"Amazing Grace": book review

Last night our family started a new tradition; we read a bedtime story together. As a teacher I get many books through Scholastic, so we have a good collection at home for Story to read as she gets older. Since my job focuses on developing reading skills in children I figure I can share this knowledge with you, while I begin to cultivate emergent reading skills in my daughter. IT IS NEVER TOO EARLY TO START READING!

Last night I rifled through the stack of books to pick out a perfect book for our first bedtime story. There were lots of good books, but one stuck out for me when I saw the cover. I am ashamed to say that over the years I have not collected very many books with African American characters. My first year of teaching, when I bought many of the books in my collection, I was at an all white private school. Also, when it comes to white vs. black characters, there are more books out there with white. If there are black characters, they usually take a back seat to the main character or are just in illustrations. I never fully noticed this until I began teaching in an urban school district; even then, I didn’t really get it until I began the process of adopting an African child. My collection was grossly one sided.

Amazing Grace is written by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch, published through Scholastic Books, and featured on Reading Rainbow, the American PBS television show. The plot revolves around the main character, Grace, who has a very good imagination, and highlights her many adventures in acting out stories she has read. Grace is told by her mother that she can be anything she wants to be – the underlying theme of the book. When Grace is told her class is going to be putting on a play for the story Peter Pan, Grace volunteers to try out to be Peter. She is told by her classmates that she cannot be Peter because she is a girl and Peter is not black. The pictures are beautifully illustrated and colorful. Children will enjoy finding Grace’s cat in each of the photos and pointing out what stories Grace is acting out.

Here are some questions you can use when reading this book as a family. The level of questioning depends on the age of your child and his or her maturity.

  • How do you think Grace feels when her classmates tell her she cannot be Peter?
  • If you were Grace, what would you say to the classmates? How would you react?
  • If you overheard a classmate hurting another classmate’s feelings, how would you respond to the situation?
  • What are your favorite stories to act out? What are your favorite characters to pretend to be?
  • What are the best ways to respond to classmates and friends when they hurt your feelings?
  • Have you ever heard someone say something like this before? How did it make you feel? What can we learn from this experience?
  • What are some famous characters and people that are black? Would it be okay for a white person to play this character?

This was a great book for our first family reading. I recommend it to other families – no matter what color your are. I believe that children and adults are not colorblind. They see race issues in their environment, on television, and in the media. They pick up on the opinions of adults, as well as their anxieties. To overlook discussing these issues with your child may mean they are unprepared for situations that may come up in school, the playground, or otherwise. Discussing these topics will empower them to act "gracefully" (pun intended) and feel empowered when a negative situation is witnessed or overheard. Our world is becoming more of a melting pot of cultures and skin colors; children need to be prepared for an environment in which all are treated equally and fairly.

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.