Diversity in MG Lit #11 Indigenous and First Nations books

New data on the representation of diverse characters in children’s literature came out recently and once again the least represented group is Indigenous youth. I have found that a MG books in particular are in short supply as most of the books with First Nations characters are picture books. Here’s a round up of a few new books and one gem from a few years ago that will work particularly well for young readers.
This Place: 150 Years Retold Forward by Alicia Eliot, 2019 
    This is a collection of graphic novel short stories about the history of First Nations in Canada. I LOVE this book. It covers areas of history not mentioned in text books. The words and art are by First Nations creators. Each story comes with a short preface and a timeline to place the story in context. This was published to coincide with Canada’s 150 anniversary, so all the stories take place in Canada. But many of the issues raised happened in the US as well. For example the potlatch was outlawed in the US in the same time period and for the same reasons that it was in Canada. There is plenty here for both kids reading for pleasure and teachers looking to expand their knowledge of North American history.
 Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, 2019
    Fans of the Rick Riorden formula of hero story will love this new offering set in the American Southwest and utilizing the rich source material of Diné (also known as the Navajo) mythology. Sister and brother team Nizhoni and Mac Begay take on the inheritance of the Hero Twins, and along with their friend Davery, a biracial boy, undertake a series of heart-stopping trials. They reach the Sun God who gives them awesome weapons to defeat the monster who kidnapped their parents. It’s a fun read with a glossary in the back for the Diné words that are sprinkled through the text.
Indigenous People’s History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, 2019
    Here’s a guide to US history through the lens of the Indigenous experience. It covers the full range from first contact through the recent pipeline protests. At 270 pages it’s more encyclopedia than narrative but it will be a valuable tool for teachers in adding context to the history they are teaching.  It has been adapted from an edition for adults with real sensitivity to the needs of the young reader by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese.
1621 A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M Bruchac, 2001 
    This lushly photo-illustrated book is a solid attempt to add some historical context and balance to the Thanksgiving story and is very useful guide for rethinking how the holiday is presented in the school context. Maps, timelines, recipes, and a bibliography give helpful context.
Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids  by Deborah Ellis 2018
    This gem of a book is a collection of interviews of Indigenous children ages 9 to18 in the US and Canada. Their stories are moving and diverse. The children are artists and athletes, able-bodied and living with disability, activists and survivors. They have much to say about living as Indigenous people today and they say it with candor and humor and sometimes sorrow. The book is photo illustrated and has an extensive list of resources in the back.

Diversity in MG Lit #10 Growing the next Generation of Writers

Many writers felt the spark of story in them when they were very young. But many never found the support they needed to develop and hone their skills at a young age.
When I visit schools for my books I often encounter one or two children out of hundreds who are hungry for more interaction than a school visit is designed to offer. Nine years ago I formed the League of Exceptional Writers a free mentoring workshop for young readers ages 8-18.
Because I’m a member of the SCBWI in Oregon, I approached them about providing a small honorarium for the authors and illustrators who were mentors to the League each month. I approached Powells Bookstore about hosting the events and providing promotional materials. Here’s an example of what they made for the last. year. Every month from October to May eager young writers pull up chairs at the bookshop and dig into the nitty gritty of making books with published authors, professional illustrators and other folks who work in the book industry, designers, editors, agents, audio book producers, etc. The League has seen its members grow from shy beginners in 3rd or 4th grade to active writers at their high school newspaper to editors of college literary journals. One has even gone on to work as a designer at a publishing house in Boston.
I mention this not to self-congratulate but rather to offer a model that could be easily replicated elsewhere. The SCBWI is a gently aging organization. Their survival depends on drawing in new young members year after year. What better way to promote the organization than to start mentoring young writers now. Most independent bookstores would be receptive to the idea of hosting a writing club for kids. So please consider starting a League of your own in your home town.
Many cities and states have writing enrichment programs in place such as the Writers in the Schools program sponsored by Oregon Literary Arts. Consider volunteering or donating money to these programs.
And finally if you have a young writer in your life, here’s a book they might enjoy. BRAVE THE PAGE: a young writer’s guide to telling epic stories by Rebecca Stern and Grant Faulkner is a kid friendly guide to writing a boo,k taking the NANOWRIMO model. The tone is peppy and practical. The text answers most of the questions even an adult writer has about the process of writing and the focus is solidly on the writing process rather than selling a manuscript. I think it will work well for avid writers as young as 9 and as old as 14 or 15. Brave the Page is on sale in August of 2019 and is available in audio.

Sherri Winston’s JADA SLY, ARTIST & SPY + Giveaway

Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you all to Sherri Winston and her newest middle-grade novel Jada Sly, Artist & Spy, which hit shelves this week. While Sherri has published several middle-grade novels, this is the first she illustrated as well. Read all about Sherri and Jada Sly, and then leave a comment for a chance to win an autographed copy of the book!


Sherri Winston is a lover of cakes, sarcasm, and wish fulfillment. She grew up in Michigan before spending several years as an award-winning newspaper columnist and journalist in sunny South Florida.

Sherri is the author of President of the Whole Fifth Grade (a Sunshine State Young Readers Award selection), President of the Whole Sixth Grade (a Kids’ Indie Next pick), President of the Whole Sixth Grade: Girl Code, The Sweetest Sound, (a Sunshine State Young Readers Award Selection) and The Kayla Chronicles. She lives with her family in Florida. Connect with her on Twitter: @sherriwinston and Instagram: @jada_sly_may14


Jada Sly, a hilarious and spunky artist and spy, is on a mission to find her mom in this illustrated novel from acclaimed author Sherri Winston.

Ten-year-old Jada Sly is an artist and a spy-in-training. When she isn’t studying the art from her idols like Jackie Ormes, the first-known African American cartoonist, she’s chronicling her spy training and other observations in her art journal.

Back home in New York City, after living in France for five years, Jada is ready to embark on her first and greatest spy adventure yet. She plans to scour New York City in search of her missing mother, even though everyone thinks her mom died in a plane crash. Except Jada, who is certain her mom was a spy too.

With the stakes high and danger lurking around every corner, Jada will use one spy technique after another to unlock the mystery of her mother’s disappearance–some with hilarious results. After all, she’s still learning.


What was the inspiration behind Jada Sly?

I love museums. When I worked for the Sun-Sentinel I spent a lot of time visiting the Flagler. They had a section with antique dollhouses and toys. I used to think how wonderful and mysterious it would be to be a kid whose family owned the museum. It was years later before the idea came back and I developed the character. I love this book.
This is your first illustrated novel. Did you have an art background and how difficult was it to adapt to this format?
I minored in art in college but hadn’t drawn in 20 years. When the concept came to me I spent eight years re-learning teaching myself how to draw and use digital technology. Jada was drawn entirely in an iPad Pro.
What kind of research did you do for all the spy details in the novel?
Honey, a lifetime of James Bond, Nancy Drew and Harriet The Spy.

I see that Jada Sly is going to be a series. Can you give us a hint as to what she’ll be up to in the next book.
Well, if there are future books, the next one will focus more on the art world. I have a sinister plot involving a menacing 10-year-old art collector.
Can you give our readers some tips on how to write a mystery for middle grade readers?
Girrrrrrrl, I’m looking for someone to help me with the same. My best advice is to organize the steps of the mystery but start at the end. You have to work out where you’re going in a good mystery.
Thanks, Sherri! For a chance to win an autographed copy of Jada Sly: Artist & Spy, leave a comment below. I’ll pick a winner at random on Saturday night, May 18 at 11:59 PM, and announce it on Sunday, May 19. (U.S. Residents Only, please.)