Dive into Diversity: Happy Winter Birthdays!

There are so many talented and diverse children’s authors and illustrators to recommend! To highlight them, I have continued with my series of celebrating their birthdays on a seasonal basis. I started with summer, I covered Autumn birthdays, and here we are now at Winter birthdays! I hope you enjoy the great titles below. A great resource to find even more diverse notable titles for kids is the Colours of Us website, The Colours of Us: All About Multicultural Children's Books. Happy Winter birthdays!

Author and Illustrator Jason Chin, Birthday: December 5th
Redwoods
(Preschool – 2nd Grade)
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Library Catalog

“Playing with the notion of just how immersive a book can be, illustrator Chin (The Day the World Exploded) makes his authorial debut with a clever exploration of coast redwoods. The framing story opens with a boy finding a copy of Redwoods on a subway station bench (he's even on the cover). He delves in, and facts about the ancient trees spring to life around him: as he reads in a subway car that ‘there are trees alive today that first sprouted during the Roman Empire,' he is flanked by two figures from that era, driving home the point. Emerging from the station to find himself in the middle of a redwood forest, his adventures mirror what he's learning—standing in a redwood-made rain shower and glimpsing the Statue of Liberty in the midst of the forest (the tallest redwood is six stories taller). The straightforward narrative is given enormous energy by the inventive format and realistic watercolor illustrations—their soft edges and muted hues suit the mist-shrouded giants. Chin adeptly captures the singular and spectacular nature of redwoods in this smartly layered book.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Author Jason Reynolds, Birthday: December 6th
Stuntboy, in the Meantime. Illustrated by Raúl the Third
(Grades 3-5)
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Library Catalog

“Not-so-secret superhero by day and kid from apartment 4D by day as well, Portico ‘Stuntboy’ Reeves will need all his tricks to withstand the great threat facing his family and the anxiety that comes with it. Portico loves living in Skylight Gardens, an apartment complex as large as a castle, but he cherishes the people and community the most–with the exception of Herbert Singletary the Worst. Herbert is a bully and often a source of Portico's ‘frets,’ or debilitating anxiety, but neighbor and bestie Zola provides great support to both Portico and his super alter ego. The latter's purpose is to keep all the other uniquely heroic folk in Skylight Gardens safe through an arsenal of self-sacrificing distractions and awkward hijinks. Raul the Third's illustrations are both dynamic and cleverly slapstick as Portico skillfully tumbles down stairs to prevent an older resident from falling or flops in front of his parents to momentarily stop them from fighting. Reynolds' narrative gradually reveals the impact Portico's parents' impending separation is having on their deeply sensitive son even as he can't fully grasp what's going on around him. Superlative, action-packed art and cheeky narration combine to tell a story of emotional intelligence on a superheroic scale while remaining consistently funny and undeniably thoughtful. Most characters read as Black. A boy finds a creative coping mechanism in this original tale that speaks to the heart.” – Kirkus Reviews

Illustrator Raúl Colón, Birthday: December 17th
Already a Butterfly: A Meditation Story. Written by Julia Alvarez
(Grades K-2)
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“Meditation and mindfulness practices are woven into a sweet story about a busy butterfly. Mari Posa is a beautiful butterfly, depicted with a human body, vibrantly jewel-toned wings, medium-brown skin, and black braided hair. She stays extremely busy, with a fast-paced pollination schedule and lengthy list of chores, and she never has time to rest. Mari doesn't feel any better prepared for the bustling tempo of the world after her parents offer suggestions that she follow her instincts and have fun but without any advice on how to do so. A timely lesson from a friendly flower bud on self-acceptance and measured breathing helps Mari connect with her body and find the joys in life that she had been passing by. An enlightened Mari approaches life with new appreciation for her surroundings and fresh confidence. The message that readers can find quiet within themselves is followed by a simple lesson on breathing embedded in the story. Mari chants, ‘Breathing in, I am a butterfly. Breathing out, I feel happy,’ and readers may find themselves breathing along. Soft, textured illustrations full of floral elements match the gentle quality of the tale. In a world that can't seem to slow down, this story reminds readers to trust their instincts and breathe.” – Kirkus Reviews

Author and Illustrator Lulu Delacre, Birthday December 20th
How Far Do You Love Me?
(Preschool – 2nd Grade)
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Library Catalog

“Inspired by a game Delacre played with her daughters, this celebration of the love parents have for their children poses the question, ‘How far do you love me?’ with answers that span the globe. Soft pastel paintings of places such as the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Cenote Dzitnup in Yucatan, Mexico, along with expressive sentences describing these locales, are used to compare a parent's love to the vastness of the natural world. ‘I love you to the top of the peaks lit by the morning sun….To the depths of the cave where a spring seeps sweet water….’ Various cultures and all seven continents are represented, and each spread is labeled to identify its setting; an outline map and author's note are included in the back matter. At the end, the child tries to outdo his mother by loving her ‘to the Moon,’ but as he falls asleep, she has the last word: ‘I love you to the space beyond the space we know.’ This topic is similarly explored in many classic picture books such as Sam McBratney's Guess How Much I Love You (Candlewick, 1995) and Margaret Wise Brown's Runaway Bunny (HarperCollins, 1942), but the multicultural worldview is unique. A good choice for one-on-one sharing between a parent and child.” – School Library Journal

Author and Illustrator Keiko Kasza, Birthday: December 23rd
Ready for Anything!
(Preschool – 2nd Grade)
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Library Catalog

“Happy-go-lucky Duck and worrywart Raccoon plan a picnic on a beautiful summer day in this poignant and charming tale. Raccoon envisions the outing with negative possibilities: killer bees and a terrible storm that causes the two to seek shelter in a cave, only to come face-to-face with a vicious fire-breathing dragon. Duck imagines a picnic in a meadow surrounded by butterflies, splashing about with Raccoon in the cool river, flying a kite together, and exploring a cave, only to discover a gentle and playful baby dragon. Duck's version entices Raccoon from seeking safety under a blanket, and to seize the day. Still, he proceeds with caution, loading himself down with a polka-dotted red umbrella and two flashlights, just in case. When they arrive at their bucolic destination, Duck realizes that he forgot the food. ‘Ready for anything,' Raccoon pulls out a perfect repast. The engaging, playful gouache illustrations have a slightly cartoonish look. Lighthearted and wise, this humorous book skillfully presents the positive and negative issues that arise for both worrisome and free-spirited children. The ending provides an opportunity to discuss the extremes and possibilities for a healthy balance.” – School Library Journal

Author and Illustrator Cece Bell, Birthday: December 26th
El Deafo
(Grades 3-6)
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Library Catalog

“A humorous and touching graphic memoir about finding friendship and growing up deaf. When Cece is 4 years old, she becomes ‘severely to profoundly’ deaf after contracting meningitis. Though she is fitted with a hearing aid and learns to read lips, it's a challenging adjustment for her. After her family moves to a new town, Cece begins first grade at a school that doesn't have separate classes for the deaf. Her nifty new hearing aid, the Phonic Ear, allows her to hear her teacher clearly, even when her teacher is in another part of the school. Cece's new ability makes her feel like a superhero-just call her ‘El Deafo’-but the Phonic Ear is still hard to hide and uncomfortable to wear. Cece thinks, ‘Superheroes might be awesome, but they are also different. And being different feels a lot like being alone.’ Bell (Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover, 2012) shares her childhood experiences of being hearing impaired with warmth and sensitivity, exploiting the graphic format to amplify such details as misheard speech. Her whimsical color illustrations (all the human characters have rabbit ears and faces), clear explanations and Cece's often funny adventures help make the memoir accessible and entertaining. Readers will empathize with Cece as she tries to find friends who aren't bossy or inconsiderate, and they'll rejoice with her when she finally does. Worthy of a superhero.” – Kirkus Reviews

Author Cynthia Leitich Smith, Birthday: December 31st
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids
(Grades 3-6)
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Library Catalog

“A groundbreaking Indigenous anthology for young people. Readers can join the fun in this collection of 18 contemporary stories and poems about loving families from various parts of the U.S. and Canada who travel to meet, dance, sing, socialize, and honor Native traditions at an intertribal powwow. The entries tell of the personal struggles, family joy, belief systems, and stunning regalia of various nations, including the Cree, Ojibwe, Choctaw, Cherokee, Navajo, Abenaki, and Haudenosaunee, through the eyes of the young protagonists. Enrollment issues, Indian wannabes, and veterans' histories are just a few of the serious themes addressed in these entertaining stories written by familiar and lesser-known writers alike. Senses of goodwill and humor pervade the book as well as the spirit of community, intersection, resilience, and a desire to remember the past. Whether engaging with the quiet spiritual strength displayed in ‘Fancy Dancer’ by Monique Gray Smith or the profound point of view of Brian Young's ‘Senecavajo,’ the stories are full of surprises. Rebecca Roanhorse writes from a dog's vantage point, and Dawn Quigley asks about the nature of intelligence. Many other original tales complete this anthology of modern Natives celebrating their diversity together. An especially winning feature is the glossary in which various Indigenous vocabulary words in the stories are defined. A joyful invitation to celebrate the circle of ancestors together.” – Kirkus Reviews

Author and Illustrator Divya Srinivasan, Birthday: December 29th
What I Am. Also by Uma Srinivasan
(Preschool – 2nd Grade)
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Library Catalog

“When this book's unnamed, female, Indian American protagonist is asked, ‘What are you?’ she responds with humor and grace. She is, in fact, so many different things. For example, she is a daughter, a granddaughter, and a mother (to her stuffed animals). To some people, she is light skinned, while to others, she is dark. In her own eyes, she is a bundle of contradictions. Sometimes she is mean, and other times she is kind. Sometimes she likes being with friends, and other times she likes being alone. All in all, the protagonist decides she is someone who she–and her family and friends–loves. According to the author's note, Srinivasan wrote the story in response to a real-life incident in which her sister was asked, ‘What are you?' at a young age. The book is a gorgeously human answer to this dehumanizing question. The spare, efficient text, a series of declarations, and the inked illustrations are a beautiful tribute to multiple identities and a celebration of the contradictory personality traits that make us all who we are. There is humor in some details: When afraid, the child cowers as a thunderstorm rages outside; when brave, she fearlessly (and bloodlessly) rescues a cowering relation from a bug. When she announces her vegetarianism, she's seen with two friends who are chomping on pepperoni and sausage pizza while she enjoys a slice topped with veggies. A picture book celebrating the nuances of living with multiple identities.” – Kirkus Reviews

Author and Illustrator Noelle Stevenson, Birthday: December 31st
Lumberjanes. Also created by Shannon Watters & Grace Ellis
(Grades 4-6)
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Library Catalog

“The first four supernatural adventures of five young scouts-in-training at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Girls Hardcore Lady Types are gathered in this clever, funny, and just-creepy-enough collection. After a skulk of three-eyed foxes deliver the ominous message, ‘Beware the kitten holy,’ friends Jo, Mal, Molly, April, and Ripley are drawn into a world of paranormal goings-on that involves a mysterious lighthouse, a trap-laden underground cave, and a nearby camp for boys. With a cast of varied skills and temperaments, there's something here for everyone. Wild child Ripley doesn't hesitate to leap after the eagle that snatches her candy bar. April, who has the doe eyes and buoyant tresses of a Disney princess, doesn't just arm-wrestle a giant talking statue, she snaps off his arm in the process. Natural leader Jo is a math whiz, and the mutual attraction between nervous punk-rocker Mal and sweet-natured Molly is evident. Humorously riffing on everything from scout badges to the X-Men to feminist heroes (‘Where the Phillis Wheatley were you?.’) It's a sharp, smart, and most of all fun celebration of sisterhood that will leave readers eager for the Lumberjanes' future exploits.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Illustrator Chris Soentpiet, Birthday: January 3rd
Amazing Faces. Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Library Catalog

“The focus of this excellent collection of disparate poems is not strictly faces but people. The poems—contributed by writers such as Joseph Bruchac, Nikki Grimes, Pat Mora, and Jane Yolen—include character sketches, vignettes, and descriptions of people from all over multicultural America. Soentpiet’s (Saturdays and Teacakes) astonishing watercolors unify the book’s theme as he concentrates each illustration on the faces of Americans who live in both small towns and cities. His paintings are lifelike, full of shadows and depth, and astonishingly precise. They allow readers to see a variety of emotional scenes, featuring a Native American storyteller, a soldier returning home, an insouciant Mexican-American girl, a firefighter, flirting teenagers, and a busy street in Chinatown. Especially noteworthy is Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s opening poem, ‘Amazing Face,’ a touching portrait of a parent’s hopes for a new baby (‘Amazing, your face./ It shows you will watch from a window,/ whisper to a friend,/ ride a carousel…’). The ending reveals a sea of faces and fireworks to accompany Langston Hughes’s ‘My People,’ a fitting celebration of Americans in all their diversity.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Illustrator Floyd Cooper, Birthday: January 8th
Author Carole Boston Weatherford, Birthday: February 13th
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre
(Grades 3-6)
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Library Catalog

“One hundred years ago, the Greenwood district of Tulsa, OK, was a prosperous Black community. Restaurants, beauty salons, movie theaters, and dozens of other businesses thrived along ‘Black Wall Street.’ Cooper's sepia-tone illustrations depict the bustle of everyday life as people hurried to shops or churches and gathered with friends. A stark spread signals the tragic turning point that resulted in the decimation of Greenwood's Black community. A 17-year-old white woman elevator operator accused a 19-year-old Black man of assault. Incited by calls to action printed in white-owned newspapers, thousands of armed white men headed to the jail, where they met 30 armed Black men determined to stop a lynching. The confrontation resulted in the deaths of two Black men and 10 white men. Angry that they didn't get to the jailed Black man, a white mob invaded the town, looted, and committed arson. The police did nothing to protect the Black citizens. Up to 300 Greenwood residents were killed, and more than 8,000 were left homeless. Seventy-five years passed before an official investigation occurred. Cooper's illustrations are infused with a personal connection. Not only did he grow up in Tulsa, but Cooper also heard his grandpa's stories of surviving the events. The powerful photo spread on the endpapers documents the destruction and smoking ruins. Cooper's final illustrations of Tulsa's Reconciliation Park offer a bit of hope. Weatherford's author's note provides additional background. VERDICT This moving account sheds light on shameful events long suppressed or ignored. All collections should consider this title's value in providing historical context to current conversations about racism and America's ongoing legacy of white supremacy.” – School Library Journal

Author Maulik Pancholy, Birthday: January 18th
The Best At It
(Grades 4-7)
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Library Catalog

“An Indian American boy struggles with his sexuality and mental health while finding a place for himself in seventh grade. Rahul Kapoor may not be sure about his sexuality, but he is sure of one thing: This year, he wants to make an impression. Inspired by a story his grandfather tells him, Rahul decides that the best way to impress his classmates–and, in the process, to protect himself from bullies–is to pick something and be the best at it. With the help of his fiery best friend, Chelsea, a white girl who wisely, consistently steers Rahul toward being himself and doing what he loves, Rahul tries a number of activities before settling on Mathletes, where he soon becomes a star. But when Japanese American Jenny asks him to the Sadie Hawkins dance, and when his Mathletes career doesn't go as planned, Rahul spirals into an anxious depression with symptoms of OCD that force him to confront and eventually accept exactly who he is. In his author's note, Pancholy notes that Rahul's story is semi autobiographical, and it shows. Every character in the story is nuanced and sympathetically rendered, and the book does not shy away from racism, sexism, ableism, or homophobia. The protagonist's devastatingly honest voice pulls readers deeply into a fast-paced journey riddled with heartbreakingly authentic moments of anxiety, confusion, and triumph. This coming-of-age story about diverse characters coming to grips with their layered identities rings true.” – Kirkus Reviews

Author Pat Mora, Birthday: January 19th
Gracias – Thanks. Illustrated by John Parra
(Grades K-2)
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Library Catalog

“A boy recounts the many things he is thankful for, like his time at the beach and the bees that don’t sting him when he is outside playing. The poetic writing flows in both Spanish and English and carries a sense of happiness brought by the simple things in life. The cheery and brightly colored acrylic illustrations are full of fun details and add depth to the text. Multicultural characters are revealed page by page, but unless readers are paying close attention, they might not pick up on the boy’s Mexican-American heritage. This delightful bilingual book has universal appeal and would be a wonderful choice for library storytimes or classroom read-alouds as the ‘giving thanks' theme lends itself to holidays and social topics. The author’s endnote challenges readers to list the things for which they are thankful. A must buy for all libraries looking to add to their children’s Spanish collections.” – School Library Journal

Author Nathaniel Newman, Birthday: February 7th
Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey.
Also by Magdalena Newman, Illustrated by Neil Swaab
(Grades 5-8)
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Library Catalog

“Nathaniel Newman and his mother, Magda, recount how Nathaniel's Treacher Collins syndrome has affected their family. In alternating passages, the authors relate how, after being born with severe craniofacial deformities affecting his hearing, eating, and breathing, Nathaniel underwent ‘sixty-plus’ surgeries before age 16. Along the way, he and his family faced kids' curiosity and adults' insensitivity. Magda's poignant, sometimes absurdly humorous endeavors to raise Nathaniel and his little brother, Jacob, as normally as possible emphasize how Nathaniel's disability shaped their family; siblings of kids with disabilities will sympathize when Magda describes how Jacob's needs came second. Nathaniel is witty and matter-of-fact about his condition, concluding that “it would have been easier to be born ‘normal, ‘ but far less cool.” Throughout the book's second half, the authors discuss how R.J. Palacio's book Wonder (2012) encouraged empathy for kids with craniofacial and other differences, and fans of the movie will appreciate thought-provoking peeks behind the scenes. Despite being dubbed ‘Auggie Pullman come to life,’ Nathaniel abundantly shows that he's his own multifaceted person. Flashbacks to Magda's childhood in Poland emphasize the importance of family and imagination in tough times. Though their story sometimes feels disjointed or overstuffed, its breadth reflects their personally extraordinary but emotionally universal journey. As Nathaniel observes, ‘I'm not normal, and neither are you.’ Swaab's full-page cartoon-style drawings introduce each chapter. The Newmans present white. Magda is Catholic; her husband and sons are Jewish. Funny, compassionate, and thoughtful.” – Kirkus Reviews

Uri Shulevitz, Birthday: February 27th
Chance – Escape from the Holocaust: Memories of a Refugee Childhood
(Grades 5-8)
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Library Catalog

“This searing, evocative memoir chronicles the wartime experiences of Caldecott Medalist Shulevitz, whose family fled 1939 Warsaw to avoid persecution when he was four years old, only to suffer starvation and other tribulations in the Soviet Union, Poland, and Germany before eventually settling in Paris. The spare, keenly observed narrative offers a harrowing look at a Jewish family’s plight during WWII while documenting the birth of an artist with a great capacity for creativity: Shulevitz draws stick figures in profile before the war, sketches ‘with my finger in the air’ to distract himself from hunger in Turkestan, and hones his craft to win a citywide drawing competition in Paris. Stark and powerful black-and-white drawings by the author underscore gritty realities: people forced to carry water after Nazi planes bomb Warsaw, tension and fear in a truck bound for Białystok, confrontations with Soviet officials, and a crowded bed the family inhabits in a settlement work camp. This affecting memoir of Shulevitz’s childhood as a war refugee provides a deeply personal testament to the power of art.”–Publishers Weekly

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