Review: Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel

hands up! by breanna j. mcdaniel

Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (9780525552314)

A police phrase is turned into something much more positive in this picture book. Starting with being a small baby and lifting her hands to play peek-a-boo, an African-American girl grows up on these pages. Along the way, she raises her hands for all sorts of positive reasons like getting dressed, reaching high, and doing her hair. She takes action with her hands up: getting books from a shelf, dancing, playing basketball, and worshiping. The book ends with the girl joining her family in a protest march.

McDaniel has written a book about the joy of life, the small and big things, and the important aspects of a life well lived. It is a book about not living in fear and not being seen as a problem because of the color of your skin. It is a book that reads as a celebration and its own protest against racism and prejudice.

The illustrations by Evans are so bright they almost blind. Pages are filled with sunshine and lemon yellows. He uses textures for clothing that make the book more tactile and organic. Throughout, he depicts a loving multi-generational African-American family.

Powerful and standing in its truth, this book is exactly what is needed right now. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books.

Review: This Promise of Change by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

this promise of change by jo ann allen boyce and debbie levy

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy (9781681198521)

This nonfiction novel in verse tells the story of Jo Ann Allen, one of the twelve African-American students who were among the first in the nation to integrate a segregated high school in the South. The small town of Clinton, Tennessee became one of the first communities to attempt desegregation after the Supreme Court ruling made segregation illegal. A year before the Little Rock 9, this lesser-known group of brave students at first attended their new school without incident but then outside agitators, the KKK and other white supremacists got involved. As the issue grew, simply attending school became too dangerous for the African-American students. When they were escorted by a local white pastor to school, he ended up beaten and almost killed. Jo Ann became a spokesperson for the group of students and for integrating schools in general. Her story is one of resilience and tolerance.

Levy very successfully uses various forms of poetic verse to tell Jo Ann’s story in this book. In her author’s note, she speaks about why verse was the logical choice as it captured the musicality of Jo Ann’s speech. Her skill is evident on the page, capturing both the quiet parts of Jo Ann’s life and the dramatic moments of desegregation including acts of hatred against the students. Jo Ann’s story is told in a way that allows young readers to understand this moment in United States history in a more complete way. The images at the end of the book and additional details shared there add to this as well.

Perhaps most surprising is the fact that these moments have been lost to history and this group of twelve students is not as well-known as the Little Rock 9. At the same time, that is what makes this book all the more compelling to read as their story is more nuanced since the mayor and governor did not defy the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Beautifully written, this heartbreaking and dramatic story of courage in the face of hatred belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Review: Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi

black enough edited by ibi zoboi

Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi (9780062698742)

This short story collection for teens contains writing from the best African-American writers for teens. The list of authors is awe inducing. One after another is a thrilling author to read, particularly in short story format. Each of the stories is a winning entry too. Some are lighthearted like the story by Jason Reynolds. Others are more serious, looking deeply at issues in the African-American community. Many of them deal with intersectionality, offering characters who are also LGBTQ or of different faiths. The array of stories speaks to the diversity of the African-American experience, often playing directly against stereotypes to look more closely at being a teen of color in America.

Incredible authors come together to create an anthology that is very impressive. The interplay of the stories as edited by Zoboi makes for a fascinating journey through the various facets and aspects of being an African-American teen. Teens of various levels of wealth and poverty, interests and hobbies appear in the anthology often interacting with one another in the stories. There is such richness in these stories, many of which could be used in classrooms to start discussions but all of them can be simply enjoyed by teen readers.

This is a must-read and must-have for all libraries serving teens. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

Review: Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

genesis begins again by alicia d. williams

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams (9781481465809)

Genesis keeps a list of things that she hates about herself. Some of it is the color of her skin and the way that others tease her about how dark she is, unlike her light-skinned mother with good hair. Some of it is about the way that their family keeps getting kicked out of the houses they live in because they don’t pay the rent. Some of it is the way her father speaks about her when he is drunk. Some of it is based on her grandmother’s hurtful comments about Genesis. So after being kicked out of yet another house, Genesis’ family moves to a more affluent neighborhood outside of Detroit. Genesis discovers that she likes her new school and even finds herself making real friends for the first time. The house is the nicest they have ever lived in too. But other things aren’t any better. Her father keeps on drinking. Genesis is still as dark-skinned as ever, but she has plans to try to lighten her skin, thinking that will make her entire life better. As Genesis discovers her own talents, she must learn that learning to accept herself is a large piece of moving forward in life.

In this debut novel, Williams writes with a strong voice, taking on difficult topics including verbal abuse, racism, skin tone, alcoholism and co-dependency in an unflinching way. Williams reveals the deep pain and lasting scars that cruel words and verbal abuse can have on a young person, particularly when it is about a physical characteristic that is beyond their control. With Genesis’ parents caught in a marriage filled with anger and substance abuse, Williams offers other adult figures and also young peers who model a way forward for Genesis.

Genesis’ growth is organic and well paced. She learns things steadily but has set backs that end up with her damaging herself. She is a complicated character who looks at life through a specific lens due to her upbringing. She is constantly judging others before they can judge her, placing distance where there could be connections, and making poor decisions when offered compliments. Still, she is a good friend, someone willing to look beyond the surface and see what others can’t. But only when she allows herself to do that. Her complexity is what makes this book really shine.

Strong and vibrant, this book takes on the subject of skin tone in the African-American community as well as other heavy topics. Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Atheneum.

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.