Diversity in MG Lit #14 Crossing Borders

Immigration and border-crossing has long been a subject of literature for both children and adults. I went looking for new titles and rounded up a group of favorites about kids who cross borders. Refreshingly these are all by own voices authors. I’ve included a few spoilers that I thought might be relevant to parents and educators.
Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros  is an absolutely uplifting and heart-wrenching story of a young Latino boy whose mother is swept up in an immigration raid and deported leaving him and his dad to care for twin 6 year olds. Challenging. There is also a friendship story laced with all the usual MG drama plus Efren’s developing sense of responsibility to take leadership. The story is peppered with lots of words in Spanish, conveniently translated in a glossary in the back, but quite accessible to anyone who hears Spanish spoken regularly. *spoiler* this is one of those rare books with a satisfying but sad ending. The family is not reunited in the end. Your most tender-hearted readers may struggle with this. (Harper, March 2020)
A Ceiling Made of Eggshells by Gail Carson Levine takes us back more than 400 years to the era when the King and Queen of Spain expelled the Jews and engaged in many acts of cruelty including forced conversion. In this story Paloma makes an epic journey crossing political and cultural borders along the way….The author has based this story, in part, on her own family history.  (Harper May 2020)
Catherine’s War by Julia Billet and illustrated by Claire Fauvel, translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger This graphic novel follows the travels of an orphaned Jewish girl in WWII France who travels constantly from one place of sanctuary to the next finding comfort in the courage of the French Resisters and in the art of photography. I’m always on the lookout for translated work this was originally a novel published in French by l’ècole des loisirs. (Harper Alley Jan 2020)
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park does much to both honor and interrogate the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In it a Chinese American girl crosses over from the urban west coast where most Chinese immigrants of the 1880s lived to a fictional stand-in for DeSmet SD where the last 4 Little House books were set. She faces down the prejudices of her town while attempting to finish her education and open a dress shop with her father.  (Clarion March, 2020)
These books were published in 2018 and 2019
Orange for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide  is a debut historical fiction about the changes that Edi Amin brought to Uganda in the 1970. An African boy and Indian girl find their friendship severed when Indians are forced to leave Uganda. Though the events of this era are nearly 50 years old, I think readers will find they resonate deeply with more current experiences. Sometimes it is easier to have a conversation about difficult issues when the story is set at a bit of a remove from the lived experience of students in a classroom.    (Katherine Tegan Books, 2019)
Gürero, poems of a border kid by David Bowels Is a lively collection of poems about a child whose life both literally and spiritually crosses the US-Mexico border. The power of this book far out strips its size and it is an excellent choice for a classroom read together. If you are not familiar with Cinco Punto Press, they are an independent press in El Paso, TX publishing many books on the border and all it means for people on both sides. They have bilingual Spanish/English books and like many small and regional publishers they are brave and diverse in their offerings.  (Cinco Punto Press, 2018)
Last of the Name by Rosanne Parry is the story of a brother and sister immigrating to New York during the American civil war. Orphaned in their crossing, Danny and Kathleen have to scramble to avoid the dreaded orphanage and equally lethal Civli War. Danny dresses as a girl to take a position as a domestic servant with his sister in the home of wealthy Protestants. Fortunately Danny’s love for the music and dance of his home country leads him and his sister to a better home and family.Their story intersects with the Civil War Draft Riots a piece of Civil War history woefully overlooked in the curriculum and an event which does much to illuminate our current state of race relations. (Carolrhoda, 2019)
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga just won a Newbery honor. It was my honor to be in conversation with Jasmine at the Portland Book Festival last year and I couldn’t be more thrilled for her.   In her gorgeous novel in verse, a Syrian refugee Jude and her mother come to Cincinnati to live with relatives. Jude struggles to find her way in middle school and her American cousin comes to terms with her own struggles as an American-born Syrian feeling disconnected with both her cultures of origin. (Balzer & Bray, 2019)

American as Paneer Pie: Interview with Author Supriya Kelkar

I’m thrilled to get the chance to talk to Supriya Kelkar about her upcoming book AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE. Get your pre-orders and library requests in now because you are going to want to read this novel as soon as you possibly can. 🙂


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWill you tell us a little about your upcoming book, AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE?

As the only Indian American kid in her small town, Lekha Divekar feels like she has two versions of herself: Home Lekha, who loves watching Bollywood movies and eating Indian food, and School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when someone teases her for being Indian.

When a girl Lekha’s age moves in across the street, Lekha is excited to hear that her name is Avantika and she’s Desi, too! Finally, there will be someone else around who gets it. But as soon as Avantika speaks, Lekha realizes she has an accent. She’s new to this country, and not at all like Lekha.

To Lekha’s surprise, Avantika does not feel the same way as Lekha about having two separate lives or about the bullying at school. Avantika doesn’t take the bullying quietly. And she proudly displays her culture no matter where she is: at home or at school.

When a racist incident rocks Lekha’s community, Lekha realizes she must make a choice: continue to remain silent or find her voice before it’s too late.


You tackle a lot of big issues in this novel, including racism, micro and macro aggression, and allyship, as well as dilemmas such as friendship pressures, team expectations, and discovering your own way of expressing yourself. How did you balance it all – both in the early stages and editing stages of writing this novel?

This was one of those rare writer moments for me where strangely a lot of things fell into place very neatly while drafting this book, like a puzzle I could solve, even though normally I’m really awful at puzzles! I think because I felt these issues so profoundly, and because so much of Lekha’s experience comes from my life, it somehow came together after I forced myself to really dig deep and go back to memories I had buried. During the editing stages, I was really lucky to have super smart notes from my brilliant editor at Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, Jennifer Ung, that pushed me to look even further into all of these issues and create even more connections to those themes.


One of the things I really loved about this book was the parents. All of them were so engaged, involved, and accessible (even when the kids would prefer them not to be). Would you talk a little about how you created the parents to be so three dimensional, believable, and key to the story and why you thought that was important?

Thank you! I am so glad you found them to be that way! I thought it was really important for the parents to be realistic, caring, flawed people because when I was a kid, I didn’t really realize my parents were individuals who had their own hopes, dreams, and fears. I wanted Lekha to come to that realization a lot earlier than I did so I made sure to try to make them as real as possible. I also thought it was important because racism affects people of all ages and we are constantly evolving and growing and challenging our own prejudices, even as adults.


One of the things that really stood out to me was how you managed to give the reader many entry points into the immigrant experience. As the daughter of an immigrant, I could relate to a number of Lekha’s struggles (Halloween! Sleepovers! Dress!). Are there some aspects of that experience you feel are universal? If readers could come away from this novel with one realization about the immigrant experience, what would you like it to be?

Yes! And now I’m having a flashback to a fight with my mom about a sleepover at a new friend’s house, ha! I think that struggle of wanting to carve out your own identity and independence as a middle schooler while occasionally butting heads with your parents who may want you to do things differently is definitely universal.

I also think sometimes some people overlook immigrants and the immigrant experience, discounting them and othering them, when only one type of story is told about them by nationalistic people and racist, influential people in power. I would hope readers would come away from this novel realizing nobody should be treated as less than.


Oh my gosh, the food! You describe so many amazing dishes in the novel. How much fun was it to write with such attention and care about food? Which of the dishes you mention in the book are your favorites?

It was so fun! I think it was the first time I had ever described so much food in a book. As someone who was teased any time I brought Indian food to school until I no longer brought it, it felt really great and almost powerful to be able to take such pride in describing the Indian dishes in great detail when decades earlier, I would have been mortified to even say their names at school. Samosas with chincha chutney, and mattar paneer are some of my favorite dishes mentioned in the book.


In the acknowledgements you mention that this is the “book of [your] heart. Would you be willing to talk a little bit about that?

This was the most personal book I have ever written. Like Lekha, I grew up in a small town in Michigan that didn’t value diversity. We were taught to not talk about race and to not see color, all while racist incidents were going on all around us. Like Lekha, the words used in the racist incident that rocks her small town were words that have been shouted at me. Like Lekha, I was also guilty of othering Indian-Americans who had recently immigrated here. And like Lekha, I had a deep pride and love for my culture at home and in spaces within the Indian-American community, and an overwhelming sense of shame about it when I was being bullied or othered for it at school.

Writing the book helped me fully embrace who I was as a child and who I am now. It also helped me have a really deep appreciation for everything my parents and our family friends went through when they first arrived in this country. The lines Maya’s grandfather mentions at Thanksgiving that were said to him when he arrived from India in the 1960s and knocked on someone’s door were words that were actually said to my dad when he came here for his Ph.D. in the 1960s.

It felt therapeutic to let out a lot of the microaggressions, othering, and racist incidents that had hurt me as a child but I didn’t really talk about back then because talking about it meant acknowledging I was different or less than. And it felt empowering to say what I wanted to say about these incidents as a kid through Lekha, and to help her find her voice earlier than I had found mine, to speak out against hatred and speak up for what is right.

It’s a book that comes from my heart, one that I would have loved to have had as a kid, and I hope it becomes a beacon of hope for kids who need it.


You write screenplays and picture books in addition to Middle Grade. Can you tell us how your writing process changes depending on the project (if it does) and how you balance so many different forms?

I actually plot novels the same way I write screenplays. I start with character journals, getting to know each character while writing a journal entry from their point of view. I then use the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet to get my important beats down. And then I work on a detailed outline using the three-act structure I was taught to use in my college screenwriting classes. For picture books, I usually just write the story, without trying to outline or do character journals. I find I get the characters’ personalities while writing the actual manuscript for picture books.

One thing I did struggle with when I first made the change from screenwriting to writing novels, (and I probably still have issues with it today), is that in screenwriting, you’re taught to not waste time describing the set or clothing or physical reactions unless they help the plot or are needed for the flow of the script because the script isn’t the final product, a movie is. And a set designer and costume designer and actors and director will be handling the way the set looks, or the clothing, or the physical reactions. So when I had to actually pause to describe all of these things in a novel, it took/(takes) me a while to get it right. I enjoy switching between the forms. It helps keep the creativity flowing. Sometimes I even write a script version of a novel I’m drafting and I’m able to get ideas for the novel from it.


You are also a talented visual artist. (I’m a huge fan of your mixed media/collages). Would you like to talk about how you started doing your art and how it helps or informs your writing?

Thank you so much! I’ve been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember but I started making mixed media/collage art about ten years ago. I started feeling bad about recycling the gorgeous wedding invitations from India that I had been saving over the years any time we would get one in the mail. That’s when I decided instead of getting rid of them, I’d start making mixed media and cut paper collages with them. Lately, whenever I’ve been really stuck with writer’s block, I’ve been making a collage at night. I work on them from about 9pm to midnight and then by the morning, or maybe after another day if it is a more involved collage, I’m able to come up with a solution for what I’m stuck on oftentimes. I think switching up your creative outlet can be really helpful when you feel stuck.


Is there a question you wished I asked, but didn’t?
Does paneer pie taste good? (The answer is a huge yes!)


Can you tell us what’s next for you?

Up next is STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME, (Tu Books, fall 2020), historical fiction set in 1857 India that challenges who we center in stories and “classics.” In spring 2021 I have a picture book called BINDU’S BINDIS (Sterling) about a young girl who loves to match the shape of her bindis to her grandmother’s. And after that comes THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD (Aladdin/Simon and Schuster, 2021) about a Bollywood-loving girl who isn’t good at expressing herself, who suddenly gets a magical condition after her parents announce their separation, that causes her to break out into Bollywood song-and-dance numbers to express herself in the most obvious way possible.


Supriya Kelkar - American as Paneer PieSupriya grew up in the Midwest, where she learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. Winner of the New Visions Award for her middle grade novel AHIMSA, (Tu Books, 2017), Supriya is a screenwriter who has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films, including Lage Raho Munnabhai and Eklavya: The Royal Guard, India’s entry into the 2007 Academy Awards. She was an associate producer on the Hollywood feature, Broken Horses. Supriya’s books include AHIMSA, THE MANY COLORS OF HARPREET SINGH (Sterling, 2019), AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2020) STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME (Tu Books, 2020), BINDU’S BINDIS (Sterling, 2021), and THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD (Aladdin/Simon and Schuster, 2021). Supriya is represented by Kathleen Rushall at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Kim Yau at Paradigm for film/TV rights.

Follow Supriya on Twitter @supriyakelkar_, on Instagram @Supriya.Kelkar, and on Flipgrid.

You can learn more about Supriya and her work (including some of her art) at her website. AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE releases May 12, 2020 and is available for pre-order now. Just follow the link. (Shop your local indie bookstore)

Celebrating Girls in Sports

March is Women’s History Month, celebrating women of all ages, and it happens to be National Nutrition Month, which encourages healthy eating and being active physically.

So, let’s talk sports and sports books for middle-grade girls.

The Women’s Sports Foundation, established by tennis icon Billie Jean King in 1974, closely tracks and reports on girls’ and women’s involvement in sports. Their research is concerning.

Only 1 in 3 girls between the ages of 6-12 participates in sports. 40% of teen girls are not participating in sports. 43% of girls have never played a sport.

Although there are many factors that come into play (sorry!) in these statistics, I might suggest that if we can continue to provide young girls with stories of female athletes, both in fiction as well as nonfiction, we might inspire them to consider participating in athletic endeavors.

To that end, I’ve discovered several great titles that might just be the ticket in opening up the world of sports for the aspiring athletes in your life!

Shred Girls Lindsay’s Joy Ride by Molly Hurfurd (Rodale Kids, 2019)

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An empowering new series from the cyclist who runs is guaranteed to give readers an adrenaline rush–and the confidence girls gain from participating in sports!

It’s time to ride and save the day!

Lindsay can’t wait to spend her summer break reading comics and watching superhero movies–until she finds out she’ll be moving in with her weird older cousin Phoebe instead. And Phoebe has big plans for Lindsay: a BMX class at her bike park with cool-girl Jen and perfectionist Ali.

Lindsay’s summer of learning awesome BMX tricks with new friends and a new bike turns out to be more epic than any comic book–and it’s all leading up to a jumping competition.

But some of the biker boys don’t think girls should be allowed to compete in BMX. Now it’s up to Lindsay, Jen, and Ali to win the competition and prove that anyone can be great at BMX.

Women in Sports by Rachel Ignotofsky (Ten Speed Press, 2017)

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Illustrated profiles of fifty pioneering female athletes, from the author of the New York Times bestseller Women in Science.

Women for the win!

A richly illustrated and inspiring book, Women in Sports highlights the achievements and stories of fifty notable women athletes from the 1800s to today, including trailblazers, Olympians, and record-breakers in more than forty sports. The athletes featured include well-known figures like tennis player Billie Jean King and gymnast Simone Biles, as well as lesser-known champions like Toni Stone, the first woman to play baseball in a professional men’s league, and skateboarding pioneer Patti McGee. The book also contains infographics on topics that sporty women want to know about such as muscle anatomy, a timeline ofwomen’s participation in sports, pay and media statistics for female athletes, and influential women’s teams. Women in Sports celebrates the success of the tough, bold, and fearless women who paved the way for today’s athletes.

Get a Grip Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit (Dial Books, 2020)

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In this perfectly pitched novel-in-letters, autistic eleven-year-old Vivy Cohen won’t let anything stop her from playing baseball–not when she has a major-league star as her pen pal.

Vivy Cohen is determined. She’s had enough of playing catch in the park. She’s ready to pitch for a real baseball team.

But Vivy’s mom is worried about Vivy being the only girl on the team, and the only autistic kid. She wants Vivy to forget about pitching, but Vivy won’t give up. When her social skills teacher makes her write a letter to someone, Vivy knows exactly who to choose: her hero, Major League pitcher VJ Capello. Then two amazing things happen: A coach sees Vivy’s amazing knuckleball and invites her to join his team. And VJ starts writing back!

Now Vivy is a full-fledged pitcher, with a catcher as a new best friend and a steady stream of advice from VJ. But when a big accident puts her back on the bench, Vivy has to fight to stay on the team.

Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages (Puffin Books reprint, 2019)

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A story about the fight for equal rights in America’s favorite arena: the baseball field!

Every boy in the neighborhood knows Katy Gordon is their best pitcher, even though she’s a girl. But when she tries out for Little League, it’s a whole different story. Girls are not eligible, period. It is a boy’s game and always has been. It’s not fair, and Katy’s going to fight back. Inspired by what she’s learning about civil rights in school, she sets out to prove that she’s not the only girl who plays baseball. With the help of friendly librarians and some tenacious research skills, Katy discovers the forgotten history of female ball players. Why does no one know about them? Where are they now? And how can one ten-year-old change people’s minds about what girls can do?

Set in 1957—the world of Sputnik and Leave It to Beaver, saddle shoes and “Heartbreak Hotel”—Out of Left Field is both a detailed picture of a fascinating historic period and a timelessly inspiring story about standing up for equality at any age.

Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions by Henry Lien

Takedown by Laura Shovan (Wendy Lamb Books, 2018) ***Note: Takedown comes out in paperback in April!

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Handpicked by Amazon kids’ books editor, Seira Wilson, for Prime Book Box – a children’s subscription that inspires a love of reading.

Mikayla is a wrestler; when you grow up in a house full of brothers who wrestle, it’s inevitable. It’s also a way to stay connected to her oldest brother, Evan, who moved in with their dad. Some people object to having a girl on the team. But that’s not stopping Mikayla. She’s determined to work harder than ever, and win.

Lev is determined to make it to the state championships this year. He’s used to training with his two buddies as the Fearsome Threesome; they know how to work together. At the beginning of sixth grade, he’s paired with a new partner–a girl. This better not get in the way of his goal.

Mikayla and Lev work hard together and become friends. But when they face each other, only one of them can win.

“Kids struggle every day with the dynamics of high expectations, performance standards, and social relationships. Takedown is a great example of how the sport of wrestling can help everyone involved conquer these challenges and appreciate some of life’s most valuable lessons.” –Kyle Snyder, Olympic wrestling gold medalist

Rising Above: Inspiring Women in Sports by George Zimmerman (Philomel, 2018)

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Behold the power of women! These are the inspirational real-life stories of female superstar athletes Serena and Venus Williams, Simone Biles, Carli Lloyd, and more — role models all. For sports fans, aspiring athletes and readers of sports biographies.

Growing up in a crime-plagued, gang-infested neighborhood, Venus and Serena Williams were led to believe their environment was not a place where dreams could come true. It took a relentless determination, a burning desire to be the best, and a willingness to conquer racial barriers for them to emerge as tennis legends. Simone Biles was raised by a single mother with addiction issues, forcing her grandparents to intervene. But Simone soon discovered balance beams and gymnastics mats, setting her on a path toward Olympic greatness. Carli Lloyd, meanwhile, believed her youth soccer career was really starting to take off, only to be cut from her team. Instead of quitting the sport she loved, Carli rebuilt her confidence from the ground up, ultimately becoming one of the leaders on the World Cup Champion US Women’s Soccer team.

The athletes featured in this book met earth-shaking challenges head on, and through hard work and perseverance, went on to conquer the sports world. This collection of mini biographies, complete with first-hand content drawn from interviews, is a source of inspiration and self-empowerment for kids and sports fans of all ages.

Also included in the book: Wilma Rudolph (track and field), Mo’ne Davis (Little League baseball), Swin Cash (basketball), Elena Delle Donne (basketball), Bethany Hamilton (surfing), Ronda Rousey (mixed martial arts), and Kerri Strug (gymnastics).