Young Readers’ Book Series with Diverse Characters

One of our resolutions for 2020 is to explore more great literature (for ourselves and our children) that features characters of color, diverse socioeconomic and geographic situations, and even books that weren’t primarily written in English.

I’m making sure my own TBR pile is stocked with diverse authors and books in translation (I finished 2019 with Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone and started this year off with Mira Jacob’s Good Talk, a graphic novel about her life, which was outstanding).

When it comes to kids, they pretty naturally seek out diverse literature which is so awesome. They’re very curious about characters that don’t look just like them and places they’ve never been to. It’s just a matter of us not stifling their curiosity about the world.

Here are a few of our recent favorites featuring non-white or non-American heroes and heroines.

Zapato Power, series by Jacqueline Jules

One of my boys’ (5yo and 7yo) favorite series they picked up at the library recently. Freddie Ramos is Latino and just an all-around great kid (which makes him a superhero in my eyes!). He lives with his mom because his dad was a soldier who was killed in action. I love how the author treats this difficult theme so well, and I love how she paints real-life, everyday issues that Freddie and his mom face (like how his mom is busy working during the week so they often have microwave frozen meals…very relatable.)



Anna Hibiscus
, series by Atinuke

This is such a sweet series about a young girl growing up in Africa. I love the descriptions of the places in the stories as well as the descriptions of Anna’s extended family and her relationship with them. The author has another series (listed below) that we haven’t checked out yet, but it looks wonderful, too.


Yasmin, series by Saadia Faruqi

We recently binged on these from the public library, and finished the whole series. They’re great simple read alouds for the 3-4yo group and first books for those just starting to read. I love the characters, the simple but meaningful story lines, and I really love that there is a glossary of Urdu words with each book that gives definitions for terms like hijab, kameez, salaam, and more. There are also facts about Pakistan and an activity at the end of each book.


Now here are some that are on our family’s TBR list!

Ruby and the Booker Boys, series by Derrick Barnes

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel, series by Nikki Grimes

Ling and Ting, series by Grace Lin

The No.1 Car Spotter, series by Atinuke

The Precious Ramotswe Mysteries, by Alexander McCall Smith

Rickshaw Girl, by Mitali Perkins (not a series, but looks great)

I’m still looking for more series or readers with Native American themes and characters, as well as more series featuring characters from Europe, Russia, Australia and the Middle East. I know they’re out there!

 

**These links are Amazon affiliate links. You can also purchase from your local independent bookstore 🙌🏻 or mine which is Parnassus Books.

Enchanting Egypt

I never get tired of ancient Egypt. I don’t think I got enough of it as a kid, so getting to go back there with my children is so much fun.

In the various curricula we use for school, there are lots of good resources on Egypt, but I wanted to share a few extras which have really added to our fun with this subject.

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Here are some we thoroughly enjoyed…for your travels through Ancient Egypt:

(Pictures are affiliate links. You can also purchase through your local bookstore or at Parnassus Books)

Hieroglyphics, by Joyce Milton

This is not only a great little book about Egyptian life, but it also comes with a hieroglyphics stencil. My kids really really loved writing messages for each other in this beautiful form of writing.


Egyptian Diary: The Journal of Nakht, by Richard Platt

A great ‘living book’ about Ancient Egypt in which the author follows an aspiring scribe on his adventures. It really brings to life the time period with colorful characters. Platt also has another book like this that’s wonderful, for the Roman period, called Roman Diary: The Journal of Iliona of Mytilini.


Tales of Ancient Egypt,  by Roger Lancelyn Green

My kids are really interested in Greek mythology, but I was kind of wondering if it was too much to introduce them to a whole other civilization’s mythology at such young ages. They LOVED it. And, the differences and similarities in the Egyptian stories compared to ancient Greece was really interesting for me. I had never delved so far into Egyptian mythology as I have with my young kids. What a joy to discover this interesting world with them!


Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile, by Tomie dePaola

A super fun one that we read long before our studies on ancient Egypt. And who doesn’t absolutely love anything Tomie dePaola has done!? This one will make you smile, and there are some great Egyptian words in here, even for the smallest learners.


Cleopatra, by Diane Stanley

 

One of my favorite books I’ve read about Cleopatra…ok, maybe the only book I’ve read about her. She and Cesar and Antony were always a little confusing to me…like, how did that all happen, again? It was nice to have a beautifully illustrated simple account of the whole drama. And, not too much for my five and seven year old. They followed right along (you may want to edit a little on the fly, depending on what your kids are comfortable with). A great end for your Egyptian studies since Cleopatra was, basically, the end of the empire.
Oh there are so many more. Can’t wait to explore some new books on Egypt when we get around to this subject the next time!

The Four Seasons

Let’s talk about Vivaldi! He’s a new found love for me, all brought about by one children’s book.

Ever since I read I, Vivaldi, by Janice Shefelman, I think about the close-call/alternate universe in which Vivaldi died at birth and we never got to hear his music.

There was an earthquake in Venice on the day he was born and it’s also thought he was gravely ill at the start of life. Either way, he was baptized immediately after birth (not usually done) and his mother dedicated him to the priesthood if he survived.

Lucky for us, he survived and he wasn’t that into being a priest. He found a way to compose the amazing music that played continuously in his head — his first orchestra was a group of orphaned girls whom he taught to play his magnificent work.

Anyway, when I read this children’s book (which I just randomly picked up at the library for my kids) it changed my life. I had never known much about Vivaldi, and now I was curious and I started listening to The Four Seasons all the way through and crying.

All of a sudden I recognized “Winter” as the opening theme music for Chef’s Table. I realized I’d heard “Spring,” “Autumn,” and “Summer” as well, from movies or from life. But I had never known before that they were connected to the same person, much less the same piece of work.

Maybe this is something that other people learned at some point, but for me, it was a breakthrough, brought about by a children’s book that gave me one of the greatest musical gifts of my adult life.

I’m a “Summer” person. Which are you?

Speaking of people who have heavenly music playing in their heads! Another artist from the past that I’ve been introduced to since homeschooling (thanks to curriculum ideas from A Gentle Feast) is Hildegard von Bingen. This is a woman from the Middle Ages (1098-1179!! to be precise) who was a nun, writer, artist, activist, musician, and more.

Here’s the children’s book that gave us more insight into her incredible story/life. I highly recommend listening to a bit of Hilde, as we call her now ☺️ and just letting it sink in that  her music is still as timeless and transcendent as it was 800+ years ago.



Listen here: Luka Sulic’s
The Four Seasons on Spotify. He’s the best I’ve found doing The Four Seasons. Turn it up very loud or have it on softly in the background while you read by the fire. 🔥

Listen here: Hildegard von Bingen (various artists) on Spotify. Turn this on shuffle when you want to relax and get a little bit of heaven, too.

Book links are affiliate links.

For the Love of Bugs 🐛

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One of the best things about ‘doing school’ at home is discovering things together with my kids. In fact, many days don’t feel like we’re doing school at all, but rather just living life with curiosity and wonder.

I keep the word Explore in the window of our dining room where we spend a lot of time, and it’s such a good reminder. Exploring is a better description of what we’re doing on a daily basis than schooling. And isn’t that true for many of us throughout our lives?

Here’s an example of where our exploring took us one day. I love that it was no where on a syllabus or even in my plans, but it’s one of the more memorable ‘lessons’ we’ve had this year.

** Links are affiliate links. To buy local 🙌🏼 you can purchase from Parnassus Books or your nearest bookstore. Thanks!**

I.

Here is how it started. I was reading this book to my kids one day:

 

It’s called Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World. (Note: There is also one for Women in Art and Women in Sports). It’s a great book in itself, but this particular day it led us on a fun discovery.

II.

We got to the biography of a woman named Maria Sibylla Merian whom I had never heard of before in my life. Born in Germany in 1647, she studied and chronicled the life cycles of bugs and butterflies. And she did so in some of the most incredibly beautiful, exquisitely detailed drawings that had/have ever been seen.

She even financed her own voyage to South America – in her fifties – to further her studies (and took her daughter with her – love that!), way before Darwin, and at a time when the field was dominated by men.

My kids were fascinated by her story, and so was I.

III.

We went to the internet to see if there are any video biographies of this woman. There are. Here’s one. We watched it twice. (I also recommend this article from the Atlantic that I found later).

IV.

Then I searched for a used copy of her most famous book while my kids were in the yard with a bug box trying to catch (and observe, but not keep) as many things as possible:

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V.

The book arrived a few days later, and we spent a good chunk of the day looking through Merian’s gorgeous drawings like this one:

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The book still sits in our dining room  (probably freaking out our guests). It gives me a lot of joy, not only in its beauty, but also in the story of how it got to our table, which is the story of where our curiosity took us together one day.

It’s fun to think about people who will randomly discover one of Merian’s books in a used bookstore, or maybe on their own coffee table collection and will take the same journey of discovery in the opposite direction that we did to learn about a scientist who really really loved bugs.

My life is so much richer for knowing who this woman is. I feel like, in some small way, our little family going on this journey is also acknowledging her journey as a woman scientist and giving that the weight it deserves.

I love learning. I love that it gives me a deeper connection with my kids. I love that it connects us to the past in a beautiful web of all the things that others have learned before us. And I love that there is so much left to be explored.

Longer Read Alouds for Littles

I was making a list of suggestions for easy, engaging chapter books for our teachers at preschool to read aloud to friends ages 4-5, so I included it here for everyone. Good bedtime or dinnertime reading!

I’d love to hear from you in the comments what you would add to the list. Were any of these favorites as a child? Or as an adult?

** Links are affiliate links. To buy local (🙌🏼) you can purchase from Parnassus Books or your nearest bookstore. Thanks!**


Uncle Wiggily’s Story Book, Howard R. Garis

My kids have loved reading these for bedtime stories. They never let me stop at just one, though, so be warned. Uncle Wiggily tales date back to 1910, so occasionally you’ll encounter some outdated language or social constructs (for example, Wiggily’s muskrat lady housekeeper does a lot for him that he should probably figure out for himself 🙄), but these stories are a true joy.


Mercy Watson Series, Kate DiCamillo

How can anyone not love a book with the subtitle, Adventures of a Porcine Wonder? That’s all I have to say about this one.

When it comes to Kate DiCamillo, so many of her others are wonderful read aloud too, especially The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and The Tale of Despereaux.


Here’s a Penny, Carolyn Haywood

This one was a really fun surprise for me in our Kindergarten homeschool year. I learned about it from Sonlight’s book list. It has a really sweet treatment of a subject that is near and dear to our family’s heart (I won’t give anything away).


Capyboppy, Bill Peet

Here’s another one I learned about through Sonlight and we really enjoyed. I admit I didn’t know what a capybara was before I read this book.


Anna Hibiscus (series), Atinuke

This series is wonderful, and especially so because it takes place in Africa. They are short books and there are lots of them! We picked them up at our local library.


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl

I’ve been a fan of Roald Dahl’s writing since I was about seven, and I even wrote him a gushing letter telling him so (I never heard back, sadly). One of my greatest reading joys in life has been re-reading these as an adult with my kids. We just finished The BFG as a family (at dinnertime!) and Mark and I really enjoyed all of the humor I’m sure I missed as a child. Worth reading and re-reading ALL of his books, even if it’s just for you! We have this collection and are slowly making our way through them.


Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (trilogy), Grace Lin

Grace Lin is one of our favorite Chinese authors. We love everything she does. Her picture books for younger ones are wonderful (like Dim Sum for Everyone and Bringing in the New Year ), and this fantasy trilogy is great for all ages.


Milly Molly Mandy, Joyce Lankester Brisley

Another very oldie but goodie. Sweet stories for bedtime or anytime.


James Herriott’s Treasury for Children

This one is really more like a picture book of stories, but I cannot leave it out. We absolutely LOVED reading this at bedtime. Lovely tales from Herriot’s own experiences as a vet in England, beautiful illustrations.

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The Complete Brambly Hedge, Jill Barklem

This one has wonderful illustrations and makes for sweet reading, particularly with the younger crowd (4 and under) who enjoyed Peter Rabbit.


The Trumpet of the Swan, E.B. White

This is what we’re reading now. Even though I’ve read Charlotte’s Web a bunch of times   (as a kid and with my kids), I never read this one until just now. It’s wonderful. A little much for my 3 year old but 5 and 7 are really enjoying it read aloud at dinnertime or before bed.

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There are so many more! I left out some of the classics like Winnie the Pooh, Mr Popper’s Penguins, and Homer Price (and everything by Robert McCloskey), and many more.

What are your favorite longer books for the 4-5 age group?

Every Day Art

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Yesterday we spent the morning at the Frist Art Museum here in Nashville. I just love how they put kids at the center of it all. Under 18 is free of course. And, the hands-on activity center, Martin ArtQuest, on the second level is so much fun for kids of all ages. Mark and I had a blast coming up with our own creations while the boys worked on theirs.

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Art, music, poetry, drama – in our little scuola these are all part of our “core curriculum.” We do something from the arts everyday, and most days several things. For example, after visiting the art museum, our Nature/science study for the day involved leaves and listening to Vivaldi’s “Autumn (more about loving Vivaldi coming up).

We did, eventually, get in some math, handwriting and reading, but we started and ended with art. Every day art!

Here’s our little space in the garage where the kids can get to their stuff whenever they want to (not that it doesn’t all spill out into the house as well, but we often start here).

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Some days it looks more like this (or often worse):

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It’s been well-used. I love it because the kids can help themselves to their own supplies and work on projects without needing much from us. But, we do have to re-organize and clean it out together every now and then to keep it usable.

Here are just a few of our favorite art books/resources we’ve loved over the past few years:

Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories: A Children’s History of Art, by Michael Bird
The Art Book for Children
Lift the Flap Art Book
Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting

…and LOVE these Mini Masters board books

Any art postcards we can get our hands on, like these gorgeous ones from The Met.
And these Picture Study Portfolios from Simply Charlotte Mason

MATISSE!
The Iridescence of Birds, by Patricia Maclachlan
Matisse’s Garden, by Samantha Friedman

And plenty of FRIDA, of course.
Favorite Frida bio
One of my favorite Frida books
Frida postcards

(aargh, there are just TOO many great ones…will be following up in another post!)

Even though it’s always fun to have new supplies and books when we can, they definitely are not necessary. One of my kids’ favorite art projects from this year was mixing soot from the fireplace with water and drawing on the walls outside like cavemen.

Just a little room for imagination is all we need.

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** Some links are affiliate links. To buy local (🙌🏼) you can purchase from Parnassus Books or your nearest bookstore. Thanks!**

Mondays

Mondays. It’s always been a little hard to get back into the swing of things after a weekend. Now with homeschool I’ve found that’s just as true and maybe more so! No one is really pumped to jump right into math and handwriting first thing Monday morning when they’ve been running free in the same environment all weekend.

So…we just stopped doing Monday mornings. At least we don’t do typical “school.” My new rule is we have to start Mondays with something unexpected, something fun and adventurous. And I don’t tell them what it is until we get there.

Maybe it’s a field trip to the zoo, a hike, a creative game we make up. Today it was a walk in our neighborhood to see a specific tree.

This one:

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I thought the boys would find this gorgeous tree fungus fun. And they did! We didn’t touch it, we just looked at it. And then we tried to draw it.

This led us to more discussions which I foraged for on Google….

  • what are the differences between mosses, lichens, and tree fungi?
  • why does moss commonly grow on the north side of trees in the Northern hemisphere (but the south side in the Southern!)?
  • and of course…can we eat it?

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Every time we have a nature walk I am always amazed at how much more flows from it. And, now that we’ve done away with Monday mornings as we knew them, it’s created the perfect space for more of this.

 

Wild + Free

I recently attended my first Wild + Free conference in Franklin, TN, and it was such a joy to be encouraged by veteran moms and surrounded by moms on all parts of the journey that is home education.

My take homes?

1. I’m an even bigger fan of Charlotte Mason than ever. I always loved her, but when I found out how many other lovers of CM there are out there, I was boosted even more. Inspired by the conference and speakers like Cindy Rollins and Leah Boden, I dusted off my copy of For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School and started re-reading it. Again. It’s just so good.

To be reminded, when I feel like comparing, that each child works at their own speed and their own inherent abilities. To be reminded, when I feel like play must be a waste of time (when there are so many things on our list to get done!), that play is integral to what it means to be a human being.

To be reminded that it’s ok if I have a book problem…it’s good for my kids’ minds 🙂

Speaking of book problems, I sat next to a mom at W+F who told me about a podcast called The Literary Life (co-hosted by Cindy Rollins). I’ve only heard two episodes so far, but it’s wonderful.

2. I loved all of Julie Bogart‘s talk, but one particularly powerful realization for me was when she described how to help a child who’s stuck. She encouraged us to “get curious about what stands in the way” (as opposed to trying to power through or manipulate) and then “provide the corresponding support to the presenting need.” I could go into a lot more detail about this, but basically, sometimes it’s a much needed snack break, other times it’s empathy, other times it’s jokes and laughter. 

3. One of my favorite quotes from the conference came from Terri Woods when she said that homeschool for her is just “loving what I love in front of my children.” I have been thinking so much about that, and it’s been really freeing. I have a lot of fun learning alongside my children and sharing with them the things that I love (like books!!). It’s really such a joy and privilege.

I’ve always said that my “ideal job” would be as a student for the rest of my life. I feel like I’m finally getting to do that.

I also love sharing book recommendations, so let me know if there’s something specific you’re interested in, especially when it comes to children’s literature.


** Links are affiliate links. To buy local (🙌🏼) you can purchase from Parnassus Books or your nearest bookstore. Thanks!**