#DecolonizeReading2023 Books Early Readers Features Genre It's Monday What Are You Reading Lifespan of a Reader Picture Books Reading Themes

[Monday Reading] Portrayal Of Incarceration in 2021/2022 Diverse Picturebooks

"Milo Imagines The World" by Matt De La Peña and Christian Robinson | "My Brother Is Away" by Sara Greenwood and Luisa Uribe.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). It has been awhile since I joined this reading community and I intend to be more present this year, life circumstances permitting.

This year, we hope to feature books that fit any of the following criteria:

  1. Postcolonial literature and/or [pre/post] revolutionary stories
  2. Stories by indigenous / first-nation peoples / people of colour
  3. Narratives of survival and healing, exile and migration, displacement and dispossession
  4. Books written or illustrated by people who have been colonized, oppressed, marginalized
  5. Translated or international literature

My Brother Is Away (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Sara Greenwood Illustrated by Luisa Uribe
Published by Random House Studio (2022) Literary Award: NCTE Charlotte Huck Award Honor Book – NPR Best Book of the Year  A Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book
ISBN: 9780593127179 (ISBN10: 059312717X) Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

The story opens to a young girl who says:

My brother doesn’t live here. He’s far away.

Initially, I thought that this was a story about illness and hospitalization, but as the story progresses I realize that it tackles a different issue altogether.

I love images such as the one above showing just how close this young girl is to her big brother whom she misses terribly. Yet, the complexity of emotions is even more keenly portrayed with the young girl also trying to wrap her head around what other people say about her brother, and how he is like towards her.

Too often, it is difficult to articulate taboo themes such as a family member being imprisoned – primarily because of the image above. There is the simplistic (and too often unfounded) judgment of all incarcerated people being bad people. What does it say, then, about their loved ones and their family members? The shame, the guilt, the anger are all treated here with a light-feather touch that never felt contrived or heavy-handed.

The Author’s Note adds another layer of depth altogether as Sara Greenwood discloses what it is like to grow up with a brother who is in jail. She also mentioned how it took eight hours (nearly five hundred miles) to visit her brother. I especially love her dedication found at the beginning of the book:

For the child I was and the child you are – hope, healing, love, light.

What a deeply moving story.

Milo Imagines The World (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Matt De La Peña Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (2021) Literary Award: CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards Nominee for Write (2022)
ISBN: 9780399549083 (ISBN10: 0399549080) Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Two multi-award-winning author and illustrator collaborated on this picturebook, and the result is predictably brilliant. Milo is on his usual monthly Sunday subway ride with his sister, which he describes to be ‘never ending.’

While Milo entertains himself by doodling and creating stories on his trusty notepad, his sister amuses herself using her mobile phone. I like the photo above with the sister taking a selfie – and all the dynamism in the other seemingly-stationery images of people, each one a story begging to be told, at least the way Milo sees it.

Milo usually bases his made-up stories on how the people in the subway look like. This other young boy wearing a suit in the subway dressed very sharply and neatly makes the perfect prince in this castle Milo drew. Milo imagines that he must lead an easy life, being waited on by a butler, two maids, and a gourmet chef even.

As Milo gets off the subway in the same stop as the smartly-dressed boy, however, it is evident that they are going to the same place. Milo and his sister are visiting their incarcerated mother; and it appears like the young, light-haired prince is also visiting a loved one in jail.

Struck by this observation, Milo begins re-imagining all the earlier stories he made. This is a subtle and beautiful narrative about the assumptions we often make about people, based on their appearance, or where they are going, or what they do, or where they are held for indefinite periods of time. It is also a hopeful narrative about how we can re-write these stories as we alter our implicit, often-mistaken preconceived notions about people.

These are two unforgettable soul-filling picturebooks that I hope find you soon.

#DecolonizeReading2023 Update: 25/26 out of target 100

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

2 comments on “[Monday Reading] Portrayal Of Incarceration in 2021/2022 Diverse Picturebooks

  1. Both of these sound awesome! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture book about jail, which is odd because I have family members who’ve been in jail. It seems like a pretty common experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Vidya Tiru

    You always find such stunning reads – both in the artwork and the narrative.. I am going to have look for both of them.. Like AJ mentions above, I don’t believe I have read any books about imprisonment (especially in picture books)
    My IMWAYR post for this week is here

    Liked by 1 person

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