Celebrating Multicultural Literature for Children

I had the honor of presenting at the 34th annual Virginia Hamilton Conference on Multicultural Literature for children this past year. This is the longest running event of its kind…focusing solely on multicultural literature for young readers.

The conference was established by professors at Kent State University while the beloved and most honored author of children’s literature, Virginia Hamilton, was alive.

Sixteen years after her death, Virginia would be thrilled that this conference is not only alive and well, but other initiatives are taking place across the country to celebrate and champion multicultural works.

One such event is Multicultural Children’s Book Day, (MCBD) celebrated on January 25, 2019.

The celebration was born out of frustration by two women in not being able to find diverse or multicultural children’s books for their families. Bloggers Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom took matters into their own hands by creating the event in January 2012.

The mission from the beginning has been to not only raise awareness around children’s books that celebrate diversity, but to also get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries.

“Kids need to ‘see themselves’ in the pages of the books they read,” noted Budayr. “We are determined to not only shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books available but also offer visibility for the amazing authors and publishers who create them.”

Now in its sixth year, the MCBD online celebration attracts thousands of supporters, over 700 book reviewers and dozens of quality authors and publishers.

There are many ways that educators, media specialists, authors and families can become involved in the initiative and celebrate diverse works with young readers.

Some actionable ideas include encouraging students to bring a multicultural book to share with students in class, creating a MCBD book display in the classroom or library, or focusing on books that address social topics such as poverty, or civil rights.

Children’s book authors (including yours truly!) are supporting the initiative by becoming sponsors, intending to create awareness about our works and to support the cause.

The upcoming January 25, 2019 event promises to be the MCBD’s biggest yet!

To learn more, visit http://www.MulticulturalChildrensBookDay.com


Happy Chanukah and Jewish Books!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Hope you’re all well! This is a little bit of a departure from my regular posts, but I felt it was important. Here we are, smack dab in the middle of Chanukah or Hanukkah, depending on the way you spell it, because there is no wrong way, even though Chanukah is the right way, because that’s the one I use, but anyway, no matter the spelling, Jews all over the world are celebrating. It’s a beautiful holiday, filled with joy, lighting candles, singing songs, giving gifts, and perhaps the best part of all, eating latkes and jelly doughnuts. And yet, this year feels different. This year feels a little sad in many ways, because I don’t recall a time in my life where anti-Semitism was so prevalent. Don’t get me wrong, because people who hate Jews have always been there, but yet over the last ten years or so, it’s seemingly been increasing in numbers and intensity every year. I’ve faced it a lot in my life, and still don’t feel any of the instances are as bad as they are now.

This can’t go on and change needs to occur. It can’t begin with the adults who won’t change opinions, but it can with younger kids who are impressionable. If they learn hate, they’ll grow up hating. If they’re unfamiliar with something, it’ll seem strange and alien. If they see more stories with Jewish characters and see Judaism as part of the world around them, there’s a chance they won’t grow up hating the unknown. So, this post is basically a call for more Jewish characters for younger readers, and especially for Middle Grade. It’s important for parents, teachers, and librarians, to promote books with Jews in them. Jewish books are Diverse books.

So, for this holiday season, while you’re sitting there and fretting over what to get, don’t worry any longer. Because, I now have fantastic news for you! I’m going to tell you about some really great books to go pick up just in time for the end of the Chanukah, which also make for wonderful reading for Christmas!

Now, admittedly, there aren’t a lot of Middle Grade books which are Chanukah-based. There are plenty of them for younger readers who like picture books, but not for the older ones. I’m going to have to rectify that. Get me my agent on the phone! But, to fill in the void, I’m going to suggest some great books by Jewish authors, which would make great gifts for the bibliophiles you care about.

So, without further ado, we’ll start with a couple that are actually centered on Chanukah. I haven’t read this one, but it looks like so much fun!

Dreidels on the Brain, by Joel Ben Izzy:

One lousy miracle.  Is that too much to ask?
Evidently so for Joel, as he tries to survive Hannukah, 1971 in the suburbs of the suburbs of Los Angeles (or, as he calls it, “The Land of Shriveled Dreams”). That’s no small task when you’re a “seriously funny-looking” twelve-year-old magician who dreams of being his own superhero: Normalman.  And Joel’s a long way from that as the only Jew at Bixby School, where his attempts to make himself disappear fail spectacularly.  Home is no better, with a family that’s not just mortifyingly embarrassing but flat-out broke.

That’s why Joel’s betting everything on these eight nights, to see whether it’s worth believing in God or miracles or anything at all.  Armed with his favorite jokes, some choice Yiddish words, and a suitcase full of magic tricks, he’s scrambling to come to terms with the world he lives in—from hospitals to Houdini to the Holocaust—before the last of the candles burns out.

No wonder his head is spinning: He’s got dreidels on the brain. And little does he know that what’s actually about to happen to him and his family this Hanukkah will be worse than he’d feared . . . And better than he could have imagined.

The next one is:

Penina Levine is a Potato Pancake by Rebecca O’Connell


In this Hanukkah story, Penina fi nds that a glass of cold milk and a hot potato pancake go a long way. Penina Levine is the only member of her family who isn’t looking forward to Hanukkah. Not only is it another chance for her annoying sister to steal the spotlight, but her favorite teacher is taking a mysterious leave of absence, and her best friend is deserting her to go on a dream vacation to Aruba. Then Penina discovers why Mrs. Brown must go away and hears that a snowstorm may ruin Zozo’s trip, and Penina knows she’s the one who must bring some holiday spirit to her friends. Readers of all backgrounds will relate to Penina as she turns a pile of problems into a Hanukkah to remember.


How I Saved Hanukkah by Amy Goldman Koss


Marla Feinstein, the only Jewish kid in her fourth-grade class, hates December. While everyone else is decorating trees, she’ll be forgetting to light the candles and staring at a big plastic dreidel. The holidays couldn’t get much worse. So Marla decides to find out what Hanukkah’s really about—and soon she and her family have made the Festival of Lights the biggest party in town!


Now, some non-Chanukah books by Jewish Authors, which feature Jewish characters:


Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske

Kat Greene lives in New York City and attends fifth grade in the very progressive Village Humanity School. At the moment she has three major problems—dealing with her boy-crazy best friend, partnering with the overzealous Sam in the class production of Harriet the Spy, and coping with her mother’s preoccupation with cleanliness, a symptom of her worsening obsessive-compulsive disorder.

With nowhere to turn, Kat reaches out to the free-spirited psychologist, Olympia, at her new-age private school in New York’s Greenwich Village. Olympia encourages Kat to be honest. Eventually, Kat realizes that sometimes asking for help is the best way to clean up life’s messes.



This is Not the Abby Show by Debbie Reed Fischer

Abby was born for the spotlight. Now it’s her time to shine!

Abby is twice exceptional—she is gifted in math and science, and she has ADHD. Normally, she has everything pretty much under control. But when Abby makes one HUGE mistake that leads to “The Night That Ruined My Life,” or “TNTRML,” she lands in summer school.
Abby thinks the other summer-school kids are going to be total weirdos. And what with her parents’ new rules, plus all the fuss over her brother’s bar mitzvah, her life is turning into a complete disaster. But as Abby learns to communicate better and finds friends who love her for who she is, she discovers that her biggest weaknesses could be her greatest assets.
Hilarious and heartwarming, This Is Not the Abby Show is for everyone who knows that standing out is way more fun than blending in.


Apple Pie Promises: A Swirl Novel by Hillary Homzie

Lily has lived with her mom since her parents got divorced several years ago, and her dad has recently remarried to a woman with a daughter her age named Hannah. But now, Lily’s mom has gotten a once-in-a-lifetime work opportunity in Africa and she’ll be gone for a year, so Lily is moving in with her dad―and new stepmom and new stepsister. It’ll be as easy as apple pie, right?

Wrong. Lily promises her dad that she’ll try to get along with everyone, but she is not happy about it. Her stepmom is nice, but she’s no replacement for her real mom, and Lily feels like she barely gets any one-on-one time with her dad anymore.

The real problem, though, is Hannah. What starts out as tension between the new stepsisters becomes a full-on war, both at home and at school. Harmless pranks turn into total sabotage. Can Lily survive the year―or is her family fractured beyond repair?


Takedown by Laura Shovan

Mikayla is a wrestler; when you grow up in a house full of brothers who wrestle, it’s inevitable. It’s also a way to stay connected to her oldest brother, Evan, who moved in with their dad. Some people object to having a girl on the team. But that’s not stopping Mikayla. She’s determined to work harder than ever, and win.
Lev is determined to make it to the state championships this year. He’s used to training with his two buddies as the Fearsome Threesome; they know how to work together. At the beginning of sixth grade, he’s paired with a new partner–a girl. This better not get in the way of his goal.
Mikayla and Lev work hard together and become friends. But when they face each other, only one of them can win.


In Your Shoes by Donna Gephart

Miles is an anxious boy who loves his family’s bowling center even if though he could be killed by a bolt of lightning or a wild animal that escaped from the Philadelphia Zoo on the way there.
Amy is the new girl at school who wishes she didn’t have to live above her uncle’s funeral home and tries to write her way to her own happily-ever-after.
Then Miles and Amy meet in the most unexpected way . . . and that’s when it all begins.


These are just a few, and there are many more that I don’t have space for, and if I forgot some, it sincerely wasn’t intentional, but please consider getting books with Jewish characters in them, or supporting Jewish authors. Because again, Jewish books are Diverse books. Say it with me. Let’s all remember it. Jewish books are Diverse books.

Anyway, I want to wish all of our readers a very Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and everything else under the sun!

With that being said, I need to go, because Dorian Cirrone warned me not to make this post longer than the eight days of Chanukah, and I think I might’ve failed that edict.

But before I go, there’s one more thing! If you want a Christmas book written by a Jewish author, you can go pick up my own Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies! (Shameless insertion of self-promotion now complete)


Twelve-year-old Devin Dexter has a problem. Well, actually, many of them. His cousin, Tommy, sees conspiracies behind every corner. And Tommy thinks Devin’s new neighbor, Herb, is a warlock . . . but nobody believes him. Even Devin’s skeptical. But soon strange things start happening. Things like the hot new Christmas toy, the Cuddle Bunny, coming to life.

That would be great, because, after all, who doesn’t love a cute bunny? But these aren’t the kind of bunnies you can cuddle with. These bunnies are dangerous. Devin and Tommy set out to prove Herb is a warlock and to stop the mob of bunnies, but will they have enough time before the whole town of Gravesend is overrun by the cutest little monsters ever? This is a very funny “scary” book for kids, in the same vein as the My Teacher books or Goosebumps.

Again, I thank all of you for reading, and until next time . . .

Native American #Kidlit Recommended Reading

If you’re looking to explore the rich world of Native American literature with your family, the following wonderful middle grade titles are a great place to start. (Thank you to the First Nations Development Institute who graciously let us share their list with the Mixed-Up Files readers, and to Debbie Reese, Ph.D., who chose these books. Dr. Reese is a expert in the field of Native children’s literature and an enrolled member of Nambé Pueblo. She is the curator of the Native American Children’s Literature Recommended Reading list and the editor and publisher of the “American Indians in Children’s Literature” website.)

Hidden Roots by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)
Eleven-year-old Sonny and his mother can’t predict his father’s sudden abusive rages. Jake’s anger only gets worse after long days at the paper mill — and when Uncle Louis appears. Louis seems to show up when Sonny and his mother need help most, but there is something about his quiet wisdom that only fuels Jake’s rage. Through an unexpected friendship with a new school librarian, Sonny gains the strength to stand up to his father, and to finally confront his mother and uncle about a secret family heritage that may be the key to his father’s self-hatred.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Chippewa)
“[In this] story of a young Ojibwa girl, Omakayas, living on an island in Lake Superior around 1847, Louise Erdrich is reversing the narrative perspective used in most children’s stories about nineteenth-century Native Americans. Instead of looking out at ‘them’ as dangers or curiosities, Erdrich, drawing on her family’s history, wants to tell about ‘us’, from the inside. The Birchbark House establishes its own ground, in the vicinity of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little House’ books.” –The New York Times Book Review

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III (Sicangu Lakota)
Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy—though you wouldn’t guess it by his name: his father is part white and part Lakota, and his mother is Lakota. When he embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota and American history. Drawing references and inspiration from the oral stories of the Lakota tradition, celebrated author Joseph Marshall III juxtaposes the contemporary story of Jimmy with an insider’s perspective on the life of Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse (c. 1840–1877). The book follows the heroic deeds of the Lakota leader who took up arms against the US federal government to fight against encroachments on the territories and way of life of the Lakota people, including leading a war party to victory at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Along with Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse was the last of the Lakota to surrender his people to the US army. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.

Son Who Returns by Gary Robinson (Choctaw/Cherokee)
Fifteen-year-old Mark Centeno is of Chumash, Crow, Mexican and Filipino ancestry–he calls himself “four kinds of brown.” When Mark goes to live with his Chumash grandmother on the reservation in central California, he discovers a rich world of family history and culture that he knows very little about. He also finds a pathway to understanding better a part of his own identity: powwow dancing. Riveted by the traditional dancers and feeling the magnetic pull of the drums, Mark begins the training and other preparations necessary for him to compete as a dancer in one of America’s largest powwows.

Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee (Creek)
What do Indian shoes look like, anyway? Like beautiful beaded moccasins…or hightops with bright orange shoelaces? Ray Halfmoon prefers hightops, but he gladly trades them for a nice pair of moccasins for his Grampa. After all, it’s Grampa Halfmoon who’s always there to help Ray get in and out of scrapes — like the time they are forced to get creative after a homemade haircut makes Ray’s head look like a lawn-mowing accident. This collection of interrelated stories is heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny. Cynthia Leitich Smith writes with wit and candor about what it’s like to grow up as a Seminole-Cherokee boy who is just as happy pounding the pavement in windy Chicago as rowing on a take in rural Oklahoma.

How I Became a Ghost: A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story by Tim Tingle (Choctaw)
A Choctaw boy tells the story of his tribe’s removal from the only land his people had ever known, and how their journey to Oklahoma led him to become a ghost–one with the ability to help those he left behind.