The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

Cover image for The Black Kids

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed (9781534462724)

Set in Los Angeles in 1982 during the Rodney King riots, this teen novel deals directly with racism and class. Ashley lives in a wealthy part of LA, attends a private school, and has only white friends who she has known since childhood. They spend lots of time around the pool drinking, flirting and planning their prom. As the protests engulf LA though, race becomes a part of everyone’s focus, something that Ashley has tried to ignore, including all the comments one of her friends keeps making. Ashley finds herself becoming closer with LaShawn, a Black kid at school who is a star athlete and whose home is threatened by the protests. He has gotten into Stanford while Ashley has been placed on the waitlist. Ashley makes a comment about his new shoes to her white friends and suddenly becomes a rumor, leading to LaShawn punching another student and potentially losing his place at Stanford. Ashley must figure out how to make things right and also what side she is on.

Reed takes a historical moment in time that continues to resonate today. Remarkably, this is a debut novel. Written with such assurance and clarity, the book allows Ashley to find her own way, something that is often not clear as she continues to make mistakes based on her friends and her class. Reed keeps from becoming didactic at all, instead giving us the perfect character to learn alongside, to hope realizes what is truly happening, and to empathize with and get really angry at.

This book doesn’t duck away from anything. Reed takes on micro and macroaggressions around race and class. She explores how wealth does not protect Black Americans from being targeted, treated differently in our justice system, or stopped by police at gun point. She shows readers this with such power and straightforward honesty that it is impossible to rationalize it away.

Beautifully written, this historical novel is powerful and gripping. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Simon & Schuster.

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada, illustrated by Hyung-Ju Ko (9781945820427)

This timely read captures the work of protestors and underground activists in South Korea in the early 1980s. Hyun Sook was the first in her family to go to college. Her family and she had high hopes for her future. But on the first day of school, she has to cross through a demonstration to even enter campus. Soon she finds herself in the midst of a group of activists, even though she just wanted to join a folk dance group and a book club. As Hyun Sook starts to learn more about the Fifth Republic and the political situation she is in, her views start to change and she begins to help the revolutionaries. The work is seriously dangerous, as members of their group are taken by the police regularly and tortured. Hyun Sook must decide if she will stay and fight or quietly head back to simply going to college.

This graphic novel is so powerful. It looks at a totalitarian regime and the efforts to overthrow it, particularly the ideas and books that the regime forbids. It’s a deep dive behind the lines of the activists in the 1980’s a fictionalized graphical version of a true story that the author lived through. The courage and tenacity shown on the pages is remarkable, calling for all of us to lead our own revolutions or at least read revolutionary books.

The art is done in black and white, stark at times, violent at others. It doesn’t flinch from showing what truly happened when police took people into custody. The echoes between this and our own society are strong, making one ask questions about totalitarianism in our own western world.

A call to action, filled with anger, activism and books. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Iron Circus Comics.

 

3 New Picture Books Bringing History to Life

All That Trash The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff by Meghan McCarthy

All That Trash: The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff by Meghan McCarthy (9781481477529)

In 1987, when a New York landfill was almost out of room, Lowell Harrelson decided to take the trash and move it far away using a barge. His plan was to use the garbage to create methane gas that would be turned into electricity in North Carolina. But the garbage barge never made it to North Carolina, when the state got a court order to stop the barge. The barge was also not welcome in Alabama or Louisiana. It eventually made its way into the Gulf of Mexico and tried to enter Mexico, but that country refused it entry as well. Eventually, the barge returned to waters near New York, prepared to return the garbage to where it had come from. But even that was not simple. Finally, after five months at sea and traveling over 6,000 miles, the garbage was incinerated on order by a judge.

McCarthy nicely plays up two aspects of the story of the garbage barge, the ludicrous nature of the barge being stuck at sea for months and the environmental impact of the trash that humans create. She uses a light tone and light touch in her writing, making it accessible for children who will not have heard of the barge before. She also offers more details at the end of the book, explaining how the crew survived on the barge for so long and offering facts about the barge. She also has recycling facts, garbage facts, and information on ocean garbage in particular. A bibliography is also attached.

Part of the light tone of the book are the illustrations which feature McCarthy’s signature bug-eyed characters. She incorporates speech bubbles and larger images to effectively break up the text into readable chunks.

A funny and amazing true story of the garbage barge that captured the attention of everyone in 1987. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Thermes

Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Thermes (9781419728396)

At the age of 67, Emma Gatewood became the first woman to hike all 2160 miles of the Appalachian Trail alone. She was also the first person to complete the trail three times. In this picture book, readers follow her along on her historic trek. With accompanying maps, the journey is filled with nature, rocks and streams. There are encounters with bears, plenty of rain, and many pairs of ruined shoes.

The book takes a warm look at her accomplishments, showing exactly why she was drawn to walk the trail, the beauty she found there and the peace she discovered along the way. The illustrations are playful and bright, focusing on the landscape and the journey often with Gatewood a small figure amongst nature and other times showing her right at the center. A wonderful book about an inspiring figure who journeyed through life in her own unique way. Appropriate for ages 5-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.)

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9780544704527)

Told from the point of view of a child participating in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in 1963, this picture book uses verse to take children back in history. Starting with Dr. Martin Luther King speaking to their congregation, the book shows why it was necessary for children to march, since adults would lose their jobs. The picture book shows how frightened the children were to march but also how very brave they were to overcome those fears and continue. As children were jailed for their actions, the protests continued. When the rest of America saw children being knocked down by fire hoses, even the President took notice and soon change came and children brought that change!

This is a powerful look at the importance of standing up and protesting when things are wrong in our society. While it is about an event in the Civil Rights struggle, it resonates with today’s marches for Black Lives Matter and other causes such as immigration rights. The importance of the Children’s Crusade is explored in the afterword as well. The verse of the book has a quiet but firm tone, telling the tale and letting the courage of the children stand. The illustrations focus both on the crowd of children but also on the faces of individuals and their willingness to stand strong and march together.

An important read about a protest that must never be forgotten. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Martin’s Dream Day by Kitty Kelley

martins-dream-day-by-kitty-kelley

Martin’s Dream Day by Kitty Kelley, photographs by Stanley Tretick (9781481467667)

This nonfiction picture book uses photographs by legendary White House photographer Tretick to show the story of Martin Luther King, Jr’s historic speech for civil rights. There is an appropriate reverential tone about the day as a whole, the size of the crowds and the speech itself. The book also shows the struggles that led up to the protest, the barriers that stood in the way of racial equality, and the people who stood up for change. While the focus is Martin Luther King Jr., there is also a strong acknowledgement for all of those who fought for civil rights in the United States.

Kelley’s text is straight forward and captures the importance of the day with a laser-like focus. She does use terms and words one rarely sees in picture books and ones that children may need explained to them. Still, this is a picture book probably best shared with an adult who can offer even more of a historical and modern context for the event and the day.

The photographs are simply incredible. It is amazing that one photographer was able to capture so many of them with the density of the crowds and the heat. They tell the story though images, speaking across time. The clothing styles may be vintage but the struggle mirrors that of today, something made all the more evident by the quality of the photographs that capture that same passion and engagement.

A strong piece of nonfiction for children who are living in today’s political environment with other marches surrounding them. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

 

Review: Hands around the Library by Susan L. Roth

hands around the library

Hands around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya

Told from the point of view of one of the protesters in modern Egypt, this is the true story of how the Alexandria Library was saved during the protests.  As the crowd moved toward the library, which was built on the same ground as the ancient Library of Alexandria, the library director came outside and spoke to them.  He pointed out that the library had no gates to lock and no way to protect the large doors made of glass.  It was up to the people to save the treasures inside.  The crowd pressed on and the shouting grew louder.  But then one young man ran up the steps of the library and joined hands with the library director.  Then more and more people  joined hands, a living barrier protecting the library. 

The writing here tells the story clearly and concisely.  There is fear of the mob mentality woven into the story, a trepidation at what could happen with that many passionate and angry people in a large group.  The energy of that mob and that mood carries the book forward.  That moment of decision by the crowd hangs jewel-like in the book, the one person who does the right thing first and then those who follow.  It’s a book and a story that pivots in a moment of bravery. 

Roth’s collages capture the press of the crowd and its passion, but also the fact that these are regular people who were creating change.  The illustrations have a flatness to them that works well much of the time.  It is particularly effective when hands are joined in a chain. 

A powerful look at the importance of libraries and the bravery of a few, this book is also a reminder that we are witnessing history being made.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.