This delightfully whimsical picture book shares the concept of diversity with very young readers through a story of imaginary characters. It all starts in a village where the Sproggles, Flinkerdunks, Mimplets, and Wapsies all live in their individual neighborhoods. But one day, a stranger arrives in town, and no one is quite sure where he should live. The traveller doesn’t feel welcome by anyone in the community. But luckily for the village, the traveller knows just what to do after a huge storm destroys the village. He tells the villagers of his travels and they use his knowledge of inclusion to rebuild the village in an even better way than it was before the storm.
The illustrations are lovely. Of course I love all the colors incorporated throughout, but I especially loved the imagination put into each of the characters. The Sproggles, Flinkerdunks, Mimplets, and Wapsies are all uniquely different, though they are all adorable—even the angry Flinkerdunks.
Rainbow Village also includes a fantastic Parent’s Guide in the back with discussion questions to spark conversations about diversity with young readers. I love that this book can be used to discuss diversity on many levels, whether you’re discussing gender, race, religion, culture, ability, or any other aspect of diversity, Rainbow Village can help you illustrate your message.
You can pick up your own copy of Rainbow Village wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
Thank you so much to Jessica Kingsley Publishers for providing me with a review copy of Rainbow Village. I know I will be reading this one to my own toddler for many years to come!
About The Author:
Emmi Smid is the author and illustrator of Luna’s Red Hat, the translator of Big Tree is Sick, and the illustrator of Minnie and Max are OK! She lives in the Netherlands. You can find her online at emmismid.com.
It’s time for another Author Spotlight, and I am so excited that today’s Author Spotlight is also a Book Tour Stop for Rochelle Melander’s newest release Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing.
Rochelle Melander wrote her first book at seven and has published 11 books for adults. Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is her debut book for children. She’s a professional certified coach, an artist educator and the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for young people. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband, children, and two dogs. Visit her online at writenowcoach.com or rochellemelander.com
Thank you so much for joining me today! I am so excited to chat with you today, but I was hoping you might start us out by introducing yourself, and telling us a bit about your latest release Mightier Than The Sword: Rebels, Reformers& Revolutionaries Who Changed The World Through Writing.
Thanks so much for welcoming me to your blog! I’m excited to be here.
Let’s start with the important things: I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, not far from Lake Michigan with two dogs, two kids, and my husband, who is also a writer. My family keeps me grounded.
I own the business, Write Now! Coach and coach writers and students who struggle to overcome procrastination and distractions to get their work done. I also edit and do freelance writing. Mightier Than the Sword is my 12th book, and my first book for young people. I’ve wanted to write for young people for a long time, and I am delighted to finally have that chance!
Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is a middle grade social justice book that tells the stories of historical and contemporary writers, activists, scientists, and leaders who used writing to make a difference in their lives and the world. The stories are accompanied by writing and creative exercises to help readers discover how they can use writing to explore ideas and ask for change.
Title: Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing Author: Rochelle Melander Illustrator: Melina Ontiveros Publisher: Beaming Books Published: July 27, 2021 Recommended Ages: 8-13 Years Format: Hardcover
What inspired you to write Mightier Than the Sword?
I’ve been teaching writing to young people for many years. I often use mentor texts as writing prompts—maybe the poems of Richard Wright or Langston Hughes. I tell them stories about the writers, too. Young people liked hearing stories of people like Maria Merian, who at 13 designed an experiment to study the life cycle of silkworms. I also found stories online about young people who wrote to change the world—people that wouldn’t normally be included in a book. After using these stories for years, I felt like it was time to create a resource so that I could share these stories and writing exercises with young people.
Mightier Than the Sword is such a unique book in that it’s both a biography collection and a collection of writing prompts. How did the idea for such a unique format come to you?
I love books that are interactive, that invite the reader to participate in some way. My last book, Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination, and Increase Productivity invites readers to take on quests to understand and improve their work habits. I wanted Mightier Than the Sword to share the stories about mentors and then encourage young people to write. The writing prompts enabled me to do that.
You cover so many wonderful writers in Mightier Than the Sword, (I think I counted 140 including the mini-biographies peppered throughout) spanning from 978 to present day. There are so many people throughout history who have changed the world with writing. I know it must have been hard to narrow down your selection. How did you select the writers you included?What was the research process like? It must have been quite an undertaking!
I have been collecting names and stories for years. To develop the list, I read many anthologies, searched online, and talked to history and English professors. Then I chose an array of people based on three criteria:
Representation. I wanted children to find a diverse cast of people from a wide range of cultures, life experiences, and writing styles.
Diverse disciplines. I wanted young people to see the unique ways people use writing in their work.
Recognizability. I wanted young people to open the book and recognize some of the writers.
Once the book was accepted by the publisher, we worked together to finalize the list.
Then, I started reading and writing. For each person or document, I read an article on Wikipedia or a history website (https://besthistorysites.net/general-history-resources/). If possible, I read primary sources. Next, I turned to biographies and other history books. After I wrote the chapter, I would often go back through these resources to check my facts.
I wrote the book during the pandemic. I was very lucky. When I had a sense that the libraries were going to close, I spent a wild weekend running around to various libraries in town, checking out books. I think I had over 100 books checked out during that time. And during the research process, I purchased a few books as well.
I know it sounds like a lot of work, and it was—but I really enjoyed digging into the lives of these writers!
Not to ask you to play favorites, but were there any standout subjects that were more fun to research or write about?
I found Charles Darwin’s story to be helpful and inspiring. He goofed off in grade school, skipping out to wander the woods or do chemistry experiments with his brother. (Don’t think he was being studious—he made laughing gas!). He went to college to study medicine but didn’t like it. Then he tried divinity studies (Rev. Darwin?). All along he was chasing after beetles, which was a popular pastime in his day. His father thought he was a failure. A trip around the world launched his career as a naturalist. He spent the rest of his life doing experiments and writing books—while working about 3 hours a day. He was a great dad, keeping detailed journals about their development (they may have been a science experiment to him). And when On the Origin of the Species was published, he spent much of his time promoting his book: by writing letters! I was inspired that Darwin wasn’t the typical overachiever and yet, when he followed his passion, he achieved so much.
The portrait illustrations by Melina Ontiveros are so great, and I love that we get a face to put with the names and stories of each writer featured. I believe Mightier Than The Sword is your first illustrated title? How was your experience working with an illustrator?
Melina is wonderful! I didn’t actually work with her—all the briefings went through my editors. But we’ve gotten to know each other on Instagram and email. She’s going to be a guest on my blog next week (writenowcoach.com/blog). And I hired her to make a Mightier-like portrait of me!
You’ve been writing since you were young, and now assist young writers through your writing workshop Dream Keepers. What books or authors inspired you to write the most as a child?
Hands down, Madeleine L’Engle. In second grade, I fell in love with A Wrinkle in Time. When I was in my first job, I learned she was going to be presenting at a conference in a town nearby. I was lucky enough to meet her. I was also inspired by poets and playwrights. When I was 6, a friend gave me the book, I See a Poem. I read that book so many times. As a teen, I read the play, The Belle of Amherst by William Luce, and fell in love with Emily Dickinson and her poetry. (My favorite was, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”) I kept a commonplace book, where I copied down quotes and poems I liked. And, I had notebooks where I wrote bad poetry!
Mightier than The Sword is a perfect selection for classrooms with so many writing prompts to choose from. If teachers and young readers only take one thing away from Mightier Than the Sword, what would you want it to be?
I want young readers to see that there are many different kinds of writers and many ways to write. I want Mightier Than the Sword to be an invitation to them, letting them know that the world needs their ideas and stories and activism.
I hope teachers will be inspired by the many types of writing—and use the book as a supplement to their curriculum.
Those are all of my questions. Thank you again for taking the time to answer them all! Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?
Thanks so much for having me. I have a blog where writers talk about how to use their books in the classroom. Feel free to stop by: themightywriters.com.
Happy Tuesday, everybody! It feels like it’s been about a year since the last round up, but I’ve got a great list for you today.
As always, these titles will have inclusive characters (think racial and cultural diversity, LGBTQ+ representation, diverse family structures, disability representation, and more), and fall into a range of genres in both fiction and nonfiction categories.
Please Note: This post contains affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission from purchases made, with no additional cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and continue bringing content to you.
Nerdy Babies: Dinosaurs by Emmy Kastner
“Nerdy Babies is a series that will ignite curiosity in even the youngest readers and encourage them to ask questions and explore the world around them.
In Nerdy Babies: Dinosaurs, follow our intrepid babies into the Mesozoic Era. Experience the different shapes, sizes, and colors of the reptiles that roamed the Earth before us. Plus, learn about how dinosaurs evolved over millions of years until becoming extinct in this simple text written in question-and-answer format.
With bright artwork by Emmy Kastner, Nerdy Babies is a series that the very littlest nerds will want to return to again and again.
Stay curious. There’s more to learn about everything!”
“In Nerdy Babies: Transportation, follow our intrepid babies when they’re on the go. Experience skating on rollerblades, flying on air balloons, exploring underwater in a submarine, and riding cross-country on a car. Plus, learn about how different air, land, and sea travel can be in this simple text written in question-and-answer format.
With bright artwork by Emmy Kastner, Nerdy Babies is a series that the very littlest nerds will want to return to again and again.
Stay curious. There’s more to learn about everything!”
“This action-packed toddler’s day with Dad is full of opposites–and now in board!
From his first demand to be picked up and then immediately put down, opposites pop up all day long for this energetic boy. Breakfast is no, no, no, yes! At the sandbox, it’s make, make, make, break! And jumping into the pool goes from can’t, can’t, can’t, to can!
Kimberly Gee’s expressive illustrations emphasize the loving connection between a boy and his father in this clever concept book about everyday highs and lows is now in sturdy board, ready to become a staple in toddlers’ hands and bookshelves’.”
El Cucuy is Scared, Too! by Donna Barba Higuera, Illustrated by Julian Perdomo
“A boy and his monster confront their mutual fears in this unlikely friendship story that’s rooted in Mexican folklore
Ramón is a little boy who can’t sleep. He is nervous for his first day at a new school. And El Cucuy is the monster who lives in Ramón’s cactus pot. He can’t sleep, either. It turns out that El Cucuy is scared, too! This gentle, perceptive story explores the worries that can accompany moving to a new place and beginning a new journey—and reveals how comfort, bravery, and strength can be found through even the most unexpected of friendships.”
Listen by Gabi Snyder, Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
“In the tradition of Tomie dePaola’s Quiet and Scott Magoon’s Breathe comes this lyrical, meditative picture book about listening and mindfulness.
BEEP! WOOF! VROOM!
Isn’t the world a noisy place? But what if you stop, close your eyes, and LISTEN?
Can you hear each sound? Can you listen past the noise and hear the quiet, too?
Beautifully illustrated and poignant, this lovely picture book follows a girl through her school day as she listens to sounds across the city: caws of crows, shouts across the playground, and finally, the quiet beating of her heart and whispered goodnights.”
What Do You Know? by Aracelis Girmay and Ariana Fields
“What Do You Know? is an introspective, poetic picture book about the acts of questioning and listening. Asked by Love itself, the questions wonder aloud, seeking the knowing of an array of very different, yet interconnected, entities and beings. Instead of pointing and naming, here the asker seeks to know the world by listening to it. Tell me, land, farmer, well, rock, fruit bat, courage––what do you know? Across these pages, children will wonder at what we can learn, when we open ourselves up to listening to the world.”
Bella’s Recipe for Success by Ana Siqueira, Illustrated by Geraldine Rodríguez
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Bella wants to find out what she’s good at. But she quits everything she (barely) tries because she’s a disaster at it. Her somersaults are like clumsy jirafas rolling downhill, her piano playing like elephant feet. When she decides to learn how to bake with her wise old abuela, her first attempt at dulce de leche frosting looks like scaly cocodrilo skin. She must learn it’s okay to try again or she won’t be good at anything. Peppered with Spanish vocabulary and set in an intergenerational Latinx home, Bella’s Recipe for Success will show all kids the value of practicing to learn a new skill, and that it’s okay to make mistakes along the way.”
Frankenslime by Joy Keller, Illustrated by Ashley Belote
“A young slime scientist is surprised when her latest creation comes to life in Frankenslime, a funny and clever picture book twist on Frankenstein.
Victoria Franken is a slime scientist.
Her experiments lead to amazing slimes. Until, one dark and stormy night, her latest experiment goes awry and her newest creation COMES TO LIFE!
Joy Keller’s clever text and Ashley Belote’s humor-filled art combine to create a fun picture book twist on horror movies like Frankenstein and The Blob, that also explores the scientific method and the importance of recording observations and results. The author has also included a couple of Victoria’s best slime recipes, although you’ll notice the secret formula that brought her slime to life is missing.”
Let’s Go For a Walk by Ranger Hamza, Illustrated by Kate Kronreif
“Walking in the country, by the sea, or in the town, so many wonderful things to see if you stop and look around! Go on your very own walk guided by Ranger Hamza with this book that can be used again and again.
Take this book with you on any walk, wherever you live, with suggestions from Ranger Hamza for things to look out for. Can you see a red thing? A tall thing? Can you find something smooth, and something rough? What can you smell, and what can you hear? As well as things to spot on the walk, each spread contains fascinating Hamza facts.
Turn every walk, long or short, into an interactive, playful, learning adventure.
Can be used on any kind of walk, in any location, and any duration, over and over again.
Will help young hikers look at the world around them in a new way.
Can also be read at home, with readers spotting the details in the beautiful illustrations.
Perfect for families looking to make their regular outings more fun, whether in the city or the country: Let’s Go For a Walk!“
My Voice Is a Trumpet by Jimmie Allen, Illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson
“From rising country star Jimmie Allen comes a lyrical celebration of the many types of voices that can effect change.
From voices tall as a tree, to voices small as a bee, all it takes is confidence and a belief in the goodness of others to change the world. Coming at a time when issues of social justice are at the forefront of our society, this is the perfect book to teach children that they’re not too young to express what they believe in and that all voices are valuable.”
Maya and the Robot by Eve L. Ewing, Illustrated by Christine Almeda
“From award-winning author Eve L. Ewing comes an illustrated middle grade novel about a forgotten homemade robot who comes to life just when aspiring fifth-grade scientist Maya needs a friend — and a science fair project.
Maya’s nervous about fifth grade. She tries to keep calm by reminding herself she knows what to expect. But then she learns that this year won’t be anything like the last. For the first time since kindergarten, her best friends Jada and MJ are placed in a different class without her, and introverted Maya has trouble making new friends.
She tries to put on a brave face since they are in fifth grade now, but Maya is nervous! Just when too much seems to be changing, she finds a robot named Ralph in the back of Mr. Mac’s convenience store closet. Once she uses her science skills to get him up and running, a whole new world of connection opens up as Ralph becomes a member of her family and Maya begins to step into her power. In this touching novel, Eve L. Ewing melds together a story about community, adapting to change, and the magic of ingenuity that reminds young readers that they can always turn to their own curiosity when feeling lost.”
“A middle school soccer whiz’s determination to keep things from changing is tested when his father’s ALS symptoms worsen in this touching story about growing up and facing loss, perfect for fans of Shouting at the Rain.
Twelve-year-old Golden Maroni is determined to channel his hero, soccer superstar Lionel Messi, and become captain of his soccer team and master of his eighth grade universe…especially since his home universe is spiraling out of orbit. Off the field, Golden’s dad, once a pro soccer player himself, is now battling ALS, a disease that attacks his muscles, leaving him less and less physically able to control his body every day. And while Mom says there’s no cure, Golden is convinced that his dad can beat this, just like any opponent, they just have to try.
Golden knows that if you want to perfect a skill you have to put ten thousand tries in, so he’s convinced if he can put that much effort in, on and off the field, he can stop everything from changing. But when his dad continues to decline and his constant pushing starts to alienate his friends and team, Golden is forced to confront the idea that being master of your universe might not mean being in control of everything. What if it means letting go of the things you can’t control so you can do the most good for the things you can?”
Margie Kelly Breaks the Dress Code by Bridget Farr
“A timely and thought-provoking novel about one girl’s fight against gender inequality at her middle school and the lessons about her own privilege she learns along the way.
Margie Kelly’s perfect skirt was dress coded on her very first day of middle school. Upset and embarrassed, Margie spends the whole day wearing oversized gym shorts. So much for starting sixth grade with confidence!
But when Margie realizes that the dress code is only applied to the female students and not the boys, Margie gets mad. Really mad.
The dress code is keeping girls stuck in detention all day and away from learning. The boys act like they own the school. And the teachers turn a blind eye to the hypocrisies taking place in the halls, classrooms, and clubs. Something has to change! And Margie knows just how to do it. She’ll plan a school-wide protest with her best friend, Daniela, and fellow classmates Jamiya and Gloria.
But as Margie moves forward with her plans, she comes to realize some hard truths about herself. Will Margie recognize her own privilege and make meaningful change for all students?”
ParaNorthern: And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calypse by Stephanie Cooke, Illustrated by Mari Costa
“A witch named Abby and her three friends—a wolf-girl, a ghost, and a pumpkinhead—band together to try and save their supernatural town from an invasion of rabid (but adorable!) chaos bunnies in this enchanting middle-grade graphic novel for fans of Making Friends, The Okay Witch, and Lumberjanes.
It’s fall break in the supernatural town of North Haven, and young witch Abby’s plans include pitching in at her mom’s magical coffee shop, practicing her potion making, and playing board games with her best friends—a pumpkinhead, a wolf-girl, and a ghost. But when Abby finds her younger sister being picked on by some speed demons, she lets out a burst of magic so strong, it opens a portal to a realm of chaos bunnies. And while these bunnies may look cute, they’re about to bring the a-hop-ocalypse (and get Abby in a cauldronful of trouble) unless she figures out a way to reverse the powerful magic she unwittingly released. What’s a witch to do?
In this deliciously humorous, cozy, and bewitching graphic novel, sometimes the most of powerful magic comes from our connections to family and friends (but kicking bunny butt is great, too).”
If you’re looking for a book for a child who’s scared to try new things, I have the perfect pick for you today. El Cucuy Is Scared, Too! by Donna Barba Higuera and Juliana Perdomo is a wonderful picture book teaching young readers to face their fears.
Title: El Cucuy Is Scared, Too! Author: Donna Barba Higuera Illustrator: Juliana Perdomo Publisher: Abrams Books For Young Readers Published: July 13, 2021 Format: Picture Book
El Cucuy Is Scared, Too! follows a young boy named Ramon who is settling into his new home, but is feeling nervous about his first day at school. El Cucuy (the Mexican Boogeyman) comes to scare Ramon at night, but Ramon has too many other fears to be afraid. But as it turns out, El Cucuy is scared, too. El Cucuy misses their home just like Ramon—he doesn’t like the new sounds of their home or that there are fewer dark spaces for him to hide in. Ramon and El Cucuy share their worries and build each other up to face the school day, realizing they are both brave and strong. I absolutely love El Cucuy Is Scared, Too! for all those young reader who need a reminder that they can do hard things.
The illustrations are fantastic, too. The bold colors throughout are eye catching, but I think my favorite part is how cute El Cucuy is. I never thought the Boogeyman could be so adorable!
There is quite a bit of Spanish peppered throughout the English text, but it is done seamlessly. It doesn’t read like a forced Spanish vocabulary lesson, but simply like a conversion between two bilingual friends. Presenting the opportunity to discuss Mexican folklore and the Spanish language, El Cucuy Is Scared, Too! would be a great addition to school and classroom libraries—especially for a first day read aloud.
El Cucuy Is Scared, Too! is officially releasing tomorrow (July 13, 2021), but you can preorder a copy wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
Thank you so much to Abrams Books For Young Readers for sending me a review copy of this adorable book. It was such a lovely read!
About The Author:
Donna Barba Higuera grew up dodging dust devils in the oilfields of central California. She was a daydreamer, constantly blending life experiences and folklore into stories. Now she weaves them into picture books and novels. Higuera currently lives among the spiraling mists of the Pacific Northwest with her husband, four children, three dogs, two frogs, and hundreds of wild birds who flock to her backyard birdfeeders every day. El Cucuy Is Scared, Too! is her debut picture book. She is also the author of the middle-grade novel Lupe Wong Won’t Dance.
Juliana Perdomo is a Colombian illustrator and writer, with a background as a psychologist and art therapist. Her work is joyful and heartfelt, folkish, and a bit retro with a Latin touch. She has participated in different projects as an illustrator, this book being her debut in the United States. Perdomo lives in Bogotá, Colombia, with her amazing son Luca and a crazy old dog named Menta.
It’s Flashback Friday again, and today I am sharing one of my favorites genres—a picture book biography! Originally released in April 2020, Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade and Cozbi A. Cabrera is a stunning example of the powerful way picture books can bring historical figures to life for young readers.
Title:Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks Author: Suzanne Slade Illustrator: Cozbi A. Cabrera Publisher: Abrams Books For Young Readers Published: April 7, 2020 Format: Picture Book
Exquisite details the life of Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize, from her childhood surrounded by books to her celebrated career sharing the stories of the people of the neighborhood she grew up in. We follow the ups and downs of Gwendolyn’s life, including the struggles her family faced during the Great Depression, Gwendolyn’s struggles to feel seen amongst her peers, her marriage and the birth of her first son, wrapping up in 1950 when she won the Pulitzer Prize.
Gwendolyn Brooks’ story is especially inspiring to young writers, because Gwendolyn herself started writing when she was only seven years old. Children will find an example in Gwendolyn’s childhood to observe the world around them and find the poetry there.
The illustrations by Cozbi A. Cabrera are absolutely stunning. The color and composition of the acrylic paintings are so beautiful throughout, and every page breathes life into Gwendolyn’s story. It’s no surprise that Exquisite was a 2021 Coretta Scott King Book Award Illustrator Honoree.
The back matter contains a wonderful Author’s Note with additional details about Gwendolyn Brooks, as well as a timeline of her life, making Exquisite a great selection for classroom and school libraries.
You can pick up your own copy of Exquisite wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
Thank you again to Abrams Books For Young Readers for sending me a review copy of Exquisite. This book is a beautiful example of why picture book biographies are my some of my very favorites.
About The Author:
Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of many books for children, including several about other groundbreaking women, such as Dangerous Jane and A Computer Called Katherine. Slade lives in Libertyville, Illinois.
It’s time for another Author Spotlight! Today, I am chatting with Sarah and Ian Hoffman, the authors of the beloved (and banned) Jacob series, about their most recent release: Jacob’s School Play: Starring He, She, and They. I am so excited for this interview, so let’s jump right in.
First of all, I want to thank you both for taking the time to do this interview with me! I am thrilled to talk to you about your latest release Jacob’s School Play: Starring He, She, and They, but first, would you mind introducing yourselves to Mutually Inclusive’s readers?
Hi! We’re Sarah and Ian Hoffman. We’re authors, we’re married, and we have two kids, Sam and Ruby. We live in San Francisco in an old Victorian house with the kids, 3 chickens, 2 rabbits, 1 cat, and +/- 30,000 bees. The two of us have been working together on all kinds of projects for the last 25 years.
Jacob’s School Play is the third installation in the Jacob series, and each title focuses on gender nonconformity and the diversity of gender expression. Can I ask what drew you to write about the experiences of gender-nonconforming children?
When our son, Sam, was two, he started to be interested in things traditionally considered “girl things,” like fairies and Disney princess. He started wearing pink t-shirts and growing his hair long. At school, he only played with the girls. By the time he was four, Sam was wearing a tutu at home every day after preschool, and going to ballet class. Every day at preschool he wore the princess dress-up costume. One day, he asked us for a dress that he could wear “for real.” Sam knew that kids at school would make fun of him, but he wanted to wear a dress more than he wanted not to be teased. After that day, he started wearing a dress to school every day.
Sam was the only dress-wearing boy in our community, but we knew he wasn’t the only dress-wearing boy in the world. So we looked for books where Sam could see other kids who were like him. And we discovered there were none! Our desire to help our son see himself reflected in a book inspired us to write one. That was Jacob’s New Dress, which is about a little boy who likes something that’s outside of typical gender roles. Just like a little girl in pants would have been 100 years ago.
Among the unexpected things we discovered while raising a gender nonconforming son was the challenge of public bathrooms. It wasn’t safe to send Sam by himself into any public bathroom, including playgrounds, stores, restaurants—even his own school! Talking with the parents of other kids like Sam, we learned their kids were suffering the same as ours. It looked like the world needed a book about bathrooms, so we got back to work. Our second book, Jacob’s Room To Choose, tackles the subject of kids being allowed to use the bathroom that’s right for them, whatever their gender.
Our third book, Jacob’s School Play: Starring He, She, and They! (which came out in May of this year), is about the next subject we wanted to talk about: pronouns!
Title:Jacob’s School Play: Starring He, She, and They Author: Sarah Hoffman and Ian Hoffman Illustrator: Chris Case Publisher: Magination Press Published: May 4, 2021 Format: Picture Book
Fans of the series will see familiar faces like Jacob, Sophie, and Ms. Reeves, but in Jacob’s School Play we meet a new character named Ari, who uses they/them pronouns. Throughout the book, you present identity in such a beautifully simple way, with an emphasis on trusting people’s ability to correctly identify themselves. What was the research process like for Jacob’s School Play? How did you land on this honest and simple representation of pronoun options?
Our research process was messy, broad, and open-ended. We knew what we wanted to write about—pronouns. We also knew that pronouns are in flux and there aren’t many settled rules. So we decided to have a lot of conversations with people—many of them strangers—about potentially uncomfortable topics. Basically we said, “Hey, our kid’s gender nonconforming, and we know what our world is like. But we don’t know anything about you or your world. Do you mind if we ask?” That led to a lot of unexpected and enlightening discussions. There are a lot of people who don’t fit into the boxes society has created.
Eventually we took what we’d learned and turned it into a story. Which was its own messy, broad, and open-ended process. At some point in the writing we started to think about the kind of questions that Jacob would have. Then we thought about how his teacher would respond. Imagining the conversation between those two characters led to a simple explanation of pronouns options. You can explain most topics to a curious 5-year old, if you can distill them down to their essence.
I really like that the focus of the series shifted from learning about Jacob to Jacob learning about other children’s perspectives in Jacob’s School Play. Was it difficult as writers to shift the focus away from Jacob’s experiences toward Jacob’s education around other children’s perspectives?
Now that the book is finished, it seems like a natural and obvious progression. During the writing, it took a while to figure out what we were trying to say, how to say it, and from whose point of view. Writing is just as messy as real life. Surprise!
In the big picture, we’re interested in building a culture of kindness. We hope that when our books are taught, it’s not just to support the kids who are different. We hope our books allow the kids who don’t see themselves reflected in the book to think, “Oh, look. There’s another way of being a kid.” We’re trying to open the doors to new perspectives.
What is the most important message you want young readers to take away from Jacob’s School Play?
The message of all our books is: there’s all sorts of ways to be a kid. So be yourself, be open to new ideas, and don’t hurt anybody else.
Kids are very accepting of new ideas. We’ve noticed that kids are very comfortable with ideas about gender and pronouns. It’s usually the adults who are struggling.
Jacob’sNew Dress is one of the American Library Association’s most banned titles of the decade. How does it make you feel to know that there are folks out there who are attempting to ban the books you’re creating?
How does it make us feel? Like we’re doing the work that needs to be done.
We raised a gender non-conforming boy. We are well aware there are people who are uncomfortable that kids like our son exist. We also know that in unsupportive environments, LGBTQ+ kids are teased, ostracized, bullied, and brutalized. We want to try to prevent these behaviors—before they start—by building a culture that tolerates, values, and celebrates difference.
If our book is getting banned, that means people are actually seeing it in libraries and schools. For every adult trying to ban it, there are even more kids reading it. Those kids are getting the message that it’s ok to be like Jacob, or Sophie, or Ari. There’s nothing we could be prouder of then throwing a lifeline to child who needs it.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to parents of gender non-conforming children?
First, find support—for both yourselves and your children. Join a support group of like-minded parents; bring your child to a group for gender-nonconforming or trans kids. Enlist thoughtful, supportive family and friends to buoy and celebrate your child and your efforts to make their world safe. Read books about parenting gender-creative children, and fill your child’s library with books that reflect gender diversity. Ask your school to be proactive about anti-bullying programs in general and gender education in particular (and if asking doesn’t work, demand it). Educate everyone you can. Gender diversity is a new concept for most people; ignorance and prejudice are deeply ingrained. Even people who love your children—like grandparents—often need time to adjust. See each interaction as an opportunity to educate someone else about the many forms of gender expression.
Remember that your responsibility is to your child, not to manage the discomfort of adults. Walk away from judgment, and shield your child from it as best you can. And when you can’t shield them, teach them to manage it. Teach them the historical context for overcoming bias. When Sam was in kindergarten, we taught him about Rosa Parks and Harvey Milk—regular people who stood up to bias against them and changed the world. Tell your child that the world will change. That it is changing. And that they are helping to change it, just by being themselves.
And lastly: breathe. When you’re the parent of a kid who’s different, it’s easy to overthink everything you do, tempting to try to interpret the significance of everything your kid does, and appealing to try to predict the future. Our job is to accept our kids for who they are, and to protect them from harm. We can’t know who or what our children will evolve into as they grow up. We had no idea that one day Sam would put on pants and cut his hair short (as he did at age 11) and be happy with that choice. We had no idea if he would grow up to be straight, gay, bi, gender-queer, trans, or his own special something—in fact, we still don’t. Sam, like all of us, is a work in progress. All we as parents can do is support our children unconditionally, and be open to who they become.
As a married couple and co-authors, how is it writing with each other? What does a typical workday look like, and how does your creative process work together?
We are very, very lucky to work together. We have the same core values, but very different skills. Sarah thinks fast and big-picture. Ian thinks slowly and resonates with the details. Once we figured out how to interact over work—as opposed to as a couple—we saw that our complimentary skills brought a lot of depth to our work life.
Our writing process is like our parenting process is like our life process—we don’t really separate them. One of us has an idea, and we talk it over to see if it’s a good one. If it is, then someone starts the project. With writing, one of us will generate a first draft, then turn it over to the other for editing/comments/revision. Then it goes back and forth between us until it’s ready. Nowadays we have two very insightful teenagers in our house, and we seek out their opinions. They’re an unexpected bonus!
What should we expect to see from you in the future? Are there more adventures for Jacob on the horizon?
Yes, there are! Right now we’re working on a book about holidays. Jacob and his friends are such a great crew, we feel like they’re ready to handle another broad, messy, open-ended topic that’s rich in meaning.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?
We just want to thank you for the work that you do to bring inclusive and engaging books to kids. We love the positive energy you bring to the field. Thank you for including us!
Thank you both so much for your time, and for creating books that radiate warmth, love, and inclusion.
They say the most successful people in life fail the most. I always try to remember this when I run into roadblocks in life, and today I want to share a book that illustrates this growth mindset perfectly for young readers. Bella’s Recipe for Success by Ana Siqueira is a wonderful picture book all about patience, practice, and polvorones.
Title:Bella’s Recipe for Success Author: Ana Siqueira Illustrator: Geraldine Rodríguez Publisher: Beaming Books Published: July 13, 2021
Bella’s Recipe for Success follows a young Latinx girl named Bella who is trying to figure out what she’s good at. Her sister is a talented gymnast and her brother is a talented musician, but Bella is struggling to find her hidden talent. She tries baking polvorones with her abuela, but her first attempt goes all wrong. Though she struggles, Bella learns that being good at something takes hard work, perseverance, and patience.
The illustrations by Geraldine Rodríguez are so fun! The way she captures the facial expressions of each character brings so much emotion and personality to every single page.
With Spanish vocabulary peppered throughout, Bella’s Recipe for Success would be a fantastic addition to classroom libraries. Plus, there’s a recipe for polvorones con dulche de leche that I can’t wait to try. My baking skills are not great, but I will take a lesson from Bella and practice.
Bella’s Recipe for Success is available next week (July 13, 2021), but you can preorder your copy wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
Thank you so much to Beaming Books for sending me a review copy of Bella’s Recipe For Success.
About The Author:
Ana Siqueira is a Spanish-language elementary teacher and an award-winning children’s book author based in Tampa, Florida. Before Bella’s Recipe for Success, she published children’s books in Portuguese in Brazil and in Spanish for the foreign language educational markets. Ana is also a global educator, a PBS Media innovator, and an SCBWI member.
Geraldine Rodríguez is a Mexican illustrator and digital artist who enjoys telling stories through colors and lines. In addition to Bella’s Recipe for Success, Geraldine is the illustrator of Cinco de Mayo and the Adventures of Samuel Oliver series.
We are starting the week out with a beautiful picture book about two of my favorite things: kindness and plants. Gracey Zhang’s debut, Lala’s Words, teaches young readers a powerful lesson about the magic of kind words.
Title:Lala’s Words Author/Illustrator: Gracey Zhang Publisher: Scholastic Published: July 6, 2021 Format: Picture Book
Lala’s Words follows a young girl named Lala, who is a bit messy and boisterous. Lala’s mother wants her to be stiller, quieter, and calmer, but Lala can’t help running around leaving a mess behind her. Her favorite place to be is a vacant concrete lot where weeds grow. While Lala hears discouraging words from her mother, she gives her plants nothing but kind words of encouragement. One day Lala’s mother has had enough, and she keeps Lala indoors all day. Lala worries about her plant friends all day, but wakes up in the morning to find that her plants have grown large enough to shade the whole neighborhood, cooling the summer day and showing Lala’s mother the power of positive words.
I absolutely adored the illustrations in Lala’s Words. Everything has a muted grey color scheme with vibrant pops of green and yellow that become more and more prominent as the story progresses. It’s such a genius way to provide young readers with a visual contrast between kind words and unkind words.
Lala’s Words officially releases tomorrow (July 6, 2021), but you can preorder your copy today wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
Thank you so much to Scholastic for providing me with a review copy of Lala’s Words. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share this wonderful book.
About the Author/Illustrator:
Gracey Zhang is an illustrator and animator with a love of storytelling and verse. She was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, and received her degree in Illustration from RISD. She is now based in Brooklyn, New York, where she can be found window watching from the train when she’s not scribbling away at her desk. Lala’s Words is her first picture book. You can visit her at graceyzhang.com.
I am thrilled to announce another additional feature here on Mutually Inclusive! Today marks the very first Author Spotlight, which will be a weekly introduction to the authors behind some of my favorite titles, both new and old. Today I am honored to share an interview with Norene Paulson with you all.
Norene Paulson is a former middle school language arts teacher who loves words. She is the author of Benny’s True Colors, and her articles have also appeared in several children’s magazines including Highlights. Norene lives with her husband on a country acreage in Iowa.
Norene has joined me today to chat about her newest title: What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair? released by Albret Whitman on March 23rd. What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair? follows a young girl named Bea, who has alopecia areata, as she figures out how to participate in Silly Hair Day without any hair.
First, thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview! I really appreciate you taking the time to answer all my questions. To get started, could you tell me and my readers a bit about yourself, and your latest title What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair?
Thank you for featuring me, Devyn. I’m thrilled to share with your readers a little about me and my writing journey, including my latest title What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair?
I’ve been writing kidlit for literally decades. I started writing kids’ nonfiction (now known as STEM) articles for children’s magazines when my boys were small (and they are both in their 30’s now) and was relatively successful in that market. However, the more Berenstain Bear and Little Critter books I read to them, the more I decided I wanted to try my hand at writing picture books. Well, I spent a lot of years perfecting my skills and FINALLY in 2018 I connected with my agent, Naomi Davis of BookEnds Literary Agency, through a #PBPitch Twitter party. About six weeks later, we sold my debut book, Benny’s True Colors to Imprint/Macmillan.
Bea, the main character in What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair?, has alopecia. What inspired you to write about alopecia?
I didn’t intentionally set out to write a story about alopecia. The inspiration for the heart of the story came about because as a former middle school teacher, I was always uncomfortable when events or activities were planned that left some students sidelined for whatever reason. Spirit Week was one of those events. The connection with alopecia was the result of my remembering a teaching colleague with alopecia who dressed up for all the Spirit Week Days except Silly Hair Day. That led me to “What if a student had alopecia, how could they join in the fun and not be sidelined?
What was the research process like for What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair?
I started by simply learning more about the different types of alopecia by visiting websites such as http://www.naaf.org (National Alopecia Areata Foundation) and http://www.childrensalopeciaproject.org (Children’s Alopecia Project). From there I read personal experience stories and started to feel a connection to kids experiencing hair loss.
What is the key message you hope young readers take away from What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair?
I hope Bea’s story empowers young readers to speak up when they witness someone being left out or sidelined. Everyone deserves the opportunity to participate in every activity every time, so be the problem-solver…be the changemaker. I also hope that adults charged with planning activities for kids will think twice about how they, too, can make their activities inclusive.
I also covered your debut Benny’s True Colors recently, and while the two books follow very different characters, they both have themes of acceptance and inclusion. Does your previous experience as a teacher influence the inclusive themes of your books?
Definitely. I write books about friendship, acceptance and inclusion because as a former middle school teacher I witnessed first-hand how difficult growing up can be particularly for those kids who for whatever reason don’t fit the mold. Lessons in kindness, friendship, acceptance and inclusion need to be introduced early in a child’s life and repeatedly reinforced.
What does your typical workday look like as a children’s book author?
The only thing typical about my writing workday is I try to do something writing-related every day. With two books released within four months of each other, a lot of my time now is spent on marketing and promotion. I didn’t realize the amount of time that requires. Plus, I am in two promo groups so enjoy spending time online promoting other authors/ friends.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love revising. A blank page (or screen doc) is intimidating. I struggle to get the first ideas written, but once there is a beginning, a middle, and an end, I love dancing with the text. Add in some feedback from my critique partners, and I’m Happy Dancing! Also, I love having a deadline. A procrastinator by nature, I can have an exciting story idea but find hundreds of reasons not to sit down and start writing. However, if I know I have to have something completed by a certain date, that deadline jumpstarts my creativity.
If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?
I’m sure whatever it was would involve books…maybe working in a library or bookstore. I did work in a library cataloging new books for a few years. I really enjoy working surrounded by stacks of books.
What can readers expect from you in the future? Will we see any more titles featuring Bea and/or Shaleah?
I have several manuscripts out on submission now, so keeping my fingers crossed that one or both catch the eye of an editor. I have several manuscripts in various stages of revision—neither to the point of sharing with my critique partners. As always, there are ideas swirling around in my head. I like to say they are percolating. As far as another story featuring Bea and Shaleah, I do have an idea percolating, but in publishing there’re no guarantees.
Anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?
If something I’ve written has touched them in a positive way, I’d love for them to reach out. Knowing that someone has connected with my words warms my heart and keeps me writing. I can be found on Twitter @NorenePaulson or on Instagram @nrpaulson. They can also check out my website norenepaulson.com.
Thanks, Devyn! I’ve enjoyed chatting with you and your readers.
Thank you for joining us, Norene. I had a blast!
Don’t forget that you can pick up your very own copy of What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair? wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
I hope you all enjoyed this new feature, and I look forward to sharing many more author reviews with you soon!
I’m so excited to share my review of Princesses Can Fix It! by Tracy Marchini, a delightful retelling of Twelve Dancing Princesses with a STEM/STEAM spin, complete with princesses, alligators, and a king with pink hair.
Title:Princesses Can Fix It! Author: Tracy Marchini Illustrator: Julia Christians Publisher: Page Street Kids Published: May 4, 2021 Format: Picture Book
Princesses Can Fix It! follows the Princesses Margaret, Harriet, and Lila as they attempt to help their father solve his alligator problem. The King does not approve of princesses who build, invent, or experiment, but fortunately, the Princesses have a secret lab where they get to work on a solution for the alligator problem.
As the Princesses toil away day after day, showing up for breakfast sleepier and sleepier, the Prince (who has his own problems with their father’s gender stereotypes) tries to provide the King with proof of the Princesses inventions. Despite the King’s doubt, the Princesses come up with the perfect solution to get all the alligators back in the moat—the King sees the error of his ways and allows all of his children to be themselves unapologetically.
Sure to please lovers of fairy tales, science, and technology, Princesses Can Fix It! is a wonderful selection to challenge gender stereotypes and encourage more modern ideas about gender roles. The illustrations by Julia Christians are absolutely delightful! They are so expressive and capture the personalities of each character, even the alligators.
Perfect for fans of Rosie Revere, Engineer and Not All Princesses Dress in Pink, Princesses Can Fix It! is available wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
I would also like to thank Page Street Kids for sending me a copy of Princesses Can Fix It! It was such a treat!
About the Author:
Tracy Marchini has worked in many areas of the children’s book industry, including as a freelance editor and a children’s book reviewer, and currently as a literary agent and author. She received her MFA in writing for children from Simmons College, and is the author of Chicken Wants a Nap (which received a starred review from Kirkus).
Julia Christians studied communications design at the University of Art in Brunswick, focusing on illustration, and works as a full-time illustrator. She lives with her husband, kids, and a pack of dogs in a small town in the Harz Mountains of Germany where she grew up.