Diversity

Diversity in MG Lit #20 Contemporary Realistic Fiction

I’ve got a big roster of diverse titles with contemporary and realistic settings this month, so my reviews are going to be correspondingly short so I can fit them all in. I’ve organized these with the youngest books first moving toward YA titles that are still appropriate for MG readers.
Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away by Meg Medina illus. by Sonia Sánchez. Okay technically this is a picture book. It’s lovely though and pitch perfect to the experience of having a friend move away. I think it will also resonate with many 1-4th graders who haven’t moved but can’t see their best friend because of the pandemic. And the cherry on top–a little ode to the Post Office at the end with the MC surrounded by letters from her best friend.  Candlewick, 9/20
Planet Omar Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian, illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik. This one’s a chapter book in the vein of Clementine with a well meaning Muslim boy who has a talent for mischief and a big imagination. Many elements of Muslim family life are introduced in a graceful way. Lots of spot illustrations throughout. Putnam 2/20
The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert. This is a MG debut for Colbert who has written in the YA space previously. She transitions nicely to a sweet small town friendship story that still manages to point out what a big deal micro aggressions are and what a not-big-deal gay parents are. Bravo. Little Brown 3/20
What Lane by Torrey Maldonado, A short & sweet middle school boys friendship story focusing on the nuances of the biracial experience for black boys. Nancy Paulson Books 5/20
The Last Tree in Town by Beth Turley. Another story about the biracial experience, this one an Irish-Puerto Rican family. It delves into depression in main character Cassi’s high school aged sister and dementia in her grandparent. Love it that Cassi is on her school math olympics team. Simon & Schuster, 5/20
Stand Up Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim. Yumi is a budding standup comedian who dreams of youtube stardom while working at her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant.
A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi & Laura Shovan. This strangers to friends story is told in alternating voices. Loved the British Bake Off vibe and the side story of the girls’ mothers working toward their citizenship exams. Clarion 5/20
Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Here’s another story delving into the dynamics of the biracial family. This time against the backdrop of economic privilege and a fencing club. Lots of food for conversation here and the sports story element should make it broadly appealing.
Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone delves into the racially complex and deeply sexist practice of school dress codes. My inner twelve year old stood up and cheered. You’re going to want to discuss this with your daughters, and it should be required reading for boys. Reluctant readers may appreciate the short chapters. Putnam 7/20
Once Upon an Eid: stories of Hope and Joy by 15 muslim voices ed. by S.K.Ali & Aisha Saeed I love short stories! This collection does a brilliant job of demonstrating the diversity of experience within the Muslim community world wide. Amulet 5/20
And finally Furia by Camille Saied Méndez. This is a debut YA novel but I think it works for the upper end of middle grade (5-8th) because it focuses so much on athletic ambition. Middle school is when many kids first get serious about their sport. MC Camilla Hasan is an Argentinian teenager who adores soccer and excels at it, earning the name La Furia on the field. But at home she navigates what her ambition will mean in family that values athletic skill in men but not women. There’s an element of romance but sports is first in this girl’s heart. Algonquin 9/20
It’s been a great fall for diverse books. More than 50% of the titles highlighted at the Children’s Institute were diverse, so I’m just scratching the surface here. Please shout out the ones I’ve missed in the comments.

Diversity in MG lit #19 August 2020 Mysteries

If there’s one thing I get asked for constantly in the bookstore it’s mysteries for MG readers. Grandparents have warm memories of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and they want something just as fun for their grandchildren. A satisfying mystery is hard to write though so, I’m thrilled when I find any MG mystery to recommend. I’m especially happy to have found these mysteries with a cast of diverse characters.
Ikenga by Nnedi OkoroforIkenga by Nnedi Okorafor
This one is set in contemporary Nigeria follows Nnamdi, the son of a murdered police chief as he searches for the people responsible for his father’s death. It has a supernatural element based in Nigerian mythology which served the story well without making it seem cartoonish. What a terrific way to introduce young writers to a writer with such strong body of work for adults. It goes on sale Aug 18th.
The Gemini Mysteries by Kat Shepherd
Twin Black detectives Evie and Zach Mamuya are seventh grade sleuths who along with their friends, affable Vishal and wealthy Sophia, solve crimes, inspired in part by their single mom, a crime reporter in an unspecified American city. Each chapter has an illustration at the end which contains clues to the mystery. The first book in the series  The North Star is already in paperback and the next, The Cat’s Paw, will go on sale in December or January.
Kudo Kids: The Mystery of the masked medalist by Maia & Alex Shibutani with Michelle Schusterman
Here’s another pair of sibling detectives, 11 and 12 year old Mika and Andy who travel to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo with their parents, one a sports writer and the other a food critic. The puzzle loving Kudos are keen to play a Pokemon Go type game which has them finding clues and learning about Japanese culture all over town. Their game leads to a deeper mystery. The book is illustrated and if the authors names sound familiar its because they are Olympic bronze medalists in Ice Dancing. This book, on sale last May, was obviously meant to coincide with the postponed Tokyo Olympics, but it’s a quick and fun read, even in a non-olympic year.
Muse Squad The Cassandra Curse by Chantel Acevedo
Here’s a mystery that will appeal to fans of Rick Riorden. Cuban American girl Clio discovers she’s actually a muse, a legacy in her family handed down from the ancient Greeks to the present. Her mission is to inspire others who will go on to do great things for humanity. I liked the concept and the core of the story which holds inspiration as a superpower. So refreshing. This one is not illustrated and it’s a bit longer than the other books I’ve reviewed here. The Cassandra Curse came out in July and a second title will follow.
Goldie Vance The Hotel Whodunit by Lilliam Rivera
Also featuring a Cuban American main character, this book is a novelization of a comic book, it’s set in Florida of the 1950s and features 16 year old Goldie Vance who dreams of becoming a hotel detective in a family immersed in the hospitality industry. When a movie shoot comes to her family’s hotel and jewels go missing, Goldie’s mother is suspect number one. This one is a little more leisurely in pace than the others but it evokes an era well and portrays Florida vacation culture with warmth and wit. There is a graphic novel insert in full color but it was not in the ARC that I reviewed.
ATTY At Law by Tim Lockette
And finally here’s a book that celebrates speaking up for those without a voice. It features multi-racial family in the contemporary south and is a legal thriller in the vain of the Theodore Boone series by Grisham, but with considerably more heart. Our advocate Atticus Peale who goes by Atty is an animal lover and uses the law to save a shelter dog. She then tries to advocate for a considerably less sympathetic animal and her efforts intersect with her father’s. He is an attorney defending an illiterate man facing a murder charges.
If you have a favorite mystery, either a stand alone or a series. please mention it in the comments.

Black MG Magic

I firmly believe that it’s important to stand together against racism, and I’ve been making an effort to feature more black characters in my book talks and displays. Many of the book lists that I’ve come across featuring black protagonists have been full of great contemporary, realistic stories that deal with the experience of growing up black in America but haven’t had a lot of fantasy, sci-fi, or horror. So, here is a list of some of my favorite fantastical, magical, and spooky middle-grade stories featuring black heroes and heroines.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky Cover

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia- This upper middle grade follows seventh-grader Tristan Strong who accidentally rips a hole into a parallel world where West African gods and African American folk heroes battle iron monsters. To return home, Tristan must help the heroes find Anansi, who can heal the rift that he’s created between the worlds.

 

The Jumbies Cober

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste- Eleven year old Corrine doesn’t believe in jumbies, evil shape-shifting creatures that are said to live in the woods near her home, but when her father begins acting strangely following the arrival of the beautiful lady Severine, Corrine begins to suspect that Severine might actually be a jumbie and that she and her father are in danger.

 

Gloom Town Cover

Gloom Town by Ronald L. Smith- To help his struggling single mom, twelve-year-old Rory gets a job as a valet for the mysterious Lord Foxglove, but he soon discovers that the eerie goings-on at Foxglove Manor will put the whole town in danger, and it’s up to Rory and his best friend Izzy to stop them.

 

 

Bayou Magic Cover

Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes- When ten-year-old Maddy visits her grandmother in Bon Temps, LA, she discovers that she can summon fireflies and see mermaids, and when disaster rocks Maddy’s family, her magical gifts are the only things that can save her beloved bayou.

 

 

Dragons in a Bag coverDragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott- Nine-year-old Jaxon discovers a package of dragons when staying with a relative for the afternoon. “Ma”, the mean old lady, who raised his mother tries to return the dragons to their magical realm, but a transporter accident strands her, leaving the dragons in Zaxon’s care.

 

 

Forgotten Girl Cover

The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown- Iris and her best friend Daniel are playing in the woods behind her house when they discover the abandoned grave of a girl named Avery who died when she was near Iris’s age. Shortly after the discovery, Iris begins having nightmares about a ghost girl in the woods.

 

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer cover

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles- On the last day of summer vacation, Otto and Sheed Alston accidentally freeze time in their small Virginia town. Now, they’ll need all their bravery and smarts to defeat the villainous Mr. Flux and save the day.

 

 

Shadows of Sherwood cover

Shadows of Sherwood by Kekla Magoon- In this futuristic Rbin Hood retelling, twelve-year-old Robyn Loxley flees to the forest following the disappearance of her parents. She bands together with a ragtag group of orphans and embarks on a mission to find her parents and stop the tyrannical Governor Crown.