Monday, January 30, 2012

Felita by Nicholasa Mohr

People often talk about their touchstone books, stories from childhood that had a lasting impact on them, changed their life or worldview, etc. One of the books I remember most from my childhood was Felita by Nicholasa Mohr, and it wasn’t because it changed the course of my life or even because it was my all time favorite. The effect of this book was much more subtle and at the time it felt mundane. Felita was the first and only book I read as a child where the protagonist called her father Papi, which is what I called and still call my father today.

The fact that I used a different word for father was the only visible difference between me and most of my classmates and yet, I was keenly aware of it. I even remember writing “Dear Dad” in pencil on a Father’s Day card in elementary school, knowing that I would just immediately erase it when I got home. When I think about that, I’m amazed that I felt so ashamed of such a miniscule difference. But I did.

Felita didn’t change my life by including the word Papi and it wasn’t as though from then on I used the word Papi proudly. But you better believe that I noticed that little detail. And the fact that I remember this book thirty years later says something to me.

Can you think of a book from childhood that had a similar effect on you?

P.S. For more on this idea, check out
this recent piece on NPR about the impact of The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.


  1. I came across a link to your blog on my twitter feed. When I read: "Interested in diversity in children's books," I wanted to check it out. It's so important to find a book that reflects who you are especially in childhood. Growing up in the United States, it was rare to find a book that featured East Indian characters like myself, though now it's changing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and good luck with building more awareness of diversity in children's literature.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Blessy. I hope you'll keep in touch with us and let us know if there are any books we should be spotlighting here. Best, Nancy

  3. For me it was actually Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, because as a young girl growing up on a farm in rural IL, it was rare to see myself depicted in all the urban images I saw on Sesame Street. I had no experience with stoplights and city neighborhoods, and they confused me. Though of course we were a good 100 years later and didn't have horse-drawn wagons. Yet reading books set in urban settings and other countries (mainly the UK) helped me to dream beyond my small town.

    It was the stuff that exposed me to other cultures and ways of living, especially by the time I was in 4th grade and wondering why I wasn't born Japanese (I *really* wanted to be Japanese), that had a huge effect on me back then. I can't remember any particular books, though--it was more pop culture: Hello Kitty, Time magazine saying how much smarter Japanese kids were than us (I wanted to be the smartest kid in the world), stuff like that.

    For me, I wish I'd had access in those years to more books that reflected those worlds I was unfamiliar with. I guess I'm publishing books for that kid I was, as much as Alvina is, but in an intercultural sense.