Diversity in MG Lit #46 January & February 2024

Last fall was a particularly hectic time for me. I had deadlines for both a novel and a picture book. I missed a few diverse titles that I think are very worthy of attention. Those are the first three titles in this post.  But first of all I’m going to highlight two books about how elections work, because diversity needs in democracy.
Book cover: Your Vote MattersYour Vote Matters: How we elect the US President by Rebecca Katzman, illustrated by Ellen Duda is a short and highly illustrated overview of how the US government is structured, how our democracy works, and the presidential election process. Obviously this book is very timely. It’s an accessible resource for 7 to 10 year olds. If you are looking for a more in-depth book for the older end of middle grade or young adult readers please try You Call This Democracy: How to fix our government and deliver power to the people by Elizabeth Rusch. You may have missed this one the first time around because it came out in 2020. It’s very well researched and engagingly written.
book cover abeni's songAbeni’s Song by P. Djèlí Clark is a “chosen one” fantasy story set in West Africa. Abeni’s whole village is spirited away by magical forces and sent on ghost ships to distant lands. Abeni is captured by a witch and learns about her mission to return her people home. This first in a series is sure to spark conversation about the African diaspora. P. Djèlí Clark has written extensively in the adult speculative fiction sphere. This is his first book for young readers.
book cover Two Tribes Two Tribes by Emily Bowen Cohen is about a girl named Mia who is preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. She’s also coming to more deeply understand the Muscogee side of her heritage. I love how frankly and bravely Mia address people who treat her heritage unkindly. This one is a graphic novel. There is a glossary in the back for the handful of Muscogee words  in the text. This is Emily Bowen Cohen’s debut, and I certainly hope we will see more from her. It has won the School Library Journal Best Book, National Jewish Book Award, and the New York Public Library’s Best Books for Kids award.
I loved Duel by Jessixa Bagley illustrated by Aaron Bagley so much! My son was a fencer for a few years and I’m always happy to see the lesser known sports featured in a book. But even more I loved that the story was honest about the intensity of rivalry among sisters. I also appreciated that it addressed the fallout of grief, not in the moment of loss, but also long after the deceased member is gone.
book cover Drawing Deena a girl with thick curly dark hair and a yellow shirt sits on the floor and draws. yellow daisies on a green background I am the only person in my family who makes a living at the arts. Even though I was over 30 yrs old when I started, my dad was so nervous about my prospects, not because he didn’t want me to be a writer, he just didn’t understand anything about how careers in the arts worked. So I felt a kinship with Drawing Deena by Hena Khan. It’s about a girl who longs to be an artist. She struggles to make her family understand what art means to her and how it can be as practical a path as any to career success.
Amil and the After by Veera Hirandandani is the follow up to her Newbery Honor winning book The Night Diary. It follows the story of Amil in 1948 as his Muslim and Hindu family starts over in Bombay. like Two Tribes, this one delves into what it means to belong to more than one spiritual tradition. The largest growing ethnic group in this country is bi or multi-racial children, Just as many young readers belong to mixed faith families. I hope to see many more books covering this terrain.
book cover Backcountry. A girl in snow gear and a helmet hikes on a snowy mountain with a large black dog at her sideBackcountry by Jenny Goebel is about a young athlete who is diabetic and has a diabetic alert dog. This thriller follows their adventure when they get lost in the snow in the backcountry. Most disability narratives focus more on the physical side and I see medical disability less often–though No Matter the Distance by Cindy Baldwin, about a girl with Cystic Fibrosis, is really well done. I liked how Jenny Goebel’s book delves into how differently Emily is treated as an athlete when people know she is diabetic even though nothing about her athletic performance has changed.  (Scholastic)

WNDMG Wednesday: Author Interview with Maleeha Siddiqui


Wndmg logo

WNDMG Wednesday: Author Interview with Maleeha Siddiqui

I’m so excited to be able to introduce you to accomplished middle grade author Maleeha Siddiqui today. Maleeha’s newest book is ANY WAY YOU LOOK (Scholastic) and it launches on May 7, 2024.

This book is a must have and a wonderful read, as I had the pleasure of reading an ARC, and Maleeha’s other novels are also favorites. Maleeha has a beautiful way of writing that is full of emotion and heart and craft!

Everyone should buy a copy for themselves and their classrooms and libraries.

Cover creds:
Cover illustration: Sara Alfageeh
Cover designer: Omou Barry
Art director: Elizabeth Parisi


Description taken from online:

When boys from her community start harassing her, Ainy needs to figure out how to get them to stop—while still staying true to herself.

Dress Coded meets Amina’s Voice in this new middle grade novel by Maleeha Siddiqui.

Ainy is excited for summer! She plans on working at her mom’s clothing boutique, having adventures with her best friend, and maybe even starting to wear the hijab—just like her big sister. But when certain boys from Ainy’s Muslim community keep showing up at the store to give her unwanted attention, she goes from possibly wanting to wear the hijab someday to feeling like she needs to wear it to get the boys to leave her alone.

But wearing the hijab doesn’t do what she’d hoped: It doesn’t deflect the boys’ attention at all! If anything, they’ve found something new to harass her about. With the help of her best friend and her older sister, Ainy must channel her inner creative strength and find the confidence to stand her ground and get the respect she deserves.

This is a compulsively readable, feminist, and thought-provoking book about staying true to yourself by acclaimed author Maleeha Siddiqui.

Interview with Maleeha Siddiqui

I loved getting to talk to Maleeha about her new book and I think you will enjoy meeting her and Ainy as well.


SSS: What a compelling synopsis! I truthfully was so intrigued right away to read just based on the important topic alone.

What is the inspiration behind AWYL?

MS: First, thank you for having me! I’m thrilled to be bringing this important, thought-provoking story to readers. ANY WAY YOU LOOK is many things, but it’s primarily a story about sisterhood and finding the confidence to stand your ground and get the respect you deserve.

Unfortunately, the inspiration behind AWYL comes from many concerning stories that I’ve heard over the years from women and girls in my life – both Muslim and non-Muslim – about behaviors and comments they are subjected to that are too often ignored.

In 2020, I read Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes you. It was the first book I read that addressed the issue of sexual harassment for young kids and it made me realize that these themes can be in a book for young readers, and I had a lot to say on the topic. The day I started writing Ainy’s story, I had just come home from an event, and I was furious about a comment I had heard made to a young girl there. Female rage really drove this whole book for me.

SSS: That makes total sense and I know exactly what you mean!

As a Muslim American, reading this story resonated with me. It really feels authentic and honest, and yet very raw and hard to read as well! How was that experience for you writing it? Did you worry about the balance of marginalized representation with also the responsibility of calling out injustice, even in our own communities.

MS: I think I’m honest about how much I love the Muslim community, but I’m also not afraid to call out its flaws. Writing about certain topics in the book did make me nervous, and yes, balancing the marginalized representation with the responsibility of calling out injustice did stress me out at times. However, I constantly reminded myself who I was writing the book for and that no one’s experiences, or journey is one-size-fits-all. I try to show balanced opinions and characters in my books, because that’s the composition of the real world.

SSS: I love that!

How is Ainy as a character similar to you? How is she different?

MS: Ainy is not a lot like me, honestly. She’s a fashionista, and I’m not (at least, not anymore). She’s kind of messy, and I’m a neat freak. One thing Ainy and I do have in common is our passion for doing what we love. In my case, it’s writing and sharing my love for reading. For Ainy, it’s designing clothes and helping people feel beautiful.


SSS: The subject of hijab and dressing modestly is important in the book—can you talk more about how Ainy struggles to decide whether hijab is for her or not?


MS: Bodily autonomy is a big theme in AWYL. I will say this. If you’re the type of person that believes hijab, like the five daily prayers, should be done no matter how you feel or where you are in your spiritual journey, then this book is not for you. I always knew that I wanted to write a book about a young girl debating on whether she’s ready to observe hijab or not.

A large part of it stemmed from my frustration with global conversations surrounding hijab. How are enforcements and bans being imposed with little to no regard of the opinion of Muslim women who simply want their freedom? Don’t we get a say? Ainy’s struggle to decide whether hijab is for her or not closely mirrors my own from when I was young.

I don’t want to spoil the book, but I am the confident hijabi that I am today because I was given the time, space, and grace to explore my relationship with Allah (SWT) and connect with my faith on a deeper level before making the commitment. I wanted Ainy’s character arc to show all the different external and internal influences that can get in the way of that.

SSS: That definitely resonates!

Muslim books are so important (and a passion of mine!). How does having faith/deen play a role in your book?

MS: Having faith/deen plays a role in all my books, Alhumdulillah! Some more than others, but at the end of the day, my main characters are all Muslim and I like to show them existing on the page at different points in their spirituality. After all, I’ve been in all their shoes at one point or another!

The central Islamic message in AWYL is the importance of one’s relationship with their Creator and how, as Muslims, that – not the opinion of others – should be the driving force behind our choices. And Ainy’s got some big choices to make in this book!

SSS: Will there be more Ainy (or other middle grade) in the future?

MS: AWYL is it for Ainy, but I do have more middle grade books in the works for the future!

Stay tuned!

Link to preorder here.

Writing Process

 SSS: When did you start writing AWYL and was the process a long one?

MS: I conceived the initial idea for AWYL in 2020, but I started writing it–slowly–in May 2022. I finished 90% of the book from September 2022 – January 2023. Four months might sound like a long time to draft a 45K MG novel, but AWYL is by far the easiest book I have written so far.

It’s my most intentionally crafted book. I paid close attention to every plot beat, character arc, pacing, etc. I heard every character’s voice, especially Ainy’s, so clearly in my head. As a result, the story poured out of me effortlessly. I truly think it’s my best work to date, and I’m very proud of it.

SSS: As a fellow middle grade novel, I LOVE plotting, but I also feel like the characters have a mind of their own at times. Do you plot or pants your novels?

MS: I’m a hardcore plotter! I hate first drafts, so having a detailed synopsis makes it a little less painful. I do pants 5-10% of the story, though. Like you said, sometimes the characters have a mind of their own.

SSS: Any advice for fellow middle-grade authors?

MS: Read, read, read! Read middle grade books published in the last five years and explore different genres! I love reading horror and fantasy in addition to realistic fiction. And remember middle grade should be representative of today’s kids, not back when we were kids, though much of the pre-adolescent emotional experience remains universally the same!


SSS: Bonus question! Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share with us?

MS: ANY WAY YOU LOOK is my third MG cotemporary and a culmination of a lot of things I’ve learned about writing craft over the years. That’s not to say I am not proud of my previous two books, BARAKAH BEATS and BHAI FOR NOW. Both are very dear to me, and it warms my heart when readers tell me reading one led them to pick up the other. Now I hear from readers that they are excited for my next book. So, while this interview is about ANY WAY YOU LOOK, I’d like to give a shoutout to BARAKAH BEATS and BHAI FOR NOW. I hope readers love Ainy as much as they’ve come to love Nimra, Ashar, and Shaheer.


Thank you so much Maleeha for answering my questions! I hope everyone picks up a copy of your beautiful book.

For more Muslim Middle Grade, Check out this Walter Dean Myers Honor Book here!!!


About Maleeha Siddiqui:

MALEEHA SIDDIQUI is an American writer of Pakistani descent who loves to tell stories for all ages about the American Muslim experience. She can’t live without caffeine, rainy days, and books with a whole lot of heart. Her previous novels, Barakah Beats and Bhai for Now, were both Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selections. Barakah Beats was also an ABA Indies Introduce pick. By day, Maleeha works in the biotech industry. She grew up and continues to reside with her family in Virginia. Find her at maleehasiddiqui.com and on Instagram at @malsidink.

Website: www.maleehasiddiqui.com

Instagram: @malsidink

Diversity in MG Lit #45 November and December 2023

book cover, Lullaby for the KingSpecial shout out this month to diverse holiday books. A personal favorite is Nicholas the Maker by Brian W Parker. He is the author illustrator and publisher of this charming origin story of Santa featuring black characters, fantastical creatures, and heaps of holiday joy . I also love Lullaby for the King by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Michelle Carlos. On a holiday book shelf awash in reindeer and snow, shiny trees and wrapped presents, it’s nice to see a book that is about the real book cover Nicholas the MakerChristmas story and not the ever present commercial version.
Chapter books
book cover the TimeKeepers seriesHere is a new series from the creator of the Explorer Club, SJ King. It’s called The Time Keepers, and it features time travel adventures with lots of rich historical detail. Like the earlier series there’s a nicely diverse cast and some non-fiction back matter. It’s an easier read than Kate Messner’s Ranger in Time series but a step up in reading level from Laurel Snyder’s Charlie and Mouse.
Graphic novels
Continuing our time travel theme, there’s a new graphic novel called The History Club by Bret Baier illustrated by Marvin Sianipar. It’s about a menacing History Twister who travels through time to work evil and the History Club who thwarts him across the ages.
book cover MabuhayI’m so thrilled to see this debut graphic novel from a fellow Portlander and Filipino American illustrator and animator Zachary Sterling.  I love it that he used a Filipino word of greeting for his title Mabuhay! It’s the story of first generation siblings JJ and Althea who are working hard at fitting in at school and who dread working on the family food truck. When the monsters of Filipino mythology come for their family the brother and sister team up to protect their own. A sweet story with top notch art and, perhaps best of all, an easy recipe for chicken adobo.
Book cover the Courage to DreamOn a more serious note, Neal Shusterman has written a graphic novel called Courage to Dream: tales of hope in the holocaust, illustrated by Andrés Vera Martínez. This is for the older middle grade readers. It carefully and clearly represents the horrors of the holocaust, but gives attention to the hope and courage of the Jewish community and the help of their allies. If you are looking to open a conversation about anti-semitism in the present, this might be a good place to start.
MG novels
book cover Tagging FreedomTagging Freedom by Rhonda Roumani also intersects with the politics of the moment. It is about cousins, one in Damascas, Syria and one in the US. Kareem, the Syrian cousin, gets involved in using graffiti as a means of protest against injustice. His parents send him to live in the US with his cousin Sam who is trying to fit in with the popular crowd at school. It’s a good conversation starter about how activism changes the way people see the world.
I have a special fondness for historical fiction. Light Comes to Shadow Mountain by Toni Buzzeo is set in the 1930s during the rural electrification projects in the US. Cora can’t wait for power to come to their impoverished Kentucky town. Her mother wants to see the older way of life and the environment safeguarded. Books set in Appalachia and featuring the rural poor are few and far between. This will be a welcome addition to any classroom or library.
book cover eagle drumsBooks for kids by indigenous authors are also few and far between and rarest of all perhaps are those by and about Native Alaskans. Eagle Drums by Nausgraq Rainey Hopson is the story of a boy who encounters an eagle god while on a mountain expedition to collect obsidian. It features Iñupiaq cultural folklore and beautiful color illustrations. This is one of my favorite book covers this year.
YA novels
I typically focus on MG books but I couldn’t pass up sharing this wonderful anthology of essays by writers of color and the work of writing as a person of color in the US. Any student who loves to write will find something of value in Writing in Color, edited by Nafiza Azad and Melody Simpson. It has craft essays on topics like “Starting from the Blank Page” or “A Unique Point of View” as well as industry advice like “Coping with Imposter Syndrome”,  “The Care and Keeping of Jealousy” and “Perseverance”. I’m a long published author myself and I found plenty of things to reflect on in these essays. It’s also a great introduction to writers of color you might want to read more of.