Diversity in literature goes beyond ethnicity. Diversity may include the various facets of sexuality and gender, cultural, and societal groups. Whether characters in the books we read reflect others or ourselves, what is most important is connecting with them in ways that help us understand who we are today. Sometimes learning about our history through the eyes of diverse characters can be unsettling or even painful, but it also can be an awakening to the unknown. In this collection, I focus on books that reflect multiple cultures in the text or illustrations, sometimes subtle, other times more direct. I believe these books reflect the mosaic beauty of our world.
Ada Twist, Scientist. Andrea Beaty. Ill. David Roberts. 2016. Abrams.
Ada has been an inquisitive child from the time she could crawl. At first, her insatiable curiosity, constant questions, and taking things apart to see how they work frustrate her parents, but soon they nurture Ada’s quest for answers instead. As her search for knowledge flourishes, Ada also realizes she might encourage other kindred budding scientists by taking her latest experiment to her classroom. Features reflecting diversity in the rhyming text and expressive mixed-media illustrations include the race of this young girl scientist and the racial makeup of her classroom.
The Airport Book. Lisa Brown. 2016. Neal Porter/Roaring Book.
If you need a book to explain airports to children (or adults) who are new to flying this book is perfect because of the range of perspectives Lisa Brown captures through her detailed ink-and-watercolor illustrations, narrative text, and cartoon bubble conversations. Clearly Brown has spent some time coming from, going to, and being in airports. Her depiction of the variety of people (including the featured biracial family going on a trip), movement, sounds, conversations, vendors, crying babies, limited seat space, and more at the airport are impeccable. Her sense of humor comes through in some unexpected details. Look closely!
Emma and Julia Love Ballet. Barbara McClintock. 2016. Scholastic.
This delightful picture book describes the life of two people who love ballet: Emma, a beginner, and Julia, a professional. Similarities between these two characters’ daily routines and lessons, presented in both the text and softly colored illustrations, provide the perfect staging for the relationship that unfolds at the end of the story. Emma gets to meet Julia backstage, and their encounter is heartwarming. This book is a nice reflection of how two different, yet similar, people come together naturally. A good companion book is Allegra Kent’s Ballerina Gets Ready (2016), which also features an African American dancer.
A Piece of Home. Jeri Watts. Ill. Hyewon Yum. 2016. Candlewick.
This insightful and realistic story is told through the eyes of Hee Jun, a recent arrival in America from South Korea. Hee Jun, his family, and his grandmother left behind their home and friends. Everything looks, sounds, and feels different in their new surroundings, and everyone is having a difficult time adjusting to living in West Virginia. Things begin to look up when his grandmother visits his sister’s kindergarten class to help her transition and he meets a friend. In his new friend’s yard, Hee Jun is surprised to find mugunghwa (the Korean national flower that is called Rose of Sharon in the United States). For Hee Jun and his grandmother, the flower is “a piece of home,” a remembrance of Korea.
Who We Are!: All About Being the Same and Being Different (Let’s Talk About You and Me series). Robie H. Harris. Ill. Nadine Bernard Westcott. 2016. Candlewick.
Similarities and differences are real among the people in our world. This fifth book in the Let’s Talk About You and Me series captures the beauty of diversity within a family and in the broader world. Everything from physical appearance to likes and dislikes, with an emphasis on the importance of accepting—and celebrating—who you are, is clearly presented in the narrative text and cartoon illustrations. A charming companion book is Mixed Me! (2015)by Taye Diggs, a story about a young boy in a biracial family.
Children Just Like Me: A New Celebration of Children Around the World. DK. 2016. DK/Penguin Random House.
Following the same engaging format as the original Children Just Like Me, which was published in 1995, this new edition is an engaging visual celebration of children around the world. Each of the six sections (North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Southeast Asia, and Australia) features an abundance of captioned photographs, carefully selected images of children, diverse families, world religions, homes, food, hobbies, and interesting facts, which will hold readers’ attention for hours. A cool activity would be to compare the original version with this new book. How have things changed?
Elizabeth Started All the Trouble. Doreen Rappaport. Ill. Matt Faulkner. 2016. Disney/Hyperion.
Spunk and determination abound in this delightful picture book about the women’s suffrage movement. Although Abigail Adams pressed her husband, John Adams, to make sure the Founding Fathers included women in the Declaration of Independence, women were not mentioned. However, the fight for women’s rights did not end. Years later, in 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton took up the cause for women’s right to vote. Her movement gained a large following of women across the United States. Wyoming became the first state to give women the right to vote in 1869, but it was not until 1920 that women across the nation were allowed to vote. Readers will meet many of the key players throughout history that helped the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. This is a timely book, with the Democratic Party being the first major political party to nominate a woman for president.
Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber. Sue Macy. Ill. C.F. Payne. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
Determination, patience, and diligence paid off for Mary Garber, who crossed the gender barrier to become the first and longest working female sports writer in U.S. history. She gained her reputation from writing truthfully about the exceptional ability of Jackie Robinson, the first African American major league baseball player. Her sports writing career spanned more than 50 years. Mary Garber was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the National Sportscaster and Sportswriters Association in 2008, just months before she died at age 92.
What Is a Veteran, Anyway? Robert C. Snyder. Ill. Ron Himler. 2016. Blue Marlin.
Given the ongoing occurrence of veteran-related news, the timing of this book is perfect. Robert C. Snyder, a veteran, does a good job of capturing the crux of what it meant to be a veteran in the past and what it means today in a factual, yet gentle, tone. Through expressive watercolor illustrations and accessible text, this book provides a good overview of veterans in the United States, those who served in the military and have returned to civilian life, as well as mentioning those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
I, Humanity. Jeffrey Bennett. 2016. Big Kid Science.
Imagine traveling to or even living in space someday. Already, more than 200 astronauts from more than a dozen nations, cultures, and religions have visited the International Space Station. With a narrator who represents humanity throughout history, this intriguing nonfiction book presents a chronological survey of what humans have believed and learned about the universe. Reading this book will likely leave readers with an increased curiosity about the future of space exploration. With recent emphasis on science and math in schools, this book has many applications, including aviation, space exploration, astronomy, astrophysics, women in science, and more. This book is also available in a Spanish edition, Yo Soy la Humanidad (2016).
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog. Adam Gidwitz. Ill. Hatem Aly. 2016. Dutton/Penguin.
In this page-turning mystery and humorous tale, Gidwitz remarkably threads medieval history through stories within a story. Unfortunate circumstances and perceived unnatural powers bring an unlikely group of children and a dog together. King Louis IX issues a death warrant, as it is rumored these children may possess supernatural powers considered blasphemous by the church and state. Jeanne, whose life was saved by Gwenforte, the dog, has seizures and sees into the future. William, a well-read, dark-skinned oblate, has Hulk-like strength. Jacob was forced to leave his Jewish community when a group of anti-Semitic teens sets fire to homes. Gidwitz gives readers much to think about in the parallels implied through the racial bigotry and persecution of the past compared with the present.
Women Who Changed the World: 50 Amazing Americans. Laurie Calkhoven. Ill. Patricia Castelao. 2016. Scholastic.
Our world has been changed for the better by women. However, most of the time their accomplishments and contributions have been slighted in the history books. This carefully selected and diverse collection of women who paved the way, including such figures as Pocahontas, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Beyoncé, and Hillary Clinton, would be a good addition to libraries and classrooms. Fifty one-page biographies of American women, arranged chronologically, include facts, family status, and major accomplishments that have made an impact on the world. A portrait and an illustration highlight the entry for each woman. An additional sixteen women are listed along with a glossary at the end of the book.
Pride: Celebrating Diversity & Community. Robin Stevenson. 2016. Orca.
With recent Supreme Court decisions on gay and lesbian rights, this book is a fitting addition to libraries. Historical background and global perspective serve as an awakening to the growing number of voices that were silenced in the past but are now a unified call for equality. Photographs of smiling participants and bystanders flourish in this perceptive nonfiction book, reflecting Pride activism around the world. The book is organized in four sections: The History of Pride, Pride and Identity, Celebrating Pride Today, and Activism Around the World. Back matter includes a glossary, references, resources, and an index.
Stan Steiner teaches Children’s/Young Adult Literature at Boise State University. He has had a long relationship with bringing awareness to multicultural literature through his teaching and publications.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.
As avid readers we are drawn to books with memorable characters. Here we have stories about animals (we are partial to penguins and frogs) in picture book format for younger readers and stories about young people with whom older readers can vicariously share experiences in both realistic and historical fiction. All of the characters we met in these books are ones we will remember and are eager to introduce to others.
The Infamous Ratsos (Ratso Brothers #1). Kara LeReau. Ill. Matt Myers. 2016. Candlewick.
According to Louie and Ralphie Ratso’s dad, Big Lou, there are two kinds of people: those who are tough and those who are softies. As Louie and Ralphie strive to be tough by playing pranks, their antics backfire and turn into acts of kindness. For example, when they steal big and brawny Chad Badgerton’s hat, it turns out they’ve rescued little mouse Tiny Crawley’s hat from the classroom bully. After their father receives a letter from the school extolling Louie and Ralphie’s good deeds, he realizes he should try to be more like them. This results in father and sons doing good deeds together that make life a little easier for those around them. Clever cartoonlike drawings add an extra layer of humor to this chapter book for emerging readers.
Nanette’s Baguette. Mo Willems. 2016. Hyperion/Disney.
Mom sends Nanette to purchase a baguette all on her own for the first time. Along her way to the bakery, Nanette is distracted by seeing friends Georgette, Suzette, and Bret (with his clarinet) and spotting Mr. Barnett walking his pet, Antoinette, whom Nanette stops to pet. Upon remembering her task, Nanette says to the quartet, “Gotta jet! I’ve got a baguette to get.” Arriving at the bakery, Nanette buys “the best baguette yet” from baker Juliette. Of course, Nanette can’t resist the warmth and aroma of the big freshly baked baguette, and one bite leads to another until there is no more baguette. Beset with regret, she confesses to her mother, “I ATE THE BAGUETTE!” Nanette and understanding Mom return to the bakery for another baguette. Willem’s nonstop clever wordplay and creative multimedia illustrations with bright green, pop-eyed cartoon frogs set against detailed backgrounds and judicious use of oversize type make this picture book a surefire read-aloud hit.
Penguin Problems. Jory John. Ill. Lane Smith. 2016. Random House.
A young penguin wakes up grumpy (“It’s way too early. My beak is cold.”) and goes through the day whining about his penguin problems, including perceived personal shortcomings: He has a silly waddle, he can’t fly, and he looks like everyone else. It’s too much to bear, and he screams, “I have so many problems! And nobody even cares.” Enter a walrus who waxes eloquently on all the good things in the discontented bird’s life. Penguin seems to take the walrus’s words to heart. “Maybe things will work out, after all.” The last page, with Penguin contemplating a heavy nighttime snowfall (“My beak is cold. It gets dark way too early.”) suggests, however, that he will wake up with the same problems and attitude. The book design is fabulous; Smith’s digitally created artwork perfectly matches the humor of John’s brief (except for the walrus’s lengthy unsolicited advice) text.
Sam the Man & the Chicken Plan. Frances O’Roark Dowell. Ill. Amy June Bates. 2016. Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
Sam is a 7-year-old boy in want of a job. After Mrs. Kerner hires him to take care of her chickens for a few days, Sam decides to go into the chicken business. He borrows money from his father to buy Helga, a chicken that lays blue eggs, and arranges to keep it in Mrs. Kerner’s coop. To repay his father, Sam agrees to walk a grumpy elderly neighbor, Mr. Stockfish, at two dollars a walk. After Sam invites him to watch Helga lay a blue egg, Mr. Stockfish can’t wait to walk to the coop every day. When Sam takes Helga’s first egg to show-and-tell, Mr. Pell, his teacher, demonstrates how to get the egg out without breaking the shell. Between selling blue eggshells to classmates for fifty cents each and walking Mr. Stockfish, it won’t be long before the young entrepreneur can buy another chicken! Pencil sketches add interest to this first book in a new chapter book series for beginning readers.
Beautiful Blue World. Suzanne LaFleur. 2016. Wendy Lamb/Random House.
Twelve-year-old Mathilde’s country of Sofarende is at war. With mixed feelings, Mathilde takes the aptitude test for recruitment into a secret government program. She’s reluctant to be separated from her family but knows that the stipend they will receive will help them survive. Once at Faetre, a facility housing a talented group of children aiding military strategists, Mathilde is convinced a mistake was made. She believes that it is because she isn’t clever enough to do anything useful that she is assigned to spend each day just talking with a young prisoner of war. As days go by, she realizes that they share similar feelings toward the war. When the war reaches Faetre, the children are evacuated. Mathilde fears that the prisoner will die—either when his country bombs Faetre or if Sofarende burns down the facility to keep it out of the hands of the enemy without releasing him. The ending leaves readers eager for the next book in the series.
Framed! (T.O.A.S.T.* Mystery #1).James Ponti. 2016. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.
Twelve-year-old Florian Bates is the inventor of T.O.A.S.T. (Theory of All Small Things), a technique of making close observations. When he meets Margaret, his new neighbor, he introduces her to T.O.A.S.T., and they open a detective agency. Their first job is to find Margaret’s birth parents. Their attention, however, is quickly diverted to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, where his parents work. Florian and Margaret practice T.O.A.S.T. on an artist who is painting a replica of a Monet masterpiece. After several paintings are stolen, including the Monet, and Florian solves the case with his Sherlock Holmes–like observation skills, he is hired as a “covert asset” by the FBI. But the case isn’t over yet, and Florian is kidnapped by Romanian Mafia mob boss Nic the Knife. Refocusing on observation of small things, Florian realizes that his conclusions, based on misdirection, have thrust him into dangers, setting readers up for the next book.
Perfect Liars. Kimberly Reid. 2016. Tu/Lee & Low.
Andrea (“Drea”) Faraday is considered smart, rich, and privileged, but she is also the child of grifters posing as legitimate antique collectors. During the exclusive Woodruff School’s Welcome Back Gala, a heist extraordinaire occurs. Drea and her brother, Damon, a rookie patrol officer, suspect their parents, who take off to Europe. Drea’s perfect behavior crumbles with shoplifting and a grade that eliminates her chance of becoming valedictorian. Attempting to break into Woodruff to change that grade, she runs into Xavier and Jason in a breaking and entering of their own. Only the boys are caught and detained. Drea is rescued by her brother, who signs her up to tutor at Justice Academy, where she once again runs into juvies Xavier and Jason—and a former acquaintance, Gigi. Drea soon realizes that there isn’t much difference between herself and them. When these teens band together to fight a common enemy, everything changes. Readers will enjoy the rich diversity of the main characters in this mystery.
A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls. Jessica Spotswood (Ed.). 2016. Candlewick.
For this anthology, 15 YA authors contributed well-crafted historical fiction and historical fantasy stories about a diverse group of clever, adventurous American girls with strong voices. Reading the stories, organized chronologically (1710–1968) and set in various locales, takes teens on an historical journey across America. A note at the end of each story provides information on its background and the author’s inspiration. Picking a favorite story is difficult; mine is Saundra Mitchell’s “Bonnie and Clyde,” set in Swan’s Holler, IN, in 1934. Keeping her identity secret by exchanging petticoats for pants, Baby Boy Wabash, who robs banks, tells of getting her first gunshot wound as she eludes the law once again on the day she hears that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow have been killed.
Tell Me Something Real. Calla Devlin. 2016. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
Narrator Vanessa Babcock is the responsible middle child in a family living in San Diego in 1976. While their father slaves away under a boss who won’t give him time off to attend to family medical needs, the sisters accompany their terminally ill mother to experimental Laetrile treatment sessions at a clinic across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. There they meet 16-year-old Caleb, also in treatment, and his mother, Barb, who are from Seattle. When Caleb and Barb come to live with them to be closer to the clinic, Barb brings a much-needed sense of normalcy to Vanessa’s family until something inexplicable happens, and she and her son leave in a hurry. In this beautifully written book about issues relating to death and loss, the unique bonds of siblings, and the stirrings of first love, Vanessa must face secrets and, ultimately, a family betrayal beyond imagination if she is to figure out how to move forward with her life.
Whisper to Me. Nick Lake. 2016. Bloomsbury.
In a long e-mail to the boy whose heart she broke, Cassie begs forgiveness and urges him to meet her at the pier at 5 p.m., Friday. The summer had begun with a jolt when she found a girl’s foot on the beach, possible evidence of a murder by the Houdini Killer, who is targeting sex workers. This discovery triggered within Cassie the “voice” of an angry woman who began directing Cassie’s actions (…slap yourself, twice, hard!). Surprisingly, the voice was silent when she was with the boy, but she can’t tell him about the voice—or the tragedy seven years ago, when her mother died in her arms. However, when Cassie’s father, an ex-Navy SEAL with PTSD, forbids her to spend time with the boy, life spirals out of control. Through therapy, Cassie confronts the voice and comes to grips with loss and relationships. This book sheds light on how an individual’s mental illness, with its symptoms and treatments, affects family and friends.
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
Sharing a poem every day adds a pause for thoughtfulness on an individual level or for an entire classroom. Poetry can offer insight into every aspect of life, from sadness to bliss, from fear to courage, and from loneliness to companionship. Delve into the poetry in the books listed below and share this poetry with students to create an environment for words used in imaginative ways.
All Year Round. Susan B. Katz. Ill. Eiko Ojala. 2016. Orchard/Scholastic.
“A world of shapes / TWELVE MONTHS abound, / from four-cornered square, / to circle, round.” The opening poem sets the style and theme for this picture book that takes young readers through the calendar year. Colorful digital illustrations feature a young, red-haired boy and an olive-skinned, dark-haired girl who take readers on a romp through the year. Watch for the black-and-white spotted dog on each two-page spread, adding to the fun of each month’s activity. A different shape is featured for each month. Circles become a snowman in January, a heart (of course!) is cut from paper in February, the hatching of oval eggs occurs in March, a half-circle rainbow appears in April, and so on. The rhyming text and brightly colored cartoon-like illustrations make this a good read-aloud choice for introducing young children to the concepts of shapes and months of the year.
Before Morning. Joyce Sidman. Ill. Beth Krommes. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The award-winning duo of Sidman and Krommes unite again to create this poetic picture book of a young child’s bedtime wish for snow before morning. Krommes’s signature scratchboard artwork begins on wordless pages. A mother and child walk their dog in the city, then return home to warmth and dinner on the table. The young girl appears to be sad. Mother changes into her pilot’s uniform as the young girl hides her cap. While the girl sleeps, Mother leaves the house as heavy snow falls. At the airport, she learns that flights are delayed and planes grounded. Catching a ride with a snowplow driver, she arrives home to the joy of her daughter. While Krommes carries the action of the story through illustration as the snow piles deeper and deeper, Sidman evokes the feelings of the child and her wishful thinking in a quiet, lyrical text: “In the deep woolen dark, / as we slumber unknowing, / let the sky fill with flurry and flight.”
Miss Muffet, or What Came After. Marilyn Singer. Ill. David Litchfield. 2016. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Singer puts a new spin on an old nursery rhyme in this zany tale about Miss Muffet. Starting with the traditional verse about this tuffet-sitter and a certain spider, the playful rhyming story takes off as a play complete with stage directions and costume changes. An offstage narrator tells the story while a modern Miss Patience Muffet and Webster the spider run off together and encounter other nursery rhyme characters. When Miss Muffet and her new companion, Bo Peep, discover that Old King Cole needs new fiddlers, they assemble a trio and head to the castle. As the subtitle hints, Miss Muffet and other characters that “come after” give the story of Old King Cole a satisfying ending. The mixed-media illustrations provide the backdrop for this theatrical story with period costumes and settings. With its narrator, dialogue of characters in speech bubbles, and the chorus of a trio of minor characters commenting in unison on the action, this drama in verse begs to be performed.
Mommy Goose: Rhymes From the Mountains. Mike Norris. Ill. Minnie Adkins. 2016. University of Kentucky Press.
Mommy Goose, illustrated with photographs of the charming carved images of folk artist Minnie Adkins, is a collection of 50 original nursery rhymes inspired by traditional rhymes recited and sung by children of Appalachia. Norris’s verses reflect the language of the region: “Crack, crack, crack. / The hammer said that / As he hit the nail three times. / The nail said, ‘Oww, / You’re in trouble now. / I’ll law you for this crime.’” Children will enjoy the humor of these silly verses about raccoons, Old Doc Hale, calico cats, and more; adults will appreciate Mommy Goose as an important collection of regional oral folk traditions.
The Alligator’s Smile and Other Poems. Jane Yolen. Photography, Jason Stemple. 2016. Millbrook/Lerner.
“Silently floating, / Silently gloating, / Not a log.” It’s an alligator! In this everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-alligators book of poems, Jane Yolen and photographer Jason Stemple bring readers up close and personal with alligators. Yolen’s clever poems, written in various poetic forms, introduce facts about alligators, while Stemple’s stunning two-page spread photographs provide views of these reptiles in their natural environment. Through the poetry, readers learn all about alligators, from babies to dinosaur-like adults, including their history, life cycles, eating habits, and habitat. Related facts about alligators are framed in green boxes surrounded by sharp teeth-like borders. Back matter includes additional information about alligators and their habitats, a glossary, and resources (websites and books).
One Today. Richard Blanco. Ill. Dav Pilkey. 2015. Little, Brown.
After President Barack Obama was sworn into office for his second inauguration on Jan. 21, 2013, at 11:55 a.m., in front of an estimated 1,000,000 people gathered on the National Mall, “Richard Blanco ascended the podium and read this poem, which he wrote to mark the occasion.” The poem is about America. It follows the light of the sun as it moves across the country, shedding the glow of life in the United States. Pilkey’s illustrations, rendered in acrylics and India ink, provide a colorfully vibrant background that represents the journey of this poem across the nation. Two children—one white, one black—are featured as they move with their black cat through their day’s activities before returning home again. This beautiful commemorative poem, made accessible to children through Pilkey’s visual interpretation, captures the hearts of readers of all ages.
The White Cat and the Monk: A Retelling of the Poem “Pangur Bán.” Jo Ellen Bogart. Ill. Sydney Smith. 2016. Groundwood/House of Anansi.
Beginning with panels of watercolor-and-ink paintings on wordless pages, Smith sets the scene for this tale from the Middle Ages as a white cat prowls the halls of a monastery and makes its way into a monk’s cell. Based on an old Irish poem, “Pangur Bán”, Bogart’s retelling is the story of a Benedictine monk, a scholar who compares his solitary life and work to that of the cat. Together, the spare, lyrical text and expressive illustrations offer a quiet and comforting story of companionship. “We are each content, with all we need to entertain us. Ours is a happy tale.” An author’s note provides background information for this retelling of “Pangur Bán”.
Lion Island: Cuba’s Warrior of Words. Margarita Engle. 2016. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
Once again, award-winning author Margarita Engle reaches back into the annals of Cuban history to introduce readers to another hero of civil rights. In her signature verse novel style, Engle brings the story of Antonio Chuffat to the pages of Lion Island. In the late 1800s, young Chuffat, who was of mixed African, Chinese, and Cuban descent, works as a messenger where his mixed cultural background works to his advantage. He witnesses the forced labor practices of the indentured Chinese workers, and during this time becomes friends with Wing and Fin, Chinese Americans who have escaped the race riots in San Francisco. Together, these young people seek ways to help and report the plight of the enslaved workers. When the Chinese government learns about the horrific treatment of their people, Antonio Chufatt becomes a recorder of the stories and atrocities happening on his island. He has become “Cuba’s Warrior of Words.”
The Lonely Ones. Kelsey Sutton. 2016. Philomel/Penguin.
Fain Fredericks’s life is falling apart. Her family’s financial crisis during the recession has left them in turmoil, and to make matters worse, her best friend moved away without a word. Fain is becoming invisible to all those around her at both school and home. At night, she begins to create a fantasy world where she can escape and journey with creatures that she rules as their queen. During the day, she spirits away to a local quarry, where she can hide out and write about her fantasy world in solitude. Sutton’s well-crafted free-verse poems chronicle Fain’s life as she withdraws from everything and then begins to consider the tenuous promise of a brighter tomorrow when a favorite teacher enters one of her stories in a contest and new friendships seem possible. As Fain’s life begins to change and positive things offer a glimmer of hope, she is confronted with leaving her beloved imaginary world behind.
Somos como las nubes=We Are Like the Clouds. Jorge Argueta. Trans. Elisa Amado. Ill. Alfonso Ruano. 2016. Groundwood/House of Anansi.
Over 100,000 children have left Central America to find a new and safer place to live. Jorge Argueta, a refugee from El Salvador, creates poems that explain what it is like for these children to leave behind everything they have known and grown up with, often including their families. The poems, in both Spanish and English, speak to the dangers and hardships these children experience on their journeys before they arrive at the borders of the United States. Alfonso Ruano’s darkly shaded acrylic artwork creates a somber mood for their dangerous treks made with hope for a better life.
Leave This Song Behind: Teen Poetry at Its Best. Stephanie H. Meyer, John Meyer, Adam Halwitz, and Cindy W. Spertner (Eds.). 2016. Teen Talk/Health Communications.
This anthology includes the poetry written by teenage writers who have submitted their poems to Teen Ink over the last five years. The poems vary from serious and deep thinking to light-hearted and spirited approaches to life. After the foreword by Todd Strasser, this slim volume is divided into seven thematic sections: “Come to Your Senses,” “Less Is More,” “Get Into Shape,” “Let Me Tell You a Story,” “Shall I Compare Thee to…?,” “I Wasn’t Expecting That,” and “Love, Life, Death (and other overwritten themes).” Back matter includes notes from each of the teens, an index, and a permissions section.
Up From the Sea. Leza Lowitz. 2016. Crown/Random House.
Set in March 2011 during the horrific earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, this novel in verse is contemporary fiction based on actual events at its best. The story is told through the voice of Kai, a 17-year-old biracial boy living in a small coastal village in the Tohoku region of Japan. The author includes many scenes from the tsunami within the story and adds notes at the end of the book to further discuss this natural disaster. Her free verse and concrete poems create vivid images of the turbulent weather and subsequent devastation. During the storm, Kai loses all the members of his existing family. In the aftermath, a grieving Kai receives an opportunity to go to America and look for his American father, who left the family years earlier. While in New York, Kai is introduced to young people who lost their parents in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This shared experience of tragedy and survival helps Kai to move forward through his grief and begin to carve out a new life for himself upon returning to Japan.
Karen Hildebrand is a retired/rewired school librarian and is active in NCTE and ILA. She is part of the Teacher Fellowship program at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and serves as the Education Curriculum Chair of the Delaware County Historical Society in Ohio. She currently serves as the chair of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry and recently served on the Notable Trade Books in the Social Studies committee.
So many great books, both nonfiction and fiction, can be used to include literature across curriculum development. Teachers can read aloud books in different genres to introduce a topic. They can combine multiple books to create text sets that supplement and enrich instruction as well as add new books to update established classroom text sets. Trade books provide sources for research, and their content inspires conversation on critical topics. The recently published books in this column serve interests in multiple content areas.
Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles. Mara Rockliff. Ill. Hadley Hooper. 2016. Candlewick.
In 1916, in a little yellow car, Neil Richardson and Alice Burke took a trip around the country. Their goal: “Votes for Women!” Traveling from New York City to Philadelphia and then south before heading west to California and returning to New York via a northern route, the two adventuresome women made speeches to rally support for women’s suffrage. Rockliff’s text is as energetic as the two suffragists who made the 10,000-mile journey, and Hooper’s illustrations, done in pencil and printmaking techniques, then scanned and completed digitally, complement the spirited text. Back matter includes extensive notes on both “the newfangled machine”—a Saxon Motor Car that drew as much attention as Richardson and Burke—and the Suffragists Movement, a note on sources, primarily newspaper reports, and books for further reading.
Circle. Jeannie Baker. 2016. Candlewick.
Bar-tailed godwits, shore birds that live in New Zealand and Australia and nest in Alaska, migrate more than 10,000 miles each year. On their way north to Alaska, they stop to recuperate and feed in the wetlands of Asia, but they fly nonstop on their return journey. Illustrating the book with structured collage of paper, paint, and plant matter, Baker describes the godwits’ behavior and the habitats along their route north, habitats that are shrinking because of development and urbanization. Back matter includes a map of the godwits’ migratory route and an author’s note explaining that the annual movements of birds, sea creatures, and other animals are a reminder that everything on the planet is connected and interdependent.
Clara: The (Mostly) True Story of the Rhinoceros Who Dazzled Kings, Inspired Artists, and Won the Hearts of Everyone . . . While She Ate Her Way Up and Down a Continent! Emily Arnold McCully. 2016. Schwartz & Wade/Random House.
Born in Assam sometime around 1740 and orphaned, the rhinoceros Clara was adopted by a director of the Dutch East India Company, who knew she could not survive without her mother. She lived in his house as a pampered pet. On a visit with the family, a Dutch sea captain offered to purchase Clara and take her to Europe to teach people about rhinoceroses, which many people thought were mythical beasts. In bright watercolor illustrations McCully depicts the years Clara spent delighting and mystifying people, including the aristocracy, all the while being fed tons of vegetables and fruits. A map of Clara’s travels appears on the endpapers. In the back matter, McCully provides information on the global habitats of rhinoceroses then and now, including a reference to issues related to contemporary beliefs about the humane treatment of wild animals.
Green City: How One Community Survived a Tornado and Rebuilt for a Sustainable Future. Allan Drummond. 2016. Frances Foster/Farrar Straus Giroux.
After Greenburg, a town in central Kansas, was leveled by a tornado in 2007, the residents decided to rebuild differently, working together to incorporate modern ideas in design and construction to create a sustainable community. An unnamed narrator (the boy in a red jacket and wearing a green cap in the illustrations) recounts the effort of transforming a scene of devastation into a vibrant community. With illustrations rendered in watercolor and ink, Drummond chronicles events and shows that the project was not without setbacks as residents became discouraged with the hardships of their transitional lives. Sidebars provide information about specific aspects of the town’s rebuilding for a sustainable future, and the back matter includes an author’s note, sources, and tips for going green.
Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-Explorer. Heather Henson. Ill. Bryan Collier. 2016. Caitlin Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
“Down here, I am Guide—a man able to walk before other men, not behind…. A man—down here, that’s what I am—a man not just a slave.” Through a first person narrative, Henson has Stephen Bishop, who became the best-known guide of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky from around 1838 to 1857, tell his own story. Bishop reveals his pride in his discoveries and knowledge of the cave and his ability to lead tourists safely through its dark passages. With numerous close-up portraits against a background of the dark cave interior, Collier’s stunning double-spread illustrations, rendered in watercolor and collage, keep the focus on Bishop. Back matter includes author and illustrator notes that provide an historical context for this picture-book biography and other resources.
Grover Cleveland, Again! A Treasury of American Presidents. Ken Burns. Ill. Gerald Kelley. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
This collective biography is an engaging introduction to the 43 men who have served as president of the United States. Each is given a double spread (Grover Cleveland gets two as the 22nd and 24th president) of text and a pencil-and-digitally colored illustration highlighting accomplishments and important events during his years in office. In addition, there is a quotation (two for Cleveland: “Whatever you do, tell the truth” and “What is the use of being elected or re-elected unless you stand for something”) and a sidebar with the president’s official portrait and biographical data, including interest-catching entries such as Nicknames (for Cleveland, “Veto President,” or “President Who Said “No!” because of his numerous uses of the president’s veto power) and Pets (for Cleveland, dogs of many breeds among other pets). Back matter includes a list of presidential birthplaces, libraries, museums, and historical sites as well as a glossary.
Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger. Anita Silvey. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Born into a family of musicians, Pete Seeger was influenced by his father’s growing sympathy for the lives and efforts of working-class people, but the greater influence followed the divorce of his parents in 1927, when he was 8 years old. Schooled in private schools in New England, Seeger discovered a love of music, and, through employment in the Library of Congress, he discovered the history of American music. His many musical mentors were figures in American musical history, including Alan Lomax, Lead Belly, and Woody Guthrie. They influenced his focus on social justice and the conservation of what he called the people’s music. Illustrating the book with archival photographs, Silvey traces American culture and politics through Seeger’s performances. Silvey includes a chapter on Seeger’s legacy, extensive source notes, and an afterward.
Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas. Gwendolyn Hooks. Ill. Colin Bootman. 2016. Lee & Low.
The pioneering research that led to the first successful “blue-baby” surgery in 1941 went unacknowledged for three decades. Hooks recounts the life and work of Vivien Thomas, the medical assistant who developed the surgical procedure that saves the lives of babies whose hearts did not function to get oxygenated blood pumping through the body. As a boy,
Thomas longed to be a doctor; however, he was unable to attend medical school so he took a job as assistant to Dr. Alfred Blalock. Thomas began his years of systematic, dedicated research into the surgery on infants at which many doctors scoffed. The double-spread watercolor illustrations of this picture-book biography depict Thomas’s development of the procedure and equipment needed to perform it. Back matter includes additional information on Thomas and the surgical procedure he developed, a glossary, and author’s sources. For additional reading on Thomas, check out Jim Murphy’s Breakthrough: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever (2015), which is a multi-chapter book with archival photographs that show Thomas’s life and work.
Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story. Nora Raleigh Baskin. 2016. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
Two days in the lives of four middle-school students in different parts of the United States unfold hour by hour revealing their hopes, challenges, and the consequences of choices they make. Math genius Sergio, living in Brooklyn, NY, with his grandmother, is befriended by a fireman when he skips school one day. Aimee lives in Los Angeles, CA, and is sure her parents are considering a divorce when her mother goes to New York City for a business position. Will, who lives in Shanksville, PA, wrestles with the death of his father, a truck driver, who died while trying to help a distressed driver along the highway. Naheed, of Columbus, OH, honors her Muslim heritage and culture and, in her efforts to make friends, feels encumbered by the friendly overtures of Eliza, a class outcast. The attacks of 9/11 affect each character as they forge friendships and resolve the challenges they face. Baskins includes an author’s note with additional information about writing this book.
The Way Things Work Now: From Levers to Lasers, Windmills to Wi-Fi, a Visual Guide to the World of Machines. David Macaulay (with Neil Ardley). 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
This new and expanded 2016 edition of Macaulay’s “visual guide to the world of machines,” which began with The Way Things Work (1988), continues to offer readers an accessible and engaging introduction to machines, organized by the scientific principles behind them. Most of the prior content and examples have not changed, retaining the volume’s importance as a guide on how one invention builds upon earlier ones. The greatest changes occur in the “Digital Domain” section. Brighter coloring of illustrations, which still humorously involve woolly mammoths, makes delving into details inviting. Macaulay’s text is informative, but it is his diagrams and cutaways providing explanations of how things work—from zippers to satellite navigation systems—that will sustain the interest of readers of all ages. Back matter includes a 16-page “Eureka!” section of inventions, a glossary of technical terms, and an index.
Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America. Gail Jarrow. 2016. Calkins Creek/Highlights.
Even though the bubonic plague ravaged countries through three separate pandemics across a span of almost 2,000 years, the plague remained terrifying mysteries to the people who suffered from it. The first pandemic, in what is now Turkey, began in the 8th century. The second one, which swept through Europe, began in the 14th century and lasted into the 18th century. The third pandemic first appeared on American shores in San Francisco in 1894. Through the 19th century, doctors and scientists investigated the plague’s sources and how it was transmitted. Even after two scientists independently determined that the plague bacterium was transmitted by a particular flea, civic officials around the world spent less time focusing on the fleas and the rat that carried them than on quarantining people in communities where plague was found. Jarrow includes a final chapter reporting on present-day evidence of the bubonic plague in the United States. Archival and color photographs supplement the text. Back matter includes frequently asked questions, a glossary, extensive source notes, a bibliography, and a timeline.
Sandip Wilson serves as associate professor in the College of Health and Education of Husson University in Bangor, ME. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, CA.
When I lived and taught in New Orleans, LA, I was the proud owner of a colorful t-shirt emblazoned with images of 40 front covers of books that have been challenged or banned over the years. I was even prouder to have read and owned all those books. I firmly maintain there is value in reading and discussing books that expand one’s worldview and sometimes make a reader feel uncomfortable. Although I might not relish every single book on that banned book t-shirt or even those on the current list of frequently challenged books maintained by the American Library Association (ALA), I support the right of authors and illustrators to share their words and visions and for individuals to read their books. Discourse about conflicting ideas is one of the founding principles of a democracy. Intellectual freedom should be cherished.
Banned Books Week, a partnership of book publishers, sellers, and advocates of intellectual freedom—including teachers and librarians—provides an annual reminder of the importance of being able to have choice in what one reads. This year, the event runs September 25–October 1, under the banner of Stand Up for Your Right to Read. Chances are that a bookstore or library near you will have displays and speakers lauding the freedom to read. If not, you might consider taking the lead on this project. There are excellent resources provided on ALA’s website.
Clearly, Banned Books Week brings together book lovers in support of intellectual freedom. Just as clearly, those of us who cherish the right to read should make sure we celebrate this right on a daily basis.
ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom collects and compiles reports from libraries, schools, and the media on attempts to ban books. Often, the same books are challenged year after year. Below are the 10 most challenged books of 2015.
Some of these books were published for adult readers. Below I review five titles on the list, books written for children and young adults, all books that I consider essential reading. All of them tell important stories. I would never support removing these books or the others on the list from library shelves.
I Am Jazz. Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings. Ill. Shelagh McNicholas. 2014. Dial/Penguin.
The picture book story of Jazz Jennings’s experiences as a transgender girl is simplified here, offering a conversational starting place for parents and teachers to discuss gender roles and gender identity with young children. Through Jazz’s own words, readers are provided with a glimpse into Jazz’s world and her parents’ struggles and eventual coming to terms with their child’s identification as a girl. Jazz herself says that she knew she was a girl at the age of 2. Although it gently addresses the challenges she and her family have faced over bathroom issues and sports team, the book tells Jazz’s story in a positive fashion, offering encouragement and hope for others who are figuring out their own identity. Jazz’s honest story could lead to acceptance, understanding, and appreciation for those like her who have struggled to be allowed to be the person they know they were born to be. Although the book depicts how frustrating and confusing Jazz’s early days were, it also demonstrates the many ways she is just like any other youngster. Rendered with watercolor paints, the colorful illustrations bring a bright and cheerful focus to Jazz’s story that matches her own attitude. This important, groundbreaking book contains three photographs of Jazz as well as her image on the book jacket.
Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan. Jeanette Winter. 2009. Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster.
As the violence and confusion of war in Afghanistan paint her homeland with despair and dismal images, Nasreen has lost almost all there is to lose, including her parents, and yet her grandmother offers her hope even while turmoil swirls through her city’s streets. Under her grandmother’s firm guidance and conscious act of revolution, Nasreen attends school secretly. Simply becoming educated, a process that students in many countries take for granted, becomes an act of rebellion and an indicator of the brighter future that may lie ahead for Nasreen and others like her. The color-drenched illustrations highlight moments of tranquility snatched while violence rages around this young girl. Reading this book might remind young readers of the power of literacy and how reading truly can open up entire worlds and change lives.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. Susan Kuklin. 2014. Candlewick.
In this unique collection of interviews intended to subvert gender stereotypes, six teens share their experiences as members of the transgender community. Although there are similarities and overlap in some of the stories and experiences, the journeys described here are unique and certain to evoke compassion and understanding. Readers may flinch at the struggles and applaud the hard-won victories of Jessy, Christina, Mariah, Cameron, Nat, and Luke. Containing some before and after photographs as they transitioned into the gender they were meant to be, the book includes comments from the parents (and significant others) of several of the teens. As much as many of us think we know about this topic, these teens have much to teach us, including the importance of using gender-neutral terms when referring to others and not making assumptions about someone’s gender. The back matter includes helpful resources and a glossary of terms. These shared stories have broken boundaries, opened minds, and allowed others to be themselves. Readers may find it comforting to consider the idea expressed in the book that all of us are somewhere along a spectrum when it comes to gender identity, neither completely male nor completely female.
Looking for Alaska. John Green. 2005. Dutton/Penguin.
Sixteen-year-old Miles Halter finds more challenges than he expected when he attends an Alabama boarding school and leaves his Florida home behind. Quirky misfit Miles enjoys collecting the last words of famous dead people, and he worries that he won’t fit in at his new school. After all, he lacks life experiences. But fortunately for Miles, he falls in with a group of would-be intellectuals more interested in smoking, drinking, hooking up, and having fun than what they’re supposed to be learning in their classrooms, and he starts catching up on all that he has been missing. Miles is attracted to Alaska Young, the girlfriend of his roommate, and yearns for this self-destructive young woman even while conducting a courtship with another classmate. The chapter headings and vignettes hint of the tragedy to come even while exploring the impact of love, loss, and grief. While looking for Alaska and others like her, Miles attempts to find himself. Teen readers are sure to identify with one of the characters in this winner of the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award.
Two Boys Kissing. David Levithan. 2013. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
Former boyfriends Craig and Harry may no longer be together, but the two 17-year-olds like each other enough to try to set a new record for longest continuous kiss for the Guinness Book of World Records. Kissing for 32 hours provides a chance for reflection, affording them with time to examine their feelings for one another and deal with the consequences of their actions. While Harry’s parents support their son and have no problem with the media attention garnered by the boys’ locked lips, Craig’s mother has no idea that her son is gay. The book also explores the experiences of other teens and includes posthumous narratives by several men who died from AIDS, thus offering readers and the characters themselves a glimpse into the past, present, and future of gay rights and gender identification. Kudos to the publisher for appropriately placing an image of two adolescent males kissing on the cover.
Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor's in Communications, a master's in English Education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.