On January 27, 2015, we will be celebrating the second annual Multicultural Children's Book Day. I am honored to be participating in this event as a book reviewer. My passion for bringing diversity to children's books began last year while volunteering at my daughter's school. During a school book fair, I realized quickly that the books that were offered did not represent the student population. When they would look to the bookshelves, did they see a kid that look liked them on the covers? Not likely. This is why I jumped at the chance to put a diverse children's book into the hands of the teachers at my daughter's school. I cannot wait to donate the book that was sent to me to my daughter's second grade classroom on Multicultural Children's Book Day.
Wisdom Tales Press graciously sent me two books: Everyone Prays by Alexis York Lumbard and illustrated by Alireza Sadeghian (which I will be reviewing later this week), and Never Say a Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain by
Never Say a Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain
Overview from the Publisher:
Written by: Jacqueline Jules
Illustrated by: Durga Yael Bernhard
Never Say a Mean Word Again is the compelling tale of two boys, one Jewish and one Muslim, trying to settle their differences. Based on a powerful legend from medieval Spain, its message of a peaceful solution is as appropriate today as ever. This light-hearted look at the very serious issue of conflict resolution amongst children will appeal to children and adults alike. It illustrates how friendship and kindness can help settle some disputes.
About This Book:
- This multicultural book is the story of a boy who is given permission by his father, the grand vizier (highest royal advisor), to punish an enemy. “Make sure Hamza never says a mean word to you again,” he orders Samuel. What will he do?
- Inspired by the life story of Jewish poet Samuel Ha-Nagid (993-1056), who was the vizier in Muslim Spain.
- Features 32 pages of colorful illustrations in a striking design, evocative of medieval Spain.
- Explores the challenges of friendship across cultures and social status.
- Addresses the question of fair punishment for name-calling.
- Models behavior for turning an adversary into a friend.
Learning how to cross cultural and social divides at any age can be a challenge. Making judgements on a person based on the ways they look, dress, or speak is often done on a subconscious level, something most do not want to admit occurs. This book tackles the complex question of how do you make a foe a friend by having the two boys become friends by accident. The two boys behave in a way I could imagine two boys in conflict would behave. The illustrations are vibrant and funny, making light of a complex and difficult subject. The facial expressions in this book, in particular, capture the attention and imagination of young readers. I love the illustration of the Samuel imagining capturing a monkey and training it to sit on Hamza's shoulders to keep his mouth shut. It is such a ridiculous idea! But then, so is stopping someone from saying certain things.
Conflicts among friends and foes, like the one in the book, will occur frequently in any child's life. It is easy, when someone is different from you to fear that they think they are too good or any variety of judgmental thoughts, however the author skillfully shows that there is much more between us that is the same, such as enjoying playing and swimming in the water, that there will ever be that divides us.
It is this playful imagery that makes the book a fantastic read for any classroom. I cannot wait to send this into my daughter's school and hear how the book is received by her classmates.
After reading the book several times, my daughter and I sat down and discussed how Samuel never took the time to imagine why Hamza might have reacted the way he did to Samuel's mistakes in the beginning of the book. When I was a little girl dealing with conflict at school, my dad always asked me to take a moment and imagine walking in that other person's shoes. To be honest, I never really understood what he meant until much later in life, but the message stuck with me. After having this discussion, I gave Miss M this worksheet that I created. (This printable is available as a free,download towards the end of this post.) My daughter, who is eight years old, succinctly pointed out that playing together taught them their similarities outweighed their differences.
My daughter also wanted to write a review of the book, which I am sharing with you all to read. I think it is helpful to see it summarized, unfiltered, by a child.
(This printable is also available for download here.)
Whenever we read a book that tackles a difficult subject, I always try to find several other books that complement and enhance our discussions. Like fine wine, I believe that great pairings of books make the individual book reading experiences more meaningful. For Never Say A Mean Word Again, I choose three very difference books that all deal with the common themes of dealing with differences and discovering friendship through conflict.
The books we choose were:
- Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great by Bob Shea.
- Let's Be Enemies Janice May Udry and Maurice Sendak.
- Yoko by Rosemary Wells.
Reading these three books, in particular, along with Never Say a Mean Word Again was extremely helpful for fostering discussion of kindness, friendship, and judgement.
Download a copy of this free printable to use as an extension activity.
All About Multicultural Children's Book Day
Sponsors of Multicultural Children's Book Day 2015
The Mission of Multicultural Children's Book Day:Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and
favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.
The amazing MCCBD team has the following message: " We hope to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag #ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.”