A Taste of Asia: Four Books That Expand Children’s Multiculturalism

The Magic BrushThe Magic Brush: A Story of Love, Family, and Chinese Characters has much to offer readers with an interest in diversity. (That includes all of us, right?) Written by Kat Yeh, (an Asian-American,) and illustrated by Huy Voun Lee (who was born in Cambodia) whose real-life experiences as Asian Americans infuses the story with authenticity.

The illustrations enrich the story effectively, e.g., when Grandfather stands in his doorway and wiggles his finger to invite Jasmine to enter. Along with her, the reader discovers a space infused with Asian elements: furniture, wall hanging, drawing table etc.

But the story  also captures a universal moment, of a grandparent passing on his wisdom, engaging his granddaughter in both the magical and factual elements of their culture. Huy Voun Lee skillfullly inserts Chinese characters so they both embellish the illustration and offer a chance to learn the characters. The book includes a pronunciation guide and a very brief  summary of Chinese art as well as explanations of the food treats described in the story.

Beyond the fascinating and valuable peek at Chinese culture, Kat Yeh relates a universal story of family connections.

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New ClothesOur next title offers a peek into Korean culture. Written and illustrated by Hyun-joo Bao, New Clothes for New Year’s Day  begins with a girl gazing from an open window. A breeze billows invitingly, beckoning the reader to step beyond it and explore the many ways the New Year is welcomed in Korea.

The story unfolds through the experiences of this small girl as she completes the complicated ritual of dressing for New Year’s Day in traditional Korean garb. Bright illustrations radiate energy as the tiny child struggles to don each item of her outfit. As she works with great care, ensuring that she places each element correctly, the reader observes her respectfulness for the traditions as evidenced in her dedication to detail. “It’s not easy…,” she says.

As in The Magic Brush: the artwork overflows with detail. This time we enjoy the beauty of Korean furnishings, style, colors and patterns. End matter includes information about how the holiday is observed, background about the traditional costume and the meaning behind it. A feast for the eyes, and an enjoyable venture into another culture.

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Zen ShortsAs a Caldecott Honor Book, Zen Shorts delivers breathtaking illustrations. This story too, begins with a child at a doorway. A boy tries desperately to capture his older brother’s attention. He yells through the closed door, “There’s a bear outside!” Brother remains skeptical and the door remains shut. Karl relates a play-by-play of the bear’s antics. Finally, his brother Michael opens the door, the siblings’ adventure begins.

They encounter Stillwater, a philosophizing panda bear who is armed with gentle Zen wisdom and an arsenal of anecdotes. A charming story that uses metaphors to make important points which are valuable for all –children as well as grown ups.

Zen Shorts is another double-barreled success both visually and textually satisfying that shows us “… how Addy, Michael,Karl–and Stillwater–became friends.” This lesson in sibling harmony is a  welcome one.

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LIVING IN CINAWritten by Carol P. Roman, a multi-award-winning author, If You Were Me and Lived in China is part of a series of non-fiction books which explore life in other countries through a child’s eyes. The book visits some of the cultural landmarks, introduces some vocabulary and, describes cultural traditions–ancient and modern.

An excellent first introduction to China. Also includes a pronunciation guide. Illustrated by Kelsea Wierenga.

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AQ Lens: Beyond the obvious benefits of putting children in touch with their cultural roots, by their very existence these books send a message that these traditions are worth noting, following and showcasing. It is an easy step to carrying the same sense of value to a child’s roots. Coming from another culture makes one “different.” But it isn’t something to hide; it is something to share and honor. Readers will notice the effort and determination which the main characters demonstrate.  Skills and capabilities grow out of hard work. This is a great message for them to absorb!

These books also demonstrate the universality of common daily activities: dressing, enjoying time with grandparents, preparing meals, celebrating holidays. As the reader follows the main characters through the narrative, children can note the value of self reliance, connection to family and of being part of a history–personal, familial as well as cultural. Children will enjoy learning about other cultures, whether it is part of their history or not. By expanding our children’s exposure to a variety of cultures and traditions, we better prepare them for life in this increasingly interconnected world. It is important for us to prepare them for this global citizenship.

 

Bedtime Rituals That Soothe

beautiful moon Award-winning illustrator, Eric Velasquez’s exquisite illustrations  create a gentle backdrop for  a young boy’s simple prayer in Tonya Bolden’s glorious picture book  Beautiful Moon: A Child’s Prayer. Families who practice prayer will find the story touches upon important themes: family, community, gratitude, hunger, etc. No particular faith is indicated so this lovely book can be treasured by Christian, Jews, Muslims, etc.

Even for those who do not engage in literal prayer, Beautiful Moon expresses a beautiful message and invites discussion on some complex parts of life: homelessness, poverty, hunger. The book handles it gently so that children will not be overwhelmed by the unfairness and sadness of life’s harsh realities. Instead, it validates the child’s experiences; he has noticed these sad truths. He recognizes that there is something he can do about it: he can pray. Parents might want to explore additional ways in which their family can be part of the solution and not merely horrified, mute observers.

 

magnifying lens AQ.2AQ Lens: Adoptees have direct experience with loss, grief and sadness, thus they can easily identify with the spirit of this story. The boy’s example of a hopeful heart models one strategy that a child can use as they handle the difficulties of their own lives. The boy’s prayer validates his observations of the hard stuff of life. He doesn’t turn a blind eye or minimize what he knows to be true. Adoptees can use this story line as a model for sharing his own “hard stuff” with the expectation that his family can listen, validate and support him.  Although not directly an adoption-oriented book, this story has much to offer.

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good night yogaGood Night Yoga by Mariam Gates and illustrated by Sarah Jane Hinder includes charming multicultural illustrations which demonstrate how yoga can be a relaxing and soothing part of a bedtime routine. Not quite a story book, more like a poem, it outlines a sequence of yoga poses that children can practice as a way to prepare themselves for bed. Good Night Yoga depicts a user-friendly introduction to easy, basic yoga poses and can be the beginning of a healthy lifetime practice.

Simple, calming and a gentle way to end the day, Good Night Yoga is worth exploring with your family. Kids will quickly master the sequence and can lead the routine as parent and child perform it together. Why not add some music. Choose something serene and ethereal or something from nature that connects with your child. For some that might be the rhythmic sound of waves lapping the shore. Others might enjoy a regal loon calling against a background of chirping crickets. Get creative and breathe in…Breathe out…Breathe in…Breathe out.
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AQ Lens: Many children find it difficult to settle, especially kids with trauma histories or tough starts. With its focus on breathing, body awareness and mindfulness, yoga can help children unwind.  The poses included in the book can be performed by parents too which offers a great way to be playful and healthy together. Readers of this blog know that AQParenting includes an intentional focus on being playful as a family because joy is an essential part of nurturing connected relationships.

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Making Dreams Come True

ballerina dreamsDreaming comes easily to most people but manifesting dreams requires more than wishing. As adoptive parents we are familiar with the power of a dream to motivate a relentless dedication of time, energy, resources and money. In Ballerina Dreams by Michaela and Elaine DePrince, readers meet two inspirational dreamers: the mother daughter authors who collaborated on this book. It follows Michaela’s dream to become a ballerina–something few black girls accomplish.

When Michaela began imagining this goal she was an orphan in Sierra Leone; it seemed improbable, a far-fetched possibility.  Most people would believe it an unachievable goal. But not Michaela. She believed in herself. She believed in her dream. And she knew how to work.

Challenges filled her life. In addition to losing her parents to war, Michaela suffered from a visible skin disease that destroyed some of the pigment in her skin. This left her looking “spotty” and vulnerable to teasing by the other children in the orphanage. Still, Michaela remained undeterred and held onto her dream to become a dancer.

Meanwhile far across the world in the United States, Elaine DePrince, an equally determined woman, dedicated herself to fulfilling  her own dream: to adopt a child war-torn from Sierra Leone. Ballerina Dreams shares their amazing story.

Michaela’s persistence and discipline matched the immensity of her dream. She moved far beyond wishful thinking and invested herself completely as she pursued he goal. Eventually, she became a featured performer in the documentary film, First Position, then a principal ballerina with the Dance Theatre of Harlem–the youngest ever. She built on this success and eventually joined the  Dutch National Ballet, a prestigious ballet company

 

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AQ Lens:   Michaela’s story is one of resilience in the face of adversity and dogged persistence of an important goal. Inspired by her dream, she allowed nothing to prevent her from realizing her heart’s desire. This book clearly shows that her success did not come easily. It resulted from her hard work augmented by collaborative resources and a team of people who supported Michaela.

Her story exemplifies another important adoptee lesson in trust: to rely on others, to depend on their support and to believe that they will be there when needed. Many adoptees have an abiding fear of rejection. This can tempt them into hiding their true wishes and/or replacing their own dreams with the wishes of others. Michaela’s story provides an inspiring model for following one’s own path. It also shows that success is usually a team effort. Many people supported Michaela along the way. She had to agree to let them in, to expose her innermost dream and be vulnerable to their response.   starstarstarstarstar

 

Firebird

Firebird: Misty Copeland written by ballerina Misty Copeland has won numerous awards:  

2015 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award
Ezra Jack Keats Book Award New Writer Honor
An NPR Best Book of 2014
An Amazon Best Book of 2014 – Ages 6-8
An Amazon Best Book of the Month, September 2014
Essence Magazine Best Children’s Book of 2014

Glorious illustrations bring this poetic story to life. Evocative metaphors capture a dazzling mood. Watching Misty dance, a young child is overwhelmed by her performance and thinks “the space between you and me/ is longer than forever.” She fears that such accomplishments lie beyond her reach. But Misty counters: “I was a dancer just like you/a dreaming shooting star of a girl/with work and worlds ahead.” As with Michaela’s story, readers will feel both inspired and awed by the fruits of determination and hard work.

magnifying lens AQ.2AQ Lens: This book repeats the message of diligence, persistence and teamwork. It also offers another wonderful example of an African-American child succeeding in arenas previously unavailable to girls like Misty. Firebird: Misty Copeland indulges the eye and the ear and is a great book to add to the collection of any family interested in an expanded multicultural perspective.     starstarstarstarstar

Sibling Relationships, Learning to Get Along

Peace, Bugs and UnderstandingHelping our children navigate the changing seas of sibling relationships is one of many important tasks faced by parents. Sometimes we intervene while other times we allow our children to work it out themselves. Learning to compromise, to speak up for oneself and to disagree respectfully is an essential life skill. Sibling relationships provide an opportunity to learn these basics. Peace, Bugs and Understanding: An Adventure in Sibling Harmony by Gail Silver and illustrated by Youme Nguyen Ly explores this subject. Lily is tired of her little sister spoiling things and she envies the attention that little Ruby garners from her parents.

When the toddler “ruins” her family’s picnic, anger churns inside Lily and leaves her gruff and frustrated. Luckily, her dad has come prepared. He shares a special book with Lily–her grandfather’s boyhood journal from 1923. The journal describes his experience with a talking frog, an annoying sibling and the overwhelming weight of anger. Exhausted by the burden of his angry feelings, he turns to deep breathing and a series of prayerful meditations:

 

Breathing in, breathing out…

May I be happy’

May I be safe,

May I be strong,

May I live with peace….

May we all be happy,

May we all be safe.

May we all live with peace.”

Lily, immersed in the book, loses track of her little sister. When she looks for Ruby, for a brief moment, Lily cannot find her. In that space, Lily realizes how much she loves her sister.

magnifying lens AQ.2AQ Lens: All children experience feelings of inadequacy, rivalry and anger. For adoptees, this emotion is poignant and frightening. The flip side of “not good enough” is an intense need for attention. Readers will identify with Lily’s frustration. They can benefit from the strategies modeled in the book. The lush, pastel watercolor illustrations evoke a soft contemplative mood. The presence of Asian characters adds a welcome note of diversity.

I rate  Peace, Bugs and Understanding: An Adventure in Sibling Harmony  starstarstarstar

 

Embracing Our “Differentness”

Book reviews by Casey Swift

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Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld is a delightfully adorable story about an exclamation point that feel as though he doesn’t fit in with the other punctuation marks. One day he meets question mark and soon realizes that he just hasn’t realized his potential yet. Once he realizes his strength, he is able to show the world what awesome things he can do. Kids will be able to relate to this story and how difficult it can be to fit in if you haven’t realized your potential. The illustrations are adorable and the humor is sweet and witty. This is an amazing book for all.

AQ Lens: Adoptees often tell us that they struggle to fit in, so it is easy to see how this simple story can help them get in touch with those feelings. The spare text and delightful, spare illustrations combine to create a simple but powerful metaphor. All of us benefit from the reminder that our uniqueness deserves to be treasured and appreciated.

Mama’s Sarismama's saris by Pooja Makhijani is a truly beautiful book with amazing illustrations done by Elena Gomez. Not only are the illustrations true art, the story tells a tale of youth, culture, and understanding. Like most little girls, the character in this story is fascinated by her mother’s clothing and wants to know when she can wear a Sari.

The story tells of a tradition in a family carried down from generations, and mixes current culture as well. Readers learn about the various types of saris and the beauty behind the fabrics. Children often try to look like their parents and this story defines the importance of this. It is really a beautifully told and illustrated story.

AQ Lens: Mama’s Saris provides an enjoyable peek into Indian culture and can be enjoyed by everyone especially children whose heritage is Indian. Awareness of other cultures helps our kids prepare  to be global citizens. It also balances the “differentness” of being adopted with another kind of difference: that of being a different ethnicity.

What Makes a Family? Connection and Difference in Adoption

who's in my family

Children will be delighted as they search to find themselves reflected in Who’s in My Family? by Robbie H. Harris and illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott. The spirited illustrations include families of every stripe, color and arrangement. Even the locales, cuisine and activities are diverse, accepting and positive.  The simple story line follows a brother and sister through a day at the zoo. While there, they observe a variety of families—human and animal.

The tone of the story is upbeat and accepting and emphasizes that, regardless of the specific people who make up a family, it is created through caring and love. Readers will enjoy spending  time studying the illustrations and hunting for details–both those that reflect themselves as well as those that highlight differences. This exploration lends itself to conversations about what makes a family and how differences enhance our lives.

AQ Lens: The most obvious benefit that Who’s in My Family? offers is the normalizing of differences. Each grouping is accepted and respected. Love is accepted as the definitive requirement to be a family. Young adoptees will be reassured to see that adoption is not the only way that families can be different.
heather has two mommies Heather Has Two Mommies  by Lesléa Newman is a twenty-fifth anniversary reissue and re-visioning of the groundbreaking story of a family with two moms. Both the text and the illustrations have been updated to reflect current understanding of adoption.  The subtle watercolor illustrations by Laura Cornell set a warm mood for the upbeat text. While Heather’s family–and her two moms is a central part of the story, the nucleus of the story is about the wide range of families that are reflected among Heather’s classmates. By establishing this tone, the uniqueness of Heather’s family does not seem startling. Instead it exists as one of many family constellations. Heather’s classmates also include many ethnicities so it is another nod to inclusion.

AQ Lens: This  book offers a chance to discuss the idea of how families can look  very different but still be a family. By having books like this on a child’s shelf, they can freely select it whenever they feel the need to explore this theme; thus the child doesn’t have to wait for adults to raise the topic first. The mere inclusion of such a book sends a clear message that it is a permissible topic. This is important for all adoptive families, even those who are more normative because all adoptive families are “different” by virtue of the fact that they grew through adoption. We have a fundamental vested interest in tolerance and acceptance.

 

 

We go togetherWe Go Together  by Todd Dunn and illustrated by Miki Sakamoto provides a delightful collection of “pairs” in a child’s life. Think: “socks and shoes, “ice cream and cone,” and “dog and bone.” Some obvious pairs are absent, like peanut butter and jelly,  so readers will have fun brainstorming their own pairs. I included this charming book based upon it’s final lines: “We go together because you love me and I love you.” Love, after all, is what links a family together.

AQ Lens: Take the opportunity to discover links of commonality beyond the obvious one of appearances. Just as adoptive family members don’t necessarily look similar, other commonalities do exist. We just have to deepen our noticing skills to help us identify them. Equally important, we must convey to our children that the way we are different is also validated and appreciated.

Summertime and the Living Is … Easy?

firefly nightMy memories of childhood summers conjure thoughts of unscheduled days at the beach, of playing with friends, all  balanced with lots of time to daydream, read and spend time with family. (We had no TV, if you can even imagine that!) Now summer looks and feels quite different. Day care, summer camps, programmed activities and TV dominate many kids’ summer days. Parents struggle to engage their childrens’ attention, to divert them from the various tech and media available to them.

Still, summer offers a wonderful opportunity to build positive memories of time having fun together. Fun is FUN-damental to building strong family ties. From my own childhood, I recall scampering across the grass collecting fireflies. Their glow seemed magical and filled us with wonder. Because It’s a Firefly Night by Diane Ochiltree captures this delightful moment, I truly enjoyed reading it. The little girl’s excitement is palpable when her Daddy tell her, “It’s a firefly night.” The reader senses that this is a special ritual that the child shares with her daddy and something she will treasure down the years of her life. Betsy Snyder’s luminous art brings the rhyming/counting text to life. Children can make a game of searching for and tracking the number of bugs, flowers, etc. And have fun in the process!

Goodnight, fireflyFor another variation on the firefly theme, also consider Goodnight, Firefly by Gabriel Aborozo. Vivid inky black illustrations splashed with small strokes of glowing yellow and apple red set the perfect backdrop for the text. “Nina was scared of the dark…” Children will identify with Nina’s fear, “scary shadows … whispering of monsters…” and her great relief when she spies the welcome light of fireflies “dancing.”

In both books, the girl treasures her captive firefly and yet … she comes to understand that she must release it so that the firefly can live. This is a great concept for children—and parents–to understand. We seek to raise children who grow to be strong and independent, to provide them with sturdy “roots and wings.” Unless we allow freedom, relationships are built on captivity, not trust and respect. Like the firefly, we must release our children and free them to follow their paths. In Albert Schweitzer’s words: “If you love something so much, let it go. If it comes back, it was meant to be; if it doesn’t, it never was.”

 

Wondering about the science behind a firefly’s luminous glow? Check out this link from National Geographic.

magnifying lens AQ.2AQ*Lens: We parents must balance our roles as leaders, teachers and the family “authority,” with time enjoying one another. For children who struggle to maintain self-regulation, this is especially necessary.  (The challenge is to have fun without devolving into chaos.) Strong relationships weave families together.

If we hope to grow children who absorb and embrace our family values and beliefs, we must build relationships of respect and cooperation then cement them with a hefty dose of fun. In the absence of fun, kids will view parents primarily as the enforcers not the compass, the leaders, and heart of their world. Parents who balance “enforcement” mode with plenty of family fun keep kids engaged and interested in spending time as a family. Spending time “in joy” together is a key component of attachment, a high priority in adoptive families.

How will you create magic family moments? Hunting fireflies? Counting Stars? Watching the sunset? What ideas can you share with us?

 

Stormy Skies for “Cloudette”

cloudetteIt’s easy to feel insignificant in a big and sometimes scary world, just like little Cloudette. In Tom Lichtenheld’s Cloudette, adorable pictures are mixed with a “big” message teaching  us that sometimes you have to look at the beyond to realize that your contribution is important, no matter how small. In the story, a cute little cloud felt left behind when the big clouds ran off to do big and important things. She held herself back from joining in the cloud fun because she didn’t feel good enough about her stature to do big and important things.

One day she finds herself in a far away place where she could be anyone she wanted to be. It was there that she found out her purpose. Although small, she realizes she can make changes and help others. When she started helping others, the big and important clouds took notice. Cloudette realizes it isn’t her size that matters. Other people don’t get to decide what makes her “big and important” it’s how she sees herself that matters and makes herself big and important. This book has delightful illustrations, adorable clouds and humorous dialogue that would really engages children and adults alike.

magnifying lens AQ.2AQ Lens: Sometimes its not easy for children who come from difficult situations to feel “big and important”, and even needed. Even if they ARE needed, sometimes it takes a long time to accept the feeling. Reading Cloudette can open up dialogue for parents and children about feeling needed and loved. This is such an important topic to cover in conversations because sometimes children need to hear the words, “You are needed” instead of just being shown.

For example, in my own experience I always felt that the one person who was supposed to “need” me (my birthmother), didn’t and that’s why she put me up for adoption. No matter how much my mother would show me “you are needed”, I didn’t necessarily believe and accept it. Talk to your child about this. Don’t just assume they know. Sometimes hearing it direct is so important. Kid’s don’t always understand subtlety.

EVERYBODY’s Got Talent

jack's talentKids tend to view the world in all or nothing terms and often respond to struggles with discouragement and defeat. It is an all too easy slide to generalizing to “I am a failure.”  From small amounts of data, they form conclusions which often are inaccurate. It takes strong evidence to persuade them this is not true and to regard failure as the stepping stone to success and competency. School is one environment where kids makes such rapid–and inaccurate–conclusions about their abilities. They decide if they are smart or not, capable or not, interested or not.  Maryann Cocca-Leffler’s picture book, Jack’s Talent highlights one of these moments.

The story occurs on the first day of school and unfolds in vivid, cartoon-like illustrations which include a robust multicultural cast. Miss Lucinda, the teacher asks each pupil to introduce himself and tell about their best talent. One-by-one, each student proudly discusses their talent. As each one speaks, Jack becomes increasingly discouraged. He believes he has no talent! Jack’s turn arrives. Brokenhearted and embarrassed, he recounts each of his classmate’s talents with the refrain, “I am not good at … like….”

Reframing Jack’s words, the teacher deftly points out to him–and the rest of the class–how precisely Jack recalled his classmates words. “You are good at remembering.” She reassures Jack who beams with equal measures of relief and pride. The entire class agrees because they have experienced the truth of her assertion. Miss Lucinda transformed what could have been a spirit-crushing experience into an exercise in recognizing and valuing difference. What a valuable lesson!

courage beginnerAQ* Lens: Encouraging and nurturing competence is an essential part of parenting–especially adoptive parenting. Grief and loss issues chip away at self-esteem. It requires intentionality to build confidence, pride and capability on evidence that kids can believe and trust. One tiny step at a time, parents can help children build experiences of success onto success. It takes time to establish this resilient attitude.

Encouraging children’s efforts–instead of praising outcome–focuses children’s attention on striving. Persistence is an essential trait and far outstrips the value of easy success. Instead, parents can help them concentrate on the satisfaction that comes from trying. (You sure are a hard worker, ” versus “You are so smart.” And it is easy to feel the difference between : “You missed,” versus, “You almost succeeded. Next time you’ll come closer.” This dampens a child’s attachment to immediate success with minimal effort (which we know is unrealistic.) Reinforcing a willingness to try things through multiple unsuccessful attempts grows a pattern of resilience and paves the way to mastery.

Parents can allow kids to be privy to their own struggles to learn and master new things. Let them see how many times you have to attempt tasks before accomplishing goals. They can share a kid-friendly version of the inner dialog that adults play inside their own heads. By making this script audible, kids can note that not only do their parents struggle, they also require many attempts before they succeed. Otherwise, they tend to assume that your accomplishments occur without effort.

What Makes a Family?

who's in my familyFamilies come in all shades and groupings—bio families, step families, foster families and adopted families. Who’s in My Family: All about Our Families by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott presents a wide array of family constellations. Most readers will be able to spot their own family reflected in the range depicted in the illustrations. The multicultural illustrations depict  families as they participate in a several activities: eating, exercising, visiting the zoo, etc.  While the variety of families is richly depicted, the unifying thread of the story is that families enjoy spending time together and love each other regardless of how alike or similar they look.

 

 

We go togetherIn a second book, We Go Together by Todd Dunn and illustrated by Miki Sakamoto also tackle the concept of “fitting together.” Using familiar pairings like socks and shoes, ice cream and cones and elephants and trunks Dunn’s book reinforces the idea that some things go together naturally. He ends the story on a relationship note: “We go together because you love me and I love you.”

What makes this pair of books a good complement for each other is the emphasis on relationship connection. In both books, regardless of any physical similarities (or dissimilarities,) what counts is how people feel about one another. We care about those we love and that affection weaves our relationship together.

I rate both books four stars.starstarstarstar