Fiction

Diversity in MG Lit #20 Contemporary Realistic Fiction

I’ve got a big roster of diverse titles with contemporary and realistic settings this month, so my reviews are going to be correspondingly short so I can fit them all in. I’ve organized these with the youngest books first moving toward YA titles that are still appropriate for MG readers.
Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away by Meg Medina illus. by Sonia Sánchez. Okay technically this is a picture book. It’s lovely though and pitch perfect to the experience of having a friend move away. I think it will also resonate with many 1-4th graders who haven’t moved but can’t see their best friend because of the pandemic. And the cherry on top–a little ode to the Post Office at the end with the MC surrounded by letters from her best friend.  Candlewick, 9/20
Planet Omar Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian, illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik. This one’s a chapter book in the vein of Clementine with a well meaning Muslim boy who has a talent for mischief and a big imagination. Many elements of Muslim family life are introduced in a graceful way. Lots of spot illustrations throughout. Putnam 2/20
The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert. This is a MG debut for Colbert who has written in the YA space previously. She transitions nicely to a sweet small town friendship story that still manages to point out what a big deal micro aggressions are and what a not-big-deal gay parents are. Bravo. Little Brown 3/20
What Lane by Torrey Maldonado, A short & sweet middle school boys friendship story focusing on the nuances of the biracial experience for black boys. Nancy Paulson Books 5/20
The Last Tree in Town by Beth Turley. Another story about the biracial experience, this one an Irish-Puerto Rican family. It delves into depression in main character Cassi’s high school aged sister and dementia in her grandparent. Love it that Cassi is on her school math olympics team. Simon & Schuster, 5/20
Stand Up Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim. Yumi is a budding standup comedian who dreams of youtube stardom while working at her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant.
A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi & Laura Shovan. This strangers to friends story is told in alternating voices. Loved the British Bake Off vibe and the side story of the girls’ mothers working toward their citizenship exams. Clarion 5/20
Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Here’s another story delving into the dynamics of the biracial family. This time against the backdrop of economic privilege and a fencing club. Lots of food for conversation here and the sports story element should make it broadly appealing.
Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone delves into the racially complex and deeply sexist practice of school dress codes. My inner twelve year old stood up and cheered. You’re going to want to discuss this with your daughters, and it should be required reading for boys. Reluctant readers may appreciate the short chapters. Putnam 7/20
Once Upon an Eid: stories of Hope and Joy by 15 muslim voices ed. by S.K.Ali & Aisha Saeed I love short stories! This collection does a brilliant job of demonstrating the diversity of experience within the Muslim community world wide. Amulet 5/20
And finally Furia by Camille Saied Méndez. This is a debut YA novel but I think it works for the upper end of middle grade (5-8th) because it focuses so much on athletic ambition. Middle school is when many kids first get serious about their sport. MC Camilla Hasan is an Argentinian teenager who adores soccer and excels at it, earning the name La Furia on the field. But at home she navigates what her ambition will mean in family that values athletic skill in men but not women. There’s an element of romance but sports is first in this girl’s heart. Algonquin 9/20
It’s been a great fall for diverse books. More than 50% of the titles highlighted at the Children’s Institute were diverse, so I’m just scratching the surface here. Please shout out the ones I’ve missed in the comments.

Of Real Places, Real Events, and Fictional Adventures – A Selection

Sometimes places take on special meanings to people who live or visit there; especially during the times of growing up.

Considering the places I have lived in, visited, and found fascinating, while growing up, and recently, I thought middle grade readers might have fun reading interesting fictional stories about young people’s experiences connected to actual unique happenings in particular places; with happenings being one time big events, annual events, events connected to special landmarks, and so on.

Here is a potpourri of stories I’ve discovered, set in places I have lived, or remember visiting, sometimes during special events. These stories are fictional, but realistic; mostly; as happens in “The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” in NY City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In the shadow or spotlight of the Brooklyn Bridge, 12 year old Francie lives in poverty with her mom, dad, 11 year old brother, then baby sister in Williamsburg Brooklyn NY around 1910; in the shade of an ailanthus tree (a favored decorative street tree sometimes called “tree of life”). She helps her mom with chores, enjoys going to a library, goes to a school that isn’t nice, but then, thanks to her dad, gets to a nicer school. Then her dad dies. She must get a job; her brother only can go to high school. Eventually, a sergeant offers to marry her mom, adopt the little sister, and send the brother, and Francie, to college, after she takes some courses. // (Wikipedia notes: the ailanthus tree is “an analogy for the ability to thrive in a difficult environment.” It was common in neglected urban areas. Author Betty White wrote in the novel: “There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly…survives without sun, water, and seemingly earth….” — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Introduction)

On his 11th birthday, a boy living in New York City hopes for a dog as a present. He and his classmates are suddenly sent home early from school. His mom calls, delayed at work. She warns: don’t watch the TV; take care of your little sister. Then a stray dog shows up at the door. The boy will surely have an unusual birthday in a place and on a day that he is witness to a monumental happening and deals with being in the midst of it.  

12 year old Nikki lives with her dad just across the street from Central Park in New York City, on 77th Street by the Explorers Gate park entrance. She often visits the park, and is acquainted with the park’s tour guide, Mrs. G, and regular or special events. Things aren’t always what they seem to be in the park though, as Nikki notices at quiet times strange incidents happening. Then a treasure hunt turns into something much more, with the statues right in the center of it all.

Is there really something haunting Sleepy Hollow in New York near where the author of the well-known story lived long ago? Are things not just the ‘for fun’ spooky festivities at a camp? What are some rather strange things that are happening? Three young people decide to find out.

A boy who lives in Hawaii is sent to spend the summer with some grandparents who live in the Adirondack Mountains in New York. He really doesn’t want to go. He finds, however, that this place offers him something unique to experience and take part in.

Three young people are invited and excited to take part in an archaeological dig in one of the first settlements of the American colonies, but then something unusual is found. The young people are determined to solve the mystery.

In Monticello, in Virginia, three young people find a journal written by the 2nd U.S. president’s (Thomas Jefferson’s) granddaughters, but then it’s stolen. The young people strive to get the journal back where it belongs, although danger lurks.

In the mountains of Virginia, (the Blue Ridge Mountains?), two brothers explore the woods outside their new home. Exploring, not only amid the trees, but also caves, rushing waters, and hidden passages, the boys discover something that causes them to eagerly search for clues to find a special type of treasure lost years ago.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, some young people discover that the real Liberty Bell is missing. They are determined to find the real one before the next July 4th celebration. Along the way they get clues from some unique characters. Who are they?!

A boy and his cousin, living along Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, decide to visit an island said to have something strange about it.

12 year old Melanie is bored by her hometown’s (New Orleans’) celebration of Mardi Gras, but then she finds a code on a Mardi Gras float. As her interest in the holiday reignites, she decides to find out what the code means, along with some help from some friends.

Nancy and her friends visit New Orleans during a Mardi Gras event, While there, they find out about an art theft. Nancy is determined to locate the masterpiece, and happens to discover a secret too.

Follow the adventure of a fictional First Daughter of a first fictional woman U.S. president. The girl finds a diary (fictional) of a real First Daughter: precocious Alice Roosevelt, who lived in the White House starting in 1901 at age 17

Through this guide, young visitors can get ready for a trip to Washington DC, by delving into the scavenger hunt around the city’s landmarks.

It’s so awesome that interesting places can be brought alive in fascinating ways for young readers through adventures in the literary world!

Birds of a Feather: 10 Books About Pigeons, Geese, Chickens, and More!

In early April, two weeks after New York went into lockdown, a pigeon landed on my terrace. This is not news. New York is known for its abundance of pigeons, and this was not the first avian interloper to squat on my property. But this particular pigeon, which my daughter lovingly named Pidgy—was not your average bird.

Meet Pidgy

As you can see, Pidgy had one leg protruding from her back. This caused her to topple over in strong winds, and when fighting off the advances of some of the pushier male pigeons. Naturally, my heart ached for her. She seemed so vulnerable, and so alone. So, I did something that no self-respecting New Yorker would ever do. I fed her.

 

Pidgy: Family Member… and Social Media Star

It didn’t take long for Pidgy to make herself at home. I assumed she was only in it for the birdseed, but it soon became apparent that Pidgy wasn’t your typical feathered freeloader. Before long, she was spending her days on our terrace, camped out in the shade of a willow tree or perched precariously on the picnic table. When she wanted to be fed, she cooed. Sometimes, she cooed for no reason. I think it was her way of saying, “Thanks for taking me under your wing!”

 

Truth be told, I was the grateful one. Pidgy was more than a foster bird. She was a bright light in the dark days of quarantine, sitting by my side while I worked on my manuscript, wrote in my journal, or read a book. She sat with my husband, too, and with our daughter and her boyfriend, when they came home from college. Everyone loved Pidgy. My daughter loved her so much, she started an Instagram account for her.

Bye, Bye Birdie

Two months and five bags of Wagner’s Classic Bird Seed later, Pidgy flew the coop. My husband is convinced that she built a nest in Carl Schurz Park and is now sitting on her eggs. I hope he’s right. I would love nothing more than to be reunited with Pidgy someday, and to meet her babies. In the meantime, I will console myself with some wonderful children’s books about birds. Oh, and Pidgy, if you’re reading this…?

This one’s for you.

 

10 Children’s Books About Birds

Coo by Kaela Noel

Ten years ago, an impossible thing happened: a flock of pigeons picked up a human baby who had been abandoned in an empty lot and carried her, bundled in blankets, to their roof. Coo has lived her entire life on the rooftop with the pigeons who saved her. It’s the only home she’s ever known. But then a hungry hawk nearly kills Burr, the pigeon she loves most, and leaves him gravely hurt.

Coo must make a perilous trip to the ground for the first time to find Tully, a retired postal worker who occasionally feeds Coo’s flock, and who can heal injured birds. Tully mends Burr’s broken wing and coaxes Coo from her isolated life. Living with Tully, Coo experiences warmth, safety, and human relationships for the first time. But just as Coo is beginning to blossom, she learns the human world is infinitely more complex―and cruel―than she could have imagined.

Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia C. Pérez

When three very different girls—Ofelia, a budding journalist; Aster, a bookish foodie; and Cat, a rule-following birdwatcher—find a mysterious invitation to a lavish mansion, the promise of adventure and mischief is too intriguing to pass up. But when they meet the kid behind the invite, Lane DiSanti, it isn’t love at first sight. Still, they soon bond over a shared mission to get the Floras, their local Scouts, to ditch an outdated tradition. In their quest for justice, independence, and an unforgettable summer, the girls form their own troop and find something they didn’t know they needed: sisterhood.

Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis

Eleven-year-old December knows everything about birds, and everything about getting kicked out of foster homes. All she has of her mom is the bird guide she left behind, and a message: “In flight is where you’ll find me.” December believes she’s truly a bird, just waiting for the day she transforms. The scar on her back is where her wings will sprout; she only needs to find the right tree and practice flying.

When she’s placed with foster mom Eleanor, who runs a taxidermy business and volunteers at a wildlife rescue, December begins to see what home means in a new light. But the story she’s told herself about her past is what’s kept her going this long. How can she learn to let go?

The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla

Charlie wishes his life could be as predictable and simple as chicken nuggets. Usually, it is. He has his clean room, his carefully organized bird books and art supplies, his favorite foods, and comfortable routines. But life has been unraveling since his war journalist father was injured in Afghanistan. And when Dad gets sent across country for medical treatment, Charlie must reluctantly travel to meet him—along with his boy-crazy sister, unruly twin brothers, and a mysterious new family friend at the wheel.

So, Charlie decides to try and spot all the birds that he and his dad had been hoping to see together in the wild. If he can complete the Someday Birds list for Dad, then maybe things will turn out okay.

Preaching to the Chickens: A Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

John wants to be a preacher when he grows up—a leader whose words stir hearts to change, minds to think, and bodies to take action. But why wait? When John is put in charge of the family farm’s flock of chickens, he discovers that they make a wonderful congregation. So he preaches to his flock, and they listen, content under his watchful care, riveted by the rhythm of his voice.

Celebrating ingenuity and dreaming big, this inspirational story includes an author’s note about the late Georgia congressman John Lewis, who grew up to be a member of the Freedom Riders, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and demonstrator on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Congressman Lewis’s book, March: Book Three won the National Book Award, as well as the American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King Author Award, Printz Award, and Sibert Award.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life listening to her aunt’s stories and learning the language of the birds, especially the swans. As she grows up, Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but she never feels quite comfortable speaking with people. So, when when Ani’s mother sends her away to be married in a foreign land, she finds herself at the mercy of her silver-tongued lady in waiting, who leads a mutiny that leaves her alone, destitute, and fleeing for her life. To survive, Ani takes on work as a royal goose girl, hiding in plain sight while she develops her forbidden talents and works to discover her own true, powerful voice.

The Last Firehawk: The Silver Swamp by Katrina Chapman

Blaze has been captured by giant birds! Tag and Skyla set off through the Cloud Kingdom to find her, using only their magical map as a guide. They must travel through the dangerous Silver Swamp, where threats are lurking around every corner. Will they be able to rescue Blaze? And will these friends get one step closer to discovering Blaze’s family of lost firehawks? A great introduction to fantasy and quest stories for younger readers.

The Capture by Kathryn Lasky

Pushed from his family’s nest by his older brother, barn owl Soren is rescued from certain death on the forest floor by agents from a mysterious school for orphaned owls, St. Aggie’s. With a new friend, clever and scrappy Gylfie, he uncovers a training camp for the leader’s own nefarious goal.

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davis, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

James Audubon was a boy who loved the out-of-doors more than the in. He was a boy who believed in studying birds in nature, not just from books. And, in the fall of 1804, he was a boy determined to learn if the small birds nesting near his Pennsylvania home really would return the following spring. This book reveals how the youthful Audubon pioneered a technique essential to our understanding of birds. Capturing the early passion of America’s greatest painter of birds, this story will leave young readers listening intently for the call of birds large and small near their own homes.

And finally, the most pigeon-y of all bird books…

Moe Willems’s Pigeon series, including the Caldecott Honor book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

When the Bus Driver takes a break from his route, a very unlikely volunteer springs up to take his place—a pigeon! But you’ve never met a pigeon like this one before. As The Pigeon pleads, wheedles, and begs his way through the book, readers answer back and decide his fate.

For more books about birds, including Carl Hiaasen’s Newbery Honor Book, Hoot, don’t miss this post from the Mixed-Up archives!