More Than a Book Review, a Way to Shine Hope

The calendar page has flipped. We are now in February, speedily making plans into March. This brings up the painful realization that we are approaching the sad anniversary of The Great East Japan Earthquake, a magnitude 9, which brought the 40.5 meter-high (133 ft) tsunami and a whole host of devastating effects, including Level 7 nuclear reactor meltdowns. March can feel heavy in Japan.  


Japan continues to hurt; after all, families were ripped apart. The national police agency accounts a staggering 15,893 deaths, 6,152 injured persons, and 2,572 people missing across twenty prefectures. Buildings collapsed in the hundreds of thousands, with approximately 228,870 people living away from their home in either temporary housing or permanent relocation. Even now. Many schools need basic materials. Mothers need sturdy walls and blankets for their babies. 

We are nearing five years and still, assistance is needed for the survivors.

I marvel at those who help, those who give selflessly and with all that they have. This is where the goodness of people shows. Teams, corporations, countries invested and showed up in our Japan to build hospitals, to ladle soup into shocked, saddened mouths. They cleared away muck and rubble, working to restore that which remained. 

These are the people we should join with physically, to lend aid or support.

We use of our gifts, talents, and resources in different ways. At the time of the March 11 crisis, I was away from Japan. Upon returning, I was busy nursing my infant daughter and longed to go and just be with those hurting and those helping. I still long to hear what those who went say. I want to see the people through their eyes, hear all they wish to share and learn what still must be done.

Leza Lowitz, writer, and owner of a Tokyo yoga studio, has taken part in the physical, bringing massage and help to the people of Tohoku. She saw where homes had been, saw stacks of cars and boats, piled high by tsunami waves.

Leza touched the shoulders and necks of those who suffered trauma. Her very yoga studio made it so a library was built, a place of respite and comfort, complete with a garden. However, she couldn’t continue to make trips there, being a mother with certain responsibilities. Leza decided to use her gift and desire to help in another way—by writing.

“I felt that the bigger contribution I could make was by writing a book….others could perhaps do more hands-on volunteering. I could use my time and skills to write a book while still being able to stay home to care for my son”, says the author.

And so her journey towards Up From the Sea began.

Up From the Sea 03.23 (1)

Leza writes from the perspective of a seventeen-year-old boy in his classroom when the shaking begins. We see, through Kai, what we could not see from the news. We see into his day-to-day, into his relationships with his mom, grandparents, and friends at school. We see his principal and teacher, the actions they took to make it to safety, and all that was left behind. 

Through Lowitz’s novel in verse, a format built like unrhyming poetry, unencumbered and free to tell with emotion, we walk through grief with Kai. We see disrepair and fear.

                                                       RUNNING THROUGH MY RUINED TOWN,                                                         pack flapping winglike against my back.

Plowing through blocks
strewn with heaps of
in a marshland

We climb through tsunami wreckage with him and see Tohoku, see the world, really, on and post-March 11, after the tragedy. Through this form of verse, and through the authors’ own experience meeting a boy in a village who had lost his mother, the reader feels each phrase, each verse like a puncture or a wave. It is experiential and visual, in a way the traditional novel cannot live or tread. It is a deep work, appealing to young adults in being fast-paced and highly visual. This book is really for everyone.

 It is poetry in the form of a novel and it is beautiful. 

We are invited to join Lowitz and Kai in rebuilding, in coming Up From the Sea with a real semblance of hope. 

Leza Lowitz adds, “As you know, next month will be the fifth anniversary of the disaster. It is hard to believe that five years have passed. There is so much work still to be done in the affected areas. I hope my novel might help shine the light there still”.

Shine, it shall. This book, her first novel-in-verse, has been named BUZZFEED’s #1 of 5 Young Adult books you should be reading.

The Japan Times calls it “A powerful, deeply moving book.”

Leza is a prolific, award-winning writer. This is her first solo book aimed at the YA audience (her prior YA novel was co-written with her husband). She also has books of poetry, short-stories, and a memoir. 

Another nod:

“Up from the Sea touched me deeply with its beautiful message of hope and the resilience of humanity. Bravo.”  –Ellen Oh, author of The Prophecy series


Visit Leza Lowitz’ website to read more of the accolades this book continues to collect.

Visit this Melibelle blog post of How to Stay Cool in Tokyo, featuring Leza!

It is the author’s hope that Up From the Sea become translated into Japanese. She would love to give away many copies to honor and strengthen the people of Tohoku. May it be so!


Leza Lowitz will be speaking at the Tokyo American Club Thursday, Feb. 4th!

Non-members also welcome!

Thank you to Leza & to all who make it their life-long goal to shine brightly & always help.

Running Fast on Multicultural Children’s Book Day

I’ve been matched with a children’s book for this year’s Multicultural Children’s Book Day! It’s like they know me! Okay, maybe I would have adored any book sent, but I am so pleased. It’s not just me—my daughter, especially, lit up with The Quickest Kid in Clarksville! 


It’s not a princess book catering to cuteness. It’s not a boring, knock-your-head-on-the-table-non-fiction which should only be pulled out for the dullest of school reports. It does not talk down to kids. It does not use trite cliches to say we are all a gorgeous melting pot or rainbow pot of fondue. (We may be, sometimes, but that kind of very kumbaya “rainbow washing”  can diminish the struggles and needs many people and people groups came out of and/or still face). Like I said, I’m so happy to have received a book with depth. (Teachers: scroll down to receive your free book, as well!)

The Quickest Kid… is the polar opposite of every negative trait I listed above. It is truthful, real, and engaging.

This is a book with verve and voice which tells, through a more modern character, just some of what makes track legend, Wilma Rudolph, so deserving to be the focus and inspiration of a book.



How we viewed our book from Chronicle Books & the MCCBD Team. (Reviewers living stateside received hard-copies.) Hey, the international life bring slots of digital copies.


Set in Clarksville, Tennessee, the hometown of the revered Wilma, this story is told in the voice of young and spunky Alta. Like Wilma, her absolute idol, she runs. She knows she’s quick. She does not have the means to buy shiny new shoes, no matter how deserving she is. Alma knows and remembers, through a rival and a new friendship, that shoes do not matter. Fast is fast.

The author, Pat Zietlow Miller, and dynamic illustrator, Frank Morrison, must have deeply channeled Rudolph’s energy and lifeblood when they created Alma, her enemy Charmaine, every bit of the need and love for running cleverly depicted.

“I bite my lip. It’s OK. Wilma wore a leg brace and flour-sack dresses before she got big. “Shoes don’t make you fast,” I say. Charmaine’s face tightens.”

See how they insert a little statement like that? A quick dig on the internet, almanac, or this encyclopedia link, reveals countless blow-your-mind-facts about the three-time gold medal Olympian.


  • Wilma was number twenty of twenty-two children! When Alma talks about her broken-down, never been white lace shoes before, how much must Wilma have known the inevitability of hand-me-downs!
  • That metal leg brace was due to young Wilma’s infantile paralysis, twisted leg, and a bleak bout with Polio at four-years-old. Doctors told Wilma that she would never walk. Her left leg remained paralyzed for years.

“My doctors told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.”—Wilma Rudolph

  • At the 1960s Olympics in Rome, where she snagged three gold medals(!), media and television coverage made it so that Wilma and other athletes, such as Cassius Clay, later called Muhammed Ali, became hugely celebrated and famous, worldwide. The Olympics brought people together—nations, creed, and sex, but still, in Rudolph’s town, segregation was in full effect.
  • It wasn’t until the Olympiad’s victorious homecoming, that the town gathered for its first integrated (blacks and whites) event, at Rudolph’s insistence.

When the characters gather to cheer on their idol, we catch a glimpse of some of that power. To be the first female, black, record-setter of all time in 1960? Well, that parade must have coursed with electricity. Wilma didn’t just run. She heralded new things and broke through barriers for people of color, for women, and certainly, for women runners.

She toppled all negative beliefs that she (as a poor, diseased, disabled, perhaps sometimes ignored as a child of twenty-two, segregated, female) couldn’t do much. She blew down the hurdles for girls like Alma for decades and decades to come. No, she didn’t just walk; she ran. And when she ran, she was an elegant gazelle, bounding for the high places, setting records every few paces.

Heroism like Wilma’s is timeless. Passion is infectious and all girls, all children, parents, all adults should know of Wilma Rudolph’s life through the power and spirit of Alma in The Quickest Kid in Clarksville!

View footage from the small but glorious Wilma archive!

More later about my daughter’s responses and questions over dinner. Wilma’s life brings up so much inspiration. Learning her history and surrounding circumstances also helps us to question the challenges she faced so that we might see her strength even more and grow, personally. That is the power of a well-crafted, beautifully created children’s book, inspired by non-fiction.

A valuable Follow-up activity through Colorful Trading Cards! This PDF activity is from Chronicle Books and can inspire and support the kind of research which gets kids connecting the dots and looking for more diversity in leaders within sports or any field.

The athlete penned her own autobiography, Wilma, which I’d certainly love to read.


I’m so thankful for the Multicultural Children’s Book Day for getting this book into our hands. They do good work, not merely looking at a bottom line, but rather to “not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.”


More on MCCBD, this very giving organization:

Our Mission: The MCCBD team’s mission to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day #ReadYourWorld.

The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press. You can find a bio for Mia and Valarie here.

2. Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors! #ReadYourWorld

Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press * StoryQuest Books*Lil Libros

Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk*Candlewick Press

Silver: Lee and Low Books*Chronicle Books*Capstone Young Readers

Bronze: Pomelo Books* Author Jacqueline Woodson*Papa Lemon Books* Goosebottom Books*Author Gleeson Rebello*ShoutMouse Press*Author Mahvash Shahegh* China*

  1. Our CoHosts-Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 12 amazing Co-Host and you can view them here.
  1. Classroom Reading Challenge: Help spread the word on our Classroom Reading Challenge . This very special offering from MCCBD offers teachers and classrooms the chance to (very easily) earn a free hardcover multicultural children’s book for their classroom library. These books are not only donated by the Junior Library Guild, but they are pre-screened and approved by them as well.

What we could really use some help with is spreading the word to your teacher/librarian/classroom connections so we can get them involved in this program. There is no cost to teachers and classrooms and we’ve made the whole process as simple as possible. You can help by tweeting the below info:

Teachers! Earn a FREE #Multicultural Kids Book for Your Classroom! #teachers, #books #teacherlife

The Classroom Reading Challenge has begun! Teachers can earn a free diversity book! #teachers, #books

A Rainbow for the Eyes: A Review

I want to tell you, dear parents who scan the newsfeed, dear sweethearts of the world—you teachers who already know that in your classroom, the grownup lines are redrawn, my kids who know friendship and faith and friendliness across the board, they are not the “onlies”. There are others, others like the authors and photographers of Beautiful Rainbow World, who obviously, intentionally care about teaching love in the full spectrum of color.

Our kids, the readers and thinkers, players of make believe, the scientists, and lovers of nature, will recognize different as something the opportunity to grow and become friends, to recognize the truth that we are different and yet, some kinds of “same”.

Cue the pretty book:

wpid-img_20141124_132717.jpg                I appreciate the work that Suzee Ramirez and Lynne Raspet, sisters, have partaken in, creating Beautiful Rainbow World. The book, itself, is small, but the hearts are focused on big things. They join forces in this project, with folksinger, Daria.

Readers will take-in approximately 44 vivid photographs of children and young people, full of color and spirit. The diversity of children is of course, lush, as expected. The couple black and white images that may be my favorite.


One feeling that keeps tugging at me is the want to know more about the children, in terms of “rainbowness”. Perhaps this child is Armenian and Greek? Perhaps this boy is from Uruguay, and was adopted by an Irish-American family? And these children implying sitting and gobbling up each other’s company with wide smiles— are they cousins? American, yet from many different parts of the globe?

Instead of just hearing (from the included melodic download of the book’s namesake) that we are a beautiful rainbow world, I would love the authors to delve deeper, especially as the term “rainbow” can be overused and therefor, a bit cliche. I wanted them to us the fullness of their own experiences to show us who these children are and why the word “rainbow” applies.


My daughter, with another worldly companion book.

And yet, I also wondered if being somewhat elusive was their intended angle; do they want us simply to see beauty, innocence, and wonder? Are we simply to see pictures of children and not need to label according to background, language, ancestry, place of worship, or citizenship? Perhaps simply looking at clear, bright faces is most honoring. Maybe it is a welcome break to walk away from the defining labels on our crayons.

And yet, the writer part of me asks, “Can we at least know their interests, though? Give our own young readers something more of a hook? A shared interest of soccer? Or new vocabulary? Maybe the Portuguese word that describes Maria’s hair and the way it bounces softly when she runs in the school yard, or the word that describes the shine in the mesmerizing eyes belonging to the girl on the book’s cover?”

Well…after a generous, thoughtful interchange between me and these authors, photographers, and even Daria, the enigmatic, highly-acclaimed folksinger on this project, I am so grateful to understand more of where these creators are coming from. The unspoken information, the words not in print do not necessarily need to be there if we believe every child is just so awesome and incredible as they are, with no backup or background knowledge. Everything is fine on its own, understated.

Perhaps the authors will provide some minor compendium later. Or imagine if they return to the subjects and take their portraits in a few years. What beauty will we see. I hope only glowy, healthy faces, loved and supported.


The project continues to grow on me. And yet, I am a words-person (obviously). Learning more about Daria and her acclaim, scanning through her song index only makes me want to know and hear more. Of course, we want more of the things we like. I will always want another spoonful of buttery pasta or ask for two flavors of ice cream. Within this context, I want my own Japanese and international, bicultural, sometimes trilingual students to identify and recognize themselves, recognize light. 

I want my former students back in Lake Worth Florida, the ones whose mamas carry babies on their back with Guatemalan rainbow carriers, and the sweeties calling to their daddies with French Creole and Patois and Island songs and bit of Bengali I heard from my evening at Rasha’s home, to feel honored and celebrated. I want every child, really, to feel invested in.

This is an inspiring project. Imagine what any of the Rainbow World readers may aspire to do when we see beauty in all these faces and hearts and

I think many of us want more than a rainbow, more than the “red, black, yellow, brown and white” of the lyrics and text. Thing is, sometimes you have to start with the universals. It is the smiles, the gazes, the joy we see on these pictures. Delving into his book and humming the accompanying song, maybe we all will I suddenly crave the smell of tomatillos or maize or black beans and saffron rice. Maybe we’ll peek out from our hats. Maybe we will be ready to bridge a new friendship or discover some new aspect of our bud. Maybe our own kids will be even more able to look on their own diversity and gorgeous heritage with love. Maybe they’ll want us to snap their pictures and make their own book of rainbows. 

I will be eager to hear your own feedback. See what you think. 

To order from Multicultural Kids, here you go!

Amazon Books also carries it.

With all the wonder of love,