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[Saturday Reads] 10 Uplifting Black Narratives Depicting Joy, Love, and Community

10 beautiful books to add to your list of reading right about now.


Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

I spent Friday morning watching and listening to the #KidLit4BlackLives virtual rally and call for action on The Brown Bookshelf’s Facebook Page. One of my key takeaways from the discussion of authors, illustrators, artists, educators powerfully coming together in solidarity is that we should not just highlight stories of oppression but also make concerted efforts to surface wholistic, full-bodied narratives of love and community, because as was repeatedly mentioned in the recorded live discussion (and this is something I agree with wholeheartedly): Joy, in itself, can be a revolutionary act.

As a Filipino teacher educator who has taught for the past eleven years in Singapore, and now currently teaching in the United Arab Emirates, this is my small contribution to say that I hear you, and I am with you.

This list of ten uplifting Black narratives which I have just read this year depict joy, love, and togetherness. This is a testament to our commitment to making GatheringBooks a space where diverse narratives are constantly celebrated.

We are also celebrating our 10th year Blogiversary in July. We are grateful to the kidlit community for welcoming us, and for making us feel that our voices are heard, valued, and have meaning. For most of July, we are planning on celebrating our List of 10 for GatheringBooks’ 10 years in 2020 – #GB101020. Consider this my first contribution for our #GB101020, shared here in no particular order.

Love And The Rocking Chair (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written and Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
Published by The Blue Sky Press (2019) ISBN: 1338332651 (ISBN13: 9781338332650) Borrowed from NLB Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

When I first chanced upon this book on Overdrive, I initially thought that this was published much earlier especially with Leo Dillon’s death in 2012. I was so excited to see that it is fairly recently published. In the Introduction, it was mentioned:

The manuscript, tight sketches for the entire book, and four sample paintings were finished and had been put aside for other work when Leo died in 2012. The book was forgotten and then recently discovered; Diane completed the paintings as originally planned.

The entire book tells the story of a biracial family – which I am assuming is largely drawn from Leo and Diane’s story. In the Storyteller’s Note, Diane mentioned:

My husband, Leo, and I wrote and illustrated this book inspired by our own rocking chair, bought when we were expecting our son. It saw us through sleepless nights, lullabies, storytelling, and playtime, a beloved member of our family and witness to many wonderful memories.

The story was heartfelt, but not needlessly maudlin. There is a distance and objectivity to how the story was narrated, yet an intimacy too that readers can connect with.


Just Like A Mama (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Alice Faye Duncan Illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow
Published by Agate Bolden (2020) ISBN 1572842695 (ISBN13: 9781572842694). Borrowed from NLB Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Carol Olivia Clementine, the young girl in the story, lives with Mama Rose, because as she explained in the first page:

Mommy and Daddy live miles away. I wish we lived together. Maybe one day that will be.

It is not very clear whether Mama Rose is related by blood to Carol Olivia Clementine, or a “fictive kin” which was mentioned in the Author’s Afterword. Yet, the story shows that it does not really matter, because regardless, Mama Rose is “just like a mama to me.”

I was especially moved by the Author’s Note which related her own experience of her Mama raising her baby sister, Pat, who became more like an older sister to the author than an Aunt as she was growing up. The incredible thing about this narrative is that it did not highlight the sadness, although the subtext of longing for one’s parents was there. What was conveyed is the powerful bonds forged by love and commitment.

My Mommy Medicine (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Edwidge Danticat Illustrated by Shannon Wright
Published by Roaring Brook Press (2019) ISBN: 1250140919 (ISBN13: 9781250140913). Borrowed from NLB Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

I knew about Edwidge Danticat from her award-winning picturebook, Mama’s Nightingale illustrated by Leslie Staub, which Fats has reviewed here.

(Amazon | Book Depository)

Comparatively, My Mommy Medicine, has a much lighter theme, depicting a young child who is not feeling so well, and as the title indicates needs her mommy medicine. 

I think what stood out the most for me from the narrative is the warmth and playful affection that mother and daughter evidently shared. Mommy was never impatient nor seemed too exhausted to play games or provide comfort to the young one who is sick.

More than anything, I felt like I was being tucked in and given a warm back rub as I was reading the story. I also especially appreciated the Author’s note which explained the concept of the Mommy Medicine drawn from her own life experience as a mother and an aunt:

These were acts of comfort that they found soothing, reassuring, and somewhat healing.

I think the entire world needs some mommy medicine right about now.

A Night Out With Mama (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Quvenzhané Wallis Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (2017) ISBN: 1481458809 (ISBN13: 9781481458801). Borrowed from NLB Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Still on a “mama” binge, we have here a story written by Hollywood child actress Quvenzhané Wallis, best known for her adaptation of Annie in 2014. The entire book spells glamour and glitter, from the first page alone.

I love the clever little details that the amazing Vanessa Brantley-Newton inserted into each image, like an inside visual code or clue that powerfully depicts the narrative’s authenticity. There is also exuberance and excitement that is oozing out of the pages:

Of course, not everything went as expected, but hey, this young girl rose above an unexpected mishap, and sashayed her way through the red carpet, regardless. This could also be paired with Lupita Nyong’o’s Sulwe illustrated by Vashti Harrison, which I have featured here.

(Amazon | Book Depository)

Saturday (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written and Illustrated by Oge Mora
Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers (2019) ISBN: 0316431273 (ISBN13: 9780316431279). Borrowed from NLB Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Oge Mora is undoubtedly a rising star in children’s book illustration. I have featured her Thank You, Omu here and her art in The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned To Read written by Rita Lorraine Hubbard here.

Thank You, Omu by Oge Mora (Amazon | Book Depository)

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned To Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and Oge Mora (Amazon | Book Depository)

In Saturday, a book that has already won multiple recognition, one gets to know young Ava and her mama looking forward to the most perfect of days, Saturday, the only full day that they can spend with each other, especially since mother worked all six days of the week, except on Saturday.

They do follow a ritual as can be seen in the image above – that is, assuming that everything goes according to plan. But on this particular Saturday, things went awry from the storytime in the library being cancelled to many unforeseen occurrences that challenged the very idea of this Saturday being the perfect day of the week.

The premise is simple enough, yet the storytelling was so captivating and so credible that the reader empathizes with this mother and child who just want one perfect day, yet fate seems to have other plans for them. How the story ends, I shall leave for you to discover. Needless to say, I will read everything that Oge Mora creates.

Rain! (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Linda Ashman Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers (2013) ISBN: 054773395X (ISBN13: 9780547733951). Literary Awards: Ezra Jack Keats Book Award for New Illustrator (2014), CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards Nominee for Talk (2014). Borrowed from NLB Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

I have no idea how I missed this picturebook when it first came out in 2013 – but I am glad to have discovered it now. The story shows two characters who couldn’t be more different from each other: one is a curmudgeonly grumpy old man who reminded me a little bit of Backman’s Ove, then we have this bright hippity-hop cheerful young boy.

The story unfolds in almost cinematic fashion – with the reader sort of wondering when the two characters’ narratives would collide. And as it happens, their dour and enthusiastic dispositions came to a literal head in this coffeeshop, aptly named Rain Or Shine Café:

This is one of those stories that is so deceptively simple, yet startlingly clever, with an unexpected twist in the end that would make the reader croak out loud, saying Ribbit!

I am deeply fascinated by Christian Robinson’s art. If the reader looks at it carefully, it’s all buttons and lines and circles – yet so much emotion is conveyed in these pages. Brilliant!

The King Of Kindergarten (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Derrick Barnes Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Published by Nancy Paulsen Books (2019) ISBN: 1524740748 (ISBN13: 9781524740740). Borrowed from NLB Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

His Royal Majesty is off to Kindergarten Kingdom, and he could not be more excited. Everything about this picturebook suggests movement and light and vibrant energy:

For some children, going to school for the first time can be a very frightening prospect. This picturebook provides the perfect handle for the anxiety and the fears that a young child may not be able to fully articulate.

Parents would also be given the opportunity to talk about and gently explore a young child’s many questions, their curiosity hopefully heightened by the bright colours in the pages, with the boys hair here so slickly gelled up, it’s so entertaining to look at. Little kings and queens indeed.

Nighttime Symphony (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Timbaland feat Christopher Myers Illustrated by Christopher Myers and Kaa Illustration
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers (2019) ISBN: 1442412089 (ISBN13: 9781442412088). Literary Award: CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards Nominee for Sing (2020). Borrowed from NLB Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Just in case the fathers feel that they are getting no love, here is Nighttime Symphony, a collaboration between Timbaland and the prolific Christopher Myers.

The premise is simple, there is a storm raging outside, and this father and son are inside their beautiful home, looking out the window, listening to the sounds the evening makes.

I especially like the image above. It shows the father leaving the boy’s bedroom, the sliver of moonlight – or possibly the lights outside the room – providing a comforting sense of safety and solidity, the security embodied by the father’s magnified presence that goes beyond the pages of the book.

I was also especially thrilled to learn that Kaa Illustration collaborated with Christopher Myers on this book. I know of Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien’s art through The First Journey which won the Scholastic Picture Book Award in 2015, where I served as one of the judges in Singapore.

(Amazon | Book Depository)

For other stories of father-and-child bonding, you may wish to check these other books out:

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry and Vashti Harrison (Amazon | Book Depository) – see my review here.

In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers by Javaka Steptoe (Amazon | Book Depository)

I Love You More Than… by Taye Diggs and Shane W. Evans (Amazon | Book Depository)

The Remember Balloons (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Jessie Oliveros Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (2018) ISBN: 1481489151 (ISBN13: 9781481489157). Literary Award: Schneider Family Book Award Nominee for Young Children (2019). Borrowed from NLB Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

From preschool kingdom and nighttime symphonies, we move on to something just a tad heavy-going. In this story, the use of visual metaphor is highlighted with the remember balloons representing distinct memories in this young boy and his grandfather’s lives. In fact, each character in this story has a set of brightly-coloured balloons signifying something meaningful.

As I was reading it, I was reminded of these two picturebooks about grandmothers – the lines on their faces and the memories they would rather forget or still vividly remember:

The Lines On Nana’s Face by Simona Ciraolo (Amazon | Book Depository)

Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Elizabeth Zunon (Amazon | Book Depository)

In The Remember Balloons, the young boy’s grandfather seems to be losing more of his balloons each day, while the young one desperately tries to run after them and hold on to them. He simply can not understand why his grandfather would choose to let go of something silvery and precious.

This is a deeply moving story that is told with so much heart and light and love. There is coherence to the narrative that is tightly woven from one sentence to the next, with the art evoking keenly-felt emotions that may have flown away or snagged by a branch of a lonely tree.

This is definitely one of my favourite reads this year.

Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Parker Curry & Jessica Curry Illustrated by Brittany Jackson
Published by Aladdin (2019) ISBN: 1534451862 (ISBN13: 9781534451865). Borrowed from NLB Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

I saved the best for last. It may be construed as a political statement, but hey, the personal, I am learning, can be deeply political.

Let me just say first off that I love Parker Curry. The girl is a queen. It is clear that she loves to dance. However, one rainy Tuesday, her mother brought her somewhere else instead of bringing her to dance class. And that journey to the National Portrait Gallery has led to the creation of this gorgeous picturebook. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The trip to the museum was fun and exciting to the girls with all of the portraits that seem to come alive from the walls. However, there was one portrait that made Parker look up in quiet awe, her breath caught in her throat.

I hope that these ten picturebooks provide a sense of the infinite that Black children – and young people of colour – can grab hold of and mould into something tangible – because they are more than a hashtag. Their lives are real and they matter.

#ReadIntl2020 Update: 27 of 30: Haiti (Edwidge Danticat is Haitian American)

28 of 30: South Korea (Dana Wulfekotte is Korean American)

29 of 30: Vietnam (Kaa Illustration – Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien – are from Vietnam)

Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository

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