Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I Am Latino: The Beauty in Me by Sandra L. & Myles C. Pinkney

Well hello again! Seems I took a bit of a blogging break the last couple of weeks, however unintentional. I've had a few other projects that have been taking up my attention. But no matter what, we're still reading, so I've got plenty of books to share.

Increasingly we're finding chapter books really capture Sprout's attention -- and yet, we still manage to check out the same huge load of picture books from the library, which thrills me no end. I honestly don't want to be one of those parents who pushes their child toward "serious" reading or toward one format of books over another. As I've shared before, Hubs grew up being not much of a reader, until he discovered graphic novels, and those have been his "gateway drug" into other forms of literature. So I happily check out whatever random pile of books catches Sprout's fancy on any given day, being sure to include a few of my own picks, however surreptitiously.

One thing I always try to do with our library selections is inject a good mix of diversity into our choices. No surprise there, right? But it does take work to make your bookshelves reflective of the world we live in -- because of course the titles that get the most press are those that make up the prevailing bulk of mainstream publishing, and that means white, white, white. So we all have to dig a little deeper and see what we can find to add some color to our reading selections. Fortunately, if you do look, it's possible to be rewarded with some excellent diverse kidlit without much effort.

One tip I like to share with parents and teachers is to find an author you like and then explore his/her catalog -- often writers who choose diverse subject matter or who populate their books with characters of color do so intentionally and thoughtfully, and their body of work usually demonstrates that. Today's book is one I came across because we've loved the previous collaborations by Sandra and Myles Pinkney. I Am Latino: The Beauty in Me doesn't disappoint, either -- it's every bit as stunning as their book Shades of Black, which is one of our all-time favorite titles.

In I Am Latino, the Pinkneys again turn their attention to a specific part of the population with a joyful celebration of the uniqueness of Latino people and culture. Framed around the concept of the senses, Sandra's poetic verse calls out ways to "sense the beauty", from the melody of language to the rhythm of music to the richness of foods. Myles again illustrates this title with his evocative photography, showing a diverse section of Latino boys and girls in situations that accent the story. Sprout's favorite photo is toward the end, where a young boy is smelling a plate of empanadas. "I bet those taste so so good, Mom!" he exclaimed the first time we read this (Hubs and I assured him he was right on the money there!).

I love I Am Latino not only because it introduces kids who aren't familiar with Latino culture to some basic traditions, but also because it's an affirmation for kids who see themselves in these pages.  Maybe they see the food their grandmother makes or have a family photo that resembles one in the book. Maybe they've never thought about what makes their heritage special, or maybe they've grown up with family members who keep them closely tied to their roots. It doesn't matter, really, because this title works on many levels for whoever is reading it. Ultimately, the Pinkneys' message through I Am Latino and their other books is that there's pride in heritage and being connected to your history. And also, that there's power in affirming the beauty we see around us.

You may not find I Am Latino readily available on your bookstore or library shelves. But take a little extra time to look for this one, regardless of your family background -- it's simple, strong and a great celebration of Latino heritage. This is a terrific title for even the youngest readers.

I Am Latino: The Beauty in Me by Sandra L. & Myles C. Pinkney, published by Little, Brown
All ages
Source: Library
Sample: "Use your senses. / You will see Beauty -- Magnificently / I am Latino. I am the Beauty!!!"

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