Tag: African-Americans

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English (9780544839571)

In 1965 Los Angeles, Sophie has moved to a new neighborhood as one of the only African-American families. Her summer is complicated not only by the move but by her sister leaving for college in August and her parent’s marriage becoming rocky. There are also external forces, like a pack of sisters in the new neighborhood who target Sophie and won’t let her swim with them. She does have one good friend, Jennifer, who stands up for Sophie and protests the way the others treat her. But racism is everywhere as Sophie discovers when she tries out for the community play, when she tries to shop in stores, and when she takes rides in cars with her sister’s boyfriend. When the riots in Watts erupt, Sophie discovers that the life in her wealthy neighborhood is not the one that others lead in the same city.

English, a Coretta Scott King Honor Award winner, brilliantly explores privilege and racism in this novel where Sophie lives a mix of both. The author directly looks at the color of skin, at the privilege given to those with lighter skin. She also explore wealth and the way that African-American families living in wealthier communities still face racism, both directly and indirectly. English’s pace here is very special with its mix of languid summer days, racial tensions, lack of parental involvement and then the riots.

Sophie is a well drawn protagonist as is her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. They each have distinct viewpoints, struggle with the expectations of family and society, and find themselves asking deeper questions about life in 1965. Sophie herself is often living in a bubble, but it is also one that is pierced regularly by the way others treat her. She is cleverly crafted, constantly learning and realizing how complex the world is.

This novel looks deeply into race in our country, offering a direct link between the Watts riots on today’s Black Lives Matter movement. It is timely, important and doesn’t offer easy answers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

3 Picture Books Celebrating Diversity

Days with Dad by Nari Hong

Days with Dad by Nari Hong (9781592702336)

Narrated by a little girl, this picture book looks at growing up with a father in a wheelchair. The girl’s father often apologizes for activities he can’t participate in. But the little girl always responds by saying that she prefers other similar activities that they can do together. Her father can’t go ice skating, but they can fish together through the ice. He can’t swim in the sea, but he can build sandcastles with her. He can’t ride bikes, but they can look at the flowers in the park together. Throughout the book, the tone is positive and joyful, showing that life is about what people can do together and the time spent with those you love. Described on the jacket as semi-autobiographical, this book has been listed on IBBY’s 2017 Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities. This book’s illustrations add to the lightness of the story with their playful feel. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Enchanted Lion.)

Mama Africa by Kathryn Erskine

Mama Africa by Kathryn Erskine, illustrated by Charly Palmer (9780374303013)

A picture book about the incredible South African singer, Miriam Makeba, who became the voice of fighting against apartheid. Called Mama Africa, she sang to expose the injustice happening around her at a time when it was dangerous to do so. Eventually, she lived in exile in the United States yet never stopped speaking and singing about her home. She spoke before the United Nations to appeal for help. Finally able to return home after apartheid ended, she continued to fight for justice the rest of her life. Erskine lived in South Africa during apartheid and draws from that knowledge in her book. Throughout, there is a celebration of the impact of song and the importance of giving voice to those living under injustice. The art by Palmer is rich and vivid. He offers portraits of people as well as landscapes that capture the fight for freedom. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Farrar Straus & Giroux.)

That Is My Dream By Langston Hughes

That Is My Dream! By Langston Hughes, illustrated by Daniel Miyares (9780399550171)

Miyares turns the poem “Dream Variation” by Langston Hughes into a picture book that shows a segregated town in the 1950s. There are separate drinking fountains for white and black people and the races are separate when they relax as well. Then the book changes with a feeling of whirling and release into a book that shows equality, shared time together and the hope of a day spent in harmony. The book is infused with hope, showing how possibilities of freedom and equality can be realized eventually. The book doesn’t move to the present, instead staying in the 1950s and showing what no segregation would have looked like back then. The illustrations by Miyares are beautiful, filled with deep colors and diversity. A very special book that pairs important poetry with a renewed vision. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Review copy provided by Schwartz & Wade.)

3 Picture Book Biographies about…Books!

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9781627792455)

A picture book biography of E.B. White, this book focuses on White’s love of animals and how that combined with his love of writing to become the stories he is known for. Featuring moments from his life, including a friendship with a mouse as a young child, White returns to his beloved Maine to continue to write and soon discovers a story of a pig who needs a hero to save him. Herkert uses a lovely spare poetic tone in this picture book, allowing White’s personal inspirations to shine from his animals to his sense of place. The illustrations by Castillo are wonderful, creating moments of time and beautiful spaces that show White on his journey to becoming one of the most beloved children’s authors. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Review copy provided by Henry Holt.)

Miguels Brave Knight by Margarita Engle

Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Raúl Colón (9781561458561)

This picture book biography of Miguel de Cervanes Saavedra shows his childhood in Spain. He grew up the son of a barber and surgeon. His father though had a gambling habit and was even jailed for his debts. Just as the family rebuilt after each loss, his father would once again gamble and send the family into debt and moving to a new town. Along the way, Miguel got to attend school sometimes and once he was older his writing gained some attention. Even as a child, he dreamed of fantastic stories to counter the disarray of his family. Engle writes with a natural poetry in this book, showing the brutality of life for Miguel but also the way in which his unique upbringing created his love of stories for escape. The art works to tie the entire book together, showing Miguel’s imagination and scenes from Don Quixote. A great introduction to a legendary Spanish author, this picture book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (E-galley received from Edelweiss and Peachtree Publishers.)

Schomburg The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (9780763680466)

This picture book biography shows the important impact one person can have when on a quest for knowledge. Schomburg was a man of Afro-Puerto Rican heritage who collected books, manuscripts, letters and more to show the achievements of people from African descent. These achievements were not in history books and not reflected in the national narrative at all. As he studied, he proved over and over again that black culture was unrepresented despite the incredible discoveries and art it contributed to the world. Schomburg’s library was eventually donated to the New York Public Library where you can visit it today. Weatherford highlights not just Schomburg’s own contribution to knowledge of black culture, but also shows other individuals that Schomburg discovered in his research. She does so via poems, some about specific people others about the books and research and many about Schomburg’s own life. The art by Velasquez is rich and beautiful, offering a dynamic visual for the fluid poetry. An important and timely read. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater (9780374303235)

This nonfiction book for teens looks at two sides of a hate crime in Oakland, California. It took place on a bus where an asexual student, Sasha, was riding. They (the pronoun they use) were reading at first and then fell asleep on the public bus. A white teen, they went to a small private school in town and lived in a middle-class neighborhood. They were wearing a gauzy skirt at the time. It was a skirt that caught the eye of Richard and his friends. Richard, a black teen, attended a public high school and was newly back in the community after being in juvenile detention. Without even considering the impact of his actions, Richard set Sasha’s skirt on fire. What was meant to be a prank turned into a hate crime and potential life imprisonment.

This internationally known crime is given voice by the people who lived it in this nonfiction book. Written with such care and compassion for both sides, the book made me weep with both the fact that asexual and gender nonconforming teens and people face this type of attack and also the fact that African-American teens are charged as adults and face huge sentences as a result. Slater dances what seems at times to be an impossible line, showing the humanity on both sides of the story, explaining the facts that impact the lives of the people involved, and offering an opportunity to look deeply into a case rather than reading the headlines.

There is such humanity on these pages. It will remind everyone that there are different sides to incidents like these, that rushing to judgement is not helpful, that forgiveness has power, and that people, especially teenagers can learn from mistakes and grow from them if given a chance. Written like a novel, the book has dashingly short chapters and features the voices of the two teens whose lives changed in a moment.

The skill evident in this book is remarkable. This is the nonfiction book that teen readers today need. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

4 Artistic Picture Book Biographies

American Gothic The Life of Grant Wood by Susan Wood

American Gothic: The Life of Grant Wood by Susan Wood (9781419725333)

Woods is a child of Iowa, who drew pictures of his beloved area even as a child. He left Iowa to study art in Europe. He tried various styles while there, including cubism, impressionism and abstract art. But he found his voice when he saw Gothic art in a museum. He returned to Iowa and created his best-known work, American Gothic, using his sister and dentist as models. Wood writes with a storytellers tone as she writes of Wood’s exploration of art and his triumphant return and the birth of regionalism. MacDonald’s art is bright and celebrates the Iowa countryside with a vintage flair. A great introduction to an American artist. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Imagine That How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra

Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (9780375974298)

In 1954, children were having problems learning to move from knowing how to read a few words to being able to read a book. When Life Magazine covered the issue, they suggested that a new book be made by Dr. Seuss. Unable to use his signature made-up language and words, Dr. Seuss had to follow a strict vocabulary list instead. Luckily on that list were the words “cat” and “hat” and the author was inspired. He used easy rhymes and silly illustrations combined with dynamic storylines to get children to turn the pages. Soon Dr. Seuss was creating more beginning readers and publishing others by different authors. It was the birth of the popular early-readers for children and Cat in the Hat remains one of the best! This picture book is a fascinating look at the author’s process and the way that the challenge inspired him creatively. The illustrations combine classic Dr. Seuss elements with Hawkes’ own style. Young writers will be inspired by this look at Dr. Seuss. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.)

Muddy the Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin, illustrated by Evan Turk (9781481443494)

McKinley Morganfield was raised by his Grandma Della who called him Muddy. He was brought up with gospel music from church but loved other music more, the music heard at fish fries, the blues. But his grandmother didn’t approve and didn’t want Muddy to waste his time playing music. Muddy though could not stay away from music and saved money to get his own guitar. When not playing music, Muddy worked in the cotton fields until one day he walked out. He headed for Chicago, but no one there was interested in his country blues. People told him to change, but Muddy kept playing his style of music, steadily working towards a record and the fame that would eventually come after a lot of hard work. Mahin keeps the bounce of music in his prose, infusing it with lines from Muddy’s songs, repeating phrases about Muddy not listening to other people, and touches of rhythm. Turk’s illustrations are explosive. Done on black backgrounds, they are neon at night on the page and also show the rhythm and feel of music visually. A strong and special book about a musician who didn’t do what he was told and succeeded because of that. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.)

Pocket Full of Colors The Magical World of Mary Blair Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo

Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, illustrated by Brigette Barrager (9781481461313)

Mary Blair collected colors as a child, filling her eyes and her world with the colors of her family’s move West across the desert and into California. At art school, she met her husband and the two painted together. Hired as one of the first women at Disney Studios, the men didn’t want to consider her bright colors. Walt Disney invited her on a trip to South America, where Mary discovered new bright colors. She continued to try to get her colors into films, sometimes accepted and other times not. Mary eventually left the studio to create children’s books, advertising and sets. Invited back to Disney for a special project, Mary accepted but only if she was going to be the one in charge. From that agreement came It’s a Small World, a ride still beloved at Disney Parks. The authors capture Blair’s love of color and her signature style that is on full display in her picture books and the amusement park ride. The illustrations dance with those colors, leaping from the page in a merry mix of colors that move from bright to subtle. A picture book that celebrates a leading lady in Disney. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.)

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins (9780374304904)

Mothers and daughters fill the pages of this novel for teens that focuses on three generations of a Bengali family. Tara and Sonia are sisters born in India and who are moving to the United States from England with their parents. The two girls are very different from one another. Tara loves to act and works to figure out who she can pretend to be in this new environment. Sonia enjoys debate and falls for a boy whom her mother cannot accept. When their father dies unexpectedly, their family fractures even farther. As both sisters find men to love them for the modern women they are, they too have daughters. Chantal is a skilled dancer and athlete, who falls for a wealthy all-American boy. Anna grew up in India primarily, and finds herself in high school in America. She is like her Aunt Sonia and always willing to debate. As the women in this family come to accept one another and their life choices, Ranee grows older but still remains involved in everyone’s life even as she becomes more American herself.

This book is simply stellar. Nominated for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, this novel is exceptional in many ways. First, there is the writing by Perkins. It is writing of strength and knowledge, but amazingly unobtrusive too, allowing the story to unfold naturally for the reader. She ties repeating themes into the book: music and dance, diversity and romance. Perkins allows her characters to be racist and yet to learn, to change over the course of time, and to have their opinions and values change as well. This is a difficult thing to accomplish in a novel, giving characters a way forward rather than being villains or one-dimensional.

The five female characters are exceptionally well drawn. Readers will be enthralled with all of their stories, the tale of Ranee herself tying the entire book together in the end. The characteristics of family members are celebrated: passion, intelligence, caring and more. These create a wholeness for the family, a feeling of generations being different but also alike despite clothes, life styles and decisions they make. There is a solidity to this family, one that reads with clarity and honesty and feels like home.

A triumph of a novel for teens that celebrates family, diversity and love. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

(Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.)

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (9780316349000)

Suzette has been in New England at boarding school for the last school year. Now she has returned back home to her family in Los Angeles. She has missed the city itself, but even more so she has missed her stepbrother, Lionel. Lionel has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and during the summer decides to stop taking his medication. He starts dating a girl that Suzette also finds compelling and interesting, but Suzette worries that the girl isn’t good for Lionel. Meanwhile, Suzette is dealing with discovering that she is bisexual, having had her first relationship with a girl while at board school that did not end well. Back at home, she begins to date Emil, a longtime friend of her family. Suzette is the only one who knows of Lionel stopping his medication and the secret becomes a problem as Lionel reaches a crisis.

Colbert has created a beautiful novel that speaks to the complexities of mental illness. The reaction of friends is well drawn, showing how people pull away from those diagnosed with mental illness and yet want to talk about them too. Lionel is a great character, someone the reader and Suzette gravitates to and yet someone who is battling a mental illness profoundly and pushes people away. He is in turns riveting and maddening.

Suzette’s character is the center of the novel and she is wonderfully crafted. An African-American protagonist who has converted to Judaism when her mother married Lionel’s father, she is someone who has to make choices about what she shares about herself and what battles she decides to engage in. Suzette is just discovering her bisexuality and even hesitates to label herself that way at first. The depiction of sexuality in the book and sex is handled with honesty and without bias. It’s lovely to see it handled that way with both girls and boys.

A very special book for teens, this book is diverse and filled with moments of triumph and pain. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.