Diversity

Diversity in MG Lit #31 Sept 2021

September and October are big months for new releases and there are quite a few diverse debuts to celebrate. Here are seven new books with diverse characters all out in the month of September.
9-11 Book ListYusef Azeem is not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi, is the story of sixth grader Yusef whose big ambition is to compete in the regional robotics competition. He encounters prejudice in his small Texas town but his Muslim community is a source of insight and courage as he learns to stand up for himself and all he believes. A particularly timely story and perfect for a generation of young readers born a decade after the events of 9/11/Book cover The Insiders
In this MG debut The Insiders by Mark Oshiro, a gay Mexican-American boy moves from his wealthy and tolerant San Francisco school to a school short on both resources and compassion. Héctor takes refuge in a magical janitors closet and finds many kindred spirits–outsiders of one kind or another. All who find exactly what they need behind the magic door: respite and friendship and adventure.
A Soft Place to Land by Janae Marks is another tale of moving to a new town and finding a place of respite and navigating new friendships from the author of From the Desk of Zoe Washington.Book Cover A Soft Place to Land
Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte was a critical sensation last year. In her follow up title Set Me Free , LaZotte again sets her story in Massachusetts in 1805. Fourteen year old Mary Lambert, a deaf girl from the Martha’s Vineyard deaf community, travels away from home to be the tutor of another deaf girl. Her pupil has been brutally treated and Mary shifts her role from teacher to liberator. It’s rare to find a children’s book with a deaf protagonist and I found a lot to like in both these titles, though I have yet to see any commentary on it from a deaf reviewer.
book cover Samosa RebellionThe Samosa Rebellion is a MG debut for Shanthi Sekaran. She crafts a richly imagined world where recent immigrants from India to the fictional Island of Mariposa are discriminated against openly with direct encouragement from political leaders. The rising tide of prejudice clears the way for immigrants to be imprisoned. When Muki Krishnan’s own grandmother is one of the victims he vows to free her and finds a secret rebellion. It’s a great conversation starter about systemic racism.
Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna Eleven year old Kiki uses a journal to cope with her anxiety; drawing the many characters she knows from Indian mythology is a solace. Until her notebooks bring an evil character to life and form a portal to another world. Kiki and her friends are launched into a grand adventure where they tackle demons interior and exterior with courage and resourcefulness.
The Cursed Carnival and Other Calamities: new stories about mythic heroes edited by Rick Riorden I love an anthology for giving a young reader exposure to many authors so that they can find a new favorite. Ten stories. Ten magical worlds. Ten award-winning authors. This is top of my list for Christmas presents for the many MG readers in my family.book cover The Cursed Carnival

Diversity in MG Lit#30 Graphic Novels + Anthologies

Graphic novels are having quite a moment. They have grown by an astonishing 10-15% each year for the past 2 or 3 years and then in 2020, they grew by 29%. They now count for more than a billion in sales. The two factors driving this change are the willingness of independent bookstores and libraries to carry and promote graphic novels and the dramatic growth in graphic novels for children. This month I’m going to introduce a few of the many diverse graphic novels new this year. I’m also going to highlight two new anthologies.
Piece by Piece: the story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huq, Amulet 9/21book cover of Piece by Piece by Priya
If there’s one book I’d recommend to teachers and families trying to understand the lives of immigrants and refugees, it would be Piece by Piece. It’s a spare and powerful story of a Bengali girl who is the victim of a hate crime and goes on to use the very cultural markers that made her a victim to aid in her healing process. Along the way she comes to understand more fully her family’s generational trauma rooted in the Bengali genocide of 1971. I love this story for its nuanced take on a difficult topic and for it’s gorgeous art. I hope that debut author-illustrator Priya Huq has many more stories in the future.
Swan Lake: Quest for the Kingdoms by Rey Terciero & Megan Kearney, Harper Alley 3/22
Imagine a high speed collision between Swan Lake and The Princess Bride and you’ll be onto the vibe of this rollicking tale of friendship and adventure. The racial identity of the main characters are hard to parse in the blue toned illustrations but one of the chief swashbucklers is a single leg amputee.
¡¡Manu!! by Kelly Fernández, Graphix Scholastic 10/21
Here’s another friendship story about girls at a magical school (run by some seriously spunky nuns) who learn the limits of magical power and boundless power of friendship and loyalty.
Borders by Thomas King illustrated by Natasha Donovan, Little Brown 9/21book cover Borders by Thomas King
This simple and thoughtful story packs a lot of power in under 200 pages. It’s about First Nations identity, justice and belonging and is set at a US/Canada border crossing where a Blackfoot family refuses to claim any citizenship other than their own tribe. It’s not flashy but it’s a real conversation starter.
Ms.Marvel: Stretched Thin by Nadia Shammas illustrated by Nambi H. Ali, Marvel, Scholastic 9/21
Love this story about Ms. Marvel, the 1st Muslim American Avenger in a theme that I think will resonate with a lot of students. Ms. Marvel AKA Kamala, is trying hard to do all the things she loves successfully and sacrificing her own well being to do it. But in the end she embraces the super power of leaning on your friends when you need help. Timely! Also from the Marvel universe, Miles Morales: Shock Waves by Justin A. Reynolds illustrated by Pablo Leon, Marvel, Scholastic 6/21
Squire by Sara Alfageeh and Nadia Shammas, Harper Alley Quill Tree Books 2/22cover Squire by Sara Alfageeh
This one reminded me a lot of the Tamara Pierce stories. A Girl, a quest, a training regimen, allies gained and enemies vanquished, all with a middle eastern cast and setting. It’s great fun and sure to appeal to boys and girls equally.
City of Dragons: the awakening storm by Jaimal Yogis & Vivian Truong, Graphix 9/21
Fans of the Wings of Fire series will love this one. Set in Hong Kong, a group of friends find a dragon egg that hatches and becomes a creature of immense power who becomes the object of evil powers intent on destroying the entire city.
As a bookseller I LOVE a good anthology. It’s a great way to introduce kids to a variety of new authors. It’s great to help kids transition from chapter books to middle grade or from middle grade to young adult.  For teachers I love a themed anthology for augmenting curriculum. Here are two new anthologies that I think will serve you well.
cover of Living Ghosts & Mischievous MonstersLiving Ghosts & Mischievous Monsters: Chilling American Indian Stories by Dan Sasuweh Jones of the Ponca Nation, Illustrated by  Weshoyot Alvitre of the Tongva Nation. Scholastic Press, 9/21
Years ago I was a teacher on a reservation in Washington and one of the things I remember most was how eager my students were to tell me a scary story. This collection is not for the faint of heart though the tales vary in intensity quite a bit. They are collected from a tribes across the country. Chapters are devoted to ghosts, spirits, witches, monsters and the supernatural. Back matter includes books for further reading and reliable websites.
Beast & Beauty: Dangerous Tales by Soman Chainani  Illustrated by Julia Iredale Harper 9/21
The author of the School for Good and Evil series has a collection of 12 tales, all twists on familiar tales–thoughtful twists–conversation worthy twists.
This is just a small sampling of the many new graphic novels this summer and fall. Please mention your favorites that I might have missed in the comments.

Diversity in MG Lit #28 June: Summer!!

wild horsesFriends, it has been a long and challenging year. I feel equal parts hope and exhaustion going into the summer break. Mostly I’m looking forward to being outside. I will be spending my summer going to wilderness to research my future stories. I’m so grateful for public lands and all the advocates who have made access to the wilderness possible.
At the same time I’m keenly aware that wilderness spaces can feel very unwelcoming to some communities of color and very inaccessible to the disabled. We all need open spaces. People of every race and continent have worked to defend the wilderness. I have just one book recommendation this month. If it were in my power I’d give this to every family in the world to encourage them to enjoy the wilderness and to do the work of protecting the earth.
Cover of The Wild World HandbookThe book is The Wide World Handbook: how adventurers, artists, scientists–and you–can protect earth’s habitats by Andrea Debbink, illustrated by Asia Orlando (Quirk Books). It introduces nine world ecosystems: mountains, forests, deserts, polar lands, ocean, fresh water, cities, rainforests, and grasslands.
Each ecosystem chapter includes biographies of people whose work impacted that ecosystem positively. A few of the people were well known: Wangari Maathai, Ansel Adams, and Jules Verne for example. Most were new to me. They included Bob Coomber, a wheelchair-using advocate for accessibility in the wilderness. Junko Tabei, a pioneering Japanese mountain climber and the first woman to summit Everest. And Rue Mapp, a black woman who created the blog Outdoor Afro. She encourages Black people to learn about the ways they have been denied access to public lands and encourages them to engage fully with the wilderness. She launched a movement towards inclusion that now numbers 35,000 members in 80 locations across the US.
I would have recommended this book if it only had biographies, but it is so much more. For each ecosystem there is a facts page, a natural wonder, and an environmental success story. I particularly appreciate this focus on the positive. Though we do need to learn all the ways we are harming the earth, we will never get to the changes we need if we don’t also include the things we’ve done that help.
high desert flowersThere are DIY projects for each ecosystem, including practical things like hiking sticks and bird houses, and also art projects using natural materials. Best of all there are suggestions for field trips and stewardship opportunities. I hope you read this book but more than that I hope you get outside this summer and spend sometime taking in all the wilderness has to offer. And I hope you all, teachers, students, and parents, return to school next year with renewed vigor and a heart for all the wild things of the earth.