Inexpensive Multicultural Gifts

If you're anything like me right now, you're budget is feelin' it. books I haven't bought traditional toys for Christmas in a really long time -- years, I would say. I've mostly been buying books as gifts for people. And, even then, we're moving into much more environmental consciousness and moving away from print books. So, while I now buy less books for adults, I do still tend to buy books for the children on my holiday shopping list. I think that kids still really like the tactile feel of books, enjoy looking at the pictures on paper (rather than on the computer screen or downloaded copies on an iPod), and caretakers can easily pack them for a car ride.

If you're looking for some great gifts for kids, and want to do some educational exposure on the side, here are some of my favorite books to give and to read.

Note: While I could certainly use the kick-back income, I get nothing from these folks in terms of financial compensation, so this is truly a financially unbiased list (but, hey, if any of you are the authors of this book, a comment or shout-out would be well appreciated!).

Hyperion and Jump At the Sun (JATS) books

Good for ages 2-6. I bought nearly every one of the "classic fairytale" books. My family already owned the ones with all white characters and I was thrilled to know the same stories were being told with Black characters, too. I love them because we can mix up the same stories with different racial characters being shown. My kids have visions of princes and princesses being BOTH Black and White. The books are inexpensive - $3.50 for most of the paperback JATS classic fairy tale books.

Hyperion's Motown Series (use the same link as above)

Adorable. Simply put. These are good board books as gifts for infants/parents. They just take the words from popular Motown songs but show a range of diversity in the pictures of the babies that are being shown. It's rare to find a board book that features a range of skin colors, and this is one of those rare gems. These are about $7 each.

Teaching For Change books (www.teachingforchange.org)

Just note: the website is www.teachingforchange.org but my hotlink goes to their webstore.

Africa is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight is what you expect. This probably would have been a good 39 page read for Palin.... good purchase for 2+ years old.

Amazing Grace and Boundless Grace by Mary Hoffman is read in my house at least 1x a week at the request of my kids. It's a cute story of Grace, a go-gettin' little gal, who follows her dreams. She's raised by her Mom and Grandmother in the first book but then travels to Africa in the second book to be with her dad.

I Love My Hair by Natasha Tarplay is one that I like to pick at least once every few weeks. I have stick straight hair. My 5 year old daughter has curly, curly, curly hair. So, it's hard for her to relate to me when it comes time to brush, condition, braid, re-condition, etc. hair. She loves this book, though, because she "has hair like the girl." One of my favorites.

Keep Your Ear on the Ball by Genevive Petrillo and Lea Lyon is another one of my favorites. And, in a list that's dominated here by topics mostly related to girl characters, this is a boy-centered one. My daughter, who is partially blind, loves this because she likes that the boy does everything the other kids do. Seriously great book.

And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell is a book we haven't purchased yet but I've read it in the store. It's a beautiful story about 2 male penguins who take care of an abandoned egg and raise the chick. For people who aren't quite comfortable yet discussing gay families, this is a nice introduction to the idea that "parents" aren't just opposite sex parents.

Grace for President by Kelly Dipuccio is a great book that really focuses on the gender piece of politics. And, Grace is Black. But, what people (and I) love about the book is that Grace-being-Black is never addressed. She's just Grace. A girl. Who wants to run for President. My girls love this book.

Lola in the Library by Anne Mcquinn is another great book that just simply is about a little girl in a library. Lola is Black. But, the story is about her experience in the library. Another favorite one in my house.

Those are just a few suggestions from my own library (okay, and one that I just read in the store!). I know there are adoptive parents who read this blog, single parents, same sex parents, etc. PLEASE leave a comment about other resources, books, toys, etc. that you have given/will give/received that were both wallet-friendly as well as diversity/education focused!

The Importance of Reference

I know... I should be doing other work, especially given that my last two posts were about how insanely busy it is in my life right now. But, with only 26 minutes before the debate, I felt compelled to write about a conversation I had with my older daughter on the way home from school. This post is about "references". No, not job references or character references -- rather, the ability to be able to refer to some thing, some one, or some concept that, essentially, will make sense to a 5-year old. Not too long ago, I wrote about how I was watching the Republican National Convention with my daughter. While watching it, we saw the McCain photo slides of men in turbans and dark skin with machine guns, and then images of the American flag. I watched it horrifed. My husband nearly threw the remote control at the television in utter disgust of the connection the video was making. My 5-year old said, "Do those people want to kill America? Does the "N" family want to kill America?"

NOTE: The "N" Family is a close family friend of ours who are Muslim. They practice full covering, are very religious in thought and practice, and one of the most loving wonderful families we know.

I nearly wanted to cry. I couldn't believe that, even without any hateful words coming from the television, my 5-year old was getting the message that people who looked like the "N" family wanted to "kill America". I was thankful that, at that important learning moment, I could help her work through what that meant. I asked her questions about her favorite memories of the N family. She quickly and easily retold her favorite memories with a smile on her face. I asked her what she misses about the N family (we only see them 2x a year). Again, with great honesty, she talked about their fun adventures at the park, the way their Mama hugged her tight, and the funny stories they told each other each summer.

"Do you think the N family wants to kill America?"

"No, Mommy. Then why do those people want to kill America?"

"I am not sure. But, I know that just because some one looks like those people doesn't mean they want to kill America."

Again, she's 5 years old. I wasn't going to push much further than that. If she was older, we may have gone a bit deeper into the topic. But, for her kindergarten mind, I felt that we, together, had laid the groundwork for at least challenging the photos she saw and the feelings she connected with it.

Today, on the way home from school, a similar situation came up again where I was thankful we had a reference, and then found myself yearning for another.

In the car on the way to see her 4 year old cousin, 5 year old asked if we could stop by our house (out of the way) to pick up a "boy Pretty Pony."

"Why? Why do you need to get a BOY Pretty Pony?"

"Because, mommy! We want to pretend the ponies are getting married! And, we need a boy pony and a girl pony!"

"I'm not driving all the way home just so you can pick up a BOY pony. And, also, you can always pretend that two girls are getting married." (We DO live in Massachusetts!)

"Ewww!! That's gross!!!! Two girls can't get married! That's soooo weeeeiirdddd...!!"

*** ouch, my socially just heart started to break ***

"Actually, 5-year old, two girls can get married. And, two boys can get married. Remember Ryan's moms? They are married? They are a family. They love each other."

"Oh, yeah. That's right. But, boys can't marry each other! That's gross!"

"Well, what about..... what about.... I mean.... isn't there..... wait? Do we know any families that have two dads?"

"No."

"Well, do we own any books that have two dads?"

"Nope."

"Any tv shows that you watch that have two dads?"

"Uh-uh."

Snap. Hmm... quick? Reference? Do I even have one??? I have friends from college who are in married relationships, but she doesn't know any of them. When we had just graduated from college, we had gay roommates. But, she doesn't know any of them. Urgh!

"So, uh, Mom? Prove that two dads make a family. Who is a family with two dads that we know?" says my child who's learning works best when I can reference something she has experienced or some one she knows.

"I guess we don't know any, 5-year old. We should probably figure this one out."

And, the conversation ended there. I called my husband when we got to my sister's house. He works in a school where there are at least 40% gay families. "Hi, honey, we need some play dates with families with two dads."

But, I got to thinking .... is this the same in the race conversation? Would I be appalled if someone said, "Honey, we need some play dates with Asian/Black/Latino/lower SES/disAbled/etc families?" On the flip side, is it enough just to buy books that have those identities in them? While I have the "resoures" to be able to set up a play date with single sex families, what if I didn't have that privilege?

I hear this a lot from parents who want to diversify the social circles of their own or of their children - and, often, they say, "We just don't have any diversity around us." I usually answer, "Well, if you truly don't, then find some great books that are well endorsed by that community and use them as examples." ( I emphasize "endorsed by that community" because there are some multicultural themed books that communities find offensive, so be sure to Google or check out those types of lists).

So, it's something to loosen? Have other readers been faced with a similar issue with parenting (either your children or others)?

Okay, 2 minutes until debate! Go, Obama!