Tag: diversity

Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina


Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina (InfoSoup)

Juana lives in Bogotá, Colombia with her family. She loves things like reading, drawing, Brussels sprouts, and Astroman. She also loves living in Bogotá and in particular having a best friend like Lucas, her dog. Still, there are some things she doesn’t like. She doesn’t like the school uniform she has to wear, doing classwork, and in particular she doesn’t like learning “the English.” When Juana complains about having to learn English and how hard it is, the adults around her encourage her to keep trying. She is also told about a special trip that her grandparents are planning to the United States and Juana will get to meet Astroman there! But in order to be allowed to go, Juana has to do better in her classes, particularly English.

Filled with lots of pictures and even some infographics, this book is particularly approachable for children. With the same humor and heart as series like Clementine, this picture book offers a glimpse into another culture as well as a smart and independent heroine. Spanish words are sprinkled throughout the text, making it just challenging enough that readers will understand how hard it is to decode a different language and yet how rewarding it is too.

The illustrations are bright and cheery. The infographics, used to label different characters with their unique characteristics are funny and nicely designed for clarity. The city of Bogotá and the people in Juana’s life are shown in bright colors with lovely humorous touches.

The first book in a new series that offers diversity, Spanish and lots of heart. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Dara Palmer’s Major Drama by Emma Shevah

Dara Palmers Major Drama by Emma Shevah

Dara Palmer’s Major Drama by Emma Shevah (InfoSoup)

Dara knows that she is a star. She can make all of the facial expressions in her favorite teen movies, has huge posters of her two favorite actors on her bedroom walls, and has lots of imaginary conversations with them as she dreams of her future in Hollywood. Her first step to stardom is landing the lead in the school production of The Sound of Music, and she just knows that her name is going to be called. But then it isn’t. Dara starts to wonder if it’s about the color of her skin, since she knows she’s an amazing actress. Dara was adopted from Cambodia. Then she notices that others with different skin colors are in the cast. The teacher offers her the role of stage manager, but Dara won’t agree to that. The teacher also invites her to join her acting classes, but Dara knows she doesn’t need them. As Dara slowly realizes that she may have a lot to learn after all, readers become convinced that Dara may just be the star she always thought she was.

Shevah has created in Dara a character who is both repulsive and compelling. Dara is unthinking, rather vain and unable to listen at the beginning of the book. Wisely, Shevah frames the book as looking into the past and Dara knowing that she wasn’t a very nice person back then. This gives readers permission to dislike Dara and yet also enjoy her humor, drive and sparkle. It also makes Dara’s deep changes all the more believable. Various characters also help Dara see herself anew, including her siblings, her parents and her best friend. This is done in many different ways from overt to subtle and is a skillful way to create change in a character.

The voice throughout the book is entirely Dara’s. The fonts change with Dara’s emphasis on various words, showing the passion and emotions behind them. The book design is fresh and friendly, having designs around the page edges and illustrations that break up the text a bit.

A strong and funny protagonist becomes much more self-aware in this gorgeous novel. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds (InfoSoup)

Genie and Ernie are heading to Virginia to stay with their paternal grandparents for the very first time. Though they have met their grandmother before, this is the first time that Genie has met him. The difference between their lives in Brooklyn and their grandparents’ home in rural Virginia are huge. But that’s not the only thing that surprises Genie. He is shocked to find out that his grandfather is blind. Genie is a kid who is full of questions to ask all of the time and so he immediately asks his grandfather questions about his blindness. Genie knows that his older brother Ernie is braver than he is, always taking up fights for Genie and protecting him. He also knows that his grandfather is immensely brave too. When something goes wrong though, Genie will have to rethink what it means to be brave.

Reynolds is so amazingly gifted as a writer. He astounded me with this departure from his more urban writing. He captures the rural world with a beautiful clarity, using the natural world around as symbols for what is happening to the humans who live there. It is done both subtly and overtly, creating a book that is multi-layered and gorgeous to read. Throughout Reynolds speaks to real issues such as guns and disabilities. They are dealt in their complexity with no clear point of view stated, giving young readers a chance to think things through on their own.

Reynolds has created a fabulous protagonist in Genie, a boy filled with so many questions to ask that he has to write them down to keep track of them. He is smart, verbose and caring. Yet at the same time, he agonizes over mistakes, trying to fix them on his own and thus creating a lot of the tension of the book. The depiction of the grandparents is also beautifully done, allowing them to be far more than elderly figures. They are often raw, sometimes wise, and also dealing with life.

A brilliant read for the middle grades, this book is filled with magnificent writing and great diverse characters. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.



Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan (InfoSoup)

Joe and Ravi could not be more different. In fact, the only things they seem to have in common is they are in the same class and they could each use a new friend. Ravi has just moved to the United States from India and is discovering how very different school in a new country is. Joe’s two best friends have moved away and now he is left at the mercy of the class bully who also has Ravi in his sights. Joe has to attend special classes to deal with the way that he gets overloaded by sights and sounds. Ravi’s teacher has trouble understanding his English with his Indian accent and may be sent to special classes as well. Ravi is eager to befriend the class bully, who is also from an Indian background. How can these two very different boys figure out that there is a friend right there who needs them just as badly.

The book is divided into the perspectives of Ravi and Joe, each boy written by one of the authors. Beautifully, the two voices meld together into a cohesive whole. The two boys have distinct personalities and points of view that go far beyond their different cultures. The book speaks directly to stereotypes, particularly first impressions of people before you get to know them as a person. It illustrates this without a lecturing tone, instead demonstrating it in the ways the two protagonists interact with one another throughout the novel.

This is a very approachable book, one that invites readers to explore and see what is happening. It has a light tone, yet reaches deeper meanings and explores real issues that children today face no matter what their background or culture. Adding to the depth of the book are glimpses of the boys at home, showing how they spend their free time and the way their parents and families interact. It’s a way to further show both their differences and their similarities and works particularly well.

A perfect lunchtime read, this one is worth saving a special spot for on your shelf. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.


Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie

Thunder Boy Jr by Sherman Alexie

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (InfoSoup)

Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his father who is known as Big Thunder. But Thunder Boy wants a more normal name, like Sam which is what his mother wanted to name him. People call him Little Thunder, which sounds “like a burp or a fart.” Thunder Boy hates his name and wants one that is all his own. He thinks of other names that would be more cool and would speak to what he has done in life. He doesn’t know how to tell his father that he wants a different name, but his father may understand a lot more than Thunder Boy thinks.

Amazing, amazing, amazing. Alexie proves here that he can write for children with a voice that is clear and resonant. He writes almost like a poem, one that dances and moves. There is not a classic structure to the book, which makes it a treat to read. One isn’t quite sure where it is going to head next. There is the whimsical part there Thunder Boy is thinking of new names that shows again and again the actual power of his real name. Then his father steps in, showing his son that he understands him and builds upon the name he has been given. It is a book that takes you on a journey and by the end ties it all together.

Morales’ illustrations are luminous. She captures the emotions clearly with characters who pop against calm patterned backgrounds. The characters shine with an internal light that is very compelling. On every page, parenting with warmth and love is shown, just like it is in the story itself.

A powerful and beautiful picture book that respects modern American Indian culture and families. This book belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.


The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island by Dana Alison Levy

The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island by Dana Alison Levy

The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island by Dana Alison Levy

This is the second book in the Family Fletcher series and once again it is a treat to spend time with this dynamic family. This time they head to Rock Island, a place where Papa has been coming since he was a child. Rock Island is a small place where things are always the same. There is the same lighthouse, the same flavors of ice cream, and the same tiny house where all of the boys share a loft filled with beds. This year though, some things have changed. There is a fence around the lighthouse, so no one can visit it. A new family has moved in next door too, though they seem to be very annoying. The brothers themselves are also changing and heading in different directions for the first time on the island. Though one thing unites them all, the question of what is really happening to their beloved lighthouse.

Levy has once again written such a readable book. The Fletcher family is made up of gay parents and four adopted siblings of different races. Yet this series is not about growing up in a diverse and gay family, rather it is about a merry and very human family that is a joy to spend time with. The brothers all treat one another like siblings, meaning they fight, they apologize, they inadvertently hurt one another’s feelings. This series is about a real family, one that comes to life on the page.

Levy does deal very sensitively about race in this book. The scene is handled beautifully where at first readers will not realize what is going on, so their own understanding progresses at the same rate as the young characters who soon realize they are dealing with a bigoted bully. The issue is not minimized, but the family comes together to support their brother as he discovers the harshness of direct racism for the first time.

Smart and very funny, this novel for young people adds a winning second book to a series I hope continues for some time. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Delacorte and Edelweiss.