Posts Tagged diverse books

Our Hearts are Heavy

Our hearts are heavy at the Mixed-Up Files and in the kidlit community this week, grieving with the family of George Floyd and the anguish playing out across America.

George FLoyd Mural Minneapolis

Kidlit Community Always Calls for Justice

In kidlit, when there is injustice and tragedy, we always want to jump in and help. We create auctions to raise money for causes and struggling authors. We speak out on social media and in our books, create hashtags, and call for justice.

Even when we’re not in crisis, we look ahead; we write books shining a light on inequality and then consider how things could be better. We insist on a vision of the future where all children can live in and create a better world than the one we’re giving them, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality.

When it Feels Hopeless

But this week, that work feels hopeless. Our cities are burning. MY city is burning. I used to live in Minneapolis, and before that, I grew up in a college town 40 minutes south of the Twin Cities. And now I live in the DC area, where my mother grew up, and her city is burning too. Every single state in the country has had a protest in the last 24 hours.

Our hearts are breaking, and they’re also hot with the same fury and frustration that is lighting fires everywhere. My mother desegregated her high school back in 1957. She was the first African American girl to march with the drum corps, withstanding the outcry from White parents who threatened to take out their daughters if the Black girl was allowed to march.  She and my step-father moved us to Minnesota in the mid-70’s, hoping to raise their children in a place where the color of our skin wouldn’t put us in danger.

And partly, they were right: we never had a knee to the neck. But is that what success looks like? To still be alive in spite of the color of our skin? Is that the best we can do?

Is Minnesota Racist?

Minnesota has always wanted to believe it didn’t have a problem with racism, not with its overall high quality of life and rich cultural arts scene in the Twin Cities. But it did. Covered up under the “we don’t see color” mantra, Minnesota’s racism is insidious and at times, aggressively ignorant.

That said, I want to be clear: my siblings and I have been fortunate to be lifelong friends with groups of White allies. While we did struggle with microaggressions and some outright uglinesses during our years there, we also rejoiced in the support of an educated community that did the work to understand what this is all about and what they can do to help. Our experience with racism has reflected the complexities and nuance embedded in this issue.


Half a century after the Civil Rights Act was signed, this country as a whole still hasn’t done the work. Black people still aren’t safe; we are still taking a knee, we are still asking for equal justice, we are still shouting into the wilderness that #BlackLivesMatter. And now, because no one listened, we are lighting cities on fire.

But I can’t believe that’s going to work either. We can’t keep torching our community, and we can’t let outsiders come in and do it either. They’re taking advantage of the chaos to destroy businesses built over a lifetime, businesses started with life savings, businesses that provide food, medicine, and essentials to people who have made homes in these neighborhoods.

Barack Obama said today: If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves.

What Can Kidlit Do Now?

Many of us have felt helpless as we watch endless streams of protest video. But we’re not helpless. Because we at MUF are writers, teachers, parents, and librarians, there is something kidlit can do now. In fact, we are on the front lines of that mission. More than ever now, we must promote books that investigate and envision that higher ethical code. We must support books written by Black authors and encourage others to do the same. We must use our voices every day to insist on more diverse representation in the publishing world: more Black editors and agents. More #ownvoices rather than BIPOC characters written by White people. We must refuse to work with people who do not support this mission.

((For more on the numbers in publishing, see this archived MUF post.))

We Need Diverse Books

Finally, we must get more diverse books in our children’s hands and on library shelves. If we have any hope of their being able to do what we couldn’t: dismantle systemic racism and bring about meaningful change, we must start the conversation now.

Here are some ideas for places to look for diverse books to read with your children, to start conversations, and to use your voice to help all of us emerge from this crucible with a way forward:

  1. Embrace Race: 31 Books to Support Conversations about Race
  2. We Need Diverse Books: Where to Find Diverse Books
  3. Anti-Defamation League: Books Matter
  4. From the Mixed-Up Files: Diversity in MG Lit (regular blog series)
  5. African American Literature Book Club: A List of Black-Owned Bookstores
  6. Kidlit Rally 4 Black Lives: Anti-Racist Resources for Children, Families, and Educators
  7. Lee and Low Books: Summer Diverse Book List

LOVE SUGAR MAGIC with Anna Meriano

LOVE SUGAR MAGIC Mixture of Mischief


LOVE SUGAR MAGIC – just those three words conjure deliciousness enough to make any day feel warm and happy. Which is why I’m so excited that this week marks the third installation of the Anna Meriano’s wonderful LOVE, SUGAR, MAGIC trilogy: A Mischief of Magic (HarpersChildren/Walden Pond Press, February 2020)

LOVE SUGAR MAGIC Mixture of Mischief

About the Series

Leo Logroño and her sisters and mother are brujas–witches of Mexican ancestry–and have been keeping the residents of Rose Hill, Texas, well-stocked with both sweet treats from their panadería and problem-solving magic.  In her previous adventures, Leo learns of her own magical powers, tied to her birth order,  but has a couple of missteps along the way.

A Mixture of Mischief

In her latest adventure, Leo still hasn’t discovered exactly what her magical abilities are, but she’s excited to at least be learning the baking and spice magic secrets she needs to become a full-fledged bruja. Then, her family’s heirlooms start disappearing, and a new bakery opens up across town threatening her family’s livelihood. Around that time, Leo’s long-lost Abuelo pays her a visit and promises to teach her about her power. But something about him seems wrong, including his dire warnings about a world full of threats that only she can control (with his help, of course,) and the fact that his appearance seems to be tied to the disappearance of everything that holds her family safe and secure.

Interview with Anna Meriano

It was a whirlwind week for Anna as she marked the release of her book on Tuesday, but she kindly took the time to talk to us at Mixed-Up Files to share some of her thoughts about her latest book and what’s next.

HMC: I absolutely love the imagery and smells in this book. I was hungry so often while I read it! Do you bake like Leo – is that where her inspiration comes from?

AM: Actually, no! It’s always so gratifying when people ask this because I’m constantly worried that my lack of baking experience is going to come through in my writing, but so far I seem to be fooling everyone by doing plenty of research (eating lots and lots of delicious baked goods)! The imagery (and especially the smells) come from the wealth of fantastic bakeries in Houston, plus a few years rooming with a baker in college.

HMC: AND THE SPICES….oh, the spices and the molcajete … please give us a tidbit about how you learned the art of spice blending. (AND ALSO – my mother had a black stone bowl with a grinder like that, and no one knows where it is anymore, but now I want it baaaaaack.)

AM: Again, I have to laugh because while I theoretically know that some people grow, dry, and grind their own spices, that is all so far above my culinary ability that I’ve never even considered doing it myself. Leo’s spice magic came about mostly because we needed her to interact with more family heirlooms (for plot reasons) and we wanted things that you would find in the kitchen. Plus, I thought it would be really hard to bake specific magic into a recipe if the herb you wanted to use didn’t taste good with the rest of the recipe! 

Good luck finding your own family heirloom!

Dark Magic

HMC: (Thank you!!) In this third book, you mix in a darker magic theme—was this always what you planned for this series, or did it bubble up as you were writing the first two?

AM: It was definitely something I was thinking about toward the end of book two (hence that cliffhanger ending), but it wasn’t planned from the beginning of the series. Part of the reason things got darker has to do with the world feeling darker now than it did in 2014. I also wanted Leo to grow after each book, so it made sense for her problems to grow along with her. 

HMC: Among the many things children get to do (besides have delicious chills and protect their toes from duendes!) when they read books with conflict or scary people is work out for themselves how to process fear and discomfort. What kind of darkness in the world does your dark magic Abuelo represent?

AM: Thank you for this question! Abuelo Logroño represents a whole host of attitudes and people that I find scary, and it’s always tricky to boil fictional characters down to their exact real-life influences, but I would say that he embodies the toxic result of power combined with fear. This is especially dangerous because he thinks of himself as a hero, and tries to convince Leo that he is too. 

HMC: Abuelo is both comical and scary – how did you craft that perfect blend of laughter and goosebumps?

AM: Unfortunately, I think I pulled straight from real life here! We’ve seen a lot of powerful figures lately that are, simply put, kind of ridiculous, so it didn’t seem at all unrealistic to make Abuelo Logroño a ridiculous figure who still represented a real threat. I do hope that readers find him less scary because of his silliness, and I hope they recognize that the bullies they meet in real life have some of the same weaknesses.

Bruja Power

HMC: If you were a bruja, what would your power be?

AM: Well, if I follow the rules of Leo’s family magic, I would have the second-born power of making objects appear from thin air, which is a pretty cool power to have! But I like to consider that my bruja power is the thing I already love doing, which is telling stories and putting ideas into people’s heads. That’s a bit more along the lines of Isabel’s power, and I’m happy with it.

HMC: Will there be more in the LOVE SUGAR MAGIC series?

AM: This is the end of the trilogy! It makes me tear up every time I say it, though, so please don’t make me say it anymore!

HMC: What’s next for you?

AM: I have a Young Adult novel coming out this year about teens who play quidditch, which is something I do in real life, so I’m very excited for that! 


Author Anna MerianoAnna Meriano
is the author of the LOVE SUGAR MAGIC series, which has received starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Shelf Awareness. She grew up in Houston, graduated from Rice University with a degree in English, and earned her MFA in writing for children from the New School. Anna works as a tutor and part-time teacher with Writers in the Schools, a Houston nonprofit that brings creative writing instruction into public schools. In her free time, she likes to knit, study American Sign Language, and play full-contact quidditch. Her YA debut, Brooms Up, hits shelves in the fall of 2020.

You can find the trilogy here:

Buy it here: Amazon | | Kobo | Powell’s | Indiebound

Toni Morrison’s Middle-Grade Legacy

Honoring a Middle-Grade Legacy

Toni Morrison (1931-2019) left an essential legacy for middle-grade readers, even though she didn’t write directly for them. You won’t find her books in the MG section of the bookstore, nor are they on the reading lists for the 4th-8th grade set, as are the novels we talk about here on this blog. And yet, many of her characters were middle-grade children, and most of her themes had to do with the formative experiences of those years, experiences that ground and shape us as adults. So, when she died on August 6th, I gave myself permission, based on those reasons, to pay homage to her here.

Doors and Mirrors

I wanted to honor her brilliant and groundbreaking work as a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and her crucial role in bringing forward many of the threads of the African-American narrative to the larger American conversation. But even more than that, I wanted to talk about how she opened doors for a new generation of passionate, creative authors who write a wider, more diverse world for young readers. By doing that, she lifted up mirrors for children to see themselves in a rainbow world. She painted a world in which we could all be beautiful. As a writer and a woman of color, I am deeply grateful to her for the path she forged.

We could all have beauty

It’s Personal

The truth is, my gratitude is both professional and personal.

When I was in college in the mid-eighties, I read  THE BLUEST EYE (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1970), and I cried over Pecola and her desire for blue eyes.

The Bluest Eye book cover

My deep sadness wasn’t just for Pecola though–it was also for me and my own secret childhood desire: I too wished I had blue eyes. Like Pecola, I bought into the standard of White beauty that didn’t include my mixed-race identity, and certainly not my brown eyes, hair, or skin. I actually wished away my Black heritage.

And because, like any self-respecting young teenager, I vigorously rejected everything my parents told me, I didn’t believe them when they told me I was pretty. I knew I wasn’t. To be pretty, I needed to have not just blue eyes, but also straight, blonde or at least light brown hair. Hair that did what Farrah Fawcett’s or Jaclyn Smith’s did. Not curly, unmanageable, humidity-challenged like my own. Fawcett and Smith were my version of Pecola’s and Frieda’s admiration of Shirly Temple.


Definitions of Beauty

Fortunately, finally, I evolved and learned to identify and reject my own racism. I lived in Africa for a few years and discovered a treasure trove of literature that celebrated dark skin and curly hair. I reexamined THE BLUEST EYE and saw more clearly what Morrison was saying about what beauty is, and what it isn’t.

Morrison clarified even further when she said, in an Afterword published in 1993, “…the novel pecks away at the gaze that condemned her (a friend who, like Pecola, wanted blue eyes)…The assertion of racial beauty was not a reaction to the self-mocking, humorous critique of cultural/racial foibles common on all groups, but against the damaging internalization of assumptions of immutable inferiority originating in an outside gaze. I focused, therefore, on how something as grotesque as the demonization of an entire race could take root inside the most delicate member of society: a child; the most vulnerable member: a female.”

Attitudes about beauty can be destructive.

I wasn’t necessarily “cured” of my own internalized assumptions, but that’s a whole different story. I did, however, continue to grow, and as I did, other writers of color were adding their voices to the joyful noise: Ntozake Shange, Amy Tan, Isabel Allende, bel hooks, Octavia Butler, Alice Walker.

Middle-Grade Genre Growth

Over the glacial timeline that is publishing, the middle-grade genre has exploded as a viable commodity, as has the demand for diverse books and #ownvoices authors. Today, it’s delightfully harder to assume the “white default” with many fictional characters because they’re not the only ones on the tableau. I’m not saying the characters-of-color have reached parity – not by a long shot. But their numbers increase every year, and I’m thrilled to witness and be a part of that growth.

Thank You

I believe we owe that in large part to Toni Morrison, and so for that, I say, THANK YOU. Thank you, Ms. Morrison, for being the light, the creative force, the energy, passion, and intellect that will continue to shine long past the years you were here with us.

“And so here I am now. Here we all are. Toni Morrison as light, as way, as ancestor. And the many writers she has left in her wake, and the many writers coming after, and those after them, will hopefully always know this: that because of her, we are.” – Jacquelyn Woodson, from her tribute essay in the Washington Post,  August 11, 2019

And because here at the Mixed-Up Files … of Middle-Grade Authors, we do booklists, here’s one for Toni:

Book List in Honor of Toni Morrison

brown girl dreaming book cover

BROWN GIRL DREAMING, by Jacqueline Woodson

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.


Moon Within Book Cover

THE MOON WITHIN, by Aida Salazar.

Celi Rivera’s life swirls with questions. About her changing body. Her first attraction to a boy. And her best friend’s exploration of what it means to be genderfluid.But most of all, her mother’s insistence she have a moon ceremony when her first period arrives. It’s an ancestral Mexica ritual that Mima and her community have reclaimed, but Celi promises she will NOT be participating. Can she find the power within herself to take a stand for who she wants to be?

Genesis Begins Again book cover

GENESIS BEGINS AGAIN, by Alicia D. Williams

There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.

shadowshaper book cover

SHADOWSHAPER, by Daniel Jose Older (Actually YA, but appropriate for older MG readers)

With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one. Now Sierra must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come.

A Good Kind of Trouble book cover

A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE, by Lisa Moore Ramée

twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what?

One Crazy Summer book cover

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia

Eleven-year-old Delphine is like a mother to her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. She’s had to be, ever since their mother, Cecile, left them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. But when the sisters arrive from Brooklyn to spend the summer with their mother, Cecile is nothing like they imagined.

Karma Khullar's Mustache Book cover


Karma Khullar is about to start middle school, and she is super nervous. Not just because it seems like her best friend has found a newer, blonder best friend. Or the fact that her home life is shaken up by the death of her dadima. Or even that her dad is the new stay-at-home parent, leading her mother to spend most of her time at work. But because she’s realized that she has seventeen hairs that have formed a mustache on her upper lip. Read author Kristi Wientge’s interview here on this blog.

Mexican Whiteboy Book Cover


Danny is brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged. But it works the other way too. And Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico.
That’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. But to find himself, he may just have to face the demons he refuses to see–the demons that are right in front of his face. And open up to a friendship he never saw coming.