Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Diversity Reading Challenge 2017 – Checking In

This year, I accepted The Unconventional Librarian’s Diversity Reading Challenge, and I’ve been… okay. Let’s take a look:

(The center Diversity Reading Challenge 2017 graphic is from An Unconventional Librarian’s website.)

Book featuring a Hispanic character – Wild Beauty, by Anna Marie McLemore

Book featuring an LGBTQ character – Spinning, by Tillie Walden

Graphic Novel – Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani

Book featuring a character with mental illness – Lighter Than My Shadow, by Katie Green

Book featuring an Asian character – Warcross, by Marie Lu

Book by an illustrator of color – Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil Rights Activist Nina Simone, illustrated by Bruno Liance

Book with an African-American young male character – Goodnight, Boy, by Nikki Sheehan

Book with an African-American female character – An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

Book with a Muslim character – Lost Boys, by Darcey Rosenblatt

Book with a character on the Autism spectrum – Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, by Ben Hatke

Book featuring a character with a physical disability – Super Max and the Mystery of Thornwood’s Revenge, by Susan Vaught

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with my reading, but it could be better. I see little spots where I need to read more deeply. Goodnight, Boy is amazing; brilliantly written, but I should also be reading African-American characters written by African-American characters. I need to finally get Ghost, by Jason Reynolds, off the TBR and on my nightstand, you know? Ditto for my Muslim character choice. I love Lost Boys; it’s a heart-wrenching novel that darn near brings me to tears, but I need to stop saying I want to read Amina’s Voice and just read it. (If you’re struggling to find Muslim authors, by the way, I found a list on GoodReads that may help.)

I am happy that there’s some crossover on the list. I have several graphic novels on the list; while reading graphic novels is never an issue for me, I’m happy to see that the medium is a great place to explore different cultures and identities. Spinning, Lighter Than My Shadow, Pashmina, and Mighty Jack and the Goblin King are all graphic novels; each is its own journey of exploration. Wild Beauty and An Unkindness of Ghosts have female, main characters of color that explore their sexuality.

In sum, I need to read one more book (a Holocaust victim) to complete my challenge. Pragmatic Mom has a list that I think I’ll use as my guide here. Milkweed, by Jerry Spinelli, sounds compelling; it may also be time to to finally pick up Jane Yolen’s Devil’s Arithmetic.  I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, thanks to Pam at Unconventional Librarian for keeping me honest.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Pashmina is an Indian-American girl’s journey of self-discovery

Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani, (Oct. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626720879

Recommended for ages 12+

Priyanka is an Indian-American young woman, living with her single mom, in California. She’s got so many questions: Why did her mother leave India to raise her daughter in the States? What’s India like? Why doesn’t she ever talk about India? And the big question: Who’s her father, and why hasn’t she ever met him? For Priyanka’s mom, though, the topic of India is closed. She will only say that things were different for women in India, and that’s that. Left with her questions, and feeling emotional after her uncle – her only father figure – becomes a new dad, Priyanka stumbles across one of her mother’s old suitcases, containing a beautiful pashmina shawl. She wraps it around herself and is transported to a magical, beautiful place: India. She also meets two guides: Kanta, an elephant, and Mayur, a peacock, who show her a breathtaking India. Priyanka gets the feeling she may not be getting the whole story – especially when the two guides keep shooing away a mysterious shadow that lurks by them – but she’s determined to find out more about her heritage and her birth.

Priya gets the opportunity when her aunt calls to reconnect with her estranged sister. She’s pregnant, and Priya’s mom agrees to let her fly to India to spend time with her. Thrilled, Priya embarks on a journey that will provide more answers than she expected, and learn more about her mother – and herself.

Pashmina is brilliant, bold, and beautiful storytelling. It’s the story of a child walking the line between two cultures, and it’s a story about the search for identity. It’s also a powerful story of feminism; the goddess Shakti guiding women to choose their own paths and the women who are brave enough to answer the call. Nidhi Chanani creates breathtaking, colorful vistas within the pashmina’s world, making Priya’s everyday black-and-white world even more stark and humdrum. This is a must-add to graphic novel collections, particularly for middle schoolers and teens. Booktalk and display with Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, Na Liu’s Little White Duck, and Sarah Garland’s Azzi in Between.

See more of Nidhi Chanani’s art at her website.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

A young girl finds One Good Thing About America every day

One Good Thing About America, by Ruth Freeman, (March 2017, Holiday House), $16.95, ISBN: 9780823436958

Recommended for readers 8-12

At home in the Congo, nine year-old Anaïs is the best English student in her class. She loves spending time at her grandmother’s home. She loves her family: her father, her older brother, Olivier, and younger brother, Jean-Claude, and her mother. But now, her father is in hiding, her older brother, stayed in Africa with their grandmother, and Anaïs, Jean-Claude, and their mother are living in a shelter in Crazy America. Nothing about the people or the language makes sense to her – why would anyone eat chicken fingers? Why do vowels change sounds with every word? – and she misses her home, her life before.

Written in the form of letters from Anaïs to her grandmother, One Good Thing About America, by Ruth Freeman, a teacher who works with English Language Learners. Motivated by her students’ determination and their stories, this is her tribute to them as much as it is a chance to create an understanding of the immigrant experience in America. Anaïs, her family, and her classmates and neighbors develop through the course of the story; experiencing sleepovers, mac and cheese dinners, Halloween, and even a frightening emergency room trip. We never get the full story behind Anaïs’ father’s trouble with the mining company, but readers understand the urgency of the situation: her father is in hiding, on the run, and no one that associates with him is safe. While Anaïs longs for her family to be whole again, she has the added challenge of learning a new language and making a new life in a strange country where nothing makes sense. She has good days and bad days; goes from hopeful to frustrated, and every reader will appreciate and understand where she’s coming from. Little doodles throughout the book illustrate new things Anaïs encounters, from the crunchy fall leaves that “make the sound of eating toast” to ice cream and pizza.

A list of English words Anaïs struggles with – what she hears, as opposed to what she learns – also helps readers understand the challenges our language and colloquialisms present to English language learners. Words in French, Anaïs’ native tongue, introduce readers to some new vocabulary.

One Good Thing About America is a good book for all communities. In our current socio-political climate, I daresay it should be a summer reading selection for middle graders (and their families). I suggest booktalking with Andrea Davis Pinkney’s The Red Pencil and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again for excellent discussions about the differences within the refugee experience.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Star Scouts gets the merit badge for fun reading!

starscouts_1Star Scouts, by Mike Lawrence, (March 2017, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626722804

Recommended for ages 8-12

Avani Patel is not feeling this new scouts Flower Scouts troop her parents signed her up for. She’s the new kid, her parents figured it would be a new way to make friends, but the Flower Scouts are so lame. All they talk about are boys and makeovers; it’s totally out of line with her interests, like rodeos and adventure. Things change for the better when Avani is accidentally picked up by an alien named Mabel, who happens to be a scout – a Star Scout – working on one of her badges. The two girls hit it off, and Avani finds herself an unofficial Star Scout! She’s zooming around on a jetpack, working on teleportation, and avoiding the xenoscatology lab; she’s made some out of this world friends, and she’s happy. When Star Scouts announce their yearly camping trip, Avani manages to fib her father into signing off on the trip – she’s going away to camp, she doesn’t need to mention that it’s not exactly on the planet, right? But shortly after arriving at Camp Andromeda, Avani finds herself on the wrong side of a rival group of aliens; Avani, Mabel and their friends are in for a heck of a week, if they can work together to get through it.

Star Scouts is a fun outer-space adventure for middle graders. It’s scouting with a little more adventure added in, and lots of hilarious bathroom humor (look, I raised three boys, I find poop and fart jokes funny) to keep readers cracking up. There are positive messages about friendship and working together that parents and caregivers will appreciate, and the two main characters are spunky girls that aren’t afraid to take on an adventure.

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If you want to go the sci-fi way with displays and booktalks, you have to pair this with Zita the Spacegirl and Cleopatra in Space. You can revisit this book when you’re getting ready for Summer Reading by booktalking this with camp books like Camp Midnight, Beth Vrabel’s Camp Dork, and Nancy Cavanaugh’s Just Like Me.

Check out more of Mike Cavanaugh’s illustration at his website.

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Posted in Science Fiction, Steampunk, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Time fractures can cripple cities in Timekeeper

timekeeperTimekeeper, by Tara Sim, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781510706187

Recommended for ages 13+

My first entry in this year’s Diversity Reading Challenge is Tara Sim’s Timekeeper, a steampunk story taking place in an alternate Victorian London, where clock towers control time. A damaged clock affects the populace, and if a clock is badly damaged or loses a vital part of its machinery, the town “stops”: no one dies, but no one can leave; the citizens are stuck in a time loop. That’s what happened to 17 year-old clock mechanic Danny Hart’s father three years before, and Danny’s become a mechanic in the hopes that he can free his father one day. On an assignment to a clock in the London borough of Enfield, Danny meets Colton, who throws a figurative wrench in all of Danny’s plans. Colton is a clock spirit – the essence of time for the Colton Tower clock – and the two boys fall in love. Danny knows this can’t end well, but he risks everything to be with Colton, who will find a way to keep Danny coming back to Enfield.

Some of the people of London are against the clock towers. They want time freed, uncontrolled, and stage protests that get heated. Clock towers are attacked, and Danny is blamed. He has to find a way to clear his name, keep Colton safe, and keep his father’s town safe so he can bring him home alive.

Timekeeper is the first in a planned trilogy by debut author Tara Sim. The story is very detailed – budding clock aficionados, and readers interested in the science of time (horologists – thanks, Google!) will fall in love with the lyrical way Sim discusses the delicate parts of the clocks and the idea of a spirit manifestation of each clock tower. The romance between Danny and Colton is sweet and gentle, and Danny’s feelings for men is more or less accepted, with some minor snark from the novel’s bully.

Shadowhunters fans will love this one. Get your steampunk on and put this with your Gail Carriger books, your Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, and your old school Jules Verne and HG Wells collections.