Book review: The books of Marti Dumas

I recently had the pleasure of meeting author Marti Dumas in an SCBWI monthly meetup. She passed around a few of her books, and I was so besotted, I asked if I could borrow them to write up reviews–and she said yes!

My kids and I particularly enjoyed the series Jaden Toussaint, the Greatest (ooo, and I just saw that she’s published a fourth in the series!).

The engaging layout grabbed me right away. Lots of great black-and-white illustrations, big easy-to-read fonts, and clever textual flourishes like numbered lists and “Pause” and “Unpause” buttons when the narrator needs to offer a little bit of extra information convey a fun, playful tone that attracts young readers.

The stories are fun, too. Jaden Toussaint is a 5-year-old who “speaks kindness, oozes confidence” and “specializes in: Knowing Stuff. And also, ninja dancing.”

In fact, when Jaden reaches a point in each story where he’s stuck, he knows he needs to “kick his brain into top gear” through hilarious 2-page spreads of him ninja dancing. When he’s done, he gets “that swirly, whirly, zinging feeling” of a great idea, which he puts into action to solve the story’s problem. His school pals and loving family are usually involved, but Jaden is the hero readers will root for.

The problems Jaden faces are relatable, funny, but also convey a message: in “The Quest for Screen Time” Jaden learns about constructive ways to agitate for change; “The Ladek Invasion” teaches compassionate solutions to a buggy problem; and “Muffin Wars” deals with how to overcome jealousy and deal with challenging people.

Big topics for little kids, but presented age-appropriately and with humor. My kids and I loved them.

We also had the pleasure of reading Jala and the Wolves, an earlier book. Jala is another engaging character, and when she meets the wolves, readers are vividly brought along on her journey. To me, the “framing” chapters that begin and end this book are a little long, and some of the borrowed tropes (a magic mirror, waking to reality) didn’t hold the creativity of the wolf chapters. Nonetheless, my 6-year-old was captivated, and we both hope that Jala might have more adventures with her wolf family (that we get to read!).

All four books are published by New Orleans-based Plum Street Press, which has the wonderful mission of publishing books that feature “children of color just being kids.” Marti Dumas’s delightful characters are proud kids of color having exciting adventures in both fantasy and realistic settings. I look forward to more of Marti Dumas’s work!

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