I found this article on the great diversity of teen literature right now. I completely agree, it’s about time that we see books about teens of all colors, sexualities and faiths. This allows all of the teens to see themselves in books in some way. But I think the article understates the importance of this:
Seeing their faces on lead characters who overcome some of their
same issues is a bonus. Billingsley added that teens’ desire to see
themselves in print is no different from their wanting the same from
movies or TV shows.
“You need that variety,” she said. “That’s not to say you shouldn’t
read other books you can’t relate to either. There are kids who love
reading ‘Harry Potter’ books who can’t relate to him, but there needs
to be an option.”
The bold above is mine. A bonus? It’s a heck of a lot more important than a bonus feature of a book! And I think that books have a lot more power than movies or TV, because they allow us to see deeply into a character beyond the skin. So teens of all colors will see themselves in characters of all colors, in people they may not understand, and that is powerful. But it is all the more powerful in a world that does not reflect them, does not understand them and frequently stereotypes and degrades them to see themselves in the pages of a book. It turns what society does to them on a daily basis on its head. Renews their understanding of themselves and allows them the power to themselves open a book where the face on the cover doesn’t resemble theirs, look beyond the surface, and discover a kinship.
But even more importantly, it offers that option to the majority as well. But do we have the power, the grace and the interest to open those books? Or are we caught in the whirlpool of our own whiteness where we can’t see beyond that. Let’s make it a point to read books where the cover doesn’t reflect us back, where we have to stretch and grow just to understand it, because where else is our society going to heal? It has to be done one character, one book at a time. That is the “bonus” of the book.
Billy Tartle in Say Cheese! by Michael Townsend.
Very modern, graphically interesting and lots of fun, this picture book offers a lot of humor in a slim volume. Billy is going to have his picture taken at school, but worries that all of his pictures have been boring. So he designs a hairstyle for himself based on Supermonkey. He has lots of ideas about how this new hairstyle will make him impressive and give him powers. But he turns out looking exactly the same as before. When he is given a lollipop after his haircut, he gets an idea that is certain to make sure that this class picture is far, far from dull.
The text is lovely to read aloud to a small group of kids, but this is really a book for elementary kids to read on their own or for a very small group of children to enjoy together. The illustrations are such a large part of the story, and they have to be seen closely to be enjoyed to the fullest.
Highly recommended for all boys. Boys who don’t enjoy traditional books will like the comic book feel of this one. Boys who read often and will will love the humor of the story. A wonderful look at how comics can be mashed up with picture books and be super!
The Three Cabritos by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin.
This version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff has touches of Texas throughout. This combined with the fact that the goats are trying to get to a gig for their band at a fiesta adds a lot of flavor to the story. Reynaldo the smallest goat, gets to the bridge first and children will be astounded to see the huge Chupacabra waiting there for him in all of its blue and prickly glory. The Chupacabra only allows Reynaldo to pass after he plays some music. The same pattern follows with each brother until Augustin, the biggest goat, who is able to control the Chupacabra with his catchy music. The monster meets his end at the end of the story.
The illustrations are stylish and have a modern animated feel to them. The Chupacabra alone is worth reading the book for! The text is catchy, fun and has just the right amount of Spanish words incorporated in the text. Nicely, there is a glossary and pronunciation guide at the end of the book.
If you are looking for a fun and different version of the billy goats tale, this one will be a winner read aloud to children. It has lots of funny touches throughout that children, especially those in elementary school, will enjoy.