Tag Archives: family

The Sea in Winter by Christine Day

by Christine Day
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Adding my positive review to that of <a href="http://&lt;!– wp:paragraph –> <p>by <a href="https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2020/09/highly-recommended-sea-in-winter-by.html">Christine Day</a><br>Overall: 5 out of 5 stars</p> Dr. Debbie Reese! 12-year-old Maisie is still recovering from her ballet-related knee injury when we meet her. She is also not responding to her best friends, who are fellow ballet dancers and one of whom she blames for her injury. Mostly taking place over the course of a week in February, the story revolves around Maisie really hitting rock bottom about the injury and also [SPOILER ALERT] re-injuring her knee while on vacation with her mom, stepdad, and half-brother.

Maisie has two very insightful parents: her mom and stepdad, who are both Native (her biological father was also Native, and was in the Army; killed in Afghanistan when Maisie was a baby) and who speak to her gently and frankly about her mental health and about depression and therapy. At that point, the narrative zooms forward four months to where Maisie has found other interests besides ballet and has an idea of the future that doesn’t really involve ballet, along with friends at her own school. Her ballet friends go to different schools, so she was very unmotivated at school for a few different reasons. Jack, her stepfather, was determined to make her succeed in school unlike Jack and her father.

I loved that the story was infused with Native terms and ideology, but never felt didactic. (Instead of “See-yah means grandfather,” Maisie says “Jack wasn’t allowed to call his see-yah ‘grandpa,'” for example.) Maisie and her family live in the Pacific Northwest, which is her mom’s and Jack’s people’s homeland, and some places are referred to by their Native names. Day gives an Author’s Note at the end about some of her choices, and there is a note from Cynthia Leitich Smith about the book and about the imprint, which is Heartdrum (HarperCollins).

Three Keys by Kelly Yang

by Kelly Yang
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Three Keys is the sequel to Front Desk, and Mia Tang and her crew are back. Her best friend, Lupe, is an undocumented immigrant, and this story revolves around the election of Governor Pete Wilson and his Proposition 187 which had devastating effects for undocumented immigrants (and even documented ones – there was a palpable fear in the air, lots and lots of racism and plenty of hate crimes). With their various gradations of immigration status, Lupe, Mia (who has a green card), and Jason (who was born in the US to naturalized-citizen parents) struggle to figure it all out. (Well, Jason does, and Mia helps him. Jason’s parents are still terrible and his dad even votes for Prop 187, even as their own money troubles are escalating and they downsize to a smaller home.)

On a personal level for Lupe, her mom returns to Mexico voluntarily (because her mother has died) and then is unable to cross the border again. Her father becomes worried about her and goes to the border to find her, but gets detained by immigration police. Lupe comes to stay with the Tangs at the motel for months and there are some really heart-wrenching scenes about their separation. Hank and Mia find an immigration lawyer to take the case pro bono. There are scenes of rallies and protests and the fear calculus of attending them for the various characters. The economics of the weeklies’ finances is not explored at all but rather they are made to seem financially comfortable, which is far from realistic.

Mia’s teacher is another person whose mind she helps to change, through her writing as in Front Desk. Mrs. Welch shows some racism toward Mia at the beginning of the school year, and wears a Pete Wilson pin. However, she comes to visit Mia and Lupe at the motel one day and sees the “Welcome to America” classes for immigrants that some of the motel’s weekly residents teach and starts to listen more and more to Mia. Mia also writes a letter to the editor of the newspaper and gets published. Mrs. Welch tutors Mia in writing, teaching her grammar formally which helps Mia greatly. When Prop 187 passes, Lupe leaves school, being tutored by Mia’s mom in math. This also sets Mia’s mom on a path to becoming a teacher, and there’s a sweet moment between her parents about her dad enabling her mom to pursue her dreams.

Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright

by Varian Johnson
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Maureen and Francine Carter are starting sixth grade. Suddenly Francine wants to be called Fran by their friends, and is trying to be her own person, which makes Maureen feel left behind and sad at the loss of their previously close bond. She and Francine are not in all the same classes and she was even signed up for Cadet Corps, which her parents think would help with her self-confidence. But she’s so bad at marching that she’s in danger of her first non-A report card grade ever – unless she runs for sixth grade student council. The only other person running for president is, of course, Francine. Fighting and smear campaigns ensue and their parents try to find ways to end the rivalry, but in the end the girls have to get to a place of apology and forgiveness on their own. 

For fans of: Raina Telgemeier (Sisters, Drama, Smile)

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

by E.L. Konigsburg
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I remembered loving this one as a kid and the re-read did not disappoint. I was a sucker for kids running away and specifically their economy (The Boxcar Children, My Side of the Mountain, and even on the economy side, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, were in this category). I loved Claudia and Jamie’s story, and remembered it better than I did Harriet the Spy, but still forgot details like the fact that they had two whole other brothers. (I also didn’t remember how well Claudia and Jamie complement each other, but that’s sort of beside the point.) I loved especially how they hid in the bathroom stalls after the Metropolitan Museum of Art closed and then slept in the antique beds. They were very clever and I also loved the mystery of the angel statue and how Claudia and Jamie eventually figure it out, though I have to say that I did not recall them taking a taxi to Mrs. Frankweiler’s house and basically accosting her. But overall, except for a few things, it holds up well and is clearly a classic for a reason.

Second Dad Summer by Benjamin Klas

by Benjamin Klas
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Jeremiah is spending the summer with his dad in Minneapolis, as usual. This time, though, there’s another man in the picture: his dad’s boyfriend, Michael. Jeremiah met Michael last year but thankfully didn’t have to spend too much time with him. This summer, though, he’s still there. Jeremiah finds Michael’s flamboyance and interest in being his parent annoying. Dad and Michael have moved in together to a new apartment and Jeremiah makes friends with Sage, a girl about his age (12) with two moms and a bicycle, and they spend a lot of time riding around together. They also manage to befriend Mr. Keeler, the resident curmudgeon. By the end of the summer, Jeremiah has come around to Michael, partly because of Mr. Keeler, whose passing plays a role in Jeremiah and Michael bonding.

A coworker recommended this one to me, but wasn’t sure who to give it to. Normally the font size and protagonist age match up but this book might be a case of a hi-lo book (high interest level – of interest to a middle schooler – paired with low reading level, indicated by the larger font size and presence of pictures as aids). It’s also a great show of bisexuality and bisexual acceptance; Jeremiah’s dad (and mom) have known that he’s bi all along and no one has any lingering issues about him dating both men and women. Sage has two moms and that’s partly why they bond; she is cued as Black and all other characters are cued as white (except for one of Sage’s moms who is identified as Hmong). It’s also worth noting that the author does a great job of showing how Jeremiah feels about Michael and how it changes gradually over the course of the book.

Turning Point by Paula Chase

by Paula Chase
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

13-year-old Rasheeda is not looking forward to this summer, her first without her best friend, Monique, since moving in with her aunt in The Cove. Though the take ballet together, only Monique and Jamila, the best in their class, were selected and given scholarships to attend Ballet America, a 3-week intensive in another city. That leaves Sheeda home with just Tai, Mila’s best friend, and her church friends, a group which is splintering for different reasons. Oh and Mo’s brother Lennie, who is flirting with Sheeda like crazy.

Sheeda struggles with her precarious placement on the edge of adulthood, chafing against her aunt’s strict rules, but also seeing that they are there for a reason. There is an incident when an older boy, Lennie’s cousin, touches her in a way that she doesn’t like, and Lennie doesn’t stand up for her. He says, “I wouldn’t have let him hurt you,” and internally her response is, “He did hurt me, though.” Chase stops just shy of making explicit the connection: emotional harm IS harm. Harm doesn’t need to be physical or visible to be harmful. I think for 6th-8th grade readers, it might have been worthwhile to have stated this. But either way, that scene is very important and I’m glad it’s in there. It would be a great example to male readers of why consent is so important – and so murky sometimes.

The other important storyline is Mo and Mila off at the ballet intensive. They are grateful to have each other, and especially be roommates, because they are the only two Black girls there. (Curiously, their identities are not held up against anyone else marginalized, like say any boys, for comparison, but the storyline is rich enough on its own.) They share a bathroom with Katie and Brenna, who are White, and of course race, and racism, comes up. Mo is cast in the “angry Black woman” role and explains very clearly why she is frustrated by Katie’s and Brenna’s actions and words. Unfortunately, this does put her, and Mila to a lesser degree, in the role as Katie and Brenna’s teacher, but I think the microaggressions are very well shown. In a somewhat parallel situation to Sheeda’s, Mo is hurt by Katie’s failure to come to her defense in a hurtful situation – again, one that the other person didn’t recognize as hurtful.

I could go on and on about this book and the other relationships in it, but the only other one I want to mention is the one touched on most briefly: Sheeda’s relationship with her mother. I think the most telling way that Sheeda grows up is that she wants to hear her mother’s voice just to comfort her, and her mother is unable to give her any genuine attention. From the moment she answers the phone, it is all about her and her problems and her anger at Rasheeda’s aunt (her sister). Sheeda hangs up after a while, and seems to understand that her aunt is who she has, who will care for her in all the ways. Even if they don’t always agree, she’s her mother now.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

by Kelly Yang
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

5th grader Mia Tang and her family move to yet another town in California. As Chinese immigrants in the 1990s, they are stuck in low-paying, unskilled jobs and the instability that accompanies them. But this time will be different – they will manage a motel together, as a family. But their boss, Mr. Yao, is cheap and pays them very little, even though (or maybe because?) they live at the motel rent-free. It doesn’t help that Mr. Yao’s son, Jason, is in Mia’s class at school and is well on his way to being a terrible person like his father. Mia’s new friend Lupe is the daughter of immigrants as well and the two hit it off fast. Lupe even helps Mia enter a contest to win a motel in New Hampshire.

Then there are the weeklies – the residents of the motel, who pay by the week. One weekly, Hank, is an integral part of Mia’s story, as they help each other. Over the course of the school year, this motley crew becomes a family, and Mia’s English improves to the point of actually helping people with her writing: a letter of recommendation for Hank to get a job, and a threatening letter to another immigrant’s boss who is trafficking immigrants to his restaurant and then confiscating their passports. She proves her mom wrong, that she’s not a bicycle among cars when it comes to competing with her classmates in English.

I loved the author’s note that most of the story was autobiographical. Even the harder parts, like when Mia’s mom gets beaten up by a thief. I was sort of glad that the motel giveaway didn’t really happen, because that, and its resolution, seemed pretty unrealistic. I was still moved by how it all came together, though, and I think young readers will love it (I would have, at age 10). Even Jason seems not to be quite as much of a lost cause as he did at the beginning, and it appears that he, Mia, and Lupe become friends in the sequel, Three Keys. Not much is made of the economics of the weeklies, and in fact they seem to have, if not plenty of money, at least not the bone-scraping poverty outlined in Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Racism toward Black people is an important part of the storyline, but the racism and discrimination that Mia experiences is similarly brushed aside, which was disappointing but understandable.

The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann

by Jennifer K. Mann
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Ernestine, maybe 5-7 years old, is excited for her first camping trip with her aunt and cousin. Cousin Samantha is a pro, but to Ernestine, fish in the lake, heavy hiking backpacks, and tofu hot dogs aren’t exactly what she was imagining. The last straw is that she can’t fall asleep and misses her dad. Finally she wakes up Samantha and Aunt Jackie and they all go look at the stars until Ernestine is sleepy, and falls asleep no problem.

Ernestine is so completely relatable! It’s easy to romanticize camping and then recoil at the reality if you’re not used to it. But she grows over the course of the story, which is a picture book but almost a graphic novel hybrid. I also loved that Ernestine and her family are Black; since there is a history of outdoor spaces, especially swimming facilities, being off-limits to African-Americans, it is extra important to have representation there. The only reason I docked it a star is that the illustrations didn’t wow me. But overall a solid story and sorely-needed diversity.

Powwow Summer by Nahanni Shingoose

by Nahanni Shingoose
4 out of 5 stars

River is looking forward to starting university in the fall, but then her mother’s life upheaval, which also affects her, is too much and she runs away to her father’s house in Winnipeg. He lives on the reserve and she is soon in over her head with reserve life, which is much different than her life on a farm surrounded mostly by white people like her mom. River finds herself making bad decisions and in trouble with the Indian gangs, but she is saved by the grace of a kind soul and a healing circle before things escalate too far. However, she grows and changes over the summer and is a different person when she comes home – to her new home, with her mother’s new partner.

I am aware that other cultures’ storytelling norms are different than what I’m used to, so I want to not be too critical. I will say that I was surprisingly compelled by River’s story, even though the writing did not always follow conventions that I’m used to. Shingoose is a contributor on If I Go Missing, so it was not surprising that the story included some real teaching about missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women. River makes some truly bad decisions, most fueled by being drunk for the first times in her life. That she was encouraged to drink by her father, and not punished for it by her grandmother, is addressed by her father during the healing circle and also highlights the difference between her farm life and her reserve life. I appreciated the chance to spend a summer on a reserve with River and her dad and Nokomis, learning along with her about her culture.

There are parts where River’s boyfriend is pressuring her to have sex, but playing the role of patient boyfriend. (As an aside, I sure would love to see a story where a boy isn’t ready to have sex!) There’s also a pretty violent scene near the beginning where River’s stepfather is smashing plates, and one where River gets beat up.

Double Review: Two by Jason Reynolds

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Reynolds says over and over that this is NOT a history book, and I have to agree because this was way more readable than a history book, especially because it felt like Reynolds was talking directly (and pretty informally) to me. Also, though it went chronologically, Reynolds made connections between different historical events that I had never seen before (some events I had never heard about). He did seem to be very focused on Angela Davis; the last section of the book sounds like the whole history of the country comes back to her. And maybe it does – I’m new to learning about her life. The main thing that blew my mind was the idea that the American Revolution was fought over slavery – in the same way that the South wanted to keep slavery in the Civil War, apparently the colonies wanted to keep slavery in the Revolutionary War. There were other interesting connections and explanations but I don’t want to spoil them – go read it!

Ghost
by Jason Reynolds
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

In the first book in the Track series, we meet Ghost, aka Castle Cranshaw, as he is discovering an innate ability to run and learning for the first time what it means to be on a team. He stumbles across a city track team with a cab driver for a coach who becomes almost a guardian angel for Ghost, bailing him out of a few scrapes. Ghost struggles to deal with his feelings and trauma of being chased by his abusive father out of the house with a gun. (His father has been in prison for the past three years because of it.) Befriending the other team newbies, not to mention Coach, helps Ghost start to work through it, while giving him something productive to do with his youthful energy rather than continuing to get in trouble.I read this as an audiobook and the reader was great – really nailed Ghost’s voice!