Happy New Year! The observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has us reflecting on the power of diversity awareness, and books can be a natural bridge for conversation! Each selection seeks to inspire, while touching on major themes of identity, diversity, and acceptance—with their own light-hearted spin on topics that could often be challenging to approach. For America’s sports fans, two of our book recommendations are authored by two of last year’s Super Bowl superstars on the New England Patriots!
by Karen Katz (Squarefish $7.99) Age 3-8
Delicious illustrations meet a positive message in this simple-but-profound picture book that’s frequently recommended by child development experts. Author Katz created the story for her adopted Guatemalan daughter and her diverse playmates, crafting a lively adventure that teaches a heavy message coated with a light touch.
Seven-year-old Lena grabs brown paint for a self-portrait, but her artist mom–who lovingly describes Lena as “the color of cinnamon”–takes her on a neighborhood stroll to discover the wide diversity of pigment within and beyond simple “brown.”
Friends and neighbors inhabit a mouthwatering palette that includes peanut butter, honey, chocolate, and more, and Lena begins to see her familiar world in a new way. The book’s style fosters acceptance and positive feelings about racial identity in general, opening the door for parents and teachers to start a more detailed conversation about “why” someone might have a difference skin color.
by Shane Burcaw, with photographs by Matt Carr (Roaring Brook $17.99) Age 5-10
24-year-old Burcaw has been answering awkward questions practically his whole life: Born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), he knew from toddlerhood he would never walk, and developed an outgoing personality and intelligent mind to make up for his shrinking muscles.
After telling his story in the 2014 memoir “Laughing at my Nightmare,” Burcaw set out to offer refreshingly honest and age-appropriate answers to the frank questions children blurt out when they see someone in a wheelchair.
What’s wrong with you? How do you eat? Why is your head so big? Nothing’s out of bounds with this book, and humor goes a long way toward fostering understanding. This book not only demystifies someone who looks different, but expresses the author’s sense of humor and zest for living, which all children and adults can relate to.
by Julian Edelman with Assaf Swissa, illustrated by David Leonard (Superdigital $19.99) Age 3-8
Patriots wide receiver Edelman is remembered for the history-making catch that helped his team win the 2017 Super Bowl, but his story began in suburban Northern California. His first children’s book, “Flying High,” is a semi-autobiographical tale of a small, weak squirrel (“Squirrel” is one of Edelman’s nicknames) working hard to get onto a football team.
In the newly released follow-up, scrappy squirrel Jules is faced with his toughest challenge yet, teaming up with friends Tom the Goat, Danny the Fox, and Dont’a the Rhino to face the furious falcons. Football-loving adults will recognize teasing parallels with real-life characters (does that owl resemble Bill “the Owl” Belichick?), and kids will delight in an action-packed tale of “perseverance, passion and acorns.”
by Malcolm Mitchell, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (Scholastic $17.99) Age 3-7
Rookie Patriot Mitchell was pivotal in Super Bowl LI, but he considers his most important work off the field. Motivated by his own early struggle with reading, he’s become a childhood literacy advocate and the team’s Summer Reading Ambassador. Mitchell founded the initiative “Read with Malcolm”, and promotes reading to children in underserved communities with his Share the Magic Foundation.
This newly released book carries that magic into the hands of young readers, tracing the story of a typical day at the library turned magical, through a magician whose greatest trick goes beyond pulling a rabbit out of a hat. After inviting each child to reach into his mysterious hat, the children are met with very special surprises—books that make each of their dreams come true!
Reading is magical, and Mitchell drives home the theme that through reading, children can dream big and be whoever they want to be.