I know so very little about the Romani people. But I know just a little bit more today than I did yesterday, thanks to a couple of fabulous picture books by Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby.

O’Neill is a Romani storyteller, and Quarmby is a writer and journalist. Their books, Ossiri and the Bala Mengro and Yokki and the Parno Gry are published by Child’s Play. They offer a fascinating look into the lives and culture of the Travelers.

Ossiri and the Bala Mengro

The first book, Ossiri and the Bala Mengro, is about a Traveler girl named Ossiri. Her family are Tattin Folki, people who collect, repair, and recycle just about everything. Ossiri works hard with her family. Even though she’s young, she can repair broken furniture so that it’s even better than new.

But Ossiri loves music, and she wants to be a musician. Her father tells her that’s not possible. If she were a musician, she’d have to travel to perform, and her family needs her. Besides, they’re poor. They can’t buy her an instrument, even if she could leave them for a musical career.

So Ossiri decides to make her own instrument out of a willow branch and some odds and ends that makes sounds that she likes. She calls the instrument a Tattin Django, recycled music. But when she tries to play it, the effect is enough to make the cattle bawl, the birds fly away, and any people nearby cover their ears in pain.

When the seasons change, Ossiri and her family move to Lancashire. It’s hill country, and Ossiri goes away from the camp and into the hills to practice her music.

But the sound wakes the Bala Mengro, an ogre that lives in a cave. And the Bala Mengro hates it when something wakes him. But he likes Ossiri’s music.

Yokki and the Parno Gry

The second book, Yokki and the Parno Gry, is about a Traveler boy named Yokki. The family’s activities changed with the seasons. In the early spring, they made beautiful things to sell. When summer came, they traveled, mending pots and pans, sharpening tools and knives, and selling the beautiful things they had made. In the late summer and fall, they harvested fruits and vegetables for farmers, earning enough money to last through the winter.

Yokki liked listening to stories told by the people they encountered. And he liked telling stories, too. Everyone in the family said that Yokki told the best tales.

But you have to have work to go with the tales. And one year, there was no farm work to be done. Their usual camping grounds had been fenced off. The family was out of money, out of food, out of luck.

And Yokki told stories to cheer everyone up. He told the story of Parno Gry, the white horse, who would carry them through the air, away from their troubles and into an exciting future.

Illustrations and Such

Both books use a few Traveler words here and there. They have brief glossaries in the front of the books, to tell you what those words mean.

They have different artists. Ossiri and the Bala Mengro was illustrated by Hannah Tolson, and Yokki and the Parno Gry by Marieke Nelissen.

Tolson’s illustrations in Ossiri and the Bala Mengro are what I think people who study art call naive. They look like drawings a child might do, if that child were exceptionally talented, with an eye for color and form. Nelissen’s illustrations in Yokki and the Parno Gry are also brightly colored, but richer and more detailed. Of the two, I think I prefer Nelissen’s illustrations, but that’s just me. And, honestly, both are wonderful.

About Multicultural Children’s Book Day

This review is part of the celebration of Multicultural Children’s Book Day. As you know, besides reviewing books for Multicultural Children’s Book Day, I’m a sponsor for the event. I think it’s important that children have multicultural books, books like Catherine’s Pascha and like Ossiri and the Bala Mengro and Yokki and the Parno Gry.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors

MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books.

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica Appleton, Susan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Delores Connors, Maria Dismondy, D.G. Driver, Geoff Griffin, Savannah Hendricks, Stephen Hodges, Carmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani, Gwen Jackson, Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana Llanos, Natasha Moulton-Levy, Teddy O’Malley, Stacy McAnulty, Cerece Murphy, Miranda Paul, Annette Pimentel, Greg Ransom, Sandra Richards, Elsa Takaoka, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang.

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

MCBD Links to Remember

MCBD site
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers
Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators
Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents


Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

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Charlotte Riggle, author of Catherine's Pascha and The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
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