Recently, while combatting a terrible reading slump, I felt a sudden urge to read picture books. My mind wanted to indulge in something short yet wholesome and heart-warming. After scrounging through my library’s digital offerings, I uncovered five diverse, own-voices titles that sounded perfect for the mood that I unexpectedly found myself in. Each of them were a marvellously yet oft times bittersweet experience and I wanted to share some brief reviews for these reads with you today.
Mango Moon by Diane De Anda and Sue Cornelison (illustrator): An own-voices Latinx story about a family who must grieve and come to terms with an uncertain future after their father and husband is taken away, pending deportation. As they adapt to finding a new home, his absence at sports games and birthday celebrations, they seek to fill their newfound emptiness with precious memories of the man they miss dearly.
This book was breathtakingly heart-breaking. The harsh reality that many families in the United States are currently faced with is brought into a vivid and straightforward fore in this stunning tale. We watch as this family’s life is turned completely upside down, leaving them with feelings of loneliness, loss, and even abandonment. The memories they have of their father is the only way that they know how to cope with him being gone.
The tale is expressed through gorgeous artwork. The colours are bright yet soft with details that capture the expressions of the pain and longing that these kids are feeling in a manner that shall be very accessible to any and all kids who will pick this book up. It’s perfect for adults because it highlights the truth of today’s cruel political chaos, while also being vital for children by depicting the importance of family and the small memories that families create together. Highly recommended.
Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim and Grace Zong (illustrator): An own-voices Chinese re-telling of the Goldilocks story about a little girl named Goldy Luck who has a tendency to get into trouble when she least expects to, and how she learns and grows from those moments of mischief.
This is my favourite rendition of the Goldilocks story yet! It is delightfully heart-warming and fun, with a reimagining that is gloriously and unapologetically Chinese. The cultural inclusion that is expressed via the panda bears, the turnip cakes, and the atmosphere of celebrating the Chinese New Year truly make this book a splendid addition to any library!
It was cute to read about Goldy Luck and how she tends to mess up the tasks she is charged with. However, it was even more endearing to read how she goes about in resolving the errors of her ways. It portrays the togetherness and importance of giving that is a huge part of the Chinese New Year, so adorably with charming, simple illustrations that utilise glorious, saturated colours of red, yellow, and greens that surround the reader in a sense of happiness. The book also includes a recipe for turnip cakes at the end, along with an author’s note that briefly describes the Chinese New Year. Highly recommended for all kids to check out as it opens up the beauty of diverse cultures in such a lovely manner.
The Boy and the Bindi by Vivek Shraya and Rajni Perera (illustrator): An own-voices Indian, own-voices LGBTQIA+ story about a young child who becomes fascinated with his Ammi’s bindi—the red dot commonly adorned by Hindu women to indicate the point of creation’s beginning—and wishes that he had one of his very own! Rather than scolding her son, she happily agrees to it and uses the opportunity to enlighten him about its cultural significance.
Nothing makes me happier than seeing acceptance of Queer kids in highly conservative communities, such as the South Asian community. Reading a story about a mum who treats her son’s curiosity and interest in understanding something outside of his expected gender role with respect and encouragement filled my own Trans heart with an indescribable amount of comfort and joy. This one act of kindness and regard helps her son to understand a bit more about himself, and as such, come to realise his own identity.
The artwork consists of focused drawings of the mother and bindi upon plain, white backgrounds that make the essence of the tale pop off the pages magnificently, signifying that this is a story about a boy who finds himself in the beauty of his culture.
I love that the characters are stunning, unapologetically brown individuals being joyous amid familial camaraderie. I feel this is something that we don’t get to witness nearly enough in literature, especially children’s works. Highly recommended to all readers, especially South Asian kids and families; witness the serenity of encouraging a child’s discovery of themselves and the elation that blossoms because of it.
Mooncakes by Loretta Seto and Renné Benoit (illustrator): An own-voices Chinese book about a young girl who is preparing to celebrate the Moon Festival with her parents. As they make mooncakes and sit outside waiting for the moon to rise, she listens to the stories about certain individuals that found their way to the moon.
My favourite part about this story is how centred it is on being humble and kind, while promoting a sense of family togetherness that is so beautifully soothing. The little girl’s curiosity along with the love that her parents have for her, depicted in the smaller details, is powerful and uplifting. My second favourite thing is the artwork, which uses muted shades of browns, yellows, and blues with soft details and cute characters. This would make an excellent bedtime story.
The themes of being humble and honest are depicted via the three stories that her parents share with her about individuals—who via the grace of the Jade Emperor and their own efforts—that ended up taking residence on the moon and significantly contribute to the beauty of the world in one form or another. The messages seem simple, yet they are deep and rather meaningful and perfect for youngsters to better understand compassion in the world around them. Highly recommend for readers of all ages, especially those interested in Chinese folktales.
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki and Qin Leng (illustrator): An own-voices Japanese tale about a young violinist named Hana who decides to enter a competition. While her brothers give her a bad time about her playing, Hana reminisces about her Ojiichan (her grandfather) and the many memories she has of him surrounding her childhood with beautiful memories.
Out of all five of these books, this is the one that brought me to tears. It is my favourite story from the bunch and concentrates on the outstanding worth of sentimentalism in pursuing our passions, while also celebrating different ways that memories can help us heal and move forward when faced with loss. Lastly, it also shines a bright light on always believing in yourself even when others try to surround you in doubt.
Hana is precocious child with a lively imagination that is filled to the brim with sweet memories of her Ojiichan playing the violin for her and her family, all of which end up formulating the essence of her performance at the competition. It is an homage to a man that filled her heart with so much love and joy. This was indescribably personal for me because it reminded me of my Bhaiya (brother) who did the very same thing for me but with a pianoforte rather than a violin. It was so touching and inspiring that I was wholeheartedly moved to tears.
The illustrations are all so wonderful too, with details that brought every ounce of Hana’s memories and creativity to life in an upbeat and almost cinematic manner. The passion that Hana has for the violin, as well as the respect for its association to her beloved grandfather, pours off the pages and embraces the reader in a blanket of amenity that makes you want to immediately re-read the story again after finishing it. Highly recommended to any readers that are searching for a bit of motivation and uplifting spirit, as well as an impeccable sense of familial companionship.
Picture books are fabulous and should not be restricted to children’s reading pleasures. There are so many awe-inspiring narratives out there within the medium that is just as vital to adults (more so in many ways) as they are to growing brains and hearts, and I highly recommend that fellow bibliophiles take a chance at indulging in them, particularly diverse, own-voices ones!