Myra, Iphigene, and Fats here.
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For today’s post, I am featuring these two picturebooks which show young girls who are able to go beyond people’s expectations of them and soar above their current life circumstances to be more.. to be their amazing selves.
Amazing Grace: 25th Anniversary Edition
Written by: Mary Hoffman Illustrated by: Caroline Binch
Published by: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 1991, ISBN: 0803710402 (ISBN13: 9780803710405)
Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. Book Awards: Kinderboekwinkelprijs (1993)
I have been late to the Amazing Grace party. I read the 25th Anniversary Edition published in 2015. From the first page, when I saw Grace’s conversation with her Nana, I knew it was going to be a special book:
The art is so vivid, so life-like that the reader seems privy to a very private, intimate experience. Grace is quite the spirited young girl. Gifted with stories and the opportunity to immerse herself in various shades of characters with the aid of her vibrant imagination, she knew that she could be anyone she chooses to be:
… up until the time when her classmates told her she cannot be Peter Pan in a play because she is a girl, and because she’s Black.***
I have to remind myself that this was published back in 1991 – way before the advent of the “we need diverse books” campaign, and when issues such as these may have been considered taboo and deemed to be way too political or inflammatory to be articulated in a picturebook. Yet, here it is. Grace’s quiet resolve, unwavering determination, and unapologetic radiance – remain to this date.
The 25th anniversary edition also includes inspiring Afterword messages written by Floella Benjamin (Trinidadian-British actress, author, television presenter, singer, businesswoman and politician) and LeVar Burton (American actor, director). For teachers who wish to use this in the classroom, here is a very detailed 47-paged downloadable PDF file from isites.harvard.edu that includes discussion questions and possible activities that teachers can explore.
*** Note: Since I put up this post, I was alerted by co-host Crystal Brunelle @ Reading Through Life how Amazing Grace has actually received a great deal of critique – especially the page I shared above of Grace pretending to be Hiawatha and Mowgli. The page was deemed insensitive as it portrays stereotypical ideations of what it means to be Native American. Obviously, I read the UK version which still contains the page I mentioned – apparently, the US version has since edited the book and deleted it. I have always emphasized the use of a critical multicultural analysis framework in examining/reading any text – and clearly this remains a highly polemical issue – and I have much to still learn and absorb and be mindful of as I navigate my way around these themes.
The Song of Delphine
Written and Illustrated by: Kenneth Kraegel
Published by: Candlewick Press, 2015. ISBN: 0763670014 (ISBN13: 9780763670016)
Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
At a time when picturebooks dealing with servitude/slavery are being minutely scrutinized and found wanting (see A Birthday Cake for George Washington and A Fine Dessert), this picturebook published last year talks about a “lonesome servant girl” named Delphine who live “in the far reaches of the wild savannah.”
While it is indicated that Delphine’s life is not easy, she found comfort in singing, her voice ringing true in the wilderness. Then one day, the young Princess Beatrice, about Delphine’s age, came to live at the palace.
Princess Beatrice just lost her mother and was not in good terms with her stepmother. She was horrid, spiteful, and made life quite miserable for Delphine. It was again through her music that Delphine found some measure of escape – and this can be taken literally since the giraffes come to her window after listening to her beautiful voice, bringing her out “under the open sky.”
While I did find Delphine to be quite passive, lacking in agency, and pretty much resigned to her fate and the injustices that she experienced from Princess Beatrice, it does highlight kindness, forgiveness, and friendship. The power difference between the two young girls remains stark even in the end – and perhaps this could be fodder for discussion among older children, but it did leave me with more questions than answers, and a sense of restlessness about how young Delphine was portrayed. Regardless, it is a book worth checking out.
Katie @ The Logonauts
Myra @ Gathering Books
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Crystal @ Reading Through Life and co-blogger @ Rich in Color
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Carrie @ There’s a Book for That
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