Monday, January 27 is Multicultural Children’s Book Day.
I was looking for shiny new multicultural books to review, and I have some at home.
This, though, is an old book. I read some of the stories from this book in Cricket Magazine as a child, and they stuck with me. Enough that I brought this home for my son and convinced him to read it even though realistic fiction is about the last thing he’d be likely to pick for himself.
The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron. Pantheon Books, 1981
This is a collection of short stories, all told from the point of view of young Julian. Julian is about 8, I think, and lives with his parents and his younger brother Huey. His father makes lemon pudding for their mother, but the boys eat it all before she gets home; he orders a catalog so they can plan their garden, and Julian makes up stories about what’s really in catalogs to tell Huey. Julian is a quirky kid who gets himself into scrapes with his story-telling imagination – classic fodder for children’s books – but what made this book stand out so strongly in my memory is the beautiful, poetic language. At the beginning of the first story, Julian describes his father:
“My father is a big man with wild black hair. When he laughs, the sun laughs in the windowpanes. When he thinks, you can almost see his thoughts sitting on all the tables and chairs. When he is angry, me and my little brother Huey shiver to the bottom of our shoes.”
Still in the first story, Julian’s father describes the pudding he will make:
“A wonderful pudding… it will taste like a whole raft of lemons. It will taste like a night on the sea.”
Friends, this line is so vivid that I remembered it from reading it more than 30 years ago. I remembered the cats that Julian tells Huey come out of the catalog to do the gardening, different colored cats to do all the different gardening jobs.
Even though my boy read it himself (and enjoyed it), I had to go back and reread it before I turned it back in. It’s even better than I’d remembered. Now I notice (on the happy side) that Julian’s dad is a really great dad. The beating and the whipping that he promises the boys when they eat all of their mother’s lemon pudding are not at all what they feared – but they do teach them, hands-on, the cost of that pudding. He even finds a way to save the day when Huey is completely crushed that live cats do not come out of their garden catalog.
There are several more books about Julian and Huey, which I plan to bring home one at a time now. It makes me sad is that this kind of book, a short chapter book featuring a loving middle class African-American family, is still so rare. (My son would here be lobbying for more multicultural epic fantasies.) I see this one pop up on lists of classics from time to time, but not nearly often enough. And yet – they are still in print, still so good that even my boy who prefers epic fantasy adventures or nonfiction read it all the way through and enjoyed it.
Here are some other multicultural favorites for a variety of ages:
Cinnamon Baby (picture book)
Alvin Ho (early chapter book series)
Astronaut Academy (middle grade graphic novel)
Jinx (middle grade fantasy)
The Girl of Fire and Thorns (teen fantasy)