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Mother Essentials: Joanna Ho, NYT Best-Selling Author

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Disrupting systems of oppression and empowering children who have been marginalized is the big picture goal for Bay Area mother Joanna Ho, both in her writing and in her work as a long-time educator (she’s currently a high school vice principal, and was previously an English teacher, dean, and designer of an alternative-to-prison school program). Nearly 7 years ago, after struggling to find an inclusive Christmas story for her newborn son, Joanna was inspired to write children’s books that could become mirrors for children. And boy did she come out with a bang! Her beautiful and lyrical debut picture book, Eyes That Kiss In The Corners, became a New York Times best-seller upon its release in January 2021. Now, the single mama of two (Carter, 6, and Aila, 3) has a plethora of projects under her belt and in the pipeline—including picture books Eyes That Speak To The Stars, Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma, and One Day (2023), and the just-released YA novel The Silence that Binds Us. Below, find out what Mother Essentials are currently getting her and her kiddos through their busy days. 

HydroFlask For Kids. “I love that these waterbottles are insulated stainless steal, kid-sized, and more leakproof than other kid waterbottles I’ve tried. I also love that my littlest one can’t gnaw the sippy straw into a mangled mess. We take these with us on all our adventures big and small.” HydroFlask 12 oz. Kids Water Bottle, $29.95, Amazon.

3-Tier Rolling Cart. “Until I got this cart, my TBR books—and I have A LOT—were scattered on the floor and stuffed into random bags by my bed. It is the perfect organizer for all the books I plan to read.” Lexington 3-Tier Rolling Cart, $29.99, Michael’s

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners. “When we read this book, my kids see themselves and me on the pages. I hope it shows them their own beauty and power.” Eyes That Kiss in the Corners, $16.55, Bookshop and Amazon.

Airpods with Charging Case. “Up until quite recently, I used $10 headphones. These Airpods are life-changing. They make it possible for me to facilitate meetings while attempting to homeschool a 3-year-old and manage the 6-year-old on Zoom kindergarten at the same time.” AirPods with Charging Case, $159, Apple.

Vuori Joggers. “I am all about comfort during this pandemic, namely my sweats and hoodies. Jeans feel like I’m real dressed up. These joggers were a Christmas gift and they are unbelievably soft and perfectly stretchy. It’s possible I will never take them off again.” Performance Jogger, $84, Vuori.

Hoop Earrings. “These hoops can dress up a sweatshirt or complement a nice blouse. I like that they have posts instead of the other types of backings I often find with hoops. They never get pulled out of my ears and lost!” Large Hoop Earrings, $30, Banana Republic.

Something Happened In Our Town. “This is one of many inclusive children’s books that line my bookshelves. I love it because it tackles issues of systemic racism, police brutality, and injustice directly in ways that are accessible to young children. This book and many other like it serves as a springboard to critical conversations that give kids tools and power to navigate the world and act for change.” Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice, $15.63, Bookshop and Amazon.

Digital Photo Frame. “This frame is incredible because you can share photos to other frames easily and safely. My brothers and parents, scattered on opposite sides of the country, each have a frame and we can share photos and stay connected from a distance.” Nixplay Photo Frame, $59.99, Amazon.  

Brain Flakes. “We enjoy hours and hours of fun with these disc-shaped STEAM toys. They teach spatial thinking and can be used both independently or collaboratively. A great way to stimulate imagination and creativity.” Brain Flakes 500 Piece Interlocking Plastic Disc Set, $15.99, Amazon.

Nutcase Kids’ Bike Helmet. “This thing is packed with all the technical super safety features told in acronyms I don’t entirely understand. I know it’s really safe, but comfortable on my six year-old’s head. I love the fun, gender-neutral design too.” Little Nutty Helmets, $69.99, Nutcase.

Wonderboom Speaker. “My kids and I live for dance parties and this little speaker goes with us from room to room in our home, on bike rides, picnics, camping…everywhere! It’s the perfect size and it sounds great.” Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Portable Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker, $69.95, Amazon.

Cotopaxi Backpack. “Outdoor adventure and travel are usually an important part of my family’s life. I love to explore and believe strongly in the power of nature to heal and teach. I hope my kids will learn a sense of constant wonder and a determination to conserve and protect the planet. This colorful backpack can be rolled up inside a larger bag and used for day trips. It’s also something I use to carry snacks and necessities when we head to a neighborhood park.” Cotopaxi Batac Del Dia 16L Pack, $60, Zappos.

Not Your Model Minority Sweatshirt. “It’s important that I use my voice to speak out against injustice, white supremacy, and oppression—whether it’s at home with my kids, at work with students and staff, or through my writing. I love supporting other Asian creatives who use their art to make a difference.” Not Your Model Minority Sweatshirt, $20, AA Batteries

KitchenAid Stand Mixer. “Baking is a family affair; my son is in charge of the mixer and my daughter loves to squeeze egg yolk in her hands and stir everything. NYT chocolate chip cookies and Clinton Street Pancakes are our go-tos. This stand mixer has been the center of much mess and love and laughter in our home.” KitchenAid Artisan Series 5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer, $399.99, Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

Prana Leggings. “After I discovered leggings with pockets, there was no turning back and these are my absolute favorite. As I mentioned, I am all about comfort and these are the softest leggings I’ve ever worn. I wear them to workout or when I’m out and about (which I will hopefully be able to do again one day!).” Electa Leggings, $89, Prana.

Magnetic Letters. “These magnetic foam letters come with a magnetic whiteboard, alphabet stickers, and a dry erase marker. They have been key in homeschool literacy play with my 3-year-old.” Inspired Thinkers 240-Piece Magnetic Letters Set, $20.95, Amazon.

FitnessBlender. “As a single mom with a full-time job and a writing passion during a pandemic, it’s been really challenging to make time to exercise. The free workouts on this site have made it possible for me to exercise at home when the kids are asleep.” FitnessBlender.com.

For more Mother Essentials, peep our past columns with Brave + Kind Bookshop owner Bunnie Hilliard, TV personality Leslie Antonoff, author Rio Cortez, Kido Chicago owner Keewa Nurullah, small-space mama Laura Fenton, Citizens of Humanity creative director Marianne McDonald, Curasalve founder Kelley Williams, Trade Street Jam Co. founder Ashley Rouse, Weelicious and One Potato founder Catherine McCord, interior designer Susan Work, author Tiffany Dufu, Les Gamins founder Veronique Nguyen, Lonny editor Angela Tafoya, Wiley Body founder Vanessa Wade, designers Anna WallackCynthia RowleyRebecca Atwood, and Dana HaimOlympian Alysia Montano, cookbook author Hetal Vasavada, model and muse Slick Woods, wellness influencer Joanne Encarnacion, author LaTonya Yvetteand many, many more!


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