Multicultural Children’s Book Day

By Kim Childress

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When I worked as a children’s book acquisitions editor at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, we were considering featuring an African-American WNBA basketball player for a biography series. I was truly astounded to discover from the company’s marketing director that books about blacks don’t sell well in the core Christian-book market. At the time, I believe my response was something like, “What era is this?” However, I have since learned, the reality is that prejudice persists, not only for blacks but in more ways than most adults like to admit.

Racism is real, prejudice exists, and we need more books to help children understand “diversity” and the ever-changing ways it affects lives. Every single person in this world has a story and can learn something from any other. I am proud to promote Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCCBD)!

The MCCBD team’s mission? To spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow on Twitter via hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Here is a book review to serve as a special shout-out to Multicultural Children’s Book Day….

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Debut author Susan Ross has a lot going on in her first middle-grade novel, titled Kiki and Jacques, but it shows the reality of what many children face in this world. While its diversity theme is the main reason this book was selected for review, the story revolving around a family of Somalian refugees who come to live in  small-town Maine, this book also touches on tough issues with language that appeals to middle-graders.

Eleven-year-old Jacques is handling the death of his mother, and since then, his father has returned to drinking. They live with Jacques’s grandmother in a small, Franco-American town, where Jacques must now abandon homeschooling and help maintain the family’s bridal shop. The bills are piling, and life isn’t the same since Mom died. Jacques’s homeschooling is a key component to the book and helps make the plot more believable.

Jacques is targeted by a neighbor boy, who wants Jacques to first sell pot at school and later to help with a robbery. Each time, Jacques refuses, but things change with the arrival of refugees from Somalia. First Jacques’s position as soccer captain is jeopardized by Mohamed, a refugee and brother to scar-faced Kiki, a girl Jacques eventually befriends. Between the rivalry over soccer and the prejudice against the refugees, Jacques juggles pressures from school, home, friends, his father and Duane, who threatens to hurt Kiki if Jacques doesn’t agree to the plan. Though Jacques still refuses, disaster ensues.

At first I was nonplussed at the idea of an 11-year-old knowing about pot, but in talking with my 12-year-old daughter and friends, the fact is that middle-graders in this age group are dealing with intense pressures on many different levels at much earlier ages. Jacques deals with a lot, and his thoughts and actions are realistic for a child in his position. He must find his way and take a stand. He has no idea how to deal with reporting a crime, especially when he doesn’t have guiding parents, and also feels his friends and family are threatened.

The ending is satisfying, perhaps a bit too tidy for older readers given all that’s happening. Kiki and Jacques provides valuable starting points of conversation for readers and shows how difficult it can be for kids this age as they establish their independence and personal values. It also is realistic in that Jacques messes up, even though he wants to do the right thing. Although the cover suggests otherwise, there is little romance in this book other than the first realizations of the opposite sex, and Jacques’s private thoughts about Kiki and another girl.

Finally I am impressed by the book’s subtle theme of faith. In a realistic way, organic to the story, Jacques prays to God for wisdom, while at the same time thinking about the prayers of those with a different religion. Early on we read, “He has always been taught to do the right thing.” When events reach a peak, Jacques prays for direction.

Reprinted with permission from childressink.com.

Want to learn more about different cultures? Check out The Complicated Culture of the Hijab.

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