What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado

What Lane? (cover image)

What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado (9780525518433)

Stephen loves his Brooklyn neighborhood and spending time with his best friend Dan. Most of the time he doesn’t even notice that he’s Black and Dan is white. But when Dan’s cousin Chad moves nearby, he starts taunting Stephen for being a coward. As Chad dares him to enter an abandoned building, Stephen realizes that he’s the only Black kid in the group. Lately people have been reacting differently to him, now that he’s in sixth grade. People in the neighborhood suspect him first, assume he’s doing something wrong, and watch him in ways that they don’t Dan and Chad. Stephen begins to learn more about being Black in America, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the fact that there are different rules for Black children and teens. But Stephen doesn’t want to be assigned to a lane and stuck there. Is there a way for him to make his own lane with all of his friends, Black and white, included?

Maldonado has written a powerful story that unflinchingly shows the racism inherent in our society, the differences between the ways that white children and Black children are treated, and the dangers faced by Black teens in particular. The inclusion of Black Lives Matter and the focus on the many Black young people who have been killed by police is powerful, strongly tying this fictional story to reality. The realization of Stephen as becomes treated differently by others is shone with empathy and a call for social justice.

The characters here are well drawn. Maldonado shows how being a white ally looks in practice through Dan, how being a non-ally looks in Chad, and the power of friendship across races. But this is not shown as a solution for the systemic racism that he also shows with clarity. It’s a book that will inspire conversation that is necessary.

Powerful and thought-provoking, this look at identity and race belongs in all libraries. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

A Bunch of Board Books

Here are some great recently-released board books to embrace this summer:

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky (9780593110416)

To raise an antiracist baby, you must understand that’s it’s all about showing them that society can transform. This is not a space to be neutral, but one to be an activist. This board book explores what it takes to raise a child who is not racist in our society. First, see all skin colors, don’t be artificially color-blind. Second, talk about race. Third, politics are the problem, not people. Fourth, there is nothing wrong with people, no matter their race, sex, gender, orientation or faith. Fifth, celebrate differences. This book continues through number none which is believing that we can overcome racism. With bright illustrations, this book takes a firm stand of hope and optimism as long as hard work is done and children are raised to see themselves as part of the solution.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kokila. 

Pride 1 2 3 by Michael Joosten

Pride 1 2 3 by Michael Joosten, illustrated by Wednesday Holmes (9781534464995)

Join in the happiness of a pride parade in this counting board book. There is one parade in June with two DJs playing music. Three families, four activists, five motorcycles. Six floats go by with seven divas posing. Eight signs are held high with nine people standing together in unity. The final ten are people waving a variety of pride flags. Incredibly inclusive, this board book welcomes everyone to pride parades and celebrations with open arms. The illustrations are bold and bright, featuring all sorts of characters and families who are part of the LGBTQIA+ family.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little Simon. 

Wake Up, Let's Play by Marit Tornqvist

Wake Up, Let’s Play by Marit Tornqvist (9781782506263)

This dreamy board book invites children to join in the fun that two friends find together. They play all sorts of things, like birthday party and restaurant. They build sandcastles and play stormy seas in the bath. Busy towns with wooden tracks fill the room, and sometimes art wanders onto the walls. They play through snow and even into the night. Then it’s time to figure out what to play tomorrow! Told in very simple sentences, this board book has marvelous illustrations that are quirky and fantastical. At the same time, these are exactly the games that small children play, so it is rooted in reality. A marvel of a little book.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Floris Books.

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert (9780316456388)

Alberta has lived in the small town of Ewing Beach her entire life. She’s one of the only Black kids in the entire middle school, so when another Black girl just her age moves into the old bed and breakfast in her neighborhood, Alberta is thrilled. Alberta does have a best friend, but Laramie doesn’t understand some of the things that Alberta experiences, particularly with Nicolette, a bully who makes sly comments that imply that Alberta is different or gets special treatment due to her race. As seventh grade starts, Laramie gets closer with Nicolette and the popular group of kids while Alberta finds herself spending more time with Edie, the new girl. When Edie and Alberta discover a series of old journals in the bed and breakfast, they find themselves untangling a mystery that reveals haunting secrets about race and identity.

This is Colbert’s first middle-grade book and she brings the skill she has shown in her award-winning novels for teens to this new audience. The book embraces difficult subjects but also shows how having a strong family and sense of identity eases even hard conversations and situations. The book deals very directly with race and racism, having gay parents and a complicated family structure, and divorce. It also explores middle grade friendships and their tensions with empathy and solid advice.

Through the two main characters of Alberta and Edie, readers get to experience different sorts of Black girls. Alberta wears bright colors and loves to surf, spending lots of time at the beach. Edie who is from Brooklyn, wears black goth clothing and loves to read. They are both far from being stereotypical in any way, something that shouldn’t need to be said about today’s books but is also still noteworthy. The adults in the book show the same differences and exude a sense of warmth and support.

A great middle grade read about family, friendships and race. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Black Is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy

Black Is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy

Black Is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (9781626726314)

Inspired by a comment from her daughter, Joy celebrates being Black in this picture book that definitively places the color black in the rainbow of the world. In poetic verse, she looks at a myriad of lovely things in life that are black like her friend’s braids, bicycle tires, Thurman’s robes, ink on a page. The images come from children’s own lives but also are inspiring, speaking to figures in African-American history and culture. The color black and being Black mean so many different positive and powerful things, that black itself is a rainbow to celebrate.

Joy’s writing is powerful, singing on the page like a hymn. She writes simply but with great imagery and drawing in references to powerful African-Americans along the way. She also takes lines of songs and weaves them into her poem. At the end of the book, she writes of the inspiration for her book, the songs included in her poem, and the use of various ethnonyms to refer to the Black community over time. A bibliography of titles is also appended.

The art by Holmes is exceptional. Much of the art in the book pays homage to stained glass windows with thick black lines and strong colors. Other pages use a lighter line, more details and allow colors to swirl and dance. The entire work is one of graphic power and color.

An important book for all library collections. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Dictionary for a Better World by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Dictionary for a Better World by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes and Anecdotes from A to Z by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (9781541578937)

The authors that created Can I Touch Your Hair, a collection of poems about race, return with a dictionary that selects powerful words to think about as we work on making our world better. The dictionary includes words like empathy, acceptance, compassion, humility, respect and tenacity. Nicely, no effort is made to include the entire alphabet, rather words were selected for their ability to make an impact. Along with each word, there is a poem written by one of the authors and then also a piece of prose that speaks to their own interaction with the concept and how it has impacted their life. Other elements include a quotation with each word and also a way for the reader to try it out in their own life. 

The tone here is encouraging and positive without underplaying the incredible amount of work needed to be done to make progress on social issues. The focus is on individual responsibility for each of the concepts and taking personal action to make change happen. In their personal stories, the authors make it alright to make mistakes, take responsibility and continue to move forward. The combination of all of the elements for each concept is very powerful, offering a book that can either be read cover-to-cover or that one can dive into a single concept and explore.

The art by Amini uses a variety of media from photographs to cut paper to pressed leaves to paintings. Each turn of the page takes readers into a new concept visually as well, changing from dark colors to vivid green to cool blues and using different formats. 

A unique dictionary that asks us all to do our part in changing our world. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Carolrhoda Books.

Review: Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison (9781534425361)

Sulwe is a little girl with skin as dark as midnight. She doesn’t look like anyone else in her family and no one in her school has skin as dark as hers either. At school when the children are given nicknames, the only ones Sulwe is given refer to her dark skin and aren’t nice, like Blackie. Sulwe tries to make her skin lighter by using an eraser and eating light-colored foods only. But nothing changes it. Her mother explains that she is beautiful just as she is and needs to know that beauty is about how Sulwe sees herself not how others see her. That night, Sulwe has a dream where a star comes into her room and tells her a story about Day and Night. Day was celebrated by everyone but Night was not. So Night decided to leave and it was daytime all the time. No one was able to rest and the plants couldn’t grow. Day convinced Night that she was needed and just as beautiful at her darkest as Day was at her brightest. Night returned to much celebration and the two sisters never left each other’s sides again. With that inspiration, Sulwe was able to see the beauty of her own dark skin and her confidence grew.

The writing of this picture book is straightforward when it needs to be. It doesn’t hide the racism that Sulwe faces every day, the judgement she receives based solely on her skin color and the way that she in turn judges her own beauty and worth. The folktale part of the book works well, taking the story on a new path and demonstrating using Night, the importance of diversity and the impact we all have on one another.

The art by Harrison is so beautiful. Sulwe glows on the page, her dark skin always lit dramatically showing the slide of a silver tear on her cheek or the glow of city lights on her face. When the story moves to Day and Night, the beauty of both characters is clear. The depiction of Night plays with black and dark, never allowing her to disappear into that deepness.

Dramatic and important, this picture book deals directly in self-esteem and racism.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

Review: The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (9781524740955)

As a Chinese-American living in Atlanta in 1890, Jo veers between being invisible to being openly shunned. She even lives invisibly in an underground secret room with Old Gin, the man who has raised her. Fired from her millinery job due to her race, Jo returns to her previous job as a maid for the entitled daughter of one of the wealthiest men in town. From her underground chamber, Jo discovers that the newspaper publisher who lives in the house above is having difficulty. A competing paper has a new advice column that is getting a lot of attention. So Jo sets out to anonymously fill that role as Miss Sweetie. As her column gains attention and controversy due to her distinct take on race and women’s rights, Jo finds herself caught up in a mystery that may force her to reveal all of her secrets.

Lee writes about an interesting moment in American history. After Chinese people were brought over to replace African-Americans as slaves on plantations, they also fled the hard work and disappeared into urban areas. These Chinese-Americans then had to figure out how to get by in a world that saw only black and white, not other races. Jo finds herself at the heart of these struggles as she navigates the world of the South in the late 1800’s. Laws were changing, and certainly not for the better around her. It’s a captivating look at an almost invisible group of people who should not be forgotten in the history of our nation.

Jo is a marvelous protagonist. Lee does an admirable job of making Jo’s more progressive views make sense and not be too modern. Bound by the society around her, Jo is regularly reminded of her status and that helps the reader also understand the restrictions that Jo finds herself living in. Still, Jo fights for what she needs and figures out ways to move ahead and help those she loves. She is undaunted, brave and fierce.

A superb historical novel that looks at race, gender and America. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Review: For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington

For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington

For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington (9780374308049)

Keda sometimes feels like an outsider in her own family. She is adopted and the only member of her family who is African American. Moving to a new city across the country and to a new school, Keda has to leave behind her best friend who completely understands her. Keda’s parents are both classical musicians, though her mother hasn’t been even practicing her violin lately. She tends to have spells where she can’t get out of bed mixed with other times filled with lots of energy and projects. Keda feels a lot of pressure to take care of her mother, often not sharing the microaggressions she suffers at school or the racist names that others are calling her. When Keda’s mother finds out about the name calling, she pulls Keda and her older sister out of school entirely to be homeschooled. But her mother doesn’t consistently teach them, placing Keda into a girl scout troop for the summer where more racial incidents happen. As her mother’s condition worsens, Keda finds herself often alone with her mother at home trying to figure out how to help and not make things worse.

Lockington vividly tells the story of a tween who struggles to make her personal needs known to a family who doesn’t experience the world in the same way due primarily to race. The book is told from Keda’s perspective which gives it a strong voice and makes the aggression she receives feel very personal to the reader. Just telling the story of an adoptive child who is pre-teen, African-American, and in a loving but struggling home is important. The subjects of microaggressions and racism are told in a straight-forward and unflinching way that will allow readers of all races to understand the impact and pain they cause.

Keda’s character is resilient and smart. She is often struggling with huge issues from racism to mental illness. Yet she doesn’t ever give up. She stands up to bullies and racists, tries to protect her fragile mother from knowing about the hardships happening to her, and then works to care for her mother and protect her father. She is immensely alone in the book and yet always looking for a way forward.

An important and very personal story of adoption, race and strength. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Review: We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson (9780525580423)

An incredible collection of diverse authors and illustrations come together in this collection to offer poems, short essays, and encouragement to young readers struggling to find their place in today’s troubled and divisive world. The pieces encourage children to be activists in this dark world, to shine their light where they can, and also to be careful and aware of dangers along the way.  Each piece of writing is accompanied by a work of art that also inspires young readers to step forward and make the world better.

Authors like Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Sharon Draper, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Ellen Oh are part of this collection. They speak personally about challenges and what it means to step forward. Their writing is paired with art by artists like Ekua Holmes, James Ransome, Floyd Cooper, and Javaka Steptoe. The poems are wrenching and honest, revealing the world that people of color live in every day, the challenges they face and the ways they find a way to make change despite the obstacles. There are poems that are poignant, other pieces that are angry, none that are ready to give up.

A call to action for young people, this book is an anthology that belongs in every library in our country. Appropriate for ages 6-10.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers.