and author Janet Wong supplements her poems about a range of endangered animals, from the familiar whale and polar bear to the tongue-twisting axolotl and mouth-filling Sumatran rhinoceros, with nonfiction information about each particular animal’s stories. A Once Upon A Tiger website pushes interactivity, allowing readers to write and send poems of their own.
Once There Was a Boy
Magabala Books, 2011.
This exquisite, fragile picture book tells the story of a boy who lives alone on an ancient boat on a beach until one day, a girl appears. A disarmingly evocative, gentle story of friendship, separation and reconciliation propelled through breathtaking illustrations.
Only One Year
Lee & Low Books, 2010.
This slender, gentle chapter book introduces readers to a serious subject rarely discussed in children’s literature. After he turns two, Di Di’s parents, immigrants from China, decide to send him to China for the year to live with his grandparents, learn Chinese, and know his family. Told from the point of view of Di Di’s older sisters Sharon and Mary (ages 9 and 6), Only One Year addresses the confusion, shame, embarrassment, and sadness they feel trying to come to terms with this common immigrant family custom, and to their own fears that their American friends will not understand, and that Di Di in turn will return having forgotten America and his American sisters. Read a full review.
Monica Brown, illustrated by Rafael Lopez,
My name is Celia / Me llamo Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz /la vida de Celia Cruz
Luna Rising, 2004.
Growing up in a large Cuban family, baby Celia loves music more than everything, even though her father wants her to be a teacher. After revolution begins in Cuba, Celia flees prejudice and violence and learns how to make her way through the world, sharing her love of music with everyone she meets. The other two titles in Monica Brown’s My Name is/Me llamo… series, My Name Is Gabito and My Name is Gabriela are also available as e-books.
Ching Yeung Russell,
Lee & Low Books, 2010.
Yeung Ying’s mother might understand that girls are just as good as boys, but in 1960s Hong Kong, all Yeung Ying hears from everyone else is how important boys are. After her mother saves precious money to send Yeung Ying to school, she begins to imagine a dream centered around writing, relayed here in thirty-eight poignant, free-verse chapters that tell the story of a girl and a culture each finding their identities. Read a full review.
Guadalupe Garcia McCall,
Under the Mesquite
Lee & Low Books, 2011.
Mexican-American Lupita struggles to keep her seven siblings and herself together after their mother is diagnosed with cancer. Facing chaos at home and the normal struggles of social life at high school, budding actress Lupita finds refuge “under the mesquite,” where she turns to writing to make sense of an unscripted world.
Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy,
f2m: the boy within
Ford Street, 2010.
Authors Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy take on a subject until recently virtually absent from teen fiction, transgendered identities. When all-female punk rock band guitarist Skye decides to make the change from female to male – which is how she feels on the inside – she must come to grips with not only the physical changes her body undergoes, but also the emotional challenges of making and sticking to the decision.
Looking for more? Often the easiest multicultural books to find are those that have won prestigious awards, like the Newbery, CBCA or former Smarties Award, such as Where The Mountain Meets the Moon, The Watsons Go To Birmingham, or Hitler’s Daughter.
For one of the best resources for free e-books about all cultures, check out the International Children’s Digital Library, an online resource where you can sort by title, author, country, and award-winner.
As more publishers embrace e-publishing, more multicultural e-books will become available. In turn, as the technical potential for reproducing picture books increases, we will hopefully see more picture books making the leap. Today both traditional print books and e-books still consistently neglect and under-represent those peoples who themselves historically remain neglected and underrepresented. In turn, many of those engaged in the world of multicultural children’s literature hope that the ease e-books offer, particularly with new horizons of self-publishing and viral promotion, will impact both the ability to offer more books for children that represent all children in the world, as well as give all children access to books they might not otherwise reach.
Like the publication of multicultural children’s e-books itself, this list is a beginning. As always, we welcome your thoughts and suggestions. What other multicultural e-books have you read that you would recommend?