Diversity in MG Lit #24 Jan 2021 Activism in the Spotlight
I’m writing this post on January 6th 2021–a day that will surely live in infamy. Below are a collection of books that are not just diverse, but also delve into the vital, messy, redemptive, and dangerous work of protest and reform. I learned new things from each of them at a time when encouragement has been thin on the ground. We are in the belly of the most tumultuous times in my life. 9/11, even the Newtown massacre of first graders, seems small in comparison to the current assault on the very foundations of our civil society. Teaching young readers about the rich history of activism gives me hope. It’s one of my favorite things about being a teacher and author and bookseller. I hope these books will support you as you navigate these difficult times.
This is Your Time by Ruby Bridges, Delacorte (RandomHouse)
It delights me that this book comes in a small trim size–reminding me how very small Ruby was when she made her historic stand to attend and all white public school. Her account is thoughtful and spare and well worth the read even with children at the youngest end of the MG range.
Starting from Seneca Falls by Karen Schwabach, Random House
Confession: Elizabeth Cady Stanton is my favorite suffragist. So when I saw this title over the summer about a black girl and an Irish girl in 1848 who go to work as domestics in the household of Mrs. Stanton, I was hooked. It’s a great look at the early days of the Women’s Suffrage movement. It’s well researched and includes a detailed author’s note.
Take Back the Block by Chrystal D Giles, Random House
Gentrification and its various effects are the backdrop for this novel about the power of young activists and the value of empathy and community.
Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes , Bloomsbury
I couldn’t resist sharing this title. It’s not about activism specifically, though casting a light on artists overlooked or forgotten is its own kind of activism. The poems are lovely–compact but rich in meaning and imagery. Nikki Grimes follows each with a Golden Shovel poem of her own, a form she describes at the start. Each pair of poems comes with an illustration, provided by one of the 19 artists featured. The book ends with a very short bio of each of the Harlem Renaissance poets.
Rural Voices: 15 authors challenge assumptions about small town America, ed. by Nora Shalaway Carpenter. Candlewick
The Urban-Rural divide in this country is as sharp and complex as any racial or ethnic difference. And rural non-fantasy settings in MG books are rare, and tend to lean in the direction of the white, farm family of yesteryear, rather than the rich ethnic mix of folks who currently make the rural US their home. In Rural Voices, a diverse cast of writers share their reflections on rural life in essays, short stories, graphic shorts, biography, and poetry.
The Black Friend: on being a better white person by Frederick Joseph, Candlewick.
Here’s a gem for a community read or book club. There’s lots of talk about being a good ally. Here are solid suggestions for being the sort of person that builds up the human community and leaves it a stronger and more compassionate place.
Separate No More: the long road to Brown v. Board of Education by Lawrence Goldstone, Scholastic Jan 2021.
This is on the upper end of the MG range. I like the focus on early days in the civil rights movement and the pivotal segregation case that forms the basis of so much civil rights legislation. Key white allies are mentioned and vital black leaders are introduced including Ida B Wells, Booker T Washington, W E B Du Bois, Thurgood Marshal, Langston Hughes, and the NAACP. Historical photos, a bibliography, source notes and an index is included.
Into the Streets: A young person’s visual history of protest in the United States by Marke Bieschke, Zest Books (Learner)
Lots of historical photos and illustrations bring this chronicle of protest from the Pueblo Uprising of 1680 to the Democratic National Convention of 1968 to life. Each entry is brief but there are source notes at the end and it’s a solid place to start for MG readers curious about the roots of the protests they see all around them today.
Rosanne Parry is the author of 7 MG novels including best sellers A Wolf Called Wander, and A Whale of the Wild. Her first picture book Big Truck Day will go on sale in September of 2022. She sells books at Annie Blooms Bookstore in Multnomah Village and writes books in her treehouse in Portland, Oregon.
From the Mixed-Up Files is the group blog of middle-grade authors celebrating books for middle-grade readers. For anyone with a passion for children’s literature—teachers, librarians, parents, kids, writers, industry professionals— we offer regularly updated book lists organized by unique categories, author interviews, market news, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a children's book from writing to publishing to promoting.
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