Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction

Indie spotlight: Immigrant from the Stars by Gail Kamer

Immigrant from the Stars, by Gail Kamer/Illustrated by Daniel F. Bridy, (June 2019, Gettier Group LLC), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0999459553

Ages 9-12

I’ve been working to catch up with review requests, so I dug into my indie review pile while I was off and caught up with Gail Kamer’s 2019 middle grade tale, Immigrant from the Stars. Iko is a middle school kid who’s like other middle school kids: he loves hanging out with his friends; he loves his grandfather and his parents, he loves his dog. Oh, and he’s an alien from the planet Trinichia, ruled by a totalitarian government, with eyes and ears seemingly everywhere. Iko’s parents put their escape plan in motion and leave Trinichia, fleeing to Earth, where they start their new lives in Kentucky, disguised as the Newman family, a completely normal Earthling family from Texas. Iko tries to adjust to this new life – this new species! – while desperately hoping he doesn’t give himself and his family away, and worrying about his grandfather and dog, who are still on Trinichia.

I enjoyed Immigrant from the Stars so much! Narrated in the first person by Iko, the story has humor and pathos in equal amounts, with some tense moments that inject some excitement into the story. The story puts a sci-fi spin on the challenges facing immigrants who arrive as refugees and find themselves faced with a new way of life – and possibly an unfriendly reception. If your readers loved Geoff Rodkey’s We’re Not From Here (2019), consider recommending Immigrant from the Stars.

Posted in picture books

The Paper Boat chronicles a family’s journey

The Paper Boat, by Thao Lam, (Sept. 2020, OwlKids), $17.95, ISBN: 9781771473637

Ages 6-9

Inspired by her own family’s refugee journey from Vietnam to Canada, Thao Lam’s newest book, The Paper Boat is an intensely personal narrative, entwined with a story about an ant colony. The wordless story is told through gorgeous collage art in shades of gray with moments of bright color: a spotlight, the red of an army flag, green of military uniforms, or the pink of a paper boat struggling to stay afloat in tumultuous waters. At home in Vietnam, a young girl rescues ants from bowls of sugar water set out to trap them. Later, as the girl and her family flee from their war-ravaged home, the ants lead them through the moonlit jungle to the boat that will help them escape. As they board, the girl folds a paper boat and drops it into the water; the ants climb on, setting out on their own journey. The two parallel narratives tell the story of a daring escape and the hope of starting life in a new, safe, land. Thao Lam’s author’s note provides deeper context for the story. Endpapers depict newspaper headlines from the Vietnam War and subsequent flight of the refugees.

A moving, thoughtful story that brings home the pain of leaving home and the hope of starting over. The Paper Boat has starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, School Library Journal, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. (And it should be nominated for a Caldecott, just sayin’.) Publisher OwlKids has an excellent educator and parent’s guide available for free download.

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

Books from Quarantine: Wonder Woman and Aqualad

DC Ink has two more original YA graphic novels out, and they are getting the cream of the YA crop to write them, pairing them with outstanding artists to illustrate. What a time to be a comic book fan (or new to comic books)!

Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed, by Laurie Halse Anderson/Illustrated by Leila Del Duca, (June 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401286453

Ages 12+

Easily one of the best Wonder Woman stories I’ve ever read. Diana is the first and only woman on Themyscira to have a birthday (you can read about her origins, both original and updated, here), so her 16th Born Day is a cause for great celebration! The festivities are interrupted when refugees in rafts drift across the barrier separating Themyscira from our world, and Diana, horrified at the sight of people struggling to stay afloat in tumultuous waters, is furious with the Themyscirans who refuse to get involved. She dives into the water and begins helping the strugglers back into the raft, only to discover that the veil has drawn back, obscuring Themyscira once again… and she’s outside of it. Wonder Woman is a teenaged refugee with no way back home and separated from everything she knows and loves. Once the rafts come ashore in Greece, she joins the other refugees as they wait for food, warm clothes, and shelter; she endures the baleful stares and harsh talk from those around her who have no trust in the refugees. Diana is a stranger in a strange and sometimes, unfriendly land. With the help of two kind aid workers named Steve and Trevor, she heads to the United States to formalize her education and become an aid worker herself. And she also discovers a dark underbelly in her new home that demands justice.

This is an incredible Wonder Woman story that strips (most) of her superpowers away and leaves us with the story of a young woman, alone, enduring life as a refugee in our world. With the right care and help, she can make a difference in the world: but how many of our refugees get that chance? A powerful message delivered by Laurie Halse Anderson, with beautiful artwork from comic book artist Leila Del Duca, Tempest Tossed is a strong statement on our attitudes toward refugees, justice, and the state of our world today.

 

You Brought Me the Ocean, by Alex Sanchez/Illustrated by Julie Maroh, (June 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401290818

Ages 12+

Who better to write a story about Aqualad than Rainbow Boys author Alex Sanchez? Jake Hyde is a high school kid living with his widowed mother in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. He is desperate to leave his hometown and study oceanography in Miami. Since his father died, his mother won’t let him near water; it’s at odds with his strong attraction to the ocean, his desire to be near the water. His best friend, Maria, wants him to stay home and go to a local college with her… where they can make a home together in the future… but Jake doesn’t really feel that way about Maria. And then, there’s Kenny Liu, the openly gay and proud swimmer at school. He doesn’t care about the jerks that tease him, and he’ll never let himself be bullied. Jake is drawn to Kenny; as the two spend more time together, Jake realizes that his feelings for Kenny are very, very different than he feels for Maria, and that Kenny feels the same, too. At the same time, Jake discovers that what he thought were birthmarks on his skin are actually something very different, too… something that connects him to his father, who isn’t quite dead after all. Jake is about to learn his origin, but it may not be what he wants to hear.

If you saw the Aquaman movie, you know who Jake is. (Hint: he isn’t related to Aquaman.) Aqualad, in the DC Universe, is a founding member of Teen Titans and has come out as gay in the Young Justice animated show. This story is a coming-out story and origin story, both given the sensitivity necessary when writing this character. Graphic novel author and illustrator Julie Maroh creates soft, almost dreamlike artwork with earthy shades and watery shades to show the difference between Jake’s life in New Mexico and his origins in the water. A gorgeous book and story, perfect for Pride month and beyond. A very fun cameo makes this an all-around win.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Guest YA Review: Picture Us in the Light, by Kelly Loy Gilbert

My colleague, Amber, is back with another YA review! Enjoy as she talks about Kelly Loy Gilbert’s Picture Us in the Light.

Picture Us in the Light, by Kelly Loy Gilbert,
(April 2018, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484726020
Ages 13+
I picked up “Picture Us in the Light” as an ARC at PLA last March. The cover popped, and I grabbed. I’m so glad I did. To my delight, just as I finished reading it, the finished copy showed up from central purchasing, all laminated and ready for my teen shelves!
 
The plot: Danny Cheng is the son of immigrant Chinese parents. His best friends, Harry and Regina, are dating. It’s a tad awkward because Danny has a secret crush on Harry. His parents are thrilled because Danny got into a prestigious art school, but Danny hasn’t been able to draw in a year. He’s harboring major guilt over his role in a tragedy that affected his whole friend group.  When Regina asks Danny to draw a portrait for the school paper related to the tragedy, Danny worries that his inability to do so will be seen as insult to those affected most. Then Danny finds a mysterious box of papers in his father’s things and his parents clam up when he asks about it.
It’s Danny’s senior year. He might not see his friends again because his college is across the country. Will he tell Harry he likes him? What about hurting Regina? Can he break his dry spell? What’s with that secret box of his dad’s? Why won’t his parents tell him anything? 
 
Review: This book made me feel so many ways. Kelly Loy Gilbert gets right to the heart of the teen experience. Her bio says she “believes deeply in the power of stories to illuminate a shared humanity and give voice to a complex, broken people.” That is certainly what happens here. While Danny is the center of the story, his parents are the heart. If anything, Danny’s position emphasizes how important he is to them and makes their sacrifices for him hit harder as they are uncovered.  Did they make the right decisions? Did their decisions hurt Danny? You decide. There are plenty of opportunities for debate in this book, which would make it a great choice for book club.  Here is a boy who deeply needs his parents’ open love and support, but because of secrets they are forced to keep from him, their relationship  with him, while loving and devoted, is not supportive in the way he needs.  Danny reflects that closed nature, keeping his own secrets from his parents and his friends. No one has any idea he hasn’t drawn in a year or why.
 
The best thing about “Picture Us in the Light”, in addition to the wonderful characters and how they are all real and recognizable, is the unfolding story. Mystery upon mystery come to light (yes, I did that, omg I just realized that ‘in the light’ here probably refers to the characters’ dawning awareness—look, I never claimed to be sharp about this kind of thing). OK, sorry. Had a moment there. I’m not going to name the mysteries because part of the joy is discovering them. If  you savor mysteries stemming from secrets so deep they can tear a family apart if they’re kept and might do the same if they’re discovered, you’re in for a treat. 
 
Recommended for teens 12 and up. Good for readers who enjoy: Mystery. Coming of age. LGBT. Personal relationships. Teen friendship issues.  Parent/child issues.  Chinese-American and Chinese immigrant experiences. Family secrets.
 
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Someone New shows students welcoming new friends

Someone New, by Anne Sibley O’Brien, (July 2018, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580898317

Recommended for readers 4+

I’m New Here (2015) explored immigration from the points of view of three young newcomers: Maria, Jin, and Fatima. Someone New now flips the dialogue and shows us how new classmates perceive – and eventually befriend – these new kids in town. At first, Maria, Jin, and Fatima are shy, a bit withdrawn, and their classmates don’t know how to work with that. Understandable; these are kids we’re dealing with. Strong and honest statements like, “I feel uncomfortable”; “I don’t know what to do”; and “I can’t figure out to help” give kids words to put to the new feelings they may experience when meeting kids they don’t know.

Since kids are so much smarter than we are, though, they figure it out quickly: Jesse, a blonde white boy, invites Maria to play soccer with his group and discovers that she’s really good! Jason, a dark-skinned boy, can’t read what Jin writes, but smiles, prompting Jin to smile back; eventually, Jin teaches Jason how to write his name in Korean – it’s like a secret code! – and they draw comics together. Emma, a blonde white girl, draws a picture of her classmate, Fatima, and her together, giving Fatima the comfort and safety she needs to open up to Emma about her family. Each of these new children have things to share; they just needed the safety of that first effort. As Jason learns, when Jin smiles at him, “Maybe a smile is like a superpower.” The watercolor and digital illustrations stand out against the plain white space to make these characters stand out.

Someone New tells its story in brief, eloquent sentences with word balloons that allow characters to communicate in their own words. It is a book that needs to be on every shelf in every library and school. You’ll notice I recommend this book for ages 4+; I think it’s a book that all adults should be reading right now. Pick up the award-winning I’m New Here and make sure you tell these stories to anyone within earshot. Someone New has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Conferences & Events

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018: A Different Pond #ReadYourWorld

The next book on my #ReadYourWorld shelf is this quietly beautiful story of a father and son.

A Different Pond, by Bao Phi/Illustrated by Thi Bui,
(Aug. 2017, Capstone), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1-62370-803-0

Recommended for readers 5-10

A Different Pond is an autobiographical story of a father and son’s fishing trip that tells us so much more. The boy and his father wake before dawn to go fishing; his father has a second job he must leave for after they fish. Little pieces of information in the words and art tell us about this family: the bare bulb burning in the kitchen; the take-out calendar, dated 1982; references to Vietnam and war, family members not coming home; the fact that his father must work a second job and fish for food because “Everything in America costsa  lot of money”; even the father’s calloused hands. This is the story of a refugee family trying to get by in their new country, and the story of a son embracing quiet time with his father. It’s powerful and timely and perfect in its simplicity, the text reading like evocative verse:, such as Bao Phi’s description of his father’s spoken English: “A kid at my school said my dad’s English sounds like a thick, dirty river. But to me his English sounds like gentle rain.” The art goes from warm colors inside the family’s home to vibrant shades of blue and gray as father and son fish, and the art is presented panels and spreads, with the endpapers providing us a glimpse into childhood memories: an action figure, a pair of sneakers, a decorative door hinge. Notes from the author and illustrator, with childhood photos, bring readers deeper into the immigrant and refugee experience.

A Different Pond is one of Kirkus’ Best Books of 2017 and received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist.

 

cropped-banner2018 multicultural book

Multicultural Children’s Book Day (1/27/18) is in its 5th 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.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board.

2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors

HONORARY: Children’s Book Council, Junior Library Guild

PLATINUM: Scholastic Book Clubs

GOLD: Audrey Press,Candlewick Press, Loving Lion Books, Second Story Press, Star Bright Books, Worldwide Buddies

SILVER: Capstone Publishing, Author Charlotte Riggle, Child’s Play USA, KidLit TV, Pack-n-Go Girls, Plum Street Press

BRONZE: Barefoot Books, Carole P. Roman, Charlesbridge Publishing, Dr. Crystal BoweGokul! World, Green Kids Club, Gwen Jackson, Jacqueline Woodson, Juan J. Guerra, Language Lizard, Lee & Low Books, RhymeTime Storybooks, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, TimTimTom Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Wisdom Tales Press

2018 Author Sponsors

Honorary Author Sponsors: Author/Illustrator Aram Kim and Author/Illustrator Juana Medina

Author Janet Balletta, Author Susan Bernardo, Author Carmen Bernier-Grand, Author Tasheba Berry-McLaren and Space2Launch, Bollywood Groove Books, Author Anne Broyles, Author Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author Eugenia Chu, Author Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author Medeia Cohan and Shade 7 Publishing, Desi Babies, Author Dani Dixon and Tumble Creek Press, Author Judy Dodge Cummings, Author D.G. Driver, Author Nicole Fenner and Sister Girl Publishing, Debbi Michiko Florence, Author Josh Funk, Author Maria Gianferrari,Author Daphnie Glenn, Globe Smart Kids, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Author Quentin Holmes, Author Esther Iverem, Jennifer Joseph: Alphabet Oddities, Author Kizzie Jones, Author Faith L Justice , Author P.J. LaRue and MysticPrincesses.com, Author Karen Leggett Abouraya, Author Sylvia Liu, Author Sherri Maret, Author Melissa Martin Ph.D., Author Lesli Mitchell, Pinky Mukhi and We Are One, Author Miranda Paul,Author Carlotta Penn, Real Dads Read, Greg Ransom, Author Sandra L. Richards, RealMVPKidsAuthor Andrea Scott, Alva Sachs and Three Wishes Publishing, Shelly Bean the Sports Queen, Author Sarah Stevenson, Author Gayle H. SwiftAuthor Elsa Takaoka,Author Christine Taylor-Butler, Nicholette Thomas and  MFL PublishingAuthor Andrea Y. Wang, Author Jane WhittinghamAuthor Natasha Yim

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.

TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.

Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party! http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/twitter-party-great-conversations-fun-prizes-chance-readyourworld-1-27-18/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teacher-classroom-empathy-kit/

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with MCBD on social media and be sure and look for/use the official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

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

Can our favorite Book Scavengers figure out The Unbreakable Code?

The Unbreakable Code (Book Scavenger #2), by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, (April 2017, Henry Holt & Co. BYR), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627791168

Recommended for readers 8-12

The sequel to Book Scavenger (2015) continues the adventures of friends, code breakers, and bookworms Emily and James. Emily’s parents have put a hold on their state-hopping, giving Emily a feeling of permanence she missed terribly. She and James find themselves in the middle of another mystery when they notice their teacher, Mr. Quisling, acting strangely; they follow a trail of encrypted messages in Book Scavenger-laid Mark Twain books. The messages are an attempt to break a legendary, historic puzzle known as the Unbreakable Code, which leads to either a treasure or a curse. As mysterious and suspicious fires pop up around them, Emily and James are worried that Mr. Quisling is the arsonist – unless they can figure out who his mysterious Book Scavenger messenger is.

The Unbreakable Code is loaded with the adventure, mystery, and code-breaking fun that made the first book so enjoyable. There are mysteries within mysteries, and a real sense of urgency as the tweens try to get to the bottom of the arsonist on their trail. There’s a very good subplot about the history of Chinese immigrants during the California Gold Rush that shines a light on a part of history that doesn’t get as much discussion as it should. Ms. Chambliss also presents a very different Mr. Griswold, changed by the events in Book Scavenger. He’s withdrawn, hesitant, apprehensive; his buoyant style is toned down, and he surrounds himself with his assistant, Jack, and the company of dogs to guard him. Emily and James’ secondary mission is to nudge Mr. Griswold back to his former self.

A fun follow-up and a fun accompaniment to coding and spy programs. Introduce kids to coding with Book Scavenger and Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders! Kids can play their own game of Book Scavenger at the Book Scavenger website and sign up for the newsletter.