Diversity

Diversity in MG Lit #17 July 2020 Historical Fiction and Non-fiction

Historical fiction was one of my favorite genres as a MG reader and it’s one of my favorite to write now. Here is a collection of new and recent historical books. In these turbulent times I’m finding comfort in seeing the many difficult things humanity has overcome in the past.
What the Eagle Sees: Indigenous Stories of Rebellion & Renewal by Eldon Yellowhorn & Kathy Lowinger, Annik Press, 2019 This is non-fiction at its finest. Each chapter could be extended into an entire book but the authors have kept it concise and vivid with clear explanations, photographs of artifacts, frequent sidebars and maps. The collected stories of indigenous resistance to colonization and oppression is clearly and fairly portrayed. Their past and ongoing efforts at renewal and repair are inspiring. This should be required reading for every history teacher and will find a welcome place in the hearts of many history-loving students. Science teachers will also appreciate the care taken in describing how archeologist work to give evidence of historic events. This is the best non-fiction book I’ve read in a very long time!
Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang art by Gurihiru Here’s a rarity, a graphic novel within the realm of historical fiction. Based on a radio show from 1946, it portrays Superman standing up for a Chinese American family who has moved out of Chinatown and into a Metropolis neighborhood. It has all the action and derring do you’d expect from a comic book but it also shows Superman coming to terms with his own status as an alien. Extensive back matter chronicles the history of the KKK, the role of comics in American culture and the treatment of Asian Americans during and after WWII. The Klan is often portrayed as operating only in the south and fueled solely by racial hatred. I appreciated the setting on the west coast where white supremecist organizations have a long history. I also appreciated it when the leader of the racist organization in the story is revealed to be more interested in milking his gullible membership for money than anything—an aspect of white supremicist’s groups that is often overlooked.
Never Caught, the story of Ona Judge, George & Martha Washington’s courageous slave who dared to run away by Erica Armstrong Dunbar & Kathleen Van Cleve, Aladdin, 2019.
This is the young readers edition of the story of a slave in the George & Martha Washington household who escaped successfully and lived out her days in freedom. This is a balanced story that deals with the Washingtons as slave owners clearly without dwelling over much on violence or degradation. For example, for part of her life Ona was Martha Washington’s favorite slave and so had a room adjoining the Washington’s bedroom. The text says only that it was common for female slaves to be assaulted by their owners, without elaborating. This careful approach gives the reader the option to stop reading and ask for more context or move past the information that might be too overwhelming. There are primary source documents, a timeline, and extensive source notes.
Tooting my own horn here, like the above Never Caught, my title Last of the Name, is a finalist for the 2020 New York Historical Society History Book Prize. If you are a fan of historical fiction set in the US, this is a great place to look for solid titles year after year.
Last of the Name is about Danny and Kathleen, young orphaned Irish immigrants during the American Civil War. It encompasses the events of the Civil War Draft Riots, the most violent race riots in US history and a topic seldom addressed in either fiction or non-fiction. It also touches on the beginnings of vaudeville and the power of traditional ethnic music and dance to give an immigrant community strength and help them find each other in new surroundings.
I confess that I never wanted to be a writer when I was growing up but a career as a circus flyer held great appeal. Orphan Eleven by Jennifer Choldenko is the book my 11 year old self would have loved. It follows the adventures of four orphans who escape the worryingly named Home for Friendless Children to find work and community in a traveling tent circus. It features a character who is an elective mute and takes place in 1939.
Saving Savanah by Tanya Bolden takes a look at the turbulent year immediately after the First World War through the eyes of a young woman from the African American upper class.The story touches on class conflict within the African American community, womens’ suffrage, and the ravages of Jim Crow laws and the influenza epidemic. Eye-opening reading for older MG readers.
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park travels the same time and territory as the well-known Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This story follows Hanna Edmonds a Chinese American 15 year old who moves east from California with her widowed father to a small town in South Dakota. There she strives against prejudice to complete her schooling and open a dressmaking shop with her father. Period detail and a middle grade sensibility make this a perfect choice for 9-14 year old readers.

Diversity in MG Lit #17 Equity for Black books and their creators

It’s my goal with these posts to shine a light on new diverse books for young readers at the middle grade level. It’s a regular feature on the Mixed Up Files Blog because the disparity in attention that diverse books receive is an ongoing problem. Recent events, however, call for a more systemic look at racism as it exists within the children’s book industry.
I have been writing for the last 25 years and have had published work for the last 11 years. In that time I’ve met people at all levels of the publishing and bookselling industries. Across the board I’ve found kind folks with good intentions. There has been an awareness of the inequalities in the industry as far back at the 1920s or 30s. Efforts have been made over the last hundred years, and yet time after time they have come woefully short of anything that looks like equality.
Rather than cast blame I’d like to look at the retail side of the equation and a handful of concrete ways all of us can make book sales grow, especially for POC authors & illustrators. It’s not the entire solution, but one sure way to make more money available for Black authors is to make books more available to Black families. Here are a half dozen steps you can take to do right by authors of color.
  1. Buy your books from Black-owned bookstores. Here’s a list of them by state. If there’s one near you, please become a regular customer. If not order from one once in a while and have them ship the books to you.
  2. Support Indie bookstores. Most new voices are first discovered and promoted by indie booksellers. Indie bookstores are a venue for book events for local authors not given a publisher-sponsored tour. And indie bookstores selling books at their cover price are the ones that give an author their full royalty. Those venues on line or elsewhere that offer discounts on books are giving the author less in royalty. Royalties are what make it possible for an author to continue writing.
  3. Donate to BINC. BINC is the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. They provide assistance to booksellers which helps them stay open in the face of difficulty. The assistance includes help with serious medical expenses, eviction prevention, funeral expenses, disaster assistance, domestic violence survival, utility shut-off prevention, and many other things. Donate here. Every little bit helps, especially now when so many book stores are struggling.
  4. Read books from Small Presses. Even the big publishers agree that the most daring and diverse books come out of small, independent, regional, and university presses. If you are a librarian, especially one on a book award committee, please give equal attention to the small press gems from Amistad, Just Us Books, Cinco Punto, Orca, Charlesbridge, Lee & Low, Enchanted Lion, Lerner, , and the many others listed here.
  5. Get involved in small business politics  If I could wave a magic wand I’d love to give every neighborhood and town it’s own vibrant independent bookstore. Sadly many people live in a book desert. If that’s your community, spend some time at your town’s council meetings. Ask the local small business association what you can do to bring a bookstore to town, The American Booksellers Association has a small business issues section that offers, state-by-state some suggestions for advocacy for bookstores. This kind of advocacy can be boring and feel far removed from the heat of the moment but if we want Black businesses to flourish in the future we have to lay the groundwork for it now.
  6. Use and promote your public library. Librarians are often at the forefront of advocating for diverse books. If your local library is not as inclusive as you’d like, The American Library Association has materials to help a library conduct a self audit and take steps to diversify the books on the shelf. If the books on your state reading lists and battle of the books lists are not reflecting Black lives, speak up. Librarians choose those lists; they need to hear from you. If they’ve consistently done a good job of serving the Black community—give them that feedback too. Help your library by using it regularly, requesting Black-authored books regularly, and supporting it with your votes when the library levy is on the ballot.
  7. Advocate for a full time teacher-librarian in every public, private, and charter school. Librarians pay a key role in introducing young readers to diverse voices. They also support diverse authors by buying their books. Show up at school board meetings. Pay attention to how school funding is allocated. Make sure there is always budget for diverse books and the librarians who support them.
  8. Most important of all–Vote. Vote in every election, especially the local ones. Be a well-informed voter, drawing your information from a variety of sources. Be a passionate voter, advocating for free access to the ballot box for all. Speak up when voting abuse happens. And always, always, keep in mind the readers you serve as a parent, teacher, librarian or bookseller. Serve not just your immediate interest but their long term benefit.

Diversity in MG Lit #16 Celebrating Shorts, April 2020

Friends, one thing I’m hearing these days from everyone is how hard it is to focus in the stress of this pandemic. The last thing I want to do is fire out a list of books so that you can feel bad about not having the energy to read them.
This month I’m going to celebrate short stories and traditional tales highlighting some books which have been out for a while, some which are forth coming. I hope that they will be points of comfort in these weeks of sorrow and places of connection and validations where all children can feel seen and understood.
The beauty of the short story is that it can be read in one sitting, and is ideal for reading aloud. It’s a great way to discover new authors or try out a genre that you don’t usually read.
I’m going to start with The Creativity Project by Colby Sharp (LittleBrown, 2018) which is now available in paperback. It’s a collection of writing prompts or story exercises contributed by more than 40 MG authors. Each of them shared their favorite creative spark and worked a prompt given by another author. These are short and sweet. Meant to fire the imagination. If I was still teaching I’d definitely lean on these exercises as a way to keep even my most reluctant writers motivated.
Perfect for the times is the short story collection Hero Next Door edited by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. (RandomHouse 2019) This book celebrates courage in all its disguises, and features characters trying their best to make the world a better place.
In a similar vein, Kid Activists: True tales of childhood from Champions of Change by Robin Stevenson Illus. by Allison Steinfeld (Quirk Sept 2020) honors a group of activists dedicated to changing the world. There’s a nice mix here of historical figures like Alexander Hamilton, Helen Keller and Frederick Douglass and contemporary heroes like Malala Yousafzai, Autumn Peltier, Iqbal Masih, and even Emma Watson. There are illustrations throughout and the text is geared toward the younger end of MG readers. While you are waiting for this title to arrive in September, take a look at others in the series Kid Scientists, Kid Artists, Kid Authors and Kid Athletes.
This one comes out in October and is written with a YA audience in mind, but there’s plenty for a mature MG reader to enjoy. Come On In: 15 stories about immigration and finding a home  ed. by Adi Alsaid. It would pair well with Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros or the graphic novel When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed which comes out this week and chronicles the childhood of Omar Mohamed in a refugee camp in east Africa.
Funny Girl: Funnest stories. Ever. by Betsy Bird (Puffin 2018) is my go-to recommendation for reluctant girl readers— a collection of funny stories with girls at heart. It’s not the usual “burp and fart” fare that is squarely targeted at boys. This is a collection of short stories and graphic shorts by women for girls. It’s a great way to keep things light and introduce a new favorite author. Clear back in 2010 Waldon Pond Press started a Guys Read series edited by Jon Scieszka. The first is Guys Read: Funny Business. Its a solid  collection too.
And finally, here are two collections of folk tales to sweep your mind away to far off times and places. A Whisper of the East: tales from Araibia by Franziska Meiners (North/Suoth 2018) has a retro feel with two color printing and an art style reminiscent of woodblock prints. In the back endpaper there is an ABC with words written in Arabic. Spellbound: tales of enchantment from ancient Ireland by Siobhán Parkinson illus, by Olwyn Whelan was first published in the UK. It’s a vividly illustrated collection of fierce and funny stories from an era when fairies and dragons were as common as fish and any child might on a whim turn himself into a bird.