Category Archives: we need diverse books

Not seeing it does not mean it’s not there

hearts unbrokenWe connect with books in all kinds of ways.

You might think that today high schools would be less outwardly racist and more open to diversity, even in smaller towns, even in flyover country, where I have lived much of my life.  You might think that people would get that having the Indian or a brave be your mascot would finally be passé.  But I’m here to tell you, it’s still out there.  The high school I graduated from still has that mascot, even after multiple attempts to get it changed by groups which include the people it’s somehow now supposed to honor.  It periodically comes up in a Facebook alumni group I follow, mostly by people who are trying to deny that it could ever be taken as offensive or racist, because, you know, that would mean they are racist or offensive and didn’t realize it.  Which is really what this book highlights perfectly.

But — SURPRISE! — this book is not about me.  It’s about witnessing the daily stupidity, offensive behavior, and tiny reminders of other-ness thrown at Louise, as well as the love and support she gets from her family and her culture.   It’s a perfect book, really, because its story is one that’s familiar to everyone – a coming-of-age, trying-to-figure-out-where-you-fit kind of thing.  Because it’s about Louise, however, we see a character we need to see more of – a Native young person in today’s world.

Take a walk in her shoes.  You’ll be glad you did.

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

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Bracelets that jingle, wishes that fly

carmela full of wishesMirrors and windows.  I keep thinking about that idea, that children need books that have both mirrors – which look like their own experiences – and windows – a way to see how others live.  I love silly books about bears and penguins and ducks with attitude, but there is also something powerful about books that reflect daily life, especially if it’s a daily life normally left out of the national conversation – minimum wage workers or farm workers or night job workers, for example.

Carmela’s story is about wishes, not work, but the representations of her world matter, since I know kids who would see themselves in her family with dreams of better lives and reunifications and simple walks through the neighborhood.  And we have to hope we can all be the big brother (not the Big Brother) who protects her wishes and dreams and gives her hope for the future.

Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson


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Most electric-est

luLu sneaks up on you.  If you’ve read the others in the Track series by Jason Reynolds (Ghost, Patina, Sunny), you’ll know what I mean.  There you are, reading along, and then something real life unexpected happens and whooomp, you are surprised and yet not surprised, because that is how real life is.

I love this series, and Lu is lightning, light, most electric-est.

Lu by Jason Reynolds, #4 in the Track series

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Big feelings, big heart

dariusthegreatisnotokaySoulless minions of orthodoxy.  Ah, high school.  Middle school.  Incredibly toxic workplaces. We have them everywhere, even if we are supposed to be in bully-free zones.

Darius is really just trying to live life, doing his after school job with the corporate-mandated greetings, watching Star Trek with a dad who doesn’t understand him, being a Fractional Persian, taking his meds.  He doesn’t think going to Iran to see his dying grandfather will help with any of that, although he suspects there will be some good food and tea there.

There is that and so much more.  He makes a friend, a true friend, a best friend.  Watching him live his life in the new space, we see a whole different Darius unfurl, be tested, doubt himself, love, let go.  Sohrab is one of those friends of the soul we’re lucky to have maybe once or twice in life, and Darius sees that and knows, even in his worst moments, how much that matters.

Reading this book on a gloomy day, I was transported, not just to Iran with Darius and his family, but also through the tricky, painful edges of the way his brain works, back to friends of my youth whose laughter and support helped me through my own tough moments.  Though I can hardly watch the news without feeling despair these days, this sad, joyous, tender, beautiful book manages to end on a note of hope, and that is a gift indeed.

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

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What do we value? What is our history? Who are we?

We-Are-Grateful-fnl-jktWEBWe are, none of us, just one thing.  Children form their ideas of who they are by what they see around them, who loves them, what they think, what they value.

A few weeks ago, I heard Jacqueline Woodson speak, and she noted how important it is for kids to see themselves in the books they read.  We don’t see many picture books about Native Americans or native nations, and often, the ones we see are historical representations, not people living now.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga is just one book, but it’s much needed, and we need more.  Not just for kids whose families are Native American, but for all of us.  Following the seasons and highlighting important events, it reminds us all that how we see ourselves is part of the bigger picture of our communities and our country as a whole.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell and Frané Lessac

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Freedom to read

dreamersIt’s Banned Books Week again.  Every year, we hear about attempts to limit access to books or remove them from libraries or label them or keep them away from kids, mostly because someone in the community is offended by their content. Sigh.

I don’t like all books, even if I’m sometimes the book lady.  Maybe I think people shouldn’t be reading them because their content is repulsive to me and should be repulsive to everyone.   Maybe the author has admitted to making up a story they present as truth.  Maybe they promote things I think are unhealthy or destructive.  Some books are just annoying.  Believe me, I have a lot of opinions about a lot of things.

But seriously?  I just don’t read them.  It’s that simple.  If you don’t like it, don’t read it.  There are a lot of books out there.  You would never be able to read all the books you actually WANT to read.

Books are life-changing.  Libraries can be life-changing.  And libraries are there for everyone.  That’s one reason I love this particular book so much.  Books and libraries can help all kinds of people find their home, their safe place, their challenge, their future.  We are all dreamers.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

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What to read while planning your personal resistance

Need tips on what to read, where to begin, what you need to know to resist, change, or protest?  These (very different) books will open your mind to any number of issues and actions you might not have thought about, especially if you are privileged in some way.

Do not miss Tony Medina’s “One Day Papí Drove Me to School” or Margarita Engle’s “All Nations are Neighbors.”  Dip into essays on climate change, racial justice, intersectionality, LGBTQIA issues, women’s rights, and how to be an ally.  Think about Patrice Khan-Cullors’ “Black Ancestry and Artistry Wielded Against the Police State.” Educate yourself.  Share with friends and family.   Make your voice heard.  And vote if you can.  Please vote.

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

Steal This Country by Alexandra Styron

Nevertheless We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage, foreword by Amy Klobuchar

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Big fun for Little Star

cov_bigmoonakeA mooncake in the sky?  Delicious!  Any small child (and most grown-ups) would have a hard time resisting it.  Pat, pat, pat.  Just a little bit, right?  Mom won’t notice that.  Before you know it, the mooncake/moon is gone.  What to do now?  Maybe bake another?

So beautifully illustrated, sweet and fun.  AND there are cool activities on the author’s website:

A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin

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Harbor us all

Where do we all begin in a world like this one?  Have we been here before?  (Probably.) Did it feel like this? (Maybe.  Maybe not.)  How do we begin?  How do we protect ourselves?  How do we care for each other?

Jacqueline Woodson is on a book tour now, so I’ll be lucky enough to hear her speak in person soon.  (Do I have a bounce in my library step?  I do!  Are there moments of I am soooo lucky…squeeeee?  There are.) What I love about her work in both of these books is the way she acknowledges the challenges, pain, and joy of our individual lives even as they mirror national moments.  Harbor Me reaches out to the parent or teacher or aunt trying to explain family separation in a place with no diversity or much diversity.  The Day You Begin calls to all of us and the fear of what we are or aren’t or might be.

But we all have a voice, right?  And now is the time to use it, she seems to say.  Maybe a big voice, maybe a small voice, but just imagine all of those voices and what they can do together.

She is amazing.

Harbor Me and The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

(The Day You Begin is illustrated by the amazing Rafael López.)

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So much there there

there thereIf you were fortunate enough to be born into a family whose ancestors directly benefited from genocide and/or slavery, maybe you think the more you don’t know, the more innocent you can stay, which is a good incentive not to find out, to not look too deep, to walk carefully around the sleeping tiger.  (p. 138-139)

I’m not a big one for direct quoting from books, mostly because it means I have to hunt down the quote.  This time I wisely bookmarked it right after I read it.  I kept going back to it and re-reading it as I finished the book.

Earlier on, Tommy Orange’s prologue points out the many ways American history has been revised to fit a benign image white people want to look back on fondly.  And while there is more history and more commentary on the state of American society, this book is also a fascinating human story about a group of urban Native Americans gathering for a powwow.

If you are white, it might make you rethink a few of your easy privileges, which is never a bad thing.  I could hope that people in power would read it, but given the state of our political world these days, I suspect the people who need to read it most would never read it – both because they seem to not be readers at all and because they are unlikely to seek out any criticism of a world where they are on top and feel like they deserve to be there.

But don’t miss it if you have a chance to pick it up.  The writing is beautiful, powerful, intense, and challenging, and the time you’ll spend on it will make you think differently about the world we live in and your place in it.

There There by Tommy Orange

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