Kamala and Maya's Big Idea

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Kamala and Maya's Big Idea Book Poster Image
Sisters organize to build a playground in charming tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows what it's like to organize a building project, see it through to the end, get contributions from neighbors, and throw a bake sale and sidewalk sale to help pay for it. Tells readers a bit about Kamala Harris and her sister, Maya, although it incorporates fictional characters and details. Back matter includes photos of them from childhood, and a photo of them with the author today as grown-ups. 

Positive Messages

Never give up, even if you hear no the first and second time. A "maybe" can give you hope, because it can turn into a yes. People working together can accomplish great things. "No one could do everything. But everyone could do something." In back matter, author notes that her grandmother, Kamala and Maya's mother, always taught her, "Everyone has a part to play, no matter how small."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Kamala and Maya show leadership, persistence. (Author calls them "per-sisters" in the text.) They have a big idea and make it happen. As author notes at back of book, "They would go on to achieve great things, both as public interest lawyers dedicated to improving their communities. They always made sure I knew I could do anything, too." Their mom is supportive of their project. Even though landlord at first turns down their idea because it's too expensive, he lets the families do it themselves. After it's done he compliments Kamala and shakes her hand: "You did a good job. You all did a good job."  

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kamala and Maya's Big Idea is a picture book inspired by real-life events in the childhood of U.S. senator and vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris and her sister, Maya, written by Maya's daughter, Meena Harris. It tells the story of when the two sisters got the "big idea" to ask the landlord of their apartment building to turn an unused courtyard into a playground. He said no, but Kamala countered by saying that the building's families could build it, and he gave his permission. The rest of the book shows the community -- kids and grown-ups -- working together to make it happen. Ana Ramírez González's colorful, cheerful illustrations make their hard work look like loads of fun. 

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What's the story?

Young sisters Kamala and Maya get a notion to turn the empty courtyard of their apartment building into a playground, so Kamala writes the landlord a letter, and Maya draws him a picture, and they take them to him. When he hears KAMALA AND MAYA'S BIG IDEA, he turns them down. So Kamala writes him a longer letter, asking for a slide, swings, and a sandbox, and again he says no. Then they go see him a third time and bring other kids with them, and Kamala says their families will do all the work, and he says he'll allow it. So they take the idea to the neighbors, many of whom say they'd like to help but they can't. But then, one by one, neighbors step up to help in the ways they can. Mr. Green, who works construction, helps build the sandbox. Mrs. Lopez, who works at a garage, brings a used tire to help make a teeter-totter. "No one could do everything. But everyone could do something." Then they hold a bake sale and sidewalk sale to raise money to buy a used slide, and everyone contributes an item to sell. They celebrate with a big potluck. Back matter shows childhood photos of the sisters and one of the sisters and the author today as adults. 

Is it any good?

This charming story of not taking no for an answer and organizing to create something positive for the community is a joyful, inspiring example of kid activism. Kamala and Maya's Big Idea shows that kids can be leaders and teach grown-ups what's possible. Readers will also get to know something about who Kamala Harris is, now that she's a candidate to be vice president of the United States, and learn about her roots as a leader from a young age. And they'll be swept up by Ana Ramírez González's kid-like illustrations that show neighbors coming together and working hard to make where they live a better place for everyone.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the community project in Kamala and Maya's Big Idea. Can you picture yourself leading a project in your neighborhood? What would you do? Who would you get to help?

  • Kamala and Maya are sisters, but they work together well. Have you ever worked on a project with your brother or sister? What was it? How did it work out? 

  • Do you think grown-ups should listen when kids have an idea? What big idea do you have? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of activism and families

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