#OWNVOICES Recommendations

Though I pay for it in the morning, lately I have happily been staying up way too late reading. And while I’m making an admirable dent in my to-read list, my to-be-reviewed list is getting longer and longer and longer! So instead, here is a list of some of the powerful, sweet, funny, and very-highly recommended #ownvoices MG and YA titles I have read (and LOVED!) this spring. Check them out and judge for yourself!

 

amal unboundAmal Unbound by Aisha Saeed (Nancy Paulson Books, 2018) –Pakistani

Amal’s dreams of becoming a teacher are interrupted by an accident that lands her as the indentured servant of a cruel and corrupt landlord. She must learn to work with the other unhappy inhabitants of his household to expose the truth of his misdeeds and return to her family.

 

blood and boneChildren of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt and Co., 2018) –West African

As a descendant of the maji, Zélie will use the power of family, will, and the magic of her clan to fight a brutal and oppressive monarchy bent on destroying her people, and magic, forever.

 

hurricane childHurricane Child by Kheryn Callendar (Scholastic, 2018) –US Virgin Islands/LGBTQ

Abandoned by her mother and bullied by nearly everyone else, Caroline finds comfort in a new classmate—Kalinda. She will fight her community, her emotions, and Mother Nature herself to find her mother and save her friendship.

 

Marcus vegaMarcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya (Viking, 2018) –Latin cultures

When a school suspension sends Marcus, his mother and brother to Puerto Rico to “hit the reset button,” his mishap-filled search for his father helps him discover that fatherhood and family can look different than he ever imagined.

 

parker inheritance

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (Arthur A. Levine, 2018) –African American/US South

Two inquisitive kids spend the summer solving a mystery from the past, facing racism then and now, in a small South Carolina town that hides both terrible secrets of racial violence and a multi-million dollar treasure.

 

So until the next list (picture books, maybe?)… Here’s to late nights with a good book and early mornings with a big cup of coffee!

Small & Mighty: A Review of Front Desk by Kelly Yang

front deskFront Desk by Kelly Yang
Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books
May, 2018

Mia and her parents, recent immigrants from China, are managing a California motel in the early 1990s. It’s a family affair, as ten-year-old Mia finds herself responsible for checking in motel guests while her parents tend to the rooms and motel maintenance – though it sometimes feels like it’s Mia against the world. After a rough start including washing machine mishaps, bad grades, and arguments with her mother (who wants Mia to stick to math, something she considers Mia to be a “native” in), Mia hits her stride when she realizes the power of using her ever-improving English to help others, especially the motel guests she considers family.

Adventurous subplots and dynamic secondary characters add to the appeal of this compelling middle grade novel. Mia believes in herself and wants what is best for her friends and family, and though her quick thinking sometimes gets her in trouble, at the end of the day she is a force for good in her community. This book is fun, yet thoughtful, and shows that there’s no age requirement for taking action against injustice.

2018 Short Story Collections

In honor of Short Story Month, we’re featuring several new collections of stories in various forms – fiction, nonfiction, personal, biographical, historical, and more. Whether told in words, images, or both, short stories have the power to inspire, educate, and entertain in just a few pages. Whatever your fancy, there’s a collection for that!

ssmeetcute

If you’re looking for love stories…
Meet Cute
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2018

With a tagline of “Some people are destined to meet,” this collection of 14 stories takes us to the beginnings of relationships, when love has potential and anything can happen. Experienced YA readers will recognize many of the contributing authors, who bring a diverse cast of characters and a variety of introductions – romantic, funny, tender, and whimsical – to the page.

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If you need a good dose of inspiration…
Hope Nation, edited by Rose Brock
Philomel Books, February 2018

Personal essays from 24 contemporary YA authors show that hope is an action – a decision we each make to hold our heads up in the face of opposition or defeat. Stories of childhood dedication and perseverance, moments of doubt overcome by conviction, and the belief that words have power combine in this collection to show there is strength in hope.

ssvoicesIf you’d like to hear about WWII from people who experienced it firsthand…
Voices from the Second World War: Stories of War as Told to Children of Today
Candlewick Press, March 2018

This collection includes a variety of personal accounts of life before, during, and after World War II from 80 people who lived through it – as child evacuees, service men and women, prisoners of war, survivors of concentration camps and bombings, and resistance fighters. Their stories are presented as they were told to children of today through interviews, letters, and school visits alongside photographs and other historical images that were originally published in association with First News, a weekly newspaper for children.

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If you want to test run some fresh comics…
The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection: Volume One
Scholastic/David Fickling Books, March 2018

Eight artists are featured in this volume, each with unique styles and content. Readers can follow the adventures of Troy Trailblazer, Looshkin, “the maddest cat in the world,” Doug Slugman, P. I. and others. The comics included in this collection were originally published in The Phoenix, a weekly comic magazine for children.

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If feminist historical fiction is your thing…
The Radical Element: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes, and Other Dauntless Girls, edited by Jessica Spotswood
Candlewick Press, March 2018

In stories that range in setting from Savannah, Georgia in 1838 to Los Angeles in 1923 to Boston in 1984, this collection of historical fiction by 12 different authors features characters who refuse to let society define them. They boldly claim their identities and pursue their dreams in defiance of the norms of their communities.

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If feminist historical nonfiction is your thing…
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu
First Second, March 2018

Over 30 historical figures are represented in this collection of “broad-stroke portraits” in both text and illustration. Bagieu pays homage to women from various walks of life, geographic settings, and periods of history with brief biographical comics and detailed drawings that invite readers in to each story.

2018 Picture Book Poetry

April is National Poetry Month – celebrate with us by checking out new collections and illustrated poems. You can find these titles, novels in verse for older readers, and other lyrical picture books for children here at Butler Children’s Literature Center!

blackgirlmagic

Black Girl Magic (Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press, January 2018)
Written by Mahogany Browne
Illustrated by Jess X. Snow

With a dedication stating “This book is for you,” this spirited poem of strength and finding beauty in yourself despite what the world expects of you lifts up black women, acknowledging their accomplishments and struggles, and gives young black girls an anthem of support. The text is accompanied by striking black, white, and red illustrations that amplify the empowering message of the poem.

 

In the Past (Candlewick Press, March 2018)
inthepastWritten by David Elliott
Illustrated by Matthew Trueman

This collection of poems about ancient creatures ranges from the humble Trilobite to the mighty Quetzacoatlus and proves that anything can be poetic. Perfect for dinosaur fans of any age, In the Past includes a geologic timeline and notes for each ancient creature along with realistic mixed media images. The poetry is light-hearted and informative and plays on the illustrations on each page.

 

martinrisingMartin Rising: Requiem for a King (Scholastic Press, January 2018)
Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by Brian Pinkney

In this collection of “docu-poems,” author Andrea Davis Pinkney presents the final months of Dr. King’s life. With a musicality of language and along with Brian Pinkney’s illuminating and spiritual paintings, each poem carries a different emotional tone and honors multiple facets of King’s life – his work, his family, and his ministry. This selection works on its own as a memorial of Dr. King’s life, but would also be a powerful read aloud in a classroom or theater setting, or as a part of a larger program for students at any age.

 

The Horse’s Haiku (Candlewick Press, March 2018)horseshaiku
Written by Michael J. Rosen
Illustrated by Stan Fellows

This collection of haiku about horses is organized into three sections: In the Field, At the Barn, and Under Saddle. Watercolor illustrations on each page allow the reader’s eye to graze while the mind contemplates the sparse verse. A note on haiku concludes the collection and teaches the reader how to enjoy haiku in everyday life. The Horse’s Haiku would be suitable for a read aloud for younger children, or as a read along as part of a larger poetry unit for older elementary students.

 

withmyhandsWith My Hands: Poems About Making Things (HMH/Clarion Books, March 2018)
Written by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Illustrated by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson

This collection celebrates the “joy of making” with over 20 poems about different creative activities, each written in unique styles. The illustrations are also varied, ranging from crayon and colored pencil sketches to mixed media collages and paintings. With My Hands would pair well with an arts and crafts session, or as inspiration for creative pursuits of all types.

 

Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up (Candlewick Press, February 2018)earthverse
Written by Sally M. Walker
Illustrated by William Grill

Geographical concepts and natural events like minerals, fossils, earthquakes, and volcanoes are explored in this collection of haiku, accompanied by impressionistic and muted colored pencil illustrations. Each concept is explained in further detail at the end of the book, and a suggested reading list is also included, making this a perfect poetic tie-in or an added “layer” of a geology curriculum.

 

didyouhear

Did You Hear What I Heard? Poems About School (Penguin Random House/Dial Books, February 2018)
Written by Kay Winters
Illustrated by Patrice Barton

Over 30 poems fill this colorful collection – all about bus rides, fire drills, recess, field trips, tests, and teachers. Stylistically, the poems range from structured stanzas to free verse to singsong rhymes. Bright and playful illustrations make this collection suitable for younger students and perfect for classroom read-alouds or as a starting point for students to write their own school-themed poems.

Finding Their Way Home: A Review of Refugee by Alan Gratz

Told in three separate yet connected stories, Refugee is a novel of perseverance and commitment to who you are in the face of persecution.

refugeeJosef is fleeing from 1930s Nazi Germany and the threat of concentration camps with his parents and sister. Isabel, her parents, and her neighbors use a makeshift raft to escape Cuba in 1994, during the unrest of Castro’s regime. Mahmoud, along with his parents and younger siblings, leave the violence of war in Syria in 2015, traveling through Europe as they search for a safer place to live. Though the details of their stories are unique, Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud share more similarities than just their situations.

The attention given to creating characters with heart and conviction is engaging, while the conflicts each protagonist faces ensure none of their individual stories get stuck in the emotion of the book as a whole. Refugee tells an important story, and does so without preaching or sensationalizing the experiences of refugees past and present. Maps and an author’s note highlight the reality of Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud’s stories and show the readers how they can help with relief efforts.

We’re Not Afraid! Two Not-Too-Scary Stories

In the spirit of Halloween, we’d like to share two new picture books with characters who rethink their requests for scary stories.

i want to be in a scary storyLittle Monster is confident he wants to be in a scary story, until he’s stuck in the middle of one. Witches, ghosts, and spooky houses? “Golly Gosh!” and “Jeepers Creepers!” he says. Little Monster doesn’t want to be scared; he wants to do the scaring! The narrator (indicated on the page with black text, where Little Monster’s words are purple) acquiesces, putting Little Monster in charge of the upcoming frights. Is Little Monster ready to scare? With charming dialogue and just enough forewarning for what the next page holds, I Want to Be in a Scary Story will delight any child who wants to be in a story – on their own terms.

too scary story

Parents who’ve struggled to satisfy competing requests will recognize Papa’s burden in The Too-Scary Story. Grace and Walter settle in for a bedtime story, but they can’t agree on how scary it should be. The dark forest setting is “too scary” for Walter, so Papa introduces the “twinkling lights” of fireflies. But that’s not scary enough for Grace! Back and forth the story goes, scary to safe, until Walter and Grace agree – the story is too scary! Luckily, Grace has her magic wand, and Papa is never too far away to bring the story back to safety. Murguia’s mixed media illustrations follow the alternating moods of the text and complete this bedtime adventure.

A Review of Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

This is one of the most remarkably affecting books I have ever read. When a baby is born, he or she doesn’t know s/he is deaf, autistic, or any different from anyone else; it is positively heartbreaking to read about this one’s introduction to a world that was almost unfailingly cruel.

Born in in 1899 in rural Idaho, James Castle was deaf, unable to speak, and autistic. Through straightforward narration, his nephew attempts to show the world through baby James’ eyes: “James opened his eyes to the world and saw things that moved and things that were still. Anything that moved seemed to scare him. He cried as his parents bobbed around him with darting eyes and flapping mouths. But James couldn’t hear himself shrieking. For him the world would always be silent.” It is truly the stuff of nightmares, interpreted hauntingly by Say’s mixed-media art, some in smudgy grayscale and some in color. Images of young James engaged by various scraps of paper, charcoal, and other “found” art materials are almost peaceful; they are juxtaposed by harrowing scenes of him holding his arms around his ears while other children scream taunts at him.

SilentDaysSilentDreams

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, 2017)

James’ own parents were no doubt as terrified and perplexed by their son as he was by the world; unfortunately, they were ill-equipped, or unable or unwilling, to figure out how best to rear him. At first, they gave him old paper or other throwaway items, since those things seemed to keep him entertained or at least occupied. They sent him to a school where he appears to have found some level of engagement: looking books and printed materials in the library, although he could not read; watching teachers sew books together; and doing “well in shoe repair class.” But the school considered him a failure because he could not learn to speak. There is no judgement made explicit in the text on the principal who advised James’ parents “…not to give James and drawing materials at home. He said James should learn to read and write and not waste time on drawings.” Readers will come to their own conclusions about the humanity, or lack thereof, in this approach.

As an adult, James became extremely isolated, essentially living in a barn where he had his “studio” and a mattress on the floor. Continually tormented by kids stealing his artwork, and called names such as “Dummy” and “Crazy Jimmy,” he nonetheless persisted in doing the only thing that seemed to give him any pleasure: using whatever he could find (soot with spit, charred sticks, and the like) to create art. Say’s portrayal of the type of illustrations James was creating at this time show eerie pictures of people with boxes or blank circles where faces should be, as well as quotidian images of small wooden houses and little puppets of dolls, farm animals and birds. We’ll never really know, but it’s possible James was expressing his wishes, desires, and silent dreams for home and companionship in the only way he knew how.

There is some redemption to James’ story with an art show organized by his nephew’s teacher in art school, and an eventual trailer in which he could live that was a big step up from the shacks he’d inhabited for most of his life. Nowadays, “found” or “naïve” art is a recognized genre, and James Castle is a respected contributor to it. Say’s closing portrait shows James as an adult, standing in front of his “Dream House,” with what might be a hint of a smile. The text reads “I think he was happy.”

An author’s note, bibliography, and photos of some of the found materials Say used to create the art round out this haunting picture book biography for older readers.