Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book Review: "My Amazing Day: A Celebration of Wonder & Gratitude"


My Amazing Day: A Celebration of Wonder & Gratitude
by Karin Fisher-Golton, Lori A. Cheung, Elizabeth Iwamiya
[image from ouramazingdays.com]

By Sharon H Chang

I think a lot of you know by now that I’m a big BIG proponent of kid’s literature as a tool for approaching difficult subjects like race and identity. I strongly and deeply believe children’s books offer adults and kids together not only one of the easiest and most enjoyable, but also thoughtful, artful and informed entry points into conversations about tough subjects. The right book can open up adult-child thinking in all sorts of new ways, inspiring us to ask important questions and taking our minds to places they haven’t gone before. Powerful stuff, right?

But as I've written before, picking the right anti-bias book isn't as easy as grabbing something off the shelf with a child of color on the cover. It actually takes a little practice (see my post Evaluating Children's Books for Bias). It's also important to remember there are different types of books that satisfy different components of our hopeful progressive and transformative goals. Of course we need the anti-bias books that address the subject of race and racial inequity head-on; tackling the idea of resistance, self-determination and agency in working for change. But equally important (and perhaps greatly underestimated) are the books that show children of color simply doing simple everyday things. Why? Because one of the greatest obstacles we face raising these children is the incredibly strong and constant messaging that white is normal and anything else is “different” or “less.” Since the normative values of US mainstream have historically been and still stubbornly persist on being white middle class, children of color often receive many subtle non-normative messages about their existence which are invalidating and othering.

It's so, so important for our children to see themselves reflected in their learning materials doing everyday stuff beyond the "exotic"...Our kids need to look in society's mirror and see they too are a daily part of their community and the life they live

It's so, so important for our children to see themselves reflected in their learning materials doing everyday stuff beyond the "exotic". It's also so, so important to help others re-envision different heritages/cultures outside of racial stereotypes (e.g. a little Asian girl is more than celebrating Lunar New Year). Our kids need to look in society's mirror and see they too are a daily part of their community and the life they live: eating ice cream and pie, playing on the playground with friends, going to school and riding bikes – not just doing the dragon dance, eating only “exotic” foods and donning ethnic garb at cultural events. I see a disproportionate number of the latter to the former, and it worries me.

Photographs from My Amazing Day copyright Lori A. Cheung, 2013

And this is why I love My Amazing Day: A Celebration of Wonder & Gratitude by Karin Fisher-Golton, Lori A. Cheung, and Elizabeth Iwamiya. A beautiful, smoothly laid-out board book complete with gorgeous photographs that follow a toddler through an average toddler-day eating a banana, cuddling her dog, chasing bubbles, playing in the sand, taking a bath. Though the book does not specifically address race, the main character and subject of the portraits is visibly (and rather unusually) a little mixed-race Asian girl. The fact that this is surprising speaks volumes and shows very clearly a place where we are often failing our children of color. Author Karin Fisher-Golton told me, “While the book is being enthusiastically received for its approach to gratitude and for children's interest in it, we have also found that many multiracial and Asian families have been very moved to find this child depicted in the photographs.” We see in her statement how much longing there is for these types of portrayals or “normalizing” by mixed-race families and families of color in general as well as the desire to shift away from race-centered identifications to deeper-than-skin, more personal identifications like favorite activities, things that make us smile, things we like to eat, things that holistically define us and make us who we are. In this way characters become much more than just people who look different, but also people who have personalities and a life story to tell.

Photographs from My Amazing Day copyright Lori A. Cheung, 2013

But there are some other signals in this sparsely gorgeous book that are equally as powerful and that put together as a whole make it frankly, pretty kickass. For one, I observed quickly that our little main character, though obviously a girl, wears gender neutral or gender-flipped clothing throughout (i.e. blue, purple, yellow, green) even bounding around in overalls at one point. The only page in which she wears pink anything is at the very end were she is cuddling up to sleep and even then it’s unclear if it’s pink or more of a pink-red. My son strongly proclaimed the outfit, “Just red, mom.” For two, there is this phenomenal idea of gratitude woven throughout. So instead of just reading about what the child is doing (which is so often the case in baby board books), we also overlay the element of being thankful for each wondrous opportunity to simply be. If you think about this subtext through the lens of race where children of color are often pressured to feel uncomfortable about who they are, the message of appreciating and affirming one’s existence is especially profound. And finally,  something I’ve never seen before, the book closes with a retrospective look at the day in which the child thanks everything that brought her joy including and ending with herself. What I see this as is an exquisite acknowledgement of the claim and importance, ownership and agency a child should have in her own life. Take for example the messaging in phrases like: “A celebration of wonder & gratitude,” “Today was amazing,” “I flew!” “Thank you family!” “Thank you me!”

Photograph from My Amazing Day copyright Lori A. Cheung, 2013

I highly, highly recommend owning this book. It is aged 0-3 but my 4 year old loved it and not only had me read it to him a gazillion times but then also read it himself to our dog. While My Amazing Day probably reads at first as a simple board book, I encourage you to understand it deeply for what it really is: a still-as-yet rare opportunity to lead your underrepresented children to quite simply -- feel damn good about who they are.

My son reading My Amazing Day to our dog

You can purchase this book online at its website http://www.ouramazingdays.com/
For more, visit my working Anti-Bias Children's Booklist and Multiracial Asian Families Booklist

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