The subtitle of this picture book says it all.
A racially and ethnically diverse sampling of children exemplify the grief and discomfort that come with losing a parent to incarceration. Lacey’s scared with one of her moms in jail; Rashid’s mom is in jail for the second time; both Juana’s mami and her papi are in prison, so she and her siblings are spread out among foster homes. Yen has hard questions only her mother can answer, so she mails them to her. Rafael must fend off intrusive questions from the other kids. In Birtha’s direct, sympathetic text and Kastelic’s muted pencil-and-watercolor illustrations, these children and more evince loneliness, anger, shame, and fear. Birtha gives them sympathetic adults, such as a coach who won’t let Jermaine’s teammates mock him and the teacher who listens to Atian, who’s been acting out. Tips on talking to children with incarcerated parents and further resources are included in the backmatter; these, combined with the direct, role-modeling text, make this book as valuable for adult readers as it is for children. The purposeful inclusion of a white child and an Asian-American child helps to dispel stereotypes, while the inclusion of African-American and Latino children reflects U.S. prison demographics. Class disparities are only hinted at; the children are not obviously well-to-do but all seem to inhabit reasonably comfortable settings.
With more than 2.7 million American children experiencing the incarceration of a parent, this book is a necessary one. (Picture book. 4-8)