Tag Archives: books about being different

Mixed Race Book Review: The Name Jar

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

I grew up in mostly-white Edmonton, Alberta, Canada right smack in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war. Awareness of difference was low and I remember fantasizing about having a name just like everyone else.

The name calling and the teasing was too much at times.  “Arriba, Arriba, Undalé, Undalé!” was called after me every time I was around. Adults too would struggle. And although they tried, I eventually shortened my name from Fariba to Fari. It didn’t help.  “Fairy? No. Fiery? No. Ferrari?”

My chosen name? Jessica. In all of my fantasies, I was Jessica. Because Jessica was like everyone else, Jessica’s parents weren’t from somewhere else and best of all, Jessica didn’t stand out because of her name.

In Yangsook Choi’s book, “The Name Jar”, Unhei (pronounced Yoon-Hye) moves from South Korea to America. She starts her first day of school having to explain her new name to all of the other kids and, inevitably, they laugh and tease her about how it’s pronounced. “You-hye, bye bye!”, they tease her.

The story develops with Unhei wanting to choose a typical American name like Laura or Amanda. But she’s reminded soon enough about what her Grandmother taught her about her name. Unhei means grace. And her name’s meaning is far more important than fitting in.

Through a boy she becomes friendly with, he discovers her real name and it shows her she can be proud of her name- even in America.

the name jarWith beautiful illustrations throughout, The Name Jar has inspired conversations with my children about how and why we’re different as a family. How we might ‘stick out’ and why it’s important to embrace those differences because they make up who we are.

I wouldn’t change my name for the world. But I only discovered that as an adult. I wish I’d been able to stand tall and correct the teasers and conformists who desperately tried to make my name sound english.

This book is about immigrants, about fitting in, peer pressure, multiculturalism and third culture kids. Definitely one for your bookshelves if you’d like to inspire conversations about diversity.


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Mixed Race Book Review: I Don’t Want Curly Hair!

Mixed Race Book Review I Don’t Want Curly Hair

With such lovely illustrations, it doesn’t get more easily relatable than Laura Ellen Anderson’s book, “I Don’t Want Curly Hair”.

For my middle daughter who is going through her own love-hate relationship with her coily locks, this has been an especially poignant book.

Written in delightful rhyme, a girl with curly red locks describes how she is exhausted with her curly hair, how she can never tame it, and spends hours and hours brushing, pulling and stretching it.

She happens upon another little girl with straight black hair in her journey and whose woe is the fact that her hair is “boring and straight and why won’t it curl?!”

“OH?!”, says the curly girl. How could she, with straight, smooth hair want curly hair??

The two girls laugh at how silly they’ve been realising that both their hair is special and that both can do amazing things with their hair.

After multiple readings, my daughter now knows enough of the words to read it her own way, getting into character, “I DON’T LIKE MY CURLY HAIR!! It’s MESSY AND SILLY AND JUST PLAIN UNFAIR!”

She loves the ways the girl tries desperately to straighten her hair, even managing to wet it completely so that it turns straight (a secret most curly girls are delighted about).

With delightful humour throughout, it’s a great book for getting the conversation going about loving the skin we’re in and showing our curly girls that they should love their hair no matter what.

For more mixed race book reviews, click here

book review i don't want curly hair

Mixed Race Book Review: Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match

Marisol McDonald Mixed Race Book Review

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown is the second in our mixed race book review series by Mixed.Up.Mama.

This is one my daughters’ favourites (and mine). Inspired by her Peruvian-American heritage, Monica Brown has won numerous awards and starred reviews for her Marisol series which, incidentally is also written in Spanish.

Marisol McDonald is a wonderful book about a Peruvian-American girl named Marisol who loves to be different. She loves to wear green polka dots and purple stripes, eats peanut butter and jelly burritos and tells her cousin off when he tries to tell her her skin colour (brown) does not match her red hair. Simply said, she loves who she is. When everyone, including her teacher, tells her she should match, she decides to change herself and the next day, she wears a matching outfit, plays pirates with her friends how they like it and writes her name in printed letters as her teacher says she should. But soon, she discovers how boring it is and how proud she is to be a mismatched Marisol.

The illustrations, done by Sara Palacios and the fact that it is written in Spanish beside the English are bonuses to the lovely story behind author Brown’s loveable character. For bilingual children as well as kids that come from more than one culture, this is a fantastic choice.

Another recommendation if you want your child to be proud of their mixed heritage!

For more mixed race book reviews, click here…

The Importance of Reading Books With Our Children

I was recently re-united with my children’s extensive book collection. So what, I can hear you saying.

Okay, so you should know I pretty much harassed my in-laws back in Nigeria every time someone was coming my way so that I could get these back. I’m certain everyone was a bit tired of the requests but I have too polite a family for anyone to say anything.

We disappeared from Nigeria in 2015 after living there for just under a year and half. So, without a planned exit, we left a LOT of our stuff back there. You know the feeling, when you’re looking for things and know you have it but can’t bring yourself to buy it again, it can drive you nuts. Well, it drove me nuts anyway.

So finally, almost 2 years later after we moved to London, a friend was able to bring the lot. So that’s where I am… reunited with my vast collection of books. And there you are, wondering what the…

When I got these back, it was like going through years of memories, moments and experiences my girls and I shared in reading endless stories.

You see, books are not just books to me… to us. They are a way of communicating with my children. With books, we’ve introduced the concept of bullying, sharing, loneliness, and skin colour. With books, we’ve been able to talk about difficult subjects without making it about them.

My daughter’s concept of a bully was defined in a book called “Me and My Dragon” because it featured a bully who was incidentally a chubby boy with a baseball cap on. I remember reading it once and it sparked a conversation about what is a bully. To this day, when we’ve spoken about someone doing something bullying, my daughter protests, “but he isn’t wearing a baseball cap”!

The day identity and my daughter’s skin colour came up one day after school, I swiftly went online and ordered just about 20 books that talk about being mixed, being different, featuring brown skin characters or just about being a girl and being proud of who you are. I was not about to raise a child who was confused or ashamed about who she is and with media and the majority of people she encounters featuring white skin, we knew we needed to be proactive in discussing this important topic with her.

The books were all about being positive about who you are. For my DD to see a little girl featured in the story of Little Red Riding Hood with brown skin and curly hair, she couldn’t hide her excitement. “She looks like me!”, she’d say.

Within three weeks of reading these books, I could see a change in how my daughter talked about and discussed her own identity.

You see, for us, books are instruments. They are windows into important conversations and topics that I know will come up. As our children get older, we’ll inevitably encounter discussions about bodies, sexuality, death, religion, cyber bullying and jealousy, amongst other things.  Without books to turn to, these topics can become abstract. Throw in a protagonist who’s going through it and you have yourself an ‘in’.

Indeed books have already introduced precious memories as our children have grown. We paged through the book “Going on a Bear Hunt” and relived days gone by when our nearly 6 year old was our only child and my hubby and I used to act out the story finishing off with an undercover cave where we’d hide from the bear.

So, today, I am happy to be reunited with my collection. Thanks to my in-laws for putting up with me, I’m content.

Perhaps it was only through missing them that I realised their value. I would encourage every parent, be careful what you’re giving away. I know we can’t keep all the rubbish we collect from our children’s childhoods and by no means am I a hoarder. The day will come when I’ll have to go through their books but hopefully I’ll know these aren’t just pieces of paper we read every night but memories we’ll want to cherish.

For a list of books about multicultural families or being mixed race, visit Colours of Us.

A mama blog for all things parenting and mixed heritage kids

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