Prior to receiving my first copy of the multi-award winning children’s book, Rice and Rocks, I admittedly never heard about it. The only fact I knew was that the story spoke about traditions, and a brown skinned boy played the lead in the story. That was enough to peek my interest in taking the offer to review the book. When I sat down to read Rice and Rocks with my two Trini-Rican boys (Yes, that’s short for Trinidadian and Puerto Rican.), each turn of the page revealed a nugget of information that personally connected with my boys and I.
The first was that Giovanni’s family (Giovanni is the main character.) is from the Caribbean–Jamaica to be exact. When I told my boys Jamaica is in the same location where both my husband and my family are from, their faces lit up and they immediately told me to stop talking and keep reading! LOL!
The second connection was the food Giovanni and his family traditionally eat on Sundays–rice and beans. Giovanni refers to rice and beans as rice and rocks because he doesn’t like the beans. My youngest son jumped with joy as he shouted, “Mmmm rice and beans my favorite!”. Like Giovanni, my eldest responded with, “Yuck, I hate beans!” As we continued to read the story, we learned Giovanni was a bit embarrassed about his friends coming to Sunday dinner because he didn’t think they would be comfortable eating the main dish–rice and rocks (With stewed chicken, of course!). However, his auntie, takes him on a magical adventure to visit the homelands of his three friends–Puerto Rico, Japan, and New Orleans–to show him how the tradition of eating rice and beans crosses the globe.
Rice and Rocks does more than just bring diversity into America’s very Eurocentric children’s book world, it does so by centering African based foods and traditions that are still celebrated today in many households, like mine, by affirming rather than othering or fetishizing them. After reading Rice and Rocks and seeing how my boys and I personally connected with it, I knew I had to reach out to the award winning author, Sandra L. Richards
, to learn more about what drove her to write this special book. Read my interview with Sandra below to learn how an eight year old boy inspired her to write a book that I believe should be a household classic. Don’t forget to answer my question at the end of this post to enter for a chance to win a FREE COPY of RICE AND ROCKS
Sandra, what made you decide to write Rice & Rocks?
“The origin of Rice & Rocks is a personal one. My nephew, Giovanni, the lead character in the book, passed away at the age of eight about ten years ago. I was trying to figure out a way to keep his memory alive. I started to write down our conversations, and the one in particular that took on a life of its own was about the day I discovered he didn’t like ‘rice and rocks’. It was one of the many fun and imaginative conversations I shared with him.”
In what ways, if any, did your cultural background and/or experiences shape this book? “The book is all about my family traditions that are shaped by our cultural background and experiences. My family is from Jamaica and while my family immigrated to America starting in the late 1960’s – it was important to my parents that my brothers and sisters were raised with a strong sense of self and pride in our roots and culture.”
What do you hope Black and Brown children will get out of reading Rice & Rocks? “I hope that all children are filled with the curiosity to discover their own family’s traditions and background. What better gift to share with our children then the knowledge of self, their history and culture. As I mentioned, my parents did that for me and I thank them for that each and everyday. I can live my life not wondering what life was like for my parents and my grandparents in Jamaica. I don’t question, ‘Who am I?’, because my parents showed me, taught me, and shared their experiences with me.”
What questions or points do you suggest parents or educators reading this story to children might want to consider exploring with them so that the critical aspects of the story don’t get lost or watered down? “I hope that the story highlights the critical role that all members of a family play in the upbringing of a child. Auntie and Grandma play a significant role for Giovanni in the book. It was important to me, as well, that Auntie did preach to Giovanni but served as a guide along his journey to discover and learn more about other people, families and cultures.”
What current book projects are you working on now, and what should we expect to see from you in the future? “I am working on my second book in what I hope to be a series for Rice & Rocks. I want to explore more about other cultures with Giovanni. As The great Maya Angelou said, ‘We are more alike than we are unalike.'”
You can learn more about Sandra L. Richards here and follow her on Twitter and Instagram for updates on her latest projects! Purchase Rice and Rocks here.
Enter to win a copy of Rice & Rocks by sharing a family tradition you and your family practice in the comments section below!
(Winner will be announced November 10th.)