Review: Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham

Not My Idea A Book about Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham

Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham (9781948340007)

This picture book takes on the subject of white privilege in a way that makes the subject accessible to children. The book tells the story of a white child seeing news about a police shooting on the television while their mother tries to distract them and tells them that they are safe. But that is not what the child is concerned with, they want to know why they are treated differently in stores than black children and how this happened. The book grapples with what white children and adults can do to combat racism and get involved in social justice. It pushes children to speak out, even to their own family who are expressing racist ideas. It talks about the concept of “not seeing race” and then clearly explains why that is not true.

Higginbotham writes books about difficult subjects for children. She has taken on divorce, sex and death in the past. Still, this new one may be the most fraught subject yet. The way that she tackles the subject clearly puts the onus on white people to figure this all out, since it is a problem that they are responsible for. The book has just enough history to clarify that this is a long-standing problem and is systemic. Yet it is not willing to rest there, calling for action, clarity around the subject and a responsibility to step up.

The book is hand made and the illustrations and design of the overall book embrace that. The text is hand-lettered on brown paper, creating a book that is approachable and immensely personal. The illustrations, like the text, demonstrate the racism in our society and beautifully never put people of color in the position of having to teach or correct white people in the book. That is the job of white people, including children.

A strong primer on being white in America, examining our privilege and getting involved in tackling racism in our communities. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi (9780062866561)

In the year after the 9/11 attack, Shirin starts yet another new school. At 16, she is in high school and is the only girl in her new school who wears a hijab. Shirin knows what she is in for and comes to school every day braced for both full-faced insults and microaggressions. She tends to ignore everyone, taking advantage of the way her hijab can hide her earbuds so that she can listen to music even in class. But even though she is determined to ignore everyone, people still enter her life. Part of it is her brother starting a breakdancing club that Shirin joins. And then there is Ocean, a white boy who wants to get to know Shirin and can see past her headwear to really see her as a person. But Shirin knows what the world is like and how it will turn against them both if they pursue their feelings for one another. Could the risk be worth it?

Mafi, known for her Shatter Me series, turns to realism and romance in this new book. Her writing is interesting because to make this work for white readers, she has to talk directly about the microaggressions that Shiring experiences and then also about how that makes Shirin feel. Her writing works beautifully and her directness is a strength. Part way through the book, the drama builds alongside the romance into a terrifying mix of love and xenophobia.

The anger of Shirin creates a strong and remarkable heroine. There is no way to read this book without deeply relating to Shirin and her experiences, that includes understanding her fierce defensiveness and rage at the world. Shirin is truly the center of the novel which is a great mix of breakdancing, romance, anger, and defiance. Her relationship with her family is complicated and honest, as is her first romantic relationship. It’s all complicated and wonderfully so.

A fierce heroine faces racism alongside romance in this gripping novel for teens. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

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.

Review: The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin (9780763698225)

Released September 25, 2018.

The goblins and elves have found peace after a long war. Brangwain Spurge, an elf who studies goblin history, is catapulted into the goblin kingdom to deliver a gift to the strange being who rules the goblins. He is hosted there by Werfel, a goblin who studies elven history. Werfel is delighted to host Spurge, but that soon changes as Spurge is cantankerous, judgmental and hates everything goblin. He even detests an elven feast put on in his honor. Werfel also discovers that Brangwain is actually a spy, sending messages in images back to the elves. As the political intrigue grows, readers discover that Spurge is being used by his own government to start a new war, one that the elves will have the upper hand in thanks to duping him. But never doubt the ability of Spurge to ruin a solid plan!

What a pairing of master storytellers! Anderson writes the clever text, showing Werfel’s point of view and delighting in the slapstick comedy moments, the clashing of two cultures, and the dangers of hosting a guest. Meanwhile, Yelchin tells Spurge’s side of the tale through sly images alone, depicting what Spurge is sending back to the elves. The tales of course do not match and yet the also work together to tell a more complete story of misunderstandings, biases and prejudice more fully than words ever could.

The political pieces of the tale are particularly well drawn, showing how forces at work are not really in charge but may just be playground bullies who are being bullied themselves. The focus on differences and similarities is cleverly crafted into the story with the finale strengthening the connection and leaving no doubt that change is possible.

A timely look at political intrigue and getting beyond what holds us apart with plenty of humor to make it a delight. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick Press.

Can I Touch Your Hair? by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Can I Touch Your Hair by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (9781512404425)

This book of poetry for children is written by two authors, Irene Latham who is white and Charles Waters who is African-American. The two create a fictional setting where they attended school with one another and were assigned to be partners in a poetry-writing assignment. The poems here explore hair, families, church, shoes, and hobbies but most of all they explore race in America. Told in alternating voices, the poems show  each of the authors as children and are based on real childhood experiences.

In this book, there is a feeling of safety to explore difficult subjects that the poetry itself creates. The characters are not perfect, sometimes saying the wrong thing or reacting the wrong way. Their trust in one another builds and readers can see that through their growing friendship they are learning to reach out to other children who are different from themselves too. The writing in each voice is exceptional, the two authors are clearly different but also work together to create a unified whole for readers to enjoy.

The illustrations by Alko and Qualls are wonderful, offering just the right details to support each of the poems and reflecting the emotional quality in the poem they accompany. Done in acrylic paint, colored pencil and collage, the illustrations are rich and organic, filled with dancing words and swirls.

A book that invites conversation, this one belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Netgalley and Carolrhoda Books.

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed (9781616958473)

Maya is a young documentary-film maker who longs to go to NYU for college, but her traditional Indian parents want her to go to college much closer to home, even better if she can live at home while she attends school. As a senior in high school, Maya spends her time making short documentary films and hanging out with her best friend, Violet. She has a crush on a boy at school, Phil, someone whom her parents would never approve of. When she meets a very appropriate boy though, the spark just isn’t there. Meanwhile, something awful is about to happen and when it does, Maya finds her family and herself a target of hate crimes and Islamophobia. Maya will have to find a way to make her plans for her future come true at the same time she stands up to others who would silence her.

This teen novel is wonderfully readable. It invites readers into Maya’s world, demonstrating the way that she sees her experiences through the lens of films. Readers will also learn about Indian culture, but the focus is on Maya as an individual. She struggles with parental expectations and the hate crimes of modern America. Though at times it has the feel of a Bollywood romance, there is no softening of the hate that is aimed at Maya and her family, much to the author’s credit.

The book reads at first as a pure romance, with a bit too much blushing and twinkling eyes. It really gains strength when the suicide bombing happens and Maya’s family is targeted due to their last name. The pace at this point turns from dreamy romance to drama and tension. The violence towards Maya and her family has repercussions deep into Maya’s future plans that force her to make a very difficult decision. While the book eventually returns to a more romantic tone, the tension never truly disappears again.

Deftly plotted and well written, this book is an important look at diversity in America. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Soho Teen.

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.

 

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.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (9780062382801, Amazon)

Excuse me as I completely gush about this book and insist that if you haven’t read it, you rush out and get a copy. Monty, his best friend Percy and his sister Felicity are sent to Europe on a Grand Tour. The Tour is part of Monty’s repairing of his reputation after a series of naughty escapades that got him expelled from school. His father completely disapproves of Monty’s lifestyle, particularly his love of other men. But the Tour doesn’t go as planned. Monty finds himself caught in a woman’s rooms wearing very little and is forced to dash from the palace nearly naked. And that’s just the first escapade. Soon Monty, Percy and Felicity are being chased across Europe with no money and no one to save them. It’s up to Monty, the sister he has despised for years and the boy he loves to figure out how to save themselves as the danger gets deadly.

I enjoyed this book at first but did not fall head over heels for it until the party was traveling with no money. The gilded beauty of the official Tour was fine but it was the real trouble that brought the book fully alive. Happily, that takes place early in the novel and then I could not stop reading. Lee takes on so many societal ills in this book that it is dizzying. While the book is set in the past, those ills are still at play today. Subjects like racism, sexism and LGBT rights are still key. This could have just been a lighthearted romp across Europe, but those themes anchor the book, give it weight and real meaning.

The characters are exceptionally drawn. Readers get to know them steadily through the book and they grow and change, revealing themselves to be multilayered and complex. The three main characters in particular are exceptionally drawn. Monty is a glorious rake, dashing and dimpled and yet far deeper than he gives himself credit for. Percy is the perfect foil for Monty, steady and full of grace. Felicity is feminism personified, calm under pressure but not too calm when kissed.

This is an exceptional teen novel and definitely one of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.