Thank You, Omu! written and illustrated by Oge Mora
Reviewed for Illustration.
Thank You, Omu! has deeper and richer colors than most children’s books. While it is still colorful they are not vibrant but darker in contrast. This, however, does not in any way take away from the book or story. It serves to add a melancholy of emotion. The collage style of the art is superb and adds a separate textured element that serves as symbolism for diversity. It is artistically unique with its use of recycled paper cutouts to create the illustrations.
The illustration further complements the text in ways that it is easy to follow the story even if you can’t read. These are my favorite types of illustrations because children who can not yet read can still feel a connection to the story via the art used. The wafting scent is the single greatest detail used as it showcases that it is the smell stew calling everyone to Omu’s door.
There is ample diversity within the book shown through the varied characters that knock on Omu’s door once they smell the stew and even in scenes outside of Omu’s apartment. There are no stereotyping or harmful symbols. The characters in the book all participate in giving and receiving no matter their age, race, or gender.
There isn’t much culture shown within the book but one could argue that Omu’s generosity is part of the Igbo culture. An author’s note in the back of the books explains that Omu means queen in Igbo but for her it meant grandma. The book was inspired by her grandmother who often cooked stew and invited anyone who stopped by to eat. There doesn’t seem to be any cultural relevance but it might be there. Though some could argue this type of generosity is stereotypical of an older African-American female, it is clear that in this work it is a realistic part of the author’s life and culture.
Oge Mora is African-American of Igbo descent. She is an insider to the culture and was inspired by her childhood to write the book as stated in the author’s note written at the back of Thank you, Omu.
Thank you, Omu has been praised by almost everyone that has read it and left a review. It holds the 2019 Caldecott Honor, the 2019 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent illustrator award, the 2019 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, it was the New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2018, Publishers’ Weekly Best Book of 2018, Bank Street Best Children’s Book of 2018, Boston Globes Best Children’s Book of 2018, School Library Journal Best Book of 2018, New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice Stagg Pick, Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2018, E.b. White Read-Aloud Award finalist of 2019, and Jumpstart Read for the Record Selection of 2019. With all these awards and picks, it is hard to find a negative critique of the book and how the author handled the story. Many reviewers did compare the story to the stone soup folktale as a reverse version but that is the only critique I could find and it wasn’t a bad thing just an observation.
The overall book quality is great. Not only is the art unique and interesting to study but the story itself offers a good lesson in giving and receiving. Oge Mora does a good job of showing her culture without making it seem alien and in turn, created a teaching moment about generosity. The illustrations warm, deep, and rich colors serve to tell the story of Omu and her thick red stew beautifully and without a doubt, adds to the warmth and generosity of Omu as she shares her thick red stew from the goodness of her heart.
Top 5 African American Picture Books
1. Not Quite Snow White written by Ashley Franklin and Illustrated by Ebony Glenn
I love this book because it showcases that race does not dictate what anyone can be. Tamika auditions to be Snow White in the school musical and some kids whisper that she’s too tall, too chubby, and too brown to be Snow White. Tamika starts to question her ability to play the part thinking she was wrong for the part based on what the kids say until her parents step in. The book shows that you shouldn’t let others ideas of what is right hold you back from trying for the things you are passionate about. The artwork is colorful and simply beautiful.
2. The Day you Begin written by Jacqueline Woodson and Illustrated y Rafael Lopez
The Day You Begin is a must-have book in any children’s library be it at home, in a classroom, or at an actual library. Not only does it showcase diversity in its storytelling but the illustrations are beautiful and don’t miss a beat. A perfect mixture of reality and imagination this book aims to teach children that being different is beautiful and that even in their differences there are some similarities no matter how small. Aside from being a New York Times Bestseller, this book has no awards but I believe it is an underrated diverse book. written by a person of color this book touches on many different aspects of living in a multicultural world and feeling like an outsider in a way easily digested by children. Jacqueline Woodson is the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
3. Don’t Touch My Hair! Written and Illustrated by Sharee Miller
Don’t Touch My Hair! Has such an important cultural message involving race and common courtesy. I have never been one to either ask to touch nor touch without asking someone else’s hair but it is a problem that many Afro-textured hair peoples face. This book serves as a good teaching tool for children. A necessary and effective message about respecting boundaries, Don’t touch my hair! has received an ALA Notable children’s Book Award in 2019 and the CCBC Choices of 2019. It is also praised by reviewers like Kirkus and publishers weekly.
4. Mixed Me! Written by Taye Diggs and Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Mike is mixed, as he describes it his “dad is a deep brown and my mom is a rich cream and honey.” I love this book because it not only shows a mixed family but it celebrates a mixed child and accepting being different. Mike has afro-textured red hair and a perfect blend of his parents light and dark skin. While the other kids tell him his parents don’t match or that his hair looks funny, he simply brushes it off and exclaims how awesome he and his parents are. A positive message for inclusivity and diversity this book offers a different cultural lens into mixed families. In an interview, Taye Diggs, an actor, says he was inspired by his son to write Mixed Me by his son Walker who is biracial. He wanted this book to show his son how he should view himself regardless of how the world viewed him and that I think is a beautiful message. Mixed Me!
5. Sulwe written by Lupita Nyong’o and Illustrated by Vashti Harrison
What is there not to love about Sulwe? This moving and powerful story about colorism and self-esteem hits the mark on every level. Such a touching learning experience about how true beauty comes from within. The illustrations are wonderful and just as moving as the story itself. Sulwe is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award-Winning Book for 2020, an NAACP Image Award Honored Book, and a New York Times Bestseller.
- E B Lewis
- John Steptoe
- Sharee Miller
- Javaka Steptoe
- Lupita Nyong’o
- Vashti Harrison
- Matthew A. Cherry
- Christian Robinson
- Theodore Taylor III
- Rita Williams-Garcia
- Natasha Anastasia Tarpley
- Carter G. Woodson Book Award
- Langston Hughes Medal
- John Steptoe New Talent Award
- Children’s Africana Book Awards
- Coretta Scott King
- CSK Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime
- Coretta Scott King Awards – http://www.ala.org/rt/emiert/cskbookawards
- John Steptoe Award – http://www.ala.org/rt/emiert/cskbookawards/johnsteptoe
- Langston Hughes Medal – https://www.ccny.cuny.edu/lhf
- Children’s Africana Book Awards – http://africaaccessreview.org/childrens-africana-book-awards/
- African American Literature Book Club – https://aalbc.com/
- The African American Children’s Book Fair – http://theafricanamericanchildrensbookproject.org/
- The Brown Bookshelf – https://thebrownbookshelf.com/
- African Access – http://africaaccessreview.org/
- Teaching Books African American Collection – https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?go=1&adv=title&culturalArea=AA
- Top 150 Recommended African American children’s Books by the African American Literature Book Club – https://aalbc.com/books/children.php
- #ReadingBlackout: Children’s Books Written by African American Authors – https://www.helpingkidsrise.org/post/2018/02/01/readingblackout-childrens-books-written-by-african-american-authors