By Asha Sridhar
From learning to love your unique name to bonding with someone different from you, here are five picture books that show us how to build a truly inclusive society.
How lovely it is to look at the world through Jess Hong’s untainted Lovely lens. Tall, short, black, white, sporty, graceful—toss out all the deep-seated biases, stereotypes or cliches you may have associated with these words, for Lovely turns every idea on its head. If you think of a giraffe when someone says, “big,” and a mouse when someone says, “small,” you are in for a delightful surprise. Hong’s illustrations liberate these words, unshackles them. She lets the words soar high, unbridled, into a realm throbbing with possibilities, a realm free of prejudice, straitjackets. What can be more wonderful for a five-year-old than to discover the world around them by embracing its beauty in every imaginable shape, size, color, and smell?
This beautiful book, in which we are witness to a conversation between a little girl and her Abuelo, is a meditation on love, acceptance and finding our place in the world. What starts off with a seemingly innocuous question, “Where am I from?” leads to a heartwarming journey of discovery. When people relentlessly start posing questions about where her parents are from and where she really is from, she says, “I’m from here, from today, same as everyone else.” Her answer doesn’t satisfy them. The young protagonist then reaches out to her Abuelo for a simple answer, like the name of a place perhaps? Instead, she learns about her rich heritage, the land of her ancestors and the love that gave birth to her. The book handles delicate themes such as identity and fitting into society by refusing to pigeonhole it. There can be no reductive answer to where we come from, for we are much more than that.
IntersectionAllies: We Make Room for All by Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council, and Carolyn Choi and illustrated by Ashley Seil Smith
IntersectionAllies is a brief but poignant masterclass on issues of race, gender and identity among other things. Building on the idea that “we strive to be equal but not all the same,” it details the lives of a group of friends—Alejandra, Parker, Kate, Adilah, Nia, Dakota, Gloria, Heejung and Yuri—to illustrate how there’s room for everyone. Alejandra who uses a wheelchair, can “zip, glide and play” with her friends, while Adilah is a proud ballerina who happens to wear a hijab. While Gloria helps her mother’s business flourish by using her technology skills, Heejung who belongs to the “1.5 generation” translates English to Korean for her mother. As the lives of these girls intersect, you see how powerful bonds are forged on the strength of compassion and camaraderie, where each adds something invaluable to another’s life. Complete with notes at the end of the book, IntersectionAllies breaks down barriers and builds bridges where there were once walls.
What fun is a box of crayons if you can’t unleash the colors and mix them up? And what fun is life if we don’t mingle and live alongside people from different cultures, welcoming different languages, cuisines, to mix with our own? In this book, Arree Chung cleverly uses colors as a device to deliver a timeless message about the singular importance of diversity. The reds, yellows, and blues all live in harmony until the time comes when they have to decide who is better.
The colors soon start living in divided enclaves—Redville, Blue Town, and Yellow Heights. Two colors, blue and yellow, happen to meet one fine day, and old feelings are rekindled. They decide to mix, much against the wishes of the others in the community, creating green. Green, as Chung puts it, “was bright like yellow and calm like blue, but really she was a color all her own.” Forgetting their differences, the colors decide to mix, and the city soon explodes in a vibrant colorful flourish—orange, lavender, amber! The divided city makes way for a new one, a city where every shade is welcomed with one swooping gentle stroke.
Young little Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has only one qualm—her name never fits! In this charming book, Alma learns how her name embodies the spirit and the valor of the women and men of her family. As her father takes her back in time, explaining the significance of each person she is named after, she finds that she is a reflection of each of them. Her long name no longer seems like a burden. Invigorated, she turns it into an opportunity to tell others about the grand story behind her special name. Inspired by the author’s own experience of growing up in Peru, with what she thought was an old-fashioned name, this simple tale about belonging wraps around you like a warm blanket.
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Asha Sridhar is a freelance writer based out of Jersey City. She loves wandering through old historic buildings, bustling streets and anything that closely resembles a bookshop.