Today, I was inspired by I See the Sun in the USA by Dedie King to do a post on family tree books for kids. I never had family trees beyond my immediate family as a school project, nor did my kids. I have been trying to capture this information by videotaping my mother and my husband’s mother/
I only have the family tree going waaaay far back on my Japanese side. My Japanese relatives have 400 years of our family history. It’s the only way to get my family tree that far back. The Japanese government will not release family history past the Meiji Restoration as part of their effort to remove the era of the samurai.
My Chinese side of the family, I am told, was in the silk trade. I have visions of them raising silkworms, weaving silk, and then venturing on the silk road to sell the fabric. Perhaps I will write a book one day about how the silkworm technology was stolen from China and introduced to the west:
The West finally cracked the secret in 552 CE when the Byzantine emperor Justinian sent two Nestorian monks to central Asia. The monks hit the eggs in their hollow bamboo staves. The eggs hatched into worms which then spun cocoons. Slowly but surely silk production began to spread around the world, and the Chinese re-established themselves as a major silk supplier. From History Answers
Related to family trees is the new genetic tests. I just wanted to throw out a word of caution about privacy that I noticed from Dr. Eugene Gu:
If you’re concerned that Facebook let Netflix and Spotify access your private messages and basically sold your private data to all the tech giants without your consent, just wait until you see what 23andMe and Ancestry will do with your genetic information sometime soon.
With Facebook under scrutiny, I feel like the scandal about privacy issues is just at the tip of the iceberg. Here’s more about the risks of using these genetic testing kits:
5 biggest risks of sharing your DNA with consumer genetic-testing companies from CNBC has more:
A recent Fast Company report indicates that 23andMe and Ancestry are being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission over their policies for handling personal info and genetic data and how they share that info with third parties.
How about you? Do you know your family tree? What books about family trees have I left out? Thanks for sharing!
Family Tree Picture Books
I See the Sun in the USA by Dedie King, illustrated by Judith Inglese
Stella and her family are visiting Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. It’s an opportunity to meet other kids there and learn about everyone’s family tree. First, there’s Stella Thompson Bindi’s family tree, shown in an orange tree and reflecting her mixed-race heritage dating back to Mongol times and the Mayflower. Rosa and Levi Rosenstein share their ancestry amid a beautiful flowering tree. Theirs is traced back to Greece, Italy, Russia, and Germany. Next, Jamal and Caleb Jackson share their family roots going back to Jamaica, Congo, Ghana, and Kenya with a backdrop of a tall Maple tree. The Larsen family’s tree is in autumnal colors and it traces their family back to Germany, Austria, and Norway. The final family is the White Bear Family. They are Lakota, a branch of the Sioux tribe. Their family tree is thousands of years old before any settlers came over. Use this picture book to kick off a family tree project or just enjoy this lovely picture book celebrating diversity in the United States. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Me and My Family Tree by Joan Sweeney, illustrated by Annette Cable
Use this picture book to describe what a family tree is. This is perfect for preschool and early elementary school family tree projects. It covers the basics and includes a family tree template in the back. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
My Family Tree and Me by Dušan Petričić
This starts off as a European family tree of a boy recounting many generations in his past, but then it veers into an unexpected diversity surprise that isn’t obvious from the illustrations. The boy’s mother is Chinese and her ancestry is explored back many generations in China. In fact, you can read the book from either direction: his mother’s or his father’s side. This is a fun way to explore a family tree. He also slips in his two uncles, showing same-sex marriage through the illustration. I really like this inclusion. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez
Alma has a very long name: Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela. She thinks it’s too long and doesn’t fit her so her father gives her the history of her ancestors, each who have contributed their name to hers. Sophia is her grandmother who taught a love of books. Esperanza armchair traveled when her son became a sailor. José is her grandfather, an artist who painted portraits. Pura is her great-aunt who connects her to the spirits of her ancestors. Candela, another grandmother, was an activist. Alma decides that her name is just right, with a story of her own to contribute. The story of a name conveys an entire family history making it special and unique. This picture book is also a fun way to learn about Latino culture. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Matchbox Diary by
An Italian Great-Grandfather shares stories with his great-granddaughter as she explores his diary of collected items in matchboxes from his childhood. She learns about his immigration with his family to the United States and the difficult life they had facing racism and working as a child. Finally, he was able to go to school and his matchbox diary led him to a career as a typesetter. This family tree of objects is an interesting way to remember family history. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Stitchin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
A quilt is not just an art form, particularly in Gee’s Bend, but tells a story. This story can be a family’s history, told visually and through memories of the history of the fabric’s past life, as well as something more like when quilts served as maps to freedom. Gee’s Bend quilters are artists whose quilts hang in museums as well as keep kids warm. Told in free verse, McKissack captures the layered history of quilts. Pair with The Matchbox Diary to explore different ways to capture family history and memories. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Lucy Mingo of Gee’s Bend, Alabama made this spectacular pieced quilt in 1979. It includes a nine-patch center block surrounded by pieced strips. Collection of Bill Volckening, Portland, Oregon. From Wikipedia
Gee’s Bend Quilt Exhibit at The Smithsonian
They Were Strong and Good by Robert Lawson
This is Robert Lawson’s own family history starting with his grandparents. As European immigrants to the United States, his forebears owned slaves and fought in wars against American Indians and Yankees. It’s possible that Lawson’s maternal grandfather, the Scottish sea captain, who sailed from the Caribbean to New York and Panama was a slave trader. This book can be used for inferencing and considering how ancestors are viewed. Lawson would like us all to be proud of our ancestors. This book won the Caldecott Medal in 1941. [advanced picture book, ages 8 and up]
Family Tree Middle Grade Book for Kids
Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent
14-year-old Joseph Caldararo has a loving family and is a well-adjusted popular kid at school. But when his social studies teacher assigns a paper on Your Cultural heritage, his world gets turned upside down. He knows he’s adopted from Korea when he was just an infant and it’s never really bothered him before, but now it does. It doesn’t help that the new dry cleaners are taken over by a Korean family who are off-put by his adoption. And it makes his parents upset when he wants to learn more about his own cultural heritage. His best friend assists him in conducting an internet search to try to trace his parents but that’s a long shot at best! But what to write for this paper? His confusion about who he is leads him down a path of deceit and now everything is a mess. On top of this, he’s trying to get a date for the school dance. Whoever said that middle school is tough is right! [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.