Children and the Fight for Social Justice

Children-and-the-Fight-for-Social-JusticeThe Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton introduces the remarkable story of how children helped amplify the tide of the civil rights movement. This book is sure to impress young readers with an understanding that even children can stand up for what is right. Kids can work for social justice in ways both large and public as well as small and personal.


Kids can work for social justice in ways both large and public as well as small and personal. Click To Tweet

The social justice movement dominates the news lately. Kids certainly hear the reports and discussions. Some children may feel fearful and powerless. Others may yearn to make a difference, to participate in the solution-making process. Most will probably assume that they can’t do anything because they’re young. This push and pull between the call to action and feeling constrained will frustrate and distress them.

But Audrey’s story shows them that their assumption is false. Children can do something to effect change and to shine a light into the dark corners of society. The courage and righteous indignation of children can often awaken reluctant adults to take action. In a case like the Birmingham Children’s March, children acted when the potential cost to families–job loss, eviction, beatings– prevented adults from acting.

The courage and righteous indignation of children can often awaken reluctant adults to take action. Click To Tweet

Newton’s illustrations and Levinson’s text depict the privations and insults of segregation in powerful and revealing ways: the dirty fountains, the humiliating trek to the back of the bus, being relegated to the freight elevator instead of the passenger elevator used by whites, etc. Kids will feel Audrey’s humiliations and understand her reactions.

Audrey embodies the earnestness, purity of heart and trust of a child raised with faith, love and, respect.  She listens to the words of the famous civil rights leaders who dine at her family’s table. They share food, friendship and, a mission. Audrey takes their words to to heart. In spite of her fear, she takes action and responds with courage.

The story depicts  Audrey’s jail experience effectively yet without overly frightening young readers. The sense of loneliness, hunger, privation come across. One illustration which spreads across two pages, depicts the first time Audrey speaks to a white man. A group of them tower over her and spew questions: “Are you against America? … Why do you march?”

Audrey’s honest response: “To go places and do things like everybody else.” Young readers will understand Audrey’s stance. Kids believe in fairness; they lobby for it regularly. Their protestations start at home where they want to ensure that they and their siblings get equal treatment (and yes, the same “stuff” too.) Eventually, they expand their horizons to include friends, classmates, etc.

Most kids would be horrified at the thought of risking jail but they can understand less shocking and dramatic ways to stand up for right like standing up to the class bully or befriending the new student in class. The Youngest Marcher can open many important conversations about civil rights, respect and equality. Click To Tweet

Children and the Fight for Social JusticeAdoption-attuned* Lens This story can offer an easy way to introduce discussions about fundamental equality and universal rights. Most adoptees encounter instances where people imply that their family isn’t quite as “real”  as families exclusively built through adoption. Trans-racially and trans-culturally adopted children may feel a particular resonance with the struggle for equality.

Kids Find Inner Lion: the Strength of the Hero Within

The Lion Inside.51T3oKWEACL._SX398_BO1,204,203,200_

Inside of each of us lives an Inner Lion. Sometimes he is dormant but he is always there waiting for  us to tap into our powerful potential. Even adults often struggle to remember this “hero within” so it is vital for us to help children discover and embrace their Inner Lion. This hero exists in all of us regardless of our stature or age. But he must compete with the other voices inside our heads-the ones who broadcast, fear, self-doubt, timidity and despair

The Lion Inside by Rachel Bright and illustrated by Jim Field brilliantly demonstrates that the most powerful person in my life is me. It also hammers home the truism “Never judge a book by its cover.” So often the face we present to the world hides our genuine selves, the selves that our both brave and fearful, confident and cautious.

When we (both kids and adults) make judgments about others based on externals, we overlook the opportunity to connect with the whole person and all of us lose the chance to be genuine. Ironically, we often treat ourselves no better and criticize ourselves with the same harsh judgment!

Fields’ fabulous illustrations carry a lot of the story’s message. The difference in size between the tiny mouse and the huge lion reinforces the immensity of the mouse’s decision to confront the lion. By connecting to his Inner Lion he awoke the bravery needed to accomplish his goal. Taken from the lion’s perspective, the reader experiences the other side of the equation. Physical size doesn’t protect one from fear. Courage does. Courage acknowledges fear and still chooses to act.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300 Adoption-attuned Lens: All kids strive to find their niche in school, their neighborhoods, etc. Adoptees also must learn to find their comfort spot in their new families. Sometimes they can feel as mismatched and powerless as this little mouse when he faced the roaring lion. This story invites readers to consider that beyond stature and externals, each of us has important skills and gifts to contribute, fears to overcome, and opportunities to grow. Each family member benefits from being part of the larger whole. Diversity enriches families. And classrooms, neighborhoods and communities.

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles.51oUYa5gt8L._SY457_BO1,204,203,200_

All of us yearn to be included, to have friends and to be appreciated.  The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles  written by Michelle Cuevas and illustrated by Erin E. Stead tackles this idea from a nuanced perspective. Pastel images convey the watery context of both ocean and fantasy world and strike the perfect note of mystery and dreaminess.

Cuevas writes that the main character–the Uncorker of Ocean Bottles–“Had no name.” This choice is brilliant because his anonymity renders him as “Everyman” that part of all human beings, kids and adults, who crave recognition and validation. The Uncorker dedicates himself to his life task: ensuring that he locates the rightful recipient for every message in a bottle he discovers. Through his diligent efforts, he finds purpose, steps beyond his own loneliness and engages with others. His actions solve his “problem.” He is so pleased with the results of his efforts, he commits to repeating his efforts. Young readers will recognize the great model he sets.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300 Adoption-attuned Lens: Action is key to overcoming fear, creating connection and displacing loneliness. This book helps adopted children to see the benefits of reaching out instead of waiting for others to reach out first. (This is not to shift the burden of creating family connection from the parents but rather to show kids how they can contribute to the process.)

Poor Little Guy.51A1ZTLGLWL._SX496_BO1,204,203,200_Poor Little Guy  written and illustrated by Elanna Allen also focuses on the relationship between stature, fear and, courage. Allen conveys a lot of information in her illustrations which include only two characters: an octopus and a tiny, tiny wide-eyed, bespectacled fish. Immense disparity in their size highlights why the fish feels threatened by the octopus.

At first glance readers might think the octopus is playing with the fish. The octopus’ immense arms transform into many things–a fish-sketball net, a complex maze, a bird-cage, etc. Soon it becomes clear that he is actually “toying” with the fish. Each transformation is intended to remind the fish of the octopus’ size, strength and power to control the little fish.

Until the octopus mentions how tasty he thinks the little guy will be. His threat awakens the Inner Lion of the fish. He draws on his courage and his ability to defend himself. The reader discovers that the little fish isn’t so helpless after all. He uses his special skill to successfully defeat the octopus’ evil intentions. Read the book to find out exactly how he accomplishes this! Don’t we all love it when the underdog–er, underfish– is victorious?

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300 Adoption-attuned Lens: It is important for kids to recognize how they can stand up for themselves and tap into their ability to be agents of their own success. For adopted children who sometimes encounter bias and bullying because they were adopted, this message of self-advocacy is an important one. Again, this point is not intended to invalidate their experiences. Rather it is meant to add a skill with which they can cope. Dismissing or trivializing bullying does not address the situation!

I wasn't Invited to the Birthday.51QhF7wiBOL._SX428_BO1,204,203,200_I Wasn’t Invited to the Birthday  written by Susanna Isern and illustrated by Adolfo Serra addresses the universal experience of being left out. No one enjoys feeling invisible, inferior or, unaccepted. Among children these slights often occur “publicly” when kids distribute invitations at school. Even in classrooms where that practice is forbidden, kids talk about upcoming events which can leave the uninvited kids feeling bleak and marginalized.

The gift of this book is how it shows kids a way to take control. They can choose to look beyond the ranks of the “in crowd” to find friendship.  (Commonly, a child’s first instinct is to shun others who are on the margins in the hope that they will be “tainted” by befriending an unpopular child. Unfortunately, fear drives them to collude in the ostracizing of other children.)

In this story, however, the uninvited kids band together. The story takes a fantasy vibe and the kids “enjoy an unforgettable afternoon.”

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300 Adoption-attuned Lens: For kids wrestling with feelings of rejection–which almost all adoptees report at some time in their lives–reading a story of finding ones “group” is helpful. Perhaps that means befriending other adoptees, or kids who share the same passion for a common interest–sports, the arts, etc. Whatever that common ground is, it is important to reach out and search for it.

As mentioned in the previous review, this point is not intended to invalidate their experiences. Rather it is meant to add another coping skill. Dismissing or trivializing their experience does not fix the problem.

Our theme for #DiverseKidLit in February is Love. Please consider sharing diverse books and resources that support love and families. (As always, the theme is only a suggestion. Diverse posts on alternate topics are always welcome.)

What Is #DiverseKidLit?  Diverse Children’s Books is a book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds.

We encourage everyone who shares to support this blogging community by visiting and leaving comments for at least three others. Please also consider following the hosts on at least one of their social media outlets. Spread the word using #diversekidlit and/or adding our button to your site and your diverse posts.


We hope this community will grow into a great resource for parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, and authors! Our next linkup will be Saturday, February 18th and on the first and third Saturdays of every month.

Upcoming Theme

Our theme for the current month is Love. Themes are a suggestion only; all diverse book posts are welcome. If you’re interested, you can start planning now for our upcoming themes …

  • February 18th linkups: Love. Let’s continue to spread our love of diverse books by sharing diverse books about love, families, and relationships.
  • March 4th and 18th: Changing Seasons. As we eagerly await the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere and Autumn in the Southern, let’s share favorite books and resources on the seasons.

Most Clicked Post from Last Time

Our most-clicked post from last time was Marjorie’s review of IBBY Review: Roses Are Blue by Sally Murphy and Gabriel Evans on Mirrors Windows Doors. This novel in verse shares the struggles of a young girl trying to process her new life after her mother is severely injured in a car accident.

My DiverseKidLit Shout-Out

My DiverseKidLit Shout-Out

Now more than ever, we need to share and promote books by and about Muslims, and a great place to start is Kitaab World‘s new series on Countering Islamophobia through Stories. The first entry is a book list featuring Muslim Kids as Heroes.

I am also delighted to welcome Gauri, CEO and co-founder of Kitaab World, as a co-host!


#DiverseKidLit is Hosted by:

Gayle Swift, Author of ABC, Adoption & Me   Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Google+

Marjorie @ Mirrors Windows Doors   Blog / Twitter / Facebook / PinterestMia @ Pragmatic Mom Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest / Instagram

Myra @ Gathering Books   Blog / Twitter / Facebook

Want to be notified when the next #diversekidlit linkup goes live? Click here to join the mailing list.

Interested in joining as a host or an occasional co-host? Contact katie at

(Never participated in a linkup before? Please click here for a more detailed step-by-step.)

Get #DiverseKidLit Recommendations on Pinterest!

Guest Hosts for February

Gauri @ Kitaab World   an online bookstore for South Asian children’s books, toys and games
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Instagram

Shoumi Sen, Author of Toddler Diaries   Blog / Twitter / Facebook


Our Pinterest board highlights a wide range of amazing posts and resources for Diverse Children’s Books. Please consider following the board for even more great books!

School–in the Classroom and Beyond

Thank you, Mr. Falker.51NsaAZq0AL._SX388_BO1,204,203,200_Over the next few weeks, children across America will return to school. Though many will complain loudly, by summer’s end, most children look forward to the return of a steady routine, being with friends and learning new things.

But. Not. All.

For some children school is a trial. Learning to read challenges and overwhelms them. While the rest of their class breezes through books, these unlucky kiddos face discouragement, teasing and major bruises to their self-image. No one wants to feel stupid. Click To Tweet For kids suffering from dyslexia, their difficulty in mastering this fundamental skill convinces them their learning difficulty means exactly this: in their own minds, they are stupid. Everyone else seems to master reading easily.

This is why I love Thank you, Mr. Falker, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco. (Yes, that Patricia Polacco, the one who grew up to write & illustrated dozens of children’s books which have won many awards.) It is the true story of Polacco’s childhood struggle to learn to read. Dogged by bullies and plagued by her own self-doubts, Patricia grew to hate school. Every time I read this book, it makes me cry. The story conveys the girl’s emotional pain with authenticity and empathy. The reader aches on behalf of Patricia as she strives to overcome dyslexia and rejoices with her when Mr. Falker identifies her “disability” and provides her with the tools she needs to learn.

He also helps her to recognize her exceptional talent as an artist. To a child feeling defeated and stupid, having a way to shine makes a huge  difference. We need someone to believe in us; often it's the key that enables us to believe in ourselves. Click To Tweet

Readers will enjoy the author’s epilogue commentary describing her encounter with Mr. Falker thirty years later. He asked her what her occupation was. She replied, “I make books for children.” They both appreciated the irony. This book is a glorious Thank You to the teachers who make a difference in children’s lives and the kids who muster the courage to keep trying even when a challenge is truly daunting.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300Adoption-attuned (AQ) Lens: Children who were adopted face the challenge of integrating their dual heritage (birth and adoptive) into a cohesive, healthy identity. They are familiar with the kind of determination and courage that it takes to keep trying even when a task is hard. they can easily identify with Patricia’s yearning to be like her peers and to not be burdened with being different.   Thank you Mr. Falker provides hope because Patricia's story is fact not fiction. Click To Tweet

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled.614a5DH2tZL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_Frank and Lucky Get Schooled, written and illustrated by Lyn Rae Perkins shares the story of a boy and his dog–two lost souls in search of answers. They find those answers in each other. Along the way they discover lots of things about the world around them as well as about themselves.

Readers can race through this book or, read only a few pages at a time because the soft watercolor illustrations paired with word balloon comments invite conversations to digress along suggested story threads. No matter how experiments turn out, you always learn something.--Patricia Polacco Click To Tweet

Teachers will appreciate the many opportunities this book offers to show how school “subjects” exist beyond the confines of the classroom. For example, one illustration pictures Frank and Lucky in bed at various stages throughout the night with a line indicating how much of the bed Frank occupies and how much Lucky claims. Kids kids will never realize that’s fractions in action. They will delight in the fascinating ways the lives of a dog and boy mirror one another. Frank and Lucky Get Schooled, injects a bit of  “education” in a novel way, one that demonstrates that the world is our classroom and life is the curriculum.

Another fun example asks, “If a chair is accidentally left pulled out from the table at 8:30 in the morning, how much cake will be left at 4:00 in the afternoon? … We won’t know the answer until someone comes home. And then it will be a history question.”

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300Adoption-attuned (AQ) Lens: Each of the activities shared by Frank and Lucky can be mimicked to reflect a reader’s personal world. For example, they can create maps of their room, house, or neighborhood. For that AQ* flair, they could  choose a location from either their birth or adoptive home.

Or, they may tackle some “history” questions about their own lives. These can be serious or lighthearted; be sure to let the child decide which it will be.

Why Choose Kindness?

the kindness quilt.51Wk4YgNtlL._SX455_BO1,204,203,200_

Our daily lives consists of interactions with others plus conversations within ourselves about who we are, what we value and how that governs the actions  we choose. Emotions influence us and shape what we think and how we act. The way we engage with others affects how they respond and listen to us. Kindness is the WD40© of human relationships. Click To Tweet

Nancy Elizabeth Wallace wrote and illustrated The Kindness Quilt  it uses our love for quilts to help readers see how individual acts of kindness can blanket a classroom, school and community to yield increased acceptance, tolerance and happiness. When kindness becomes a group endeavor, the benefits multiply.

In the story, the teacher proposes that students commit to performing acts of kindness. When they complete the project they share their experiences in a “do-and-draw-and-share Kindness Project.” The children do a variety of deeds and when they gather their reports one child exclaims that it looks like a quilt block. As the kindnesses increase their “quilt” grows larger. It outgrows the classroom bulletin board and expands to the hall. Soon other classes join and ” the kindness kept growing and growing and growing.”

Readers will certainly get the point that kindness begets kindness. Click To Tweet


Adoption-attuned (AQ) Lens: 
Most of us learned that the best way to have a friend is to be a friend. The Kindness Quilt shows readers how “being” a friend can look as well as how it can multiply. Adopted children benefit from the guidance of family, teachers, etc on how to resist any adoption-connected negativity which they experience. Kindness is certainly an important habit for them to include in their “tool box” of social skills.

The quilt also serves as a multi-layered metaphor for creating beauty from diverse pieces. Variations in color, size, texture, etc., ENHANCES the design. This is a healthy and reassuring message for our kids.

Each Kindness.9780399246524Each Kindness a Jane Addams Award Book by Jacqueline Woodson, also was named a 2013 Coretta Scott King Honor Book. This is truly an exceptional book. As I read it goose bumps shivered my arms. E.B. Lewis captured the deep emotion of the story in dreamy water color. The illustrations juxtapose both beauty and heartache because they reveal the children’s lack of kindness, their unwelcoming cold shoulder and judgmental rejection of the new girl.

One might think this replays the classic story line of the challenge that every “new” kid faces. But it is exceeds that think-how-the-shunned-kid-feels meme as the children rebuff her repeated efforts to break into their circle. Instead, it asks the reader to imagine being the child who chose unkindness, who joined the taunting, who derided and jeered.

After the teacher uses a pebble-dropped-in-water to demonstrate how one act ripples in an ever-widening circle, Chloe undergoes a change of heart. She wants to include the outcast girl. She anticipates making amends, only to discover, it is too late. 

The book ends with the words, Chloe “watched the water ripple as the sun set through the maples and the chance of a kindness with Maya became more and more forever gone.” The final illustration shows Chloe in a lush, lovely pond side spot. The beauty contrasts with Chloe’s uncomfortable realization that it is too late to make amends for her ugly treatment of Maya. The reader feels the weight of that understanding. There is no and-she became-Maya’s-best-friend easy answer.

The message is clear. Sometimes, do overs are not possible. Some mistakes and lost opportunities cannot be corrected. Our choices matter. Click To TweetPowerful. True. Important. This book merits every award it won.

Hundred Dresses.517PH8RNkIL._SX401_BO1,204,203,200_(Memories of the classic story The Hundred Dresses  by Eleanor Estes illustrated by Louis Slobodkin popped to mind, because it deals with a similar story line. Each Kindness makes its point with eloquent brevity and contemporary, visually appealing illustrations.)


magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300Adoption-attuned (AQ) Lens: Our kids certainly understand, in a very personal way that choices have permanent consequences. This book can easily open conversations about the decisions made by their birth parents. (Not in terms of a cruelty done to them but with an intent to help kids understand that adoption was in no way their fault but rather is a decision made by adults for very adult reasons.)

Here I Am.51vpzgChkNL._SX410_BO1,204,203,200_

Here I Am by Patti Kim and illustrated by Sonia Sánchez is a wordless book yet it tells a complex story of one boy’s immigration, and struggle to make America his home. Because it relies on the reader’s imagination to supply the text, it becomes uniquely personal while remaining a universal story as well.

As a wordless book, the success of the story relies on the quality of the artwork. Sánchez’s complex illustrations succeed. They capture the many emotions and struggles which the boy faces. The story begins with the boy peering  out an airplane window. This is not the face of an excited child thrilled to be flying the skies to an anticipated destination. Sadness paints his face.

Subsequent illustrations depict signs with random letters. Their message remains gibberish to eyes unfamiliar with English. We follow the boy through his days as he confronts, confusion, loneliness, fear, sadness and isolation. Until he finds a seed which becomes a talisman for possibility, for hope and positivity.Eventually, the sed brings him friendship and a feeling of belonging. In the final illustration, the boy imagines that he sees the words “Here I am.” Now he not only can recognize and read the English words, he realizes that he belongs.

As part of the backmatter of the book, the author includes comments that explain the back story which motivated her to write “Here I Am.” With her family, she immigrated to the U.S. from Korea. with her family. This is her personal narrative but it is also more global than that. She writes, “If you are an immigrant or maybe just facing something new and different in your life, I hope my story helps you see that you’re not alone.”

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300Adoption-attuned (AQ) Lens: Although this story originates from the author’s personal experience immigrating to this country with her family, it still has the potential to click with kids who were adopted transculturally or transracially. The emotions and the child’s journey learning to cope with being moved to an entirely new life, culture, country and language will resonate with many adoptees. Most adoptees can identify with the struggle to “fit” in a new space–family, school, community or, country.
The Peace Book.0e9574103de7110a0e0a72fcbe23bcb1

The Peace Book by Todd Parr illustrated in his signature cartoon style that features a diverse characters showcases the many faces of peace in action. It opens with “Peace is making new friends.” This highlights one of the most fundamental ways children can be peacemakers: by reaching out and befriending others. When kids stretch to include not only those similar to them but also those who are different, they build relationship bridges and we all benefit from this attitude.

Todd defines peace in many ways, e.g., as environmental respect, as musical, linguistic, and artistic diversity, as sharing of resources so that everyone has a home and cares for their community. Peace is the ability to dream and the freedom to pursue those dreams. This message supports us all. As we teach children to appreciate everyone’s talents and, to validate the needs of all, we all rise to a higher standard of thoughtfulness, kindness, and consideration. This benefits all of us.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300Adoption-attuned (AQ) Lens: Peace is a fruit of kindness. Click To Tweet
 Parr includes many aspects of peace. Some focus on externals and others on internal experience.  Both of these angles can lead to conversations about how adoption influences, enriches, and challenges adoptees’ lives. Discussions can then digress to ways in which our children can help themselves nurture inner peace as well as peace in their outer world.

In an earlier post on this blog, I focused on the importance of empathy which goes hand in hand with kindness. (For some practical strategies for nurturing empathy in children, read my review  for GIFT Family Services: “Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World )

Value Difference and Diversity, Fit In, Stand Up

Yearning for acceptance, apprehension about difference, the search for common ground…Here are three books which tackle these big concepts with humor and emotion. They open perspectives and minds while entertaining. Great selections for readers of ANY age.

Bob the artist. 41jSl9F6mzL._SX367_BO1,204,203,200_Embarrassed by his appearance, Bob, the gangly main character of Bob the Artist by Marion Deuchars strives to fit in with his short-legged peers. He tries several approaches to alter his appearance: exercise, diet, and costume. Still he peers continue to tease him. Fitting in is exhausting work.To escape his peers’ relentless teasing, Bob roams the neighborhood alone.

Until… he wanders into an art museum. Inspiration strikes. Convinced that this camouflage will distract the other birds and end the bullying he decides to transform his lovely red beak into works of art that honor the famous artists featured in the museum.

Bob discovers he has a talent for art. (Kids won’t even realize that they’re receiving an art history lesson as a bonus!) Proud of his talent, he comes to realize he no longer cares about the rude taunts. He’s happy with himself.

This delightful book entertains and makes its point so well. Young readers will understand two things. First, they can–and should–choose kindness and inclusivity. Second, they need to value their own talents and gifts. This must be done without a sense of superiority but simply as affirming everyone has value.


Adoption-attuned (AQ) Lens: 
As I have written many times in other posts, adoptive families have a vested interested in expanding our culture’s definition of what is “real”, “normal” and, “acceptable” Kids naturally yearns for acceptance, fear being ostracized and judges as different. As parents and teachers, we have the chance to teach kids how to own their own uniqueness and how to value the differences of others.

In the story, Bob’s legs caused him to be “othered.” As adoptees, kids experience a level of “otherness” that cuts deep. Non-adopted children and adults often lack appropriate language to express their thoughts and questions and therefore unintentionally say or ask things that come across as especially cruel. Adoptees benefit from adult help in learning how to listen for the speaker’s motive. Giving them the benefit of the doubt may be overly generous; it also may assist our kids in having the confidence to speak up for themselves and “set things right.”

Bob the Artist is delightful and easily lends itself to deep conversations on many topics in addition to adoption.

My Name Is Octicorn. 417MjBeAKSL._SX440_BO1,204,203,200_Hello, My Name Is Octicorn by Kevin Diller and illustrated by Justin Lowe invites readers to consider befriending Octi, a creature whose mom was an octopus and whose dad was a unicorn.  Octi has trouble finding friends because he is so unique. Everyone shuns him. Because they fear his differences, they miss out on the pleasure of knowing him.

Octi showcases his many unique talents he has because he is half unicorn and half octopus. At parties he can juggle and dance with the best. At campfires he can toast marshmallows on his horn!…if he were invited. Ah, but that is the situation. Octi doesn’t get invited.

After presenting his case, Octi concludes his story with an invitation: “Will you be my friend? Yes or No?” This is brilliant writing because the question lands directly in the reader’s personal world. And hopefully, in their heart. Octi challenges them individually. They must make a choice–even if only in their mind. Will they choose friendship or rejection?

Justin Lowe’s quirky, unsophisticated, child like illustrations further the sense that this story is a personal conversation between Octi and the reader. This is a short, easy read with a message that packs an important punch.


Adoption-attuned (AQ) Lens: 
This book has an obvious and easy segue into discussions of  the challenges, realities and benefits of being biracial and/or multiracial. So, kids who are bi-racial or multi-racial may feel a special resonance with the theme of this book. One illustration shows a genealogical diagram depicting Octi’s parents. (Dad is a unicorn; mom is an octopus.) This illustration might lead to conversations about the heritages of each birth parent. Parent and child can discuss both the reality and the cultural beliefs of both groups.

The book highlights the benefits of Octi’s dual heritage. This is an important point for all adoptees. There is a richness that comes from muti-ethnicity. We see it as an additive experience instead of as a subtractive one.

Friendshape–An Uplifting Celebration of Friendship by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld asserts that friends “shape who we are.” They provide many benefits. They help us divide our troubles,  create fun, share our celebrations, and stand by us in good times and in bad. They remember to apologize and forgive each other. That’s a lot of goodness!

But the real message of this book is: Friends do not have to look alike. And yet both children and adults struggle to learn to befriend individuals whom they perceive as “other.” In fact their differences often help us in significant ways. They influence to grow and change in response to the relationship.


Adoption-attuned (AQ) Lens: 
Adoptive families will find an easy and obvious segue to discussions about racial and cultural differences among friends and even families. How do these differences inform who we are and how we interact with one another? How does difference influence the way our families are received in school? Whom we choose to befriend? How does the way our friends view us and our families influence our own inner dialog as well as the interactions we all share.

Making Room for All: Diversity in Action

baseball saved us.61-dEXqKjLL._SY393_BO1,204,203,200_

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee is especially relevant in today’s climate of intolerance and anti-immigration. Baseball is considered by many to be our national past time. In 1942, the United States gathered Japanese Americans, stripped them of their property, forcibly relocated them, and temporarily housed them in horse stalls! Ultimately these families were interned in isolated desert camps.

With little to do, few resources and the constant surveillance of armed guards, tensions grew between the authorities as well as among the internees themselves. It is ironic that these citizens turned to baseball as a way to cope.

Baseball Saved Us  serves as both a cautionary tale of how unbridled hate and suspicion can destroy lives and lead countries astray. It is also a brilliant story about how to confront and survive bullying. Four Stars!

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300AQ* Lens Chock full of potential leads to conversations about overcoming difficult circumstances and/or ethnic differences as well as bullying, this story can be read many times. Each visit can explore these talking point from a fresh vantage point. The story describes how the young people rejected their elders, turned to disrespect and anger as a response to their difficult circumstances. Since many adoptees also follow this strategy, the story provides a chance to scrutinize this choice from a less personally direct angle.

Weedflower.51VUwRNliVL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_For families with teens, Weedflower by Newbery medal-winning author  Cynthia Kadohata is also an excellent book on  the unjust internment of Japanese-Americans. The characters are well drawn. By narrating the story through a child’s eyes, young readers can identify more easily with her plight and with the injustice that created this shameful part of American history.

In addition to the challenge of coping with internment, the teens face the universal issues of adolescence: peer intolerance, family dynamics, young love, and interracial relationships. (The camp at which this story is set is adjacent to a Native American reservation. They too, face challenging circumstances because of their confinement to the inhospitable location.) This plot point explores intolerance and prejudice from an additional angle.

Four Stars!

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300AQ* Lens This book targets an older audience and offers a chance to explore the same themes mentioned above from a greater depth, e.g, interracial dating. This is an experience that many adoptive families will face. A story like this one allows discussions to occur long before it becomes a reality within a family. Such conversations can help both young reader and parent to explore their thoughts and feelings and perhaps unmask information that might otherwise remain unexplored and unexamined.

Sixteen Years.61tDb7FK3ZL._SY400_BO1,204,203,200_In Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds by Paula Yoo and illustrated by Dom Lee sport again features as the tool that both highlights and ultimately triumphs over prejudice and bigotry. Students may be familiar with the history of banning African-Americans from parks, restaurants, hotels, schools, community pools, etc. Students may not realize that people of other races also faced similar discrimination.

Sammy Lee’s life story is inspiring from the angle anti-discrimination but also as an example of dedication and determination to succeed.

Four Stars!

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300AQ* Lens This book recounts how important persistence and dedication to one’s dreams can be. It also sets a backdrop about the history of anti-Asian sentiment in this county. This provides an important chance to explore cultural beliefs and myths about Asians which Asian-American adoptees face on a daily basis.


Strictly No Elephants.61v2C6aJBZL._SX449_BO1,204,203,200_Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo presents a heart-warming riff on friendship, inclusion and tolerance.  The story opens with a young boy interacting with his special pet: a tiny elephant. They do lots of things together, help one another and share experiences as best friends always do. When the boy decides to bring his pet elephant to the local celebration of Pet Club Day, he  discovers elephants are not welcome.

Forlorn, he  trudges off. On his way home he encounters another child whose pet skunk also had been banned from joining the Pet Club festivities. They comfort one another and develop the perfect solution. They establish their own club, a place where “All are welcome.”

Yoo’s charming illustration suit the story well and depict an array of ethnicities–and animal species!–which reinforces the story’s message of inclusivity and tolerance. The text flows reveals a lovely telling of friendship-in-action that every reader can understand and emulate. Five Stars!

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300AQ* Lens While making some very important points about inclusion and acceptance, this book accomplishes its goal with great subtlety. Instead of becoming angry, the two main characters face their situation with action and partnership. They are problem solvers not victims! This is a great model for all kids, especially those whose histories include difficult and/or traumatic starts.


separate is never equal.61+DUdFaUSL._AC_US160_Separate Is Never Equal, a multi-award-winning book written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh tells the story of Mexican-American Sylvia Mendez and how her family fought for desegregation. They were instrumental in ending school segregation in California seven years prior to the  historic Supreme Court Case, Brown v. Board of Education. They demonstrated great bravery in the face of discrimination

Separate Is Never Equal, provides an excellent companion story to Strictly No Elephants because it debunks the falsity that separate can be equal, and points out that isolation and division lead to misunderstanding, fear and inequality. This story models the importance of standing up for one’s rights, for being willing to demand the civil rights that every person deserves.

Tonatiuh’s gorgeous artwork is reminiscent of Mayan glyphs, an important element of cultural pride for Mexican-Americans. Five Stars!

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300AQ* Lens What a great example of ethnic pride and valuing all parts of one’s history. For adoptees from other nations or cultures, this is a good story about preserving culture while insisting on having one’s full measure of their rights as Americans. All parts of their story have value. All parts of themselves have value.

The same is true for others. Just as each of us deserves to be respected and accepted, we must offer the same respect and acceptance in return.

All Sing Same Voice.51k2csmqwfL._SX398_BO1,204,203,200_We All Sing in the Same Voice by J. Philip Miller and illustrated by  Paul Meisel celebrates harmony and commonality. Because it is told in the first person, it reinforces the shared humanity of all people.  “I” am…” each of these people, “I am … ” mankind and mankind is me. And “I am …” the one who can demonstrate acceptance and respect for each of these aspects of diversity.

Joyous illustrations depict a broad array of people, each of whom has similar needs, thoughts, desires and inclinations. This book is based on the Sesame Street song of the same title.

A digital sound track is available on Amazon. Five Stars!

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300AQ* Lens This book is a delight. Exuberant illustrations capture individuals, families, locations and activities of every stripe. This warm celebration of diversity and acceptance is an important theme for adoptees.


Cinderella Around the World

family readingFairy tales are a perennial favorite with children. They appear in all cultures. Infused with regional/national flavor and history, they hold common elements. They offer an easy and effective way of broadening your child’s involvement in the greater world. (This is important as technology shrinks our modern world and increasingly reinforces our connection as citizens of the world.)


The Cinderella tale, for example has been shared through the generations around the world. While young readers will recognize the fundamental similarities, they will also be fascinated–perhaps even surprised–to see the myriad ways in which the tale can be tweaked. In addition to cultural nuances,  some Cinderella tales spin a yarn with a male hero. This provides a fun and unexpected twist and demonstrates another way in which difference can be embraced instead of feared.

Cendrillon.Caribbean Cinderella.61BFZ1ecydL._SX463_BO1,204,203,200_

Reading several versions of a tale like Cinderella, can also jump start a child’s imagination and help him to understand there isn’t necessarily only one “right” way for things to be. Why not explore the world through Cinderella’s tale? You’ll find many chances to talk about your child’s beliefs about magical solutions, persistence, kindness, bullying etc. These are important topics that you will want to be intentional about nurturing and shaping.


Some versions of Cinderella infuse the tale with Cindy Ellen. American West Cinderella.61nQJOTv9IL._SY417_BO1,204,203,200_

regional flavor like, The Salmon Princess: An Alaskan Cinderella, or Cindy-Ellen: A Wild West Cinderella, or Smokey Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella



Appalachian Cinderella.518tfdZW0XL._SX367_BO1,204,203,200_Others recast the story the tale in a contemporary light, like Cinder-Elly which is a rap-type retelling with an urban setting. Check out the book cover array for additional suggestions. Invite your child to create his/her own version of the tale. Will the hero be male or female? Contemporary or from times past? Set locally or in a more exotic land? Have fun!

Perhaps your child will rewrite the story so that Cinderella creates her own solution instead of being rescued. Start the project and see where it leads you.


magnifying lens AQ.2

AQ Lens. As I’ve consistently written, adoptive families live with the duality of being seen as both the same and different from biologically formed families. Reading versions on a Cinderella theme can easily segue into conversations about how one’s adoptive family is also a variation of a family–not better or less than–yet none-the-less different. Children may share some of their complex feelings about this “different-ness.” Such big feelings are a lot for a child to shoulder alone. A book that helps kids bring their thoughts into the open and get the support they need is well worth reading.

As you read stories that differ culturally, read with a sharp eye for any bias in the texts and/or illustrations. This too,is an important lesson: look at things with a judicious eye and do not accept something simply because it is in print, on-line, etc. Start early to teach your children to be savvy, critical thinkers.

Rough-face Girl.41PgXz2z3jL._SX380_BO1,204,203,200_

Golden sandal.61FQFW87XTL._SY473_BO1,204,203,200_

Egyptian Cinderella.61WHLPPrxWL._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_






Adelita. Mexican Cinderella.51A6Y827nOL._SX390_BO1,204,203,200_Anklet for a Princess. India Cinderella.510X4AQ7B8L._SY390_BO1,204,203,200_

Domitila.Mexican Cinderella.513558DVPKL._SX354_BO1,204,203,200_

Abedaha.Philipine Cinderella.61D-X4LuYZL._SX402_BO1,204,203,200_

Stick and Stone: A Story of Friendship

stick and stoneStick and Stone written by Beth Ferry and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld is a delightfully unexpected spin on the way we usually think about sticks and stones. Instead of being “weapons,” Stick and Stone are two characters in a sweet but powerful story. Sparse prose brilliantly captures the budding friendship of two solitary loners: Stick and Stone. They discover that everything is better when shared with a friend. Lichtenfeld captures the depth and range of their friendship in simple, bright illustrations that pulse with warmth and coziness. When Stone is bullied by a mean and prickly pinecone, Stick comes to his defense, using his words not his fists. “Because that is what friends do.”

Stick’s intervention on behalf of his friend is a model for the power of one individual to make a difference. (Refer to last week’s blog The Power of One.) Stone is surprised by Stick’s brave gesture. Stick replies that is what friends do. Readers will connect with the moment of friendship in action, of loyalty and courage to speak up. Kids know what it is like to need that buddy. They also understand how challenging it can be to stand up against a bully. This story offers a chance to place themselves in both situations and imagine how they might feel, think and act. Later in the story, Stone has the opportunity to return the favor of friendship when he rescues his friend Stick. Again the refrain “That’s what friends do,” is repeated.

The AQ* Lens: We’ve all heard the adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” We all know the fundamental untruth of this saying through direct personal experience. Words have immense power—to heal, to connect, to divide and to destroy. As adoptive parents we know we must prepare our kids to face the dreaded day/s when a rude remark about adoption, birth parents, being given away, etc.

We can use words to empower our kids. Provide them with an arsenal of respectful adoption language. Help them to reframe ignorant remarks as an opportunity to educate other kids, even adults. Unfortunately, sometimes the speaker intends to shame, humiliate, or insult. If that is the case, do not minimize the experience. This would invalidate the reality of their experience and create a relationship disconnect. Instead, talk about why other kids might not understand adoption and how that can create fear and misunderstanding.

It’s never too early to teach kids about personal boundaries—especially around their adoption. Help them to understand the distinction between private and secret. Adoption is not secret. Nonetheless, parts of their story are private—not for general discussion with any/every curious person. They need not feel obligated to divulge personal information just because a question is asked. (This goes for us adults as well. The best way to equip kids with firm boundaries is by our own example. As they observe us when we encounter intrusive, inappropriate questions about their adoption, our children can “study” our respectful, courteous “boundary-establishing” response.

The Power of One …

One by Otoshi borderSo often, kids (and adults) think, “I’m only one person. What difference can I make?” The power of one is deceptive. One quiet voice, one brave stance, one impassioned believer can shift the moment, the life, the course of history. Perhaps the situation is reversed for them and they are the child who needs that one friend,  that dependable adult, that supportive teacher.

How can we as parents/teachers/adults encourage this belief in the individual’s power to take a stand and help grow children willing to be “The Difference.” make a difference?

One tool resides in the brilliant book, “One” by Katherine Otoshi. In fewer than 500 words, Otoshi captures her powerful message: “It just takes one to make everyone count.”

I enjoy the play on words. In addition to the obvious meaning, that a person can “count” (be a meaningful influence,) this book also operates as a simple counting exercise. When the colors join together, one plus one becomes two, etc. The reader feels the effect of teamwork, the isolation and loneliness of facing a larger, scarier individual.

Otoshi’s bright, spare illustrations enhance her message in a succinct and easy to absorb package. This book is the perfect anti-bullying book for young children. (In fact, anyone who reads “One” will resonate with its important theme.”

“One” has received many awards (all of them merited!):

  • E.B.White Read Aloud Honor Book
  • Teacher’s Choice Award
  • Young Voices Foundation Award
  • Moonbeam Children’s Book Medalist
  • Mo’s Choice Award
  • Nautilus Gold Winner
  • IPPY Book Award
  • Hicklembee’s Book of the Year\NCIBA Best Illustrated Award
  • Reader Views Best Children’s Book
  • Flicker Tale Award

AQ* Spin:Many adopted children experience a sense of being different, of feeling like the odd one out. (Author, adopted mom, Carrie M. Goldman calls this as feeling “othered,” a complex emotion that parents need to acknowledge and assist kids in processing. Parents enjoy highlighting the similarities between themselves and their adopted children.

It is equally important that parents acknowledge the ways in which our children are different from us as well. Work to help them see their differences as enriching the family. Do encourage them to express any feelings of “otherness” without trying to minimize these feelings. Their honesty leaves them vulnerable and it invites you in to their real perception of their life experiences. By listening to all of their children’s emotions about adoption, parents become a safe harbor when they can find safety and security.

“One” offers an easy segue into conversations about their being adopted and how their friends and classmates respond to that knowledge. This is another area where parents will want to be available to hear their child’s whole story–“the good, the bad and the ugly.” Avoid the temptation to minimize; this will invalidate their expereinces and feelings. That’s not the message you want to share. We don’t want to push them into expressing only the happy thoughts and feelings about being adopted. .

I rate “One” a  starstarstarstarstar

From Follower to Leader

Seaver the Weaver


Humans are designed for connection. The need to belong is fundamental. All of us—adults as well as children—yearn to be liked, accepted and appreciated.  How do we help our children learn to balance that desire for inclusion with the equally important need to own their uniqueness?

Seaver the Weaver written by Paul Czajak and illustrated by the Brothers Hilts offers a great example. Seaver, the main character, is an orb spider who can’t or won’t follow the traditional round web patterns of his fellow orb spiders. Round webs are not for him. Oh no! Seaver weaves by starlight and this sparkling illumination inspires his creativity. He spins squares, triangles, and hexagons.

In the morning his efforts are revealed to his companions. They are outraged by his divergence from the traditional orb weaver patterns. The group threatens to ostracize Seaver. He’s torn between his need for acceptance and his pride in creation, not to mention the tasty morsels each of his creations manages to capture. Seaver resolves to change his independent ways. He agrees to conform after he savors his tasty meal.

Ultimately, hunger convinces the other orb weavers that they should copy Seaver’s designs. Instead of an outcast, Seaver has become a leader! His persistence and belief in himself wins over the others.

AQ* Spotlight: Seaver the Weaver offers a teachable moment for all kids but especially for adoptees. Our kids often find themselves singled out for being different —because they were adopted, or are a different race from their parents, or a different ethnicity, etc. This story segues easily into a discussion of how their differences can cause them to be isolated, humiliated or dismissed.

Ask them how “a” child might who experiences similar situations might feel. Then ask how they might handle it. Help them to see how Seaver’s differences enriched his world. But first he confronted social challenges that hurt. Ultimately, he “wins” and so can our kids.

Available on Amazon

AQ* (Adoption-attunement Quotient)