Written by Nikki Grimes, a NY Times bestselling author
Illustrated by Laura Freeman, a Corretta Scott King Honoree
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Copyright date: 2020
Age range: 4-8
With Kamala Harris becoming the first Black and South Asian woman to be nominated for the Vice Presidency, a children’s book biography was begging to be included on shelves wherever kids search for books. Her story is told from the time her parents met through the end of her own presidential run in the Democratic primary last year, but ends open-ended in a way that leaves the reader feeling that Harris wasn’t leaving the Washington spotlight for long. This story is told from a fictional mother’s point-of-view to her young daughter, Eve, who had come home from school citing a boy who had told her that girls could never be president. It’s then that the mother tells the story of Kamala, with Eve interrupting every few pages with questions or statements.
Personally, I found the narration of Harris’s story as told by the mother and Eve a distraction. I think many young children (the intended audience being as young as four) could be confused, especially in the beginning of the book, assuming that Eve and her mother were Kamala and her mother.
I was also disappointed that Harris’s marriage to Doug Emhoff and her role as “Mamala” to his two children was left out. Her marriage is included in the timeline in the back matter, but it’s done in a confusing way.
Although I felt I already knew quite a lot about Harris, I still learned new details from the book, including the fact she moved from California to Montreal during her teenage years for her mother’s job. We also learn that her parents divorced at a young age. This makes Harris a very relatable character to children.
Learning the name Kamala means “lotus flower,” I found myself looking carefully at the artwork for the ways Freeman included the flower and Grimes referred back to it throughout the book.
I think kids would be very interested in her story of protesting the rules of her apartment complex with her sister when they weren’t allowed to play soccer.
With her incredible accomplishments, this book is important example to show kids who may not see this type of representation that children of color (and those with parents from different parts of the world) can do tremendous things.
This book, despite its flaws, should be read aloud to school-age children not just because of Harris’s unique role in our nation’s history, but because the art work has much to offer and her diverse heritage should be celebrated.
Check out these other timely books.
In Superheroes Are Everywhere, a NY Times bestseller, Kamala Harris wrote about all of the superheroes that influenced her success and explores the idea that anyone can be a superhero, including the child reading the book. With a Lexile level of 640, this book is a better jumping off point than Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice.
Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea, written by Meena Harris, Kamala’s niece, tells the story of how young sisters Kamala and Maya work to turn an empty courtyard into a playground for other kids. This book has earned lots of praise by celebrities and is also a NY Times bestseller.
If your child enjoyed hearing stories or seeing illustrations of Harris as a child, add Joey: The Story of Joe Biden by Dr. Jill Biden (Simon and Schuster, 2020. Ages 4-8) to your must-read list.
If your Government 101 class seems like eons ago, read What is a Presidential Election? By Douglas Yacka with your kids. This book, part of the well-known and much-loved Who Is/Was, What Is/Was series, explains the differences in parties, the confusing electoral college, and Inauguration festivities.
While Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice hasn’t won awards (yet?), it has a 4.6/5 star rating on Amazon and a 4.18/5 rating on Goodreads. School Library Journal says it’s “worthy of addition to children’s biography collections” and Booklist claims it’s an “important biography.” (Booklist, August, 2020) Publisher’s Weekly said “Lyrical prose makes the text effortlessly readable . . . In multitextured digital art, Freeman succeeds in creatively capturing a range of Harris’s expressions and experiences, exemplified by a layered portrait of her life and legacy. Notably, Grimes covers Harris’s presidential run and withdrawal, leaving young readers with an uplifting message of perseverance and agency.” — Publisher’s Weekly, July 2020
Better yet, share the introduction of her from the Democratic National Convention, so children can see photos of her family mentioned in the book and her husband and stepchildren, who are sadly not mentioned in the story.
Another way to better relate to Harris: try some of the same activities mentioned in the book! Attend a demonstration that is important to your family (or better yet, start one of your own, even if it’s just in your front yard!). Kamala and her sister liked to create change, so think about something in your community that needs work- from picking up trash to fundraising for a cause, and involve your children in the process.
Homeschooling or looking for some practice in the art and science of research? Choose another leader from the book to research, from Thurgood Marshall to Shirley Chisholm, the book is not short on ideas!
As always, let us know what YOU and YOUR children think of the books we’ve included!
Want to know what we’re reading, what we’ve loved, and what’s sitting in our Amazon cart? Check out our GoodReads bookshelves! Got a children’s book in mind that you’d like to see us review? Leave a comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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