My Name is Celia/Me Llamo Celia

Written by Monica Brown

Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Boom boom boom! beat the congas.

Clap clap clap! go the hands.

Shake shake shake! go the hips.

This is one of the many musical lessons Simone and Nadia learned when they attended a bilingual reading of My Name is Celia/Me Llamo Celia. Author Monica Brown and illustrator Rafael Lopez entertained a diverse crowd of parents and children with this vibrant book about the Cuban-born Queen of Salsa. Brown read in English, while Lopez read in Spanish. Azucar, or sugar, was one of the many Spanish words Simone and Nadia understood.

The book’s lyrical writing reveals the life of of Celia Cruz. She learns as a child in Havana that she has the gift for song, rhythm and dance, and she rises to worldwide musical acclaim. Celia shows how hard work overcomes adversity. For example, Cruz couldn’t participate in some singing contests because of the color of her skin. She didn’t let that stop her and was honored by presidents. In the end, she sold gold records, won Grammy awards and earned a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

I fell in love with the book, because the lines read like those often heard at poetry slams.

Close your eyes and listen, the book begins. My voice feels like feet skipping on cool wet sand, like running under a waterfall, like rolling down a hill. My voice climbs and rocks and dips and flips with the sounds of congas beating and trumpets blaring.

Of course, I purchased a copy of Celia for our library at home and asked Brown and Lopez to sign it for the girls.

“May your smiles fly across the sky,” wrote Brown, referring to a line in the book.

“Keep on reading and fall in love with books,” Lopez wrote.

No problem, no problem at all.


The Other Side

While at a children’s book conference, I fell in love with many books. I brought these two home because they teach about tolerance and racism.

The Other Side

Written by Jacqueline Woodson

Illustrated by E. B. Lewis

A writer told me to read this book because it’s about racism, but there’s no mention of the word in the manuscript. A friendship develops across a racial divide. Clover, a black girl, lives beside a fence that segregates her town. Her mother tells her never to climb over to the other side because it isn’t safe.

On the other side, is a little white girl, Annie. Her mother also has told her not to climb over the fence.

The two girls see each other and introduce themselves one day. They don’t climb over the fence; they sit on it instead.

The last words leave hope that someone is going to tear down the fence one day. The illustrations in this book are absolutely gorgeous. I saw a presentation by E. B. Lewis, and he pointed out that the girls appear on separate pages at first and are separated by the seams. After they introduce themselves, they are always on the same page. Beautiful.


So Many Houses

Written by Hester Thompson Bass

Illustrated by Alik Arzoumanian

This is an easy-to-read book, meaning it’s for children who are just learning to read. So Many Houses is a book of few words and packs a big message. Each of us lives in a different home. We’re all different, and that’s okay.



I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Wayans and Kevin Knotts, the authors of Amy Hodgepodge. I stumbled upon the book series and just had to check it out. The book centers around Amy Hodges, a 9-year-old girl, who goes to school for the first time after being home-schooled. Amy Hodges soon becomes Amy Hodgepodge because her grandparents are Korean, Japanese, African-American and white. Enjoy!

Honeysmoke: What inspired Amy Hodgepodge?

Kim and Kevin: AMY HODGEPODGE was inspired by our nieces and nephews, many of whom are multiracial, and by our desire to see more diversity reflected in mainstream children’s literature.

Honeysmoke: Why did you aim the books at young readers?

Kim and Kevin: Aside from wanting to target children in the same age-range as our young nieces and nephews, we believe you can have the most impact on young minds that are still open and impressionable.  Each book imparts valuable lessons to children about various subjects like friendship, kindness, tolerance, generosity, and honesty to name a few.

Honeysmoke: My daughters Simone and Nadia, 5 and 2, loved the covers of the two books I brought home. They each took one and studied the cover. Will you produce any picture books for the younger set?

Kim and Kevin: Children, especially those of color, are almost magnetized by the covers of the books, because it’s so rare that they get to see beautiful images of kids that look like them on a book cover!  Sad, but true.  Eventually, we would like do some picture books for the younger set.

Honeysmoke: What is next for Amy Hodgepodge?

Kim and Kevin: Well, book number six, “Digging Up Trouble” will be out on May 27th.  In addition, we’re putting out feelers to different Animation studios – we’d love to do an AMY HODGEPODGE cartoon.  In time, we plan on expanding the property in a variety of ways, including merchandising.

Honeysmoke: Anything I didn’t ask that you would like readers to know?

Kim and Kevin: For all your readers who would like to know more about AMY HODGEPODGE and her friends, visit our website at


Girls Hold Up This World

by Jada Pinkett Smith

A wonderful picture book based on a poem by Jada Pinkett Smith. Simone and Nadia love pointing to the pictures. Donyell Kennedy-McCullough’s images show girls of all different ages, races, and ethnic backgrounds. The colorful pages and pictures get a thumbs up from the girls, while I applaud the message that girls can do anything. This is a Reading Time staple in our home.




Cover Image

One by Kathryn Otoshi

We borrowed this book about bullying from the library a few months ago, and it quickly became a favorite. Readers learn Red is a hothead who likes to pick on Blue, a quiet color. Yellow, Orange, Green and Purple don’t like it, but they don’t tell Red to stop. None of the colors says a word, until One comes on the scene and teaches everybody else how to stand up to Red. The book reinforces counting and colors, while teaching little ones how to accept each other’s differences.

Simone and Nadia enjoy the colors and the numbers, while I appreciate how a simple message can be used to address complex issues. I have no doubt we will borrow this book again and again.



Hip Hop Speaks To Children: A Celebration Of Poetry With A Beat

Edited by Nikki Giovanni

Hip Hop Speaks to Children takes readers and listeners on a lyrical journey, with stops at school, church, and home. The list of contributors is long and impressive from Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and Gwendolyn Brooks to Queen Latifah, Tupac Shakur, and Mos Def. Altogether, there are 51 poems from 42 poets, with 42 tracks on the CD.

Simone and Nadia danced to many of the song excerpts on the CD. Simone even tapped a beat on the cover of books as poets performed their work.

I’ve been on a waiting list at the library for weeks, and we’ve now added this book to our home library. We won’t let this one leave the house because it may not ever find its way home.


Dooby Dooby MooDooby Dooby Moo

Written by Doreen Cronin

and Illustrated by Betsy Lewin



It’s not every day you’re riding in your car, a song released in 1968 comes on the radio and a kid in the back seat blurts out its title.

Ken was driving, meaning the radio was tuned to a Daddy’s Long Hair music station, when the aforementioned song hit the airwaves.

“That’s Born To Be Wild,” Simone said, with confidence.

“Steppenwolf sings that,” said Ken, anticipating a question from the back seat.

“Duck sings that,” Simone responded.

It took a few seconds for us to realize Simone was talking about Duck in Dooby Dooby Moo. The book, written by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin, is a bedtime favorite.


Here’s the low down. When Duck discovers an advertisement in the newspaper announcing a talent show at the county fair, listing first prize as a slightly used trampoline, Farmer Brown’s animals swing into action. The cows and sheep concentrate on singing nursery rhymes, while the pigs work on an interpretive dance. Farmer Brown hears the animals practicing, while he snoops around his own farm. He figures they are up to something and takes them to the county fair before heading off to get some barbeque. At the talent show, the cows and sheep impress some of the judges, but the pigs, lacking a full night’s sleep, snore when it is time to perform. Duck wants the trampoline, steps up and belts out a winning version ofBorn to Be Wild. After the talent show, Farmer Brown suspects nothing until he hears “boings” coming from inside the barn.

Dooby Dooby Moo is hilarious. The girls like the book because they can sing the songs. We like the book because we can sing the songs. The added benefit is that you may be driving along one day when your kid blurts out the title to a song she hasn’t heard in its entirety.



I Like Myself!I Like Myself!

Written By Karen Beaumont

Illustrated by David Catrow

I wish this little book had been around when I was a child. My thin frame and long hair made me an easy target for bullies. Mom and Dad boosted my self-esteem at every turn. This book, though, could have stood in when they weren’t available.

The girls giggle at the silly pictures, while I recognize the serious subject behind this ode to confidence. That is why I am filing this book in the resources section of our library for those times when Simone and Nadia need a lift.




Zen Ties

By Jon J.  Muth

This is another library find, and it has so many messages within its pages. When summer arrives, Koo visits his uncle, Stillwater.  Koo, a haiku-speaking panda, learns how to conserve resources and help those in need. Stillwater encourages Koo, and his friends Addy, Michael, and Karl to help an elder neighbor, and their kindness is rewarded in ways they could never imagine.

Zen Ties is a story about thoughtfulness and shows children how they can touch lives.

Simone and Nadia always point out how Stillwater, the elder panda, is so much larger than Koo and the children in the book, and I can’t get enough of the haiku.

My favorite:

Nearing my visit’s end

summer now tastes of apple tea

I will keep my cup



cover pictureAmazing Grace

By Mary Hoffman

Simone received this book as a gift. Until then, I had not heard the story of Grace, a little girl who doesn’t let anyone deter her from her dream.

When Grace’s teacher decides the class will present Peter Pan, Grace knows which role she would like to play. One child tells her she can’t be Peter Pan because she is a girl. Another child tells her she can’t be Peter Pan because she is black. Meanwhile, the women in her life remind Grace she can do anything, and she dazzles everyone with her performance.

Simone has asked us to read this book to her so much I can tell the story without reading the words. I suggest it because parents can easily edit a few phrases and make it fit a modern day dilemma and teach their children how they can set their own course toward success.



Cover ImageSkin Again

By bell hooks

Illustrated By Chris Raschka

“The skin I’m in is just a covering. It cannot tell my story.”

These are the opening words for Skin Again. The book offers a way to discuss race and identity with children. It is an invitation to look deeper, to look inside, to look at what really matters.

This book is a library find, and it is a little on the serious side. Simone understood the book’s message, but I don’t think she will request I read it to her. Still, I may purchase this book, in case I need to pull it out to illustrate a point about skin.


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One World, One Day

By Barbara Kerley

Here is the proof that our world is small, big, similar, and different all at the same time. This picture book follows children around the world from dawn to sunset.

The book features 60 photographs that show and tell how children in every corner of the world spend one day. What is so striking is how similar the day is for children. They all eat breakfast, go to school, spend time with their families, conduct chores, and fall asleep at night to do it all over again.

The pictures in this book can be used to tell stories and teach children about other cultures. There is a map in the back of the book that shows where all of the pictures were taken. Simone and Nadia like to point to where they live, and then I point to where some of the pictures were taken. This is a wonderful little book. We don’t own it yet, but it will find its way to our bookshelf soon.


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Panda & Polar Bear

By Matthew J. Baek

This little book comes highly recommended by our local children’s librarian.

When a polar bear falls over the edge of an ice cliff, he finds panda, who assumes the mud-covered polar bear is just like him. The two play together and become friends. They are the same, until panda offers polar bear some bamboo. Polar bear is not impressed with the bamboo and instead takes a dive in the water and catches a fish. Panda immediately notices his friends “splotches” have washed away. No matter. Panda helps his friend get home, where they can be seen playing in the snow.

This book gets a high score from me because it takes the subject of differences and translates it into words and pictures the preschool set can understand. It also gains points for not being preachy. As for Simone and Nadia, there is no wrong when it comes to bears. They aren’t so cuddly at the zoo, but in a book bears will grab — and hold — their attention every time.