Diversity

Diversity in MG Lit #34 March 2022

I’ve heard some interesting predictions in a recent Publisher’s Weekly article about how 2022 is going for children’s publishing. Ongoing concerns about the price of paper and shipping are somewhat concerning. Continuing strong sales for MG books are again encouraging. But here’s the item that really caught my eye. For the first time ever at Scholastic they will have a year (in2023) with more than 50% of their titles from diverse creators and about diverse topics. The promotion of these books will begin in 2022 and the effects, I think, will resonate long beyond this watershed moment. I know how hard booksellers and librarians and agents and editors at every publishing house have worked to make increased diversity possible. I’m so proud of how far we’ve come in making the face of children’s book writing resemble the faces of the children we serve more closely.

Here’s a roundup of some of the diverse books coming out in March.

book cover Just a Girl by Lia LeviFirst up, something for the younger end of MG readers. Just a Girl by Lia Levi is the translated memoir of a Jewish Italian girl who lived through the Holocaust. I think it makes a good introduction for the youngest readers. The author writes of her childhood with great tenderness as if she is speaking to her own grandchildren. She is careful at tense moments to assure the young reader that even with the discrimination, the loss of rights and jobs and home for Jewish people, things will turn out alright for Lia and her sisters and parents. They move many times to escape the Nazis. In the end they take shelter in a convent where she learns not only to receive the compassion of others but to find that well of compassion within herself. Many illustrations and an album of family photos round out this wartime memoir.

Two novels in verse for March

book cover Alias Anna by Susan HoodAlias Anna: a true story of outwitting the Nazis by Susan Hood and Greg Dawson. Memorably set in WWII Ukraine and then Germany, this is the story of two sisters who used their talent playing the piano to escape her parent’s fate. They hid in plain sight as a students in a prestigious German music school. One of the authors is the son of the main character Zhanna Arshanskaya. The book includes family photographs, an afterward about how the story Zhanna had kept secret for decades came to light, a list of the music she and her sister played, the role music played in WWII and lots of source notes. Current events in Ukraine should make this a story of particular interest.
book cover Wave by Diana FaridWave by Dian Farid with art by Kris Goto is set in California in the 1980s. It tells the story about 13 year old Persian American girl with OCD who finds refuge in a surfing and Rumi poetry and her best friend Phoenix.

Two graphic novels for March

book cover Aquanaut by Dan SantatThe Aquanaut by Dan Santat is at first glance a zany, fanciful story about what happens when a group of sea creatures figure out how to animate an old diving suit and come ashore in search of a new home. It is also a story of faithfulness to family and finding (or reclaiming) your true calling. Young eco-warriors will find lots to cheer for. And anyone who is trying to hold it all together in the face of great loss will find a heartfelt message of redemption–all wrapped up in vivid panels of Santat’s warm and energetic illustrations. On a personal note, I was an avid fan of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and I was delighted to spy a few tributes to Cousteau in the artwork.
book cover Wingbearer by LiuWingbearer by Marjorie Liu & eny Aida Issakhanian is another story for animal-lovers. In it Zuli is raised in a magical tree that shelters the spirits of birds waiting to be reborn. When the tree is threatened Zuli and her owl companion go on a quest to save the souls of birds.

I am a huge fan of the MG picture book.

book cover BlueBlue: a history of the color as deep as the sea and as wide as the sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, illustrated by Daniel Minter. The history of where blue dye and paint came from is rich and fascinating and often cruel. Natural blue paints and dyes were hard to make and highly prized. I was fascinated to learn about the lengths people went to get the color blue. A perfect mix of science and history.
book cover Angel of Santo TomasThe Angel of Santo Tomas: the story of Fe Del Mundo by Tammy Yee. Here is a small press gem from Tumblehouse. The story of WWII in the Philippines is one I’ve not seen in literature for children. A remarkable young Filipina doctor left her comfortable medical practice in the US to serve her home country. She spent the war years taking care of children in an internment camp in Santo Tomas.

March Debuts

book cover Sir Fig NewtonWith the number of diverse books for MG readers growing dramatically, I’m going to try to focus more on debut titles. One such novel is Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence by Sonja Thomas. Unabashed science nerd Mira Williams faces a summer of navigating new territory without her best friend at her side. Whether it’s dealing with changes in employment for her parents, a science fair rival or the mysterious illness of her beloved cat, Mira learns the value of tenacity.

Finally here are 5 contemporary MG novels from veteran writers Kelly Yang, Naomi Shihab Nye, Erin Entrada Kelly, and Ernesto Cisneros.

book cover Falling Short by CisnerosThose Kids from Fawn Creek by Erin Entrada Kelly
book cover Turtle of MichiganThe Turtle of Michigan by Naomi Shihab Nye
New from Here by Kelly Yang
Falling Short by Ernesto Cisneros

Diversity in MG #32 January 2022.

Hello Mixed Up Files friends. I’m so happy to step into the new year spreading the word about all the new diverse books for MG readers. I’ll begin with three nonfiction books that came out last fall and end with some new fiction.
book cover Threads of PeaceThreads of Peace: how Mohandas Ghandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Changed the World by Uma Krishnaswami is a dual biography of two great leaders in non-violent resistance. I appreciate very much how the flow of history is presented. It points out similarities and differences between British-ruled India and the Jim Crow South. We see how each man developed their ideas about non-violent resistance to tyranny over many years and much study. Teachers will be glad to see lots of source notes, maps, a glossary and timelines. Readers will appreciate the many historical photographs and the lively writing. Perfect for middle school and high school history classes and also a great book club choice for church youth groups.
book cover Black Birds in the SkyBlack Birds in the Sky: the story and legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre by Brandy Colbert is a detailed account of the destruction of a thriving Black community in Oklahoma. It describes how black families in the Greenwood district of Tulsa became so economically successful. It highlights notable people of the era such as Ida B Wells-Barnett. (happy side note: my local public high school changed its name from Woodrow Willson High to Ida B. Wells High) This title is generally shelved with the YA titles and is best suited to older middle grade readers.
I’m a big folktale fan. The graphic novel BlancaFlor: the hero with secret powers, a folk tale book cover BlancaFlorfrom Latin America by Nadja Spiegelman & Sergio García Sánchez was right up my alley. The art is energetic and whimsical. The story, everything you want in a folktale. It is billed as a feminist leaning story but I found BlancaFlor a tad too self effacing to claim that crown. She is stuck between a prince in desperate want of her magic powers and a family admonishing her not to show off–familiar ground for many mortal girls and women. There is also a Spanish edition of this title and it is from the same publisher who created Black Heros of the Wild West. I’m looking forward to many more diverse graphic novels in their future. (TOON 2021)
I wish Annie Blooms (the bookstore where I work) had a manifesto section. Aint Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds, art by Jason Griffin, would be its star title. It’s a short but powerful reflection on breathing. A timely topic but also an evergreen one given the rates of asthma in inner city children and emphysema in minority adults. I think the book will speak deeply to MG and YA readers. It’s best value though is in the implicit encouragement to write and illustrate a manifesto of your own. (Atheneum 2022)
book cover Dream Annie DreamI have a suspicion that while many aspects of everyday racism are the same as always, there is an increase in that particularly pernicious entitlement nonsense. “You only got …insert impressive achievement here…because you are a minority.” Ugh! This is exactly the territory Waka T Brown covers in her novel Dream, Annie, Dream. Seventh grader Annie Inoue lands a lead in the middle school musical The King and I only to hear from classmates that she only got the part because she’s Asian. Her hard won self confidence unfolds beautifully. A solid follow up to Brown’s debut While I Was Away. (QuillTree 2022)

Diversity in MG Lit #33 February 2022

 

Book cover Word TravelersKicking off the month with a new MG chapter book series somewhat in the vein of Magic Treehouse.    Word Travelers & the Taj Mahal Mystery (10/2021) and Word Travelers & the Missing Mexican Mole (2/2022) (Random House). It is written by rapper and wordsmith Raj Halder and illustrated by Neha Rawat. A diverse trio of word sleuths magically travels the world uncovering linguistic connections in words that came to English from around the world. This one is on the young side with an engaging pace and a glossary at the back. I hope we see many more of these in the future.
book cover Just Right JillianHere is a trio of MG friendship stories. Just Right Jillian is the debut novel of Nicole D. Collier. It’s about overcoming shyness and finding your voice. Wishing Upon the Same Stars is the debut novel of Jacquetta Nammar Feldman. It explores the challenges in moving from a community where everyone practices the same faith to a more diverse neighborhood. It features a friendship between an Arab and an Israeli girl. Reem Faruqui’s fifth book Golden Girl, is a novel in verse celebrating Pakistani culture. It has a glossary and an Aloo Gosht recipe which could not be more simple or delicious!book cover Wishing Upon the Same Stars
book cover Anybody Seen Frenchie?Good books about neurodiverse children are rare.  Here’s a title that includes two kids in Maine with divergent aspects of autism who form an enduring friendship, in spite of their differences.  Anybody Here Seen Frenchie? is written by Schneider Family Book Award winning author Leslie Connor
book cover Comb of WishesHere are two diverse fantasy titles for February: A Comb of Wishes by debut author Lisa Stringfellow  is about a mermaid-summoning girl who learns the price of wishes. Master storyweaver Pam Muñoz Ryan has a new tale, Solimar: the sword of the monarchs, a story full of magic and danger with the fate of a kingdom and of monarch butterflies in the balance.
book cover Rima's RebellionFans of historical fiction will find Rima’s Rebellion by Margarita Engle a fascinating journey to Cuba’s wars for independence in the 1920s.  And on a personal note I am particularly delighted to see a biography of Lise Meitner for young readers. book cover Hidden PowersMy grandfather’s cousin worked with Werner Von Braun and Enrico Fermi so I had heard a little bit about her life but I’m dazzled by Jeannine Atkins biography in verse which brings to life the work of the woman who got a PhD in physics in 1906, became a professor, engaged in ground breaking research, and discovered nuclear fission, all while struggling to survive as a Jewish woman in Nazi Germany. Hidden Powers: Lise Meitner’s Call to Science is riveting and accessible. It contains a bibliography, a timeline, and an impressive list of international scientists that Meitner worked with and mentored in her long and productive life.
As always this is only a fraction of the wonderful diverse books being published in February. My selection is strongly influenced by the ARCs that come to my at my independent bookstore. Please add any titles I’ve missed this month in the comments. If you have a diverse MG title coming out this year, please encourage your publicist to send me an ARC at. Annie Blooms in Portland Oregon.