Monday, September 5, 2016

September Spotlight on #OwnVoices: My Heart Fills With Happiness

By Monique Gray Smith. Illustrated by Julie Flett. Orca Book Publishers, 2016. ISBN: 978-1459809574. Click here to purchase.

My Heart Fills With Happiness is a gorgeous board book that celebrates the joys in children's lives - the things that truly fill their hearts with happiness like dancing and being with family. The brilliance of My Heart Fills With Happiness is in the direct simplicity of the text.  As a librarian who regularly presents storytimes to ages 0-6 I am constantly looking for books that will engage children in talking about their world. What do you see?  What do you do?  Who are you with? These are the questions that light up children's eyes and open them to conversation and learning.

And yet I am often frustrated by how hard it is to find books like this that show the true diversity of the world. But My Heart Fills With Happiness is just the opposite. Written and illustrated by two Native women, this is a book that shows the fullness and joy of contemporary Native families.  It is a book that invites even the youngest children into a world where Native families have value. THIS is a book you could read at a truly engaging, honestly diverse storytime.

I love everything about this book.  Julie Flett - of course - is one of the most talented illustrators working today. Her style jumps off the page in My Heart Fills With Happiness.  Children will delight at the details: children dancing and exploring nature, families embracing and watching bread in the oven, a father and son drumming joyfully together. Monique Gray Smith, in her board book debut, knows exactly how to make each short, declarative sentence engage children in the book and in conversation.

As I read this book the first time, I could immediately see a storytime crowd following along and discussing the book at the same time I could imagine sharing it one on one with a newborn or small toddler. I hope Gray Smith plans on writing more picture books.  My Heart Fills With Happiness pulls off the hardest balancing act in all of picture books: writing something that is equally lyrical (the book is full of rich language) and yet clear enough for the littlest listeners to understand and engage with.  ("My heart fills with happiness when...I see the face of someone I love.").

This is a physically small book that has a huge impact.  If you regularly present baby or toddler storytimes, I highly recommend it.  My only wish it that we could have it a format larger than a board book so sharing it with groups was easier.  But I also think it would make an amazing baby shower gift and it's certainly a must purchase for board book collections at any library.  When I think of Dr. Sims Bishop's "mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors" My Heart Fills With Happiness is the exact kind of book I think of.  It affirms and celebrates the joys and bonds of Native families for all readers and it makes children lean in to talk, listen, and learn. (And maybe sneak in a hug or two.)

Buy a copy today and start sharing!

American Indians In Children's Literature Review

Reviewed by Angie Manfredi 

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