Bebé Antirracista by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky, translated by Omayra Ortiz. Penguin Random House, c2020, 2021. 9780593407806
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
Format: Board book
Genre: Picture book
What did you like about the book? There’s a lot of moving parts to this book and many different aspects to analyze in a review. Who is the target audience and how does the book’s message land? Does it work as a picture book? And finally, how effective is the Spanish translation? I felt OK with the first two components, but the Spanish quickly outstripped my high-school knowledge, so I called on my school social worker and native speaker, Ginnelle Vasquez, who also had some useful insights on using this book with young children. Although the board/picture book format suggests a child audience, both of us decided Bebé Antirracista is a better fit for for adults looking for guidance on raising antiracist children.
The book presents maxims distilled from Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. Each is numbered and appears in a bright color across the top of one page, followed by text in black that provides further elaboration. So 3 Apunta a las políticans como el problema, no la gente (“Point to politics as the problem, not the people”), is followed by (translated by Ginnelle): some people get more while others receive less because our political situation goes not guarantee equal access. The elaboration follows a simple meter, which according to Ginnelle, does rhyme in Spanish, although the rhymes don’t always roll easily off the tongue. Other directives seem more suitable for the target age group, such as 4 Grita: ‘No hay nada mala con las personas! (“There’s nothing wrong with people!”) followed by (again in translation) “Even though all races are not treated the same, ‘We are all human’ Antiracist Baby can shout!” The accompanying illustration shows 4 loving families cradling babies: 2 same sex couples, a M/F couple in which the woman wears a hijab, and a 4th M/F couple of indeterminate race. In general, Ginnelle found the Spanish translation to be thoughtful and competent, although occasionally confusing.
The art is bright and cheerful, with simplified figures, flat areas of color, and heavy, black outlines, full of active babies and diverse families. I thought Lukashevsky’s highly stylized graphics worked well with the Spanish version, recalling Diego Rivera’s thick, solid figures, albeit in much brighter hues. We appreciated the racial, ethnic, and body-type inclusivity of the images.
Anything you didn’t like about it? Clearly, the vocabulary is totally beyond the grasp of young children and the supplemental information will do nothing to further their understanding. Thus putting it into poetry form only further muddies the waters for caregivers reading the book for guidance. I would have preferred seeing child-friendly text at the top, with “look-fors” or suggestions for adults below. I was puzzled by the lack of coordination between the numbers and the objects on each page. For example, 5 Celebra todas nuestras diferencias (“Celebrate our differences”) shows five babies with various skin colors on a blanket together, but 7 Confiesa cuando eres racist (“Admit you are a racist”) shows one dancing baby in 4 different poses.
To whom would you recommend this book? This would be a good suggestion for fluent, Spanish-speakers who want to think deeply about working antiracist principles into their childrearing practices. It could be enjoyed by babies and families together, but not really by reading all the text aloud. Presumably caregivers would be paraphrasing the information and pointing to the pictures.
Who should buy this book? Preschools, public libraries. It would also make a good gift for expectant parents.
Where would you shelve it? Probably in a parenting section but it could also go with board books
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: September 25, 2021