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WNDMG Wednesday- Guest Post – Waka T. Brown

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around
We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

WNDMG Wednesday Guest – Author Waka T. Brown

We at WNDMG Wednesday are thrilled to host our guest post writer, author Waka T. Brown. Waka’s piece in honor of AAPI Heritage Month is a spot-on look at the importance of representation in middle-grade books, and we’re so grateful she took the time to stop by our blog.

Author Waka T. Brown–My Journey

Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, everyone! I’m honored to write a blog post this month for “From the Mixed-Up Files… of Middle-Grade Authors.”

With two middle grade novels which prominently feature Asian American main characters under my belt (and two more under contract), I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect and share what my journey as an Asian American author has been like thus far.

Being Sabrina Duncan

I’m curious how many Asian American children of the 70s and 80s are out there who remember “Charlie’s Angels.” Not the 2019 reboot with Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska. Not even the 2000 one with Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, and Cameron Diaz. I’m talking about the one with Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Kate Jackson. Way back when, my friends and I sometimes played like we were the Angels—fighting crime and beating up the bad guys. I always played the character of Sabrina Duncan because… she had the darkest hair of the trio. Like me.

Television star Kate Jackson white woman with short black hair wearing red shirt

It Felt Presumptuous

I grew up reading and loving books by Madeleine L’Engle, Lois Duncan, Beverly Cleary, L.M. Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder (just to name a few). I might not have looked like any of their main characters, but I identified with the spunky, smart, and resourceful girls featured in almost all their stories.

Book Cover for Little Women 4 white women wearing 19th century dresses seated together on a couch

I never once thought about what it might mean to read a book with girls on the cover who looked like me. I didn’t even know that it was an option. It felt presumptuous to even want that. After all, until I left home for college, I only knew fewer than a dozen Asian Americans outside of my family. I assumed there weren’t many of us at all, and TV, films, books all seemed to support what I assumed was true.

Looking for Meaningful, Positive Representation

So, what does it mean to grow up without meaningful, positive representation? When I was a teenager, beautiful equaled Christy Brinkley. When kids told me I was ugly, part of me wondered if they had a point. After all, I never saw models like me gracing the covers of Seventeen. When I never encountered stories about people like me, I internalized that maybe our stories don’t matter.

Magazine Cover Seventeen Magazine actor Brook Shields on cover

However, when I arrived in California for college for the first time when I was 18, it was with a bit (a lot) of culture shock that I realized I was not alone. I had never experienced a diverse environment like that one before. I joined the Asian American Student Association. I met Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipina, and South Asian friends. During study breaks we watched episodes of “Beverly Hills 90210,” and I wondered to myself where all the Asian people were. It took place in California, after all, and what I saw represented in media didn’t look anything like the diversity that now surrounded me.

“Asian Leads Don’t Sell”

Yet, when I started writing (screenplays mostly), my characters still didn’t look like me. “Imagine a bankable star,” I was advised when I created my characters. I wrote shallow, frothy romcoms that I thought would have mass appeal. When nothing came of them, I decided to throw previous advice out the window and wrote a teenage Roman Holiday-esque story… with two Asian leads. I would like to say this is when my big break came, but alas no. I was only able to get one person in the industry to even read it because, “Asian leads don’t sell.” Maybe at the time people truly believed that. But part of me thought (like my character Annie in Dream, Annie, Dream), How do you get to be a big name/bankable star if you’re never cast? After a disappointing reception to my attempt to create some Asian American representation, I went back to writing my standard fare for a while… but then again, I decided on a project, a far-fetched project. A memoir about 12 year-old me called While I Was Away.

Book Cover for While I was Away - profile sketch of an Asian girl with a small village in the background

Waka T Brown at 12 years old, photo of young Japanese girl in plaid shirt

Waka T. Brown at age 12

Even though a lot of people were dismissive of this endeavor and echoed my own concerns such as “Memoir? And middle grade? Good luck, that’s gonna be a tough sell,” and “you need to have an established platform to sell something like that,” I wrote it anyway. No one bought my more “commercial” writing, so why not? I wanted to get the memories down before they faded for myself. For every negative remark, there were also encouraging ones, like “You should definitely write that story” and “That is the story only you can write.” And those were the ones I hung on to.

((Like reading memoirs and ready to find more? Read this Rosanne Parry’s roundup of Diverse MG Memoirs))

Plus, there were other promising signs urging me not to give up. Crazy Rich Asians was a box office smash. Bookstore shelves looked a lot different from when I was a little girl. I caught up on years of reading, including works by Grace Lin and Kelly Yang. And despite a number of rejections that pointed toward my story’s lack of marketability and/or relatability with a wider audience, While I Was Away eventually sold at auction in a 2-book deal.

movie poster for movie "Crazy, Rich Asians"

How people have embraced my first book since its publication in January 2021 has truly blown me away. It was an Oregon Book Award finalist, one of New York Public Library’s Best Books for Kids of 2021, a Bank Street Children’s Best Book of the Year for 2022…

Dream, Annie, Dream

But, I definitely feel my work as a writer isn’t finished. With my second book, Dream, Annie, Dream, I tackle the issue of representation head-on. Even though it’s a work of fiction, many of the experiences were drawn from my own. Although some of the topics and incidents in it might feel uncomfortable, it is my hope that young readers are drawn to my main character Annie Inoue like I was drawn to Sara Crew, Laura Ingalls, Anne Shirley, and Jo March.

Book Cover for Dream Annie Dream, young Asian girl with basketball and books and pencil as "dreams" floating around her head

They’ve Needed This Story for Decades

While I truly feel my books are for everyone (even teenaged sons who have yet to read their mother’s second book… cough, cough… you know how you are), I appreciate that what each reader gains from them is their own. Some readers have let me know how they related to certain incidents. Some have mentioned that they just enjoyed the story. But the ones that I hold the most dear have been the ones who tell me that they’ve needed this story for decades.

For me personally, representation has come a long way from “the dark-haired Charlie’s Angel” to these two books.

Book Cover for Dream Annie Dream, young Asian girl with basketball and books and pencil as "dreams" floating around her headBook Cover for While I was Away - profile sketch of an Asian girl with a small village in the background

It’s my sincere hope that more stories, diverse stories, stories about events we’ve never heard of continue to surface. And that as readers, we continue to embrace them all with open hearts and minds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Headshot author Waka T. Brown - Asian woman seated on couch, smiling

Waka is a Stanford graduate with a B.A. in International Relations and a Master’s in Secondary Education. While I Was Away (Quill Tree/HarperCollins 2021) is her debut novel.

Dream, Annie, Dream (Quill Tree/HarperCollins 2022) is her first work of historical fiction.

More About Waka T. Brown

In addition to writing middle-grade stories, I enjoy writing screenplays. I wrote and co-directed the short film Double Tap (Official Selection, 2018 DC Shorts and Portland Film Festivals) and my feature-length screenplays (comedies, romcoms, & animated features) have been 2nd-rounders at AFF, placed in the semifinals of PAGE, and quarterfinals of Screencraft writing competitions.

I’m currently an online instructor with the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE). I teach about U.S.-Japan relations to high school students in Japan, and have also authored curriculum on several international topics. Recently, I was honored to receive the U.S.-Japan Foundation and EngageAsia’s national 2019 Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher award.

I live in the Portland, Oregon area with my husband, three sons, and my naughty yet lovable shiba Niko. I have a lot of hobbies such as running, art, baking, and playing guitar.

Connect with Waka:

Twitter

Instagram

Website

 

STEM Tuesday — Women Who Changed Science — In the Classroom

Most people have learned about famous scientists such as Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, and Sir Isaac Newton. But what do you know about Emma Lilian Todd, Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler, Mae Jemison, and Grace Hopper? These incredible women in science have been pioneers in their fields and inspire future generations of women in science, technology, engineering, and math. This month’s STEM Tuesday theme is Women in Science. Here are a few activities to help students learn more about these extraordinary scientists.

Create a Living Museum

Make history come alive in the classroom with a living museum. Start by having students read through these books and choose a scientist to research. They can work individually or in pairs or small groups.

Science Superstars: 30 Brilliant Women Who Changed the World by Jennifer Calvert, illustrated by Octavia Jackson

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgExploring the spark of curiosity and the joy these women found in science, as they each persevered despite any barriers – even wars, this book presents factually & visually interesting entries of many well-known women scientists, as well as Ynés Méxia (Botanist), Janaki Ammal (Botanist/Cytology), Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (Chemistry), Jane Cooke Wright (Oncology), and Sau Lan Wu (Particle Physics). It’s an excellent book for encouraging students to think about the many possible science careers and pursue their own interests.

Changing the Equation: 50+ US Black Women in STEM by Tonya Bolden

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgFrom early trailblazers to the present, these stories highlight black women who have made contributions as surgeons, inventors, mechanics, forensic scientists, engineers, physicists, geneticists, architects and more. Each of three sections put the women’s contributions into the context of U.S. history. This is a book that could inspire a girl to think “maybe that’s something I can do!”

 

101 Awesome Women Who Transformed Science by Claire Philip, illustrated by Isabel Muñoz

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgA great resource for any STEM-girl, this compendium highlights women’s scientific and technical achievements from 2700 BCE to the present. Short biographies introduce women in math, botany, physics – even astrophysics. There are women in paleontology, engineering, computer science, and my favorite, entomology. Readers also meet women inventors and astronauts. Four spreads focus on women in astronomy, medicine, computing, and chemistry.

 

Black Women in Science by Kimberly Brown Pellum

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgAuthored by a Black woman of science (Dr. Pellum is a veterinarian), this book invites girls to explore the possibilities of STEM careers. She presents 15 biographies, beginning with Rebecca Lee Crumpler, a medical doctor at the end of the Civil War, and showcases black women in aviation, nutrition, computers, rocket science, genetics, and forensic science. Hands-on activities at end of each chapter.

 

Hidden No More: African American Women in STEM Careers by Caroline Kennon

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgAttempting to counter the continued stereotyping of black women in STEM careers, this book traces the accomplishments of female African American scientists and inventors through the 19th and 20th centuries – from Bessie Coleman to Mae Jemison, Marie Daly to Joan Owens, Rebecca Crumpler to Alexa Canady, Ruth Howard to Jeanne Spurlock, and Bessie Griffin to Valerie Thomas. It includes source notes and additional resources.

 

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWomen have been studying and practicing medicine, science, and math since before recorded history. We cannot afford to ignore the brain power of half the population, says the author, and she highlights contributions from women in STEM fields. There are timelines and a great sidebar on statistics, using graphs and pie charts to show the percent of women in STEM fields. Also, a fun spread showing a variety of lab tools.

Activity

Once students have selected their scientists, have them research and learn about them. When did they live? What was their life like? How did they get interested in science? What contributions did they make to science? What challenges or obstacles did they face, and how did they overcome them? Students can prepare a short presentation about their scientist for museum visitors using this information. Encourage them to be creative in their presentation. They might want to dress up as their scientist and/or use props and prepare a speech or skit. They might choose to prepare a PowerPoint, short video, or slideshow to help visitors learn about the scientists. When ready, invite another class or parents to visit the living museum and learn about women in science.

STEM Careers Today

More women than ever before are studying STEM subjects and working in STEM careers. Have students look through these books and identify some exciting STEM careers.

No Boundaries: 25 Women Explorers and Scientists Share Adventures, Inspiration, and Advice by Gabby Salazar and Clare Fieseler

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgAn engaging look at women around the globe on the frontlines of ecology, archeology, conservation, citizen science, astronomy, mountaineering, photography, vulcanology, bioengineering, and many more areas of science and exploration. Each biography contains “must-have” and “inspiration” sidebars, stunning photographs and diagrams, as well as a fun activity or additional scientific information.

 

Gutsy Girls Go for Science: Engineers – With Stem Projects for Kids by Diane C. Taylor

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgEngineering is a huge part of our everyday life. The buildings we live and work in, the computers and phones we use – even the dishes we eat from – were designed by engineers. This book contains biographies of five gutsy girl engineers: Ellen Swallow Richards, an environmental engineer; Emily Roebling, chief engineer for the Brooklyn Bridge; Catherine Gleason, mechanical engineer; Lillian Moller Gilbreth, and industrial engineer; and Mary Jackson, an aerospace engineer. There are plenty of text-boxes, short bios of other engineering women, and hands-on “field assignments” at the end of each chapter. Other books in the series include Paleontologists, Programmers, and Astronauts.

Technology : Cool Women Who Code by Andi Diehn, illustrated by Lena Chandhok

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThis is one of ten books in the “Girls in Science” series. It begins with an introduction to technology, and how it has evolved from wheels and steam engines to current tech. Each of three chapters focuses on a woman in technology: Grace Hopper (math, science, computers); Shaundra Bryant Daily (coding, technology & movement); and Jean Yang (computer science and programming languages). Text boxes highlight cool careers in technology, sidebars provide short biographies of six more women in technology, and there are plenty of “try-it’s” and questions sprinkled throughout. Also in the series: books about women in Astronomy, Engineering, Forensics, Marine Biology, Aviation, Archaeology, ZoologyMeteorology, and Architecture.

Activity

Ask students: “Where do you see yourself in STEM?” Have them think about what types of STEM jobs and careers interest them. Then, they can identify a STEM career that they find most interesting and learn more about it. An excellent place to learn about careers is the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What does a typical day look like for someone in this career? What responsibilities do they have? What type of education do they have? Where do they work? What are some similar jobs? Have students prepare a short presentation about what they have learned and share it with the class.

Hopefully, these activities and resources will get your students excited to learn more about women in STEM!

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Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and dog. When not writing, she can often be spotted at a hockey rink for one of her kids’ games. Find her at http://www.carlamooney.com, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, or on Twitter @carlawrites.

Middle Grade & YA Books About Allergies

According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), 1 in 13 children under age 18 have food allergies in the U.S.. That’s 32 million Americans, 5.6 million of them children. It’s a serious problem that impacts every classroom and many, many households. There are many wonderful books for younger kids about food allergies that teach them how to be safe by reading labels, asking about ingredients, checking with a trusted adult before eating anything, and carrying their medication and EpiPens when they go out, but when it gets to the middle school years, there’s less out there for food allergic kids or kids with other allergic conditions.

On one hand, that make sense. Middle school kids know the ropes by now, but on the other hand, as kids enter their teen years, risk-taking behavior around food allergies (as well as other serious allergies) skyrockets. Seeing children in books managing their allergies is important, even if the characters don’t always make perfect choices every time. In honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week, here are 5 middle-grade and YA titles about food allergies and other allergic conditions that tween and teen readers will enjoy.

Are we missing any? Tag MUF and share your picks with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, too.

Allergic: A Graphic Novel by Megan Wagner Lloyd (author) and Michelle Mee Nutter (illustrator)

From the publisher: “A coming-of-age middle-grade graphic novel featuring a girl with severe allergies who just wants to find the perfect pet! At home, Maggie is the odd one out. Her parents are preoccupied with getting ready for a new baby, and her younger brothers are twins and always in their own world. Maggie loves animals and thinks a new puppy is the answer, but when she goes to select one on her birthday, she breaks out in hives and rashes. She’s severely allergic to anything with fur! Can Maggie outsmart her allergies and find the perfect pet? With illustrations by Michelle Mee Nutter, Megan Wagner Lloyd draws on her own experiences with allergies to tell a heartfelt story of family, friendship, and finding a place to belong.”

Allergy angle: Allergic is about a 5th grader with an allergy to dogs, not food, but it is sweet and fun, and younger MG readers will appreciate the gentle approach to managing a health condition.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Joy McCullough

From the publisher: “Sutton is having robot problems. Her mini-bot is supposed to be able to get through a maze in under a minute, but she must have gotten something wrong in the coding. Which is frustrating for a science-minded girl like Sutton–almost as frustrating as the fact that her mother probably won’t be home in time for Sutton’s tenth birthday. Luis spends his days writing thrilling stories about brave kids, but there’s only so much inspiration you can find when you’re stuck inside all day. He’s allergic to bees, afraid of dogs, and has an overprotective mom to boot. So Luis can only dream of daring adventures in the wild. Sutton and Luis couldn’t be more different from each other. Except now that their parents are dating, these two have to find some common ground. Will they be able to navigate their way down a path they never planned on exploring?”

Allergy angle: As noted in the blurb, Luis has a bee allergy and carries an EpiPen, and  the book makes it clear that managing a serious condition can be hard for a kid.

 

Almost Midnight: 2 Festive Short Stories by Rainbow Rowell and Simini Blocker (illustrator)

From the publisher: “Almost Midnight: Two Festive Short Stories by New York Times bestselling author Rainbow Rowell contains two wintery short stories, decorated throughout with gorgeous black and white illustrations by Simini Blocker. ‘Midnights’ is the story of Noel and Mags, who meet at the same New Year’s Eve party every year and fall a little more in love each time . . . ‘Kindred Spirits’ is about Elena, who decides to queue to see the new Star Wars movie and meets Gabe, a fellow fan.”

Allergy angle:  Noel has an allergy to tree nuts, which he mentions right off the bat when he meets Mags. Though this is a YA title, it can also be read by upper middle-grade readers.

 

 

My Year of Epic Rock by Andrea Pyros

From the publisher: “If Life Was Like a Song Nina Simmons’ song would be You Can’t Always Eat What You Want. (Peanut allergies, ugh). But that’s okay, because as her best friend Brianna always said, We’re All in This Together. Until the first day of the seventh grade, when Brianna dumps her to be BFFs with the popular new girl. Left all alone, Nina is forced to socialize with her own kind–banished to the peanut-free table with the other allergy outcasts. As a joke, she tells her new pals they should form a rock band called EpiPens. (Get it?) Apparently, allergy sufferers don’t understand sarcasm, because the next thing Nina knows she’s the lead drummer. Now Nina has to decide: adopt a picture-perfect pop personality to fit in with Bri and her new BFF or embrace her inner rocker and the spotlight. Well… Call Me a Rock Star, Maybe.”

Allergy angle: I wrote My Year of Epic Rock because my then-elementary aged child had food allergies and I wanted there to be books out there that dealt with the challenge of being different during the years you most want to fit in. Nina has an allergy to peanuts and eggs.

Fearless Food: Allergy-Free Recipes for Kids by Katrina Jorgensen 

From the publisher: “Let’s get cooking with more than 100 allergy-free recipes for kids! Fun, delicious and easy-to-make breakfasts, snacks, sides, main dishes and desserts avoid the Big-8 food allergens whenever possible. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, Chef Katrina Jorgenson has created amazing recipes that avoid milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. Plus, the recipes are easy enough for kids to make on their own. The whole family will love Baked French Toast with Homemade Blueberry Sauce, Pumpkin Seed Pesto Pasta, Creamy Mac and Cheese, Banana Ice Cream and so much more!”

Allergy angle: There is no shortage of wonderful cookbooks for people with food allergies, intolerances, or celiac disease (who must avoid all gluten products). Here is one of them!