Posts Tagged diverse books

Diversity in MG Lit #38 July 2022

Diversity in MG Lit

Summer is typically a quieter time for book releases. The big surge of new books tends to come in the spring and fall. This is convenient for me this year as I’m going to be very busy with the revision of a new novel in August. My plan is to highlight July and August releases this month. If my revision proves particularly time consuming I will skip my usual mid-August post guilt free because I’ve already given you those titles now. However if time permits, I’ll do half of the September diverse releases in August and the rest in September.
Here are new middle grade diverse titles to get excited about.
Available in July:
book cover Children of the QuicksandsSet in a remote Nigerian village far from the jangle of cellphones and human noises, Children of the Quicksands by Efua Traoré, tells the story of a girl who defies her grandmother and gets lost in a parallel world. Plenty of thrills and chills memorably set in the culture and traditions of Nigeria and featuring Yoruban mythology. This is Traoré’s debut novel
Ravenous Things by Derrick Chow is on the surface the typical MG spooky story–a riff on the Pied Piper tale complete with evil rats and a haunted subway train and tunnels. It is also an examination of grief and the lengths the bereaved will go for one last moment with a loved one. In an era of unprecedented loss this book is likely to speak to more than the just thrill seekers. I recommend it for the older end of MG readers. This is Chow’s debut novelbook cover Ravenous Things
Sweet and Sour by Debbi Michiko Florence looks a little bit like a romance novel on the cover, but it’s really a friendship story about long time friends Mai and Zach who spend summers together in Mystic, Connetecut. A misunderstanding breaks their friendship but with the support of loving parents they learn to turn over a new leaf and try again.
book cover Last BeekeeperThe survival of bees has always been one of my environmental interests so I was glad to see The Last Beekeeper by Pablo Caraya a climate fiction tale that will thrill young climate activists. Yolanda Cicerón is a climate warrior who puts all her hopes on saving honey bees. Along with the thrills and action is a celebration of the determination and resilience of the Latinx community.
Available in August
Non Fiction
We Are Your Children Too: Black students, white supremacists and the battle for America’s schools in Prince Edward County Virginia by P O’Connell Pearson is the story of an often forgotten piece of the struggle to desegregate schools. It’s 1954. Brown v, Board of Education passed and rather than integrate a county in Virginia decided to close the public schools entirely.  This well-referenced and photo-illustrated book will be of interest to young activists and teachers looking to round out their knowledge of our nation’s education history.
Kid Trailblazers: true tales of childhood from change-makers and leaders words by Robin Stevenson, art by Allison Steinfeld, Here’s another in the True Tales of Childhood series: Chipper, illustrated stories about Benazir Bhutto, Kamala Harris, Stacy Abrams, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, John Lewis, Marley Diaz, Mari Copeny, Greta Thunberg, Ai Weiwei, Shonda Rhimes and Elliot Page among others.
The Antiracist Kid: a book about identity, justice and activism words by Tiffany Jewell, art by Nicole Miles is a handbook meant to help kids 8-12 understand the language and concepts underlying identity, social justice and activism. It contains lots of affirming strategies and dwells more on positive action than blame. A solid choice for families who need a conversation starter.
Graphic Novels
book cover InvisibleInvisible by Christina Gonzalez & Gabriela Epstein is a great friendship story about five kids who have nothing in common besides all of them speaking Spanish. They have community service hours to complete and forge an unlikely friendship in the process. The art is fun and vibrant and the considerable amount of Spanish dialog is translated into English for readers who can’t do that for themselves. It’s tricky to inclusively convey the experience of being bilingual in print but this graphic novel does it more successfully than most.
Chapter Books
book cover Surely SurelySurely Surely Marisol Rainey by Erin Entrada Kelly occupies that vital territory in what I think of as the Ramona Quimby/Encyclopedia Brown zone. This is where kids fall in love with reading for the first time, or don’t. Find themselves reflected in books for the first time, or don’t. I’m thrilled to see Filipino-American champion of kindness, Marisol Rainey back for book two in the series. I hope we see more sweetly-illustrated books about overcoming fears big and small. She joins some other notable diverse characters in the chapter book space. Mindy Kim by Lyla Lee
Ryan Hart by Reneé Watson
Jojo Makoons by Dawn Quigley
Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi
Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina
Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke
Punky Aloha by Shar Tuiasoa
I welcome them all but I do wish that more of them were about human boys. Just putting that thought out there, hoping that several brand new (hopefully diverse) Encyclopedia Browns or Nate the Greats come along.

KIDLIT UNITES AGAINST BOOK BANNING

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Kidlit Unites Against Book Banning

More than 13,000 MG and YA authors and illustrators have signed a letter condemning the current wave of book banning. The letter, written by Newbery Honor author Christina Soontornvat,  calls on Congress, state leaders, and school boards to act now to protect students and their right to access a diverse selection of books.

“This current wave of book suppression follows hard-won gains made by authors whose voices
have long been underrepresented in publishing.” (From Soontornvat letter)

Demonstrating the resonance of this message with children’s book creators, most of the thousands of signatures on this letter were gathered in under 48 hours. The letter is now posted on diversebooks.org and includes signatures from a handful of contributors from our blog here at From the Mixed-Up Files … of Middle-Grade Authors.

 

badge logo for We Need Diverse Books - text with pink brush marks at top and botto

“When books are removed or flagged as inappropriate, it sends the message that the people in
them are somehow inappropriate. It is a dehumanizing form of erasure …. At a time when our country is experiencing an alarming rise in hate crimes, we should be searching for ways to increase empathy and
compassion at every turn.” (From Soontornvat letter)

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

On May 18, Soontornvat sent the signed letter to the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, which is investigating book banning in schools. On Thursday, the subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over civil rights and equal protection laws, held its second hearing on the subject and formally introduced the letter into its record.

((Interested in reading more on the fight against book banning? Click here.))

((Want a list of banned books you can support? Click here.))

 

WNDMG Wednesday – COMING OF AGE Interview

We Need Diverse MG
We Need Diverse MG Logo

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

COMING OF AGE Anthology Author Interview

We Need Diverse MG is so lucky this month … we get to feature an incredible new anthology called COMING OF AGE: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman)–which happens to be the number one release on Amazon for children’s Jewish fiction. We’re thrilled to have an “in” with one of the editors and a contributing author–because they’re both MUF contributors! Jonathan Rosen and Melissa Roske graciously agreed to interview with us. Moreover, because they’re so cool, we did half our interview in text and the other half on Zoom audio. So, enjoy our multi-media visit and get excited for COMING OF AGE before it appears on your bookshelves on April 19.

Book Cover for COMING OF AGE antholody features book title and starburst graphic around the text

 

About COMING OF AGE Anthology

Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories: As you might be able to deduce from the title, COMING OF AGE  is geared to a middle-grade audience. What does it mean to become an adult in your faith? Join thirteen diverse characters as they experience anxiety, doubt, and self-discovery while preparing for their b’nai mitzvah. And whether celebrating with a lavish party or in reception room A with an accordion player, the Jewish rite of passage remains the same. Filled with humor, hope, and history, there’s something in this anthology for every reader, regardless of their faith.

Meet Co-Editor Jonathan Rosen

WNDMG: Tell us the origin story for the book?

JR: Basically, the impetus was just wanting to get something with Jewish content for kids out. I’ve experienced someone telling me to make a book “less Jewish”. Or that Jewish books don’t sell well. I’ve spoken to many other Jewish authors who have told me about their similar experiences. Also, in my mind is how over the last ten years or so, antisemitism has been skyrocketing. So, wanted to do something that would feature Jewish characters, not just for Jewish kids to see themselves and their own experiences, but hopefully for non-Jewish kids to be able to read, and see how similar Jewish kids are. I know it’s cliché, but making a difference really does start with children. Lastly, one of the things that was important to me was to have a portion of the proceeds donated to Jewish organizations that fight antisemitism.

yellow road sign with word antisemitism lined through with red

WNDMG: How did your selection of authors come together?

JR: To start, it really was as simple as first reaching out to Jewish authors that I knew. I had done a couple of trips sponsored by PJ Library, so I got to meet several other Jewish authors as well. So, I reached out to who I knew. There were also people who were on my wishlist who I didn’t know. When I spoke to Henry Herz, my co-editor on this book, he suggested some people he knew, so between the two of us, we were able to get a great collection of authors. Fortunately, almost everyone that was asked, immediately agreed to participate. My biggest regret was after word got out, many other Jewish authors reached out to me to find out if there was room, because they wished to participate, but there wasn’t enough room. Perhaps, I’ll have to do another anthology. 😊

Centering on B’Nai Mitzvah

WNDMG: What direction/driving question did you give the authors for their stories?

JR: I didn’t want to give too much direction, because I wanted each one to write what they wanted. The only criteria was that it had to be centered around a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, since we were targeting Middle Grade readers, that’s kind of the biggest event in a middle grade Jewish kid’s life. But, otherwise, each author had the freedom to take the story where they saw fit. It was interesting to me that everyone wrote such different kinds of stories. We had memoirs, comedic stories, more serious, and even a few sci/fi which surprised me that more than one person thought along those lines.

Welcome to Melissa Roske

At this point in our conversation, we are joined by contributing author Melissa Roske, whose short story is a lovely exploration of a meeting of generations.

Connecting to Grandparents

WNDMG: Let’s talk about your stories—both are about connecting to grandparents but in very different ways. Melissa, what led you to write about connecting with Grandma Merle?

MR: Unlike Bella, the protagonist of my story, I was extremely close to my maternal grandmother, Molly. We even lived in the same New York apartment building, and she took care of me after school while my parents were at work. Most days we played “School,” where I was the teacher and Granny (that’s what I called her) was the pupil. I insisted on playing this game every single day, and Granny was kind enough to go along with it.

Author Melissa Roske with her grandmother posed in front of a decorated orange backdrop

Melissa and Granny

Like most Jewish grandmothers of her generation, Granny loved to feed people—especially me. She even kept a special drawer of chocolate in her kitchen for my sole enjoyment. Unfortunately, the chocolate drawer was the source of multiple cavities and a root canal. J Another thing about Granny, besides her tiny stature (she was 4’10”), was her impressive collection of flowered housedresses. I never saw her in anything else, except on the day of my Bat Mitzvah. She wore a fancy black-and-gold dress to please my mom.

Melissa Roske at her Bat Mitzvah standing with her parents

Melissa and Family

Earlier in her life, Granny was against the Viet Nam War and refused to pay her taxes in protest. My mom was convinced Granny would be arrested and begged her to pony up the funds. I was too young to witness this, but it says a lot about my grandmother’s character. She was little but fierce. Maybe that’s why I wrote a story about a girl who didn’t know her grandmother. I was blessed to know mine, and somehow wanted to pay it forward.

((Curious about more books with B’Nai Mitzvah themes? Read Melissa’s book list here.))

Time Travel and Grandparents

WNDMG: Jonathan – same question for you, but I need to add – is there a personal significance to the time travel watch? (I mean, I’m half expecting you to say you met Abraham Lincoln at your Bar Mitzvah, which was of course only 20 or so years ago)

JR: Twenty? More like fifteen! Actually, my kids always wonder why their ages keep increasing, but when I give them mine, it decreases every time they ask.

But as far as the story goes, I had figured that most of the stories would be more conventional stories, or memoir types, so I figured I’d do something different. Little did I know that I’d get other sci/fi submissions as well. But, the idea for me was always to show that the tradition is more important than the spectacle. That’s something that’s sometimes lost, because the tendency, at times, is to treat a Bar/Bat Mitzvah as big as a wedding, and there really have been times throughout history, where Jews had to do these things in secrecy because of certain regimes in power made it illegal for Jews to observe. So, through time travel, the main character kind of gets to experience that.

Jonathan Rosen Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall standing with his father behind him, a young boy and his smiling father wearing sunglasses

Jonathan Rosen Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall

Finding the Relatable

WNDMG: As authors, we all want our books to resonate with readers. Beyond that, we also have dreams about how exactly our words might become a part of our readers’ hearts. What do you each hope for with this book?

MR: My hope is that kids from all religious and ethnic backgrounds will find something relatable within the pages of Coming of Age. Yes, it’s a B’nai Mitzvah-themed book, written by Jewish authors and aimed primarily at Jewish readers. But you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the stories and themes each author presents. In my story, “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish,” I wanted to show readers that there’s more than one way to achieve a goal. In Bella’s case, it was having a Bat Mitzvah—something she thought was unobtainable because she wasn’t “Jewish enough.” Children often feel as if they’re not “enough.” Smart enough, fast enough, thin enough, popular enough… Here’s hoping they’ll see themselves in a more positive light, and acquire greater self-acceptance, after reading the stories in this book.

JR: Really, I just hope that the book as a whole entertains. Of course, there are things that I hope the reader takes away, but the overall purpose for me was to put out something with Jewish stories, and Jewish characters, which Jewish readers could identify with. And even non-Jewish readers could relate to seeing kids their age going through similar experiences to things that they experience in their lives.

The Jewish Equivalent to the Easter Egg

WNDMG: Authors often like to put small references in their books—maybe to a friend’s inside joke, a family tradition, or even a previous book. Ironically, they’re often referred to as “Easter eggs.” What would the Jewish equivalent phrase be? And did either of you put any in your stories?

So, What’s the Answer?

Curious about Jonathan and Melissa’s answer to that last question about the Jewish equivalent to the Easter egg?

We decided to have some fun and offer you all a mixed-media interview: blending text with audio for a true immersion into our conversation. So, to hear the answer,

Click here to listen to the rest of our interview:

We also talked about being Jewish in America, Jonathan and Melissa’s own Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and whether Melissa is going to be able to sell books out of her car at Time Square.

Thank you so much to Jonathan and Melissa for a wonderful chat and CONGRATULATIONS!

Release Date: April 19

COMING OF AGE: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman) releases April 19, 2022.  To buy a copy:

Amazon

Bookshop

About the Authors

Author head shot, dark-haired man with beard

Jonathan Rosen

Jonathan Rosen is a transplanted New Yorker who now lives with his family and rescue dog, Parker, in sunny South Florida. He is proud to be of Mexican-American descent, although neither country has really been willing to accept responsibility. He is the author of the Spooky Middle Grade titles, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies and its sequel, From Sunset till Sunrise, as well as the co-editor of the anthology of Jewish stories, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories, He is an administrator of the Middle Grade reading site, FromtheMixedUpFiles.com, and the co-host of the YouTube channel, Pop Culture Retro. He can also be found on his own site at www.Houseofrosen.com

Author photo woman in dress sitting in bookstore signing books

Melissa Roske

Melissa Roske is a writer of middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, she interviewed real ones as a journalist in Europe. In London she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest (just the funny ones), and received certification as a life coach from NYU. In addition to her debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge, 2017), Melissa’s short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” will appear in the forthcoming Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman & Compay, 4/19/22). An active blogger for the popular MG website, From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-grade AuthorsMelissa lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and the occasional dust bunny. Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on  TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.