Tag Archives: diversity

What a wonderful and colourful world

As it is feeling more and more like winter in London, we find ourselves going to either seasonal books (a selection of which I am working on) or really colourful ones. So to brighten up your Monday I’ve decided to review a colourful trio of books to be read with your loved ones.

Tom Hopgood is a favourite in our house, and since I’ve recently bought a bunch of books for the kids’ school including the first we enjoyed as a family, I thought it would be nice to tell you about it before we give it away.

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Wow! Said the Owl is a perfect book for babies and toddlers, but it also works with early readers who are keen to try reading bits of text since the font is clear and very kid-friendly.

When we are feeling tired and ready to go to bed, owls are just waking up, like the one in Hopgood’s book. But this little owl is very curious and therefore decides to take a long nap and stay awake until dawn. She can’t believe her eyes when she sees the wonderful yellow sun, the white fluffy clouds floating across the bright blue sky, and the pretty red butterflies fluttering over some gorgeous orange flowers.

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Not even the rain will dampen her enthusiasm, since it reveals a beautiful rainbow. As she catches the sunset and ponders over the magnificent colours that she has seen, she realises that “the night-time stars are the most beautiful of all.”

One of the last two pages of the book shows a circle of coloured dots and invites the reader to go back and find these on the pages of the book, a fun game my little boy likes to do. This is a perfect introduction to colour hunting, an activity that we regularly do and that can be adapted to be taken outdoors, as explained in this post by Valerie. All you need is a few paint samples and a perforator (or hole punch) and you’re good to go.

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Tim Hopgood’s blogs include lovely photos of school visits as well as tons of ideas to make craft projects, such as this nice little owl that I find adorable.

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Hopgood’s most recent publication is a joyous interpretation of  Louis Amstrong’s What a Wonderful World. A CD naturally comes with the book which includes a recording of Amstrong’s song and a reading of the book.

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Each page shows the same little boy enjoying the wonders of the world, from blooming red roses to the dark sacred night. Sometimes by himself, sometimes with his friends, the boy walks, flies and even rides a horse while inviting us to slow down and pause to enjoy our wonderful world.

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We are big fans of audio-books, but this is in a different league altogether from read-aloud recordings. It is not just a great way to get your child to flick through a book by themselves, it is an invitation to think about music and art as complementary means to appeal to our senses.

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I love Hopgood’s original idea which was “to capture the joy of the song in a picture book” and I must say watching my son chilling out on the sofa and enjoying the book makes me think he has thoroughly succeeded.

If you’re unconvinced by the idea of music as both a valuable and enjoyable element, and if you wonder why music delights not only our heart but also our brain, watch this fun little video.

NB: This educational clip mentions drugs so do not watch it with your little one unless you want to have a conversation about this particular topic.

Last but not least is Sarah Massini‘s If I Could Paint the World. In this funny story a little girl and her chameleon find a magic paintbrush which lets them paint the world. I wish she did not start by turning the world all pink (but this is me, my son did not object at all as he loves pink and yellow).

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After that things start to take a different and fun turn. For breakfast, she paints red juice, and purple cornflakes with orange milk, and brushes her teeth with black toothpaste.

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Once at school, she makes a few changes to the stories she reads and these crack my kids up. Meet little Little Lilac Riding Hood, and Pea Green and the seven dwarves! But there is a limit to craziness and after yellow tarts and blue baboons, the little girl declares: Stop!

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The reason she gives is the best of all: “when you really think about it, the world is perfect, exactly as it is”. In this story, mischievous changes and cheekiness go hand in hand. My children love the gorgeous illustrations and tried to paint blue bugs, peppermint puppies and purple pigs after reading this book, which shows you how inspiring it really is.

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For other ideas and activities involving colours, check this couple of suggestions, or go back to one of my post on diversity, which included several colour-related activities.

Look at this great lego game here, perfect for toddlers who very often go through a phase of filling in and filling out things. Perfect!

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For older ones, and future scientist or artists, here is a brilliant walking water experiment,  which teaches children about water, colours and science at the same time, a really wonderful trio, don’t you think?

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Finally, something that we have done many, many times but that keeps my children excited is the rainbow milk experiment. Check the tutorial and instructions at the Artful Parent, it is easy and worth a try!

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Embracing and celebrating diversity

The best books are sometimes the most simple and there are two that I really want to share with you today. My Nose, your Nose by Melanie Walsh, and Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly by Sue Heap and Nick Sharratt are great books for toddlers, but they also work well with children who are starting to decode and read as I discovered with my four year old son. They could also be great prompts to start discussing diversity, stereotypes, and peer pressure.

I have been thinking about the post I wrote on diversity in children’s books, I have read other bloggers‘s posts on the subject, and I also looked at many of the comments and conversations on the Guardian’s website. This is encouraging but what I would like these diverse books to be above all is great books, fun books, books that my children and I will want to read again, and again, and again. This is why these two books are so dear to me.

I could write a whole series of posts on Nick Sharratt’s work, and maybe I will at some point. His sense of humour and fun characters almost feel like they are part of our family.

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I will be honest though, there has been a few times when I wish we’d lost You Choose, since it probably is the book we’ve read the most in the last 7 years! But I still feel a bit sad that we do not live closer to Sheffield because there is a great looking show devoted to Sharratt’s work on tour from October to next summer.

In Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly, Sue and Nick are friends and they’re also two different ‘characters’ (although one may wonder whether they are characters or alter egos). NickSharratCrazyHairThe text accompanying the illustrations could not be simpler as it alternates between descriptions of what Sue and Nick like. For instance, Nick likes yellow socks, Sue likes yellow ducks. Nick likes red apples, Sue likes green pears.

One thing I like in particular is that contrary to gender stereotypes, Sue likes everything blue, while Nick likes pink and orange dinosaurs. When my son comes home and tells me that he has been told off by girls in his class because he wanted to play hairdresser with them, of course I’ll explain that he can play or like anything he wants, regardless of what others say. But what’s the voice of a mother when facing those of peers?

Finally what I value in Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly is the fact that it concludes on the absolute non judgmental: Sue likes Nick, Nick likes Sue, thus showing that you are worthy of both consideration and affection whatever you like and whatever you wear.

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Now My nose, your Nose also works on juxtapositions. Its clear simple text matches its bold and bright images. While Daisy’s skin is brown, Agnes’s is white but they both have cheeky pink tongues!

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The book goes on comparing  these children’s hair, their eye colours, and their legs among other things.

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There is something of the simplicity of Dick Bruna’s work in My Nose, your Nose, and I love this, certainly because it reminds me of my childhood.

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But among all these comparisons, Walsh keeps coming to a common ground whether it is their love for chocolate cake, their energy, or the daily rituals that they experience.

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I wish I had known about this book earlier since we only bought it a couple of years ago. I can see how it would be a great baby book, one that a child can grow with, and appreciate year after year. We regularly go back to Walsh’s ‘lift the flap’ books and we’ve had them for years in French. Like My Nose, Your Nose, they are simple, colourful, and fun.

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Additional ideas:

Now if you want to do more than just reading these two books, how about a game of colour match or colour hunt as suggested in the lovely blog It’s All About Stories?

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You could also try to make a batch of coloured rice! Jackie’s recipe from Happy Holligans is foolproof and you can be sure your children will have a ton of fun.

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Additional readings;

As for other reads, how about challenging gender stereotypes a bit more? Rosie is a brilliant and inspirational girl engineer, read about her in this review, isn’t she irresistible?

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And finally here’s Raffi, a boy who’s a little bit different, who loves knitting, and who after a while finds people who recognize his talents. See it reviewed here.

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More singing and more diverse voices please!

Last week the Guardian as well as other newspapers discussed and celebrated the list of diverse voices established by Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books based in Newcastle. This list includes 50 of the best children’s books celebrating cultural diversity in the UK and it certainly reinvigorated a debate that established authors like Malorie Blackman have often engaged in.

Tariq Mehmood who in 2013 won the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award for You’re Not Proper declared at the time: “I have children who are not white, who read a lot, but they themselves are fictionally invisible. In Diverse Voices, I saw the recognition of the importance of creating a new literary landscape that reflected the world around us, that is blooming with thousands of different flowers, in which children are its scents.”

As a reader, I am all for a literary landscape with a variety of flowers and flavours, so I couldn’t agree more with Blackman and Mehmood. Take the challenge suggested by the authors of this article in the Guardian for instance and see for yourself: pluck 10 random books  next time you visit your local library and see what sort of leading character you get: chances are apart from animals, you’re quite likely to find a white male who lives in the UK or USA, and who has a fairly conventional family structure.

In case you wondered whether this is particular to the UK, read this piece by the late Walter Dean Myers published not that long ago in the New York Times: “Where are the people of colour in children’s books?” These discussions had me wondering about our readings, are they diverse enough? What sort of picture of the world do they provide for my children? What insight will they get from them? I want reading to be fun above all, but I also want reading to open my children’s eyes and to let them see the world in all its richness and diversity.

There are a few books that we keep on reading in my house that have not made it onto this list and I believe that collectively we can make a much better one, so how about you add to my list here, or write in the comments which book(s) celebrate(s) diversity for you?

The books that I want to share with you today are by Atinuke&Lauren Tobia.

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“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa”. This opening line is part of all the books of the series. In Anna Hibiscus’Song, a bright and beautiful picture book, we see how Anna loves to spend time in the mango tree as well as with her family. She loves to play with her cousins Chocolate, Angel and Benz, and she loves to dance with her uncle Tunde.

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She is so happy that she doesn’t know what to do with herself, so she asks for advice to all the members of her family. Each of them comes up with a different answer, but none really satisfies Anna who thinks that she is going to explode, until she climbs back up in the mango tree, sits still, sits quiet, and starts to sing.

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In case you thought I am over-enthusiastic, read the opinion of others, like Jean’s, who reviewed the series of Anna Hibiscus books on her great blog Artful Parent. Like me she goes back to these books again and again, as they simply are a joy to read with children say 5 and up. This is why I was delighted when I found out that the author and illustrator had teamed up to make a big picture book that my son and I have been reading regularly since he was three. Having re-read Atinuke’s The No. 1 Car Spotter last night, I also think he might be ready now for the adventures of Coca Cola and his best friend the No. 1 Car Spotter.

I have never met Atinuke in the flesh, but I  would love to, seeing how she tells stories. Judge for yourself with this video, and go to your library to read more diverse stories and to learn about others and yourself in the process.

A final little bonus, a video interview where Atinuke discusses her childhood in the UK and Nigeria and her writing of both Anna Hibiscus and the No. 1 Car Spotter.