Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018: Book Review of WILLIE: DOES IT MATTER?

I’m excited to be participating in Multicultural Children’s Book Day for the second time, not only as an author sponsor but also as a book reviewer. This year, I received Willie: Does it matter? by Nonna Debora (AKA Debora Emmert) and published by Riverword Communications, Inc. for review. This book is part of the RhymeTime series by the publisher and is one of two Willie books in the series so far.

Willie is a red-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian boy who “wants to learn what makes people like each other.” The book is not a story in the traditional sense, with plot and character arcs, but instead consists of eleven rhyming stanzas. Each stanza shows Willie asking a different person whether one of his character traits matters to them. In the first half of the book, Willie learns that physical attributes like height, weight, or hair and eye color don’t affect how he is liked by these people. Later, he learns that traits such as honesty, loyalty, and kindness do matter.

Child readers will be able to relate to all of the character traits in the book, although I disagree with the one about being funny. Mrs. McBiggle tells Willie that it does matter that he is funny, because his jokes always make her giggle. Being able to make someone laugh is a wonderful skill, but should it be presented as a requirement for friendship? Not all of us are naturally funny. The rhymes are simple and the text is easy to read, with a few words such as “advised” or “intoned” that may need explanation. Maybe it’s due to the verse form (I am not a poet) but I found the punctuation in the book to be odd. The stanzas are set up as a question and a response. For example, here is one of the interior spreads:

Kids probably won’t notice it, but the lack of quotation marks to set off the dialogue felt problematic to me.

The watercolor illustrations by Bonnie J. Murray are colorful and vibrant. I did find myself wishing that more of the characters were children, especially in a book that seems best suited for younger elementary readers. Of the ten people Willie approaches, seven are adults and only three are kids. Three of the characters are people of color, although their ethnicities and cultures are neither specified nor discussed (which is fine, since the book isn’t about that). Judging by their appearances and names, I believe SharJean to be African-American, Bhagoo to be Asian Indian, and Hervé to be Mexican-American. Bhagoo is portrayed in a turban and tunic-style shirt with a scarf over his shoulder and Hervé is wearing a fringed poncho, while Willie and all the other characters are wearing typical American-style clothing. Putting Bhagoo and Hervé in traditional ethnic clothing, especially in a book set in the U.S., feels like it reinforces stereotypes about these cultures. And if Bhagoo is a Sikh, it would be helpful to have an author’s note that explains the turban.

The book ends with grocery store owner Marguerite telling Willie that “It matters what KIND of person you are, and how you treat others each day, not what you look like, or how much you have… It’s what you do and SAY.” While I wholeheartedly commend this sentiment, I find the treatment of the theme to be heavy-handed.

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board.

2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors

HONORARY: Children’s Book Council, Junior Library Guild

PLATINUM:Scholastic Book Clubs

GOLD:Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Loving Lion Books, Second Story Press, Star Bright Books, Worldwide Buddies

SILVER:Capstone Publishing, Author Charlotte Riggle, Child’s Play USA, KidLit TV, Pack-n-Go Girls, Plum Street Press

BRONZE: Barefoot Books, Carole P. Roman, Charlesbridge Publishing, Dr. Crystal BoweGokul! World, Green Kids Club, Gwen Jackson, Jacqueline Woodson, Juan J. Guerra, Language Lizard, Lee & Low Books, RhymeTime Storybooks, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, TimTimTom Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Wisdom Tales Press

2018 Author Sponsors

Honorary Author Sponsors: Author/Illustrator Aram Kim and Author/Illustrator Juana Medina

Author Janet Balletta, Author Susan BernardoAuthor Carmen Bernier-Grand, Author Tasheba Berry-McLaren and Space2Launch, Bollywood Groove Books, Author Anne BroylesAuthor Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author Eugenia Chu, Author Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author Medeia Cohan and Shade 7 Publishing, Desi Babies, Author Dani Dixon and Tumble Creek Press, Author Judy Dodge Cummings, Author D.G. Driver, Author Nicole Fenner and Sister Girl Publishing, Debbi Michiko Florence, Author Josh Funk, Author Maria Gianferrari, Author Daphnie Glenn, Globe Smart Kids, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Author Quentin Holmes, Author Esther Iverem, Jennifer Joseph: Alphabet Oddities, Author Kizzie Jones, Author Faith L Justice , Author P.J. LaRue and MysticPrincesses.com, Author Karen Leggett Abouraya, Author Sylvia Liu, Author Sherri Maret, Author Melissa Martin Ph.D., Author Lesli Mitchell, Pinky Mukhi and We Are One, Author Miranda Paul, Author Carlotta Penn, Real Dads Read, Greg Ransom, Author Sandra L. Richards, RealMVPKids Author Andrea Scott, Alva Sachs and Three Wishes Publishing, Shelly Bean the Sports QueenAuthor Sarah Stevenson, Author Gayle H. Swift Author Elsa Takaoka, Author Christine Taylor-Butler, Nicholette Thomas and  MFL Publishing  Author Andrea Y. Wang, Author Jane Whittingham  Author Natasha Yim

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.

Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party! http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/twitter-party-great-conversations-fun-prizes-chance-readyourworld-1-27-18/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teacher-classroom-empathy-kit/

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

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