Tag Archives: #ownvoices

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

look-both-ways-9781481438285_hrby Jason Reynolds
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Ten 6th-graders walk home from the same middle school and share the stories of their journeys. There’s a girl whose parents are over-protective and have finally let her walk home by herself. Another girl who keeps her mouth shut most of the day, but when it’s over she talks and talks and talks. The crossing-guard’s son, who is worried about his mom ever since she got hurt saving a child from harm. There are neighbors and strangers, classmates both friendly and not. We see kids through other kids’ eyes, and then through their own, especially the bullies, who everyone knows. Through it all there is a running reference to a school bus falling from the sky. All are well-developed characters and a joy to read.

Fry bread : a Native American family story by Kevin Maillard

9781626727465by Kevin Maillard
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

This book is so gorgeous! I loved the poetic text and how sensory and concrete it is. It would be a great addition to a storytime based on senses. I also loved how the images reflect the diversity of Native American families. I’ll refer you to Debbie Reese’s glowing review, including important information about the endpapers and footnotes Maillard included.

The Case of Windy Lake by Michael Hutchinson

9781772600858by Michael Hutchinson
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Turns out this might be the second book in the Mighty Muskrats mystery series, but it didn’t bother me at all to jump right in. Chickadee, Atim, Otter and Sam are four cousins growing up in a First Nations community. Native values infuse the story, from the attitude toward Elders to protecting the land to watching the birds to solve the crime to smiling and nodding a lot (the effect of which is to make me feel like they are not real kids, but it’s also possible Native kids do that and I just don’t know. Overall I liked the story and I liked learning more about Native culture as it’s lived now, with computers and internet and not always talking about historic trauma inflicted on them by white people as is the trend right now. I do think it’s important to learn about the boarding school traumas and abuses that raged through Native communities in the US, not to mention the other atrocities throughout history, but I’m glad we’re starting to have more of a range of representation in children’s literature.

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad

9780316519007by Ibtihaj Muhammad
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Faizah is in awe of her big sister Asiya on the first day Asiya wears hijab to school. They pick the proudest, bluest blue for her first hijab and it serves as a beacon for Faizah to find her sister in tough moments. Asiya gets bullied by a boy in her class, and the endnotes reveal that this reflected Muhammad’s own experience (even featuring her own sisters’ names as the main characters). I also loved the mother’s remembered advice when the teasing starts, as a way to stay strong. As a prominent Muslim celebrity, Muhammad felt strongly about using her voice to advocate for and include Muslims and people of color in a new children’s book. This is a wonderful #ownvoices addition to any library, public or personal. I am looking forward to using it in another storytime about different cultures’ cloths.

Middle-eastern Picturebooks

by Rukhsanna Guidroz
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Leila is from Pakistan and takes us on a very sensory visit to her Naani’s (grandmother’s) house, with smells of curry, the clink of bangle bracelets, and the lovely soft feel of her grandmother’s many vibrantly colored scarves. Leila isn’t sure she likes her knobby knees and skinny arms, but she loves how being with her family makes her feel about herself.

a1l-cwaki-l-663x800by Mina Javaherbin
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Mina and her grandmother are inseparable and this autobiographical picture book is just one big love note to her grandma. In addition to describing the basket delivery system they rigged up from their third-floor apartment and helping her grandma make her chadors, Mina also remembers their neighbor Annette and her grandma, who are not Muslim, but who are great friends to them. Mina and Annette also discover that their grandmas pray for each other.

screenshot_20190521-130345_chromeby Supriya Kelkar
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Harpreet loves his colorful patkas (cloths used to make Sikh turbans) – until his family moves across the country, away from the beach and to a place where it snows. Now all he wants to wear is his white patka because he doesn’t feel like celebrating or having courage. But when he makes a new friend, he returns to his old self, and his old interest in expressing himself through his patka’s color.

Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai

9781250314093by Remy Lai
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Eleven-year-old Jingwen moves with his mother and little brother to Australia from an unspecified Asian country (Singapore? China?) and he feels like he’s moved to Mars. Moving to Australia and opening a bakery (called Pie in the Sky) had been a family goal for a long time, but a year after his father’s sudden death in a car accident, Jingwen’s mother decides to take the plunge anyway. As a single mother, she can’t open the bakery her husband had dreamt of, but she works in one with a very compassionate boss who lets her change her schedule as her parenting needs evolved. This is partly because, despite stern warnings not to use the oven, Jingwen and Yanghao find loopholes and use it anyway, because Jingwen is convinced that if he can only make the twelve cakes his father wanted on the menu at Pie in the Sky, everything would be all right. He also struggles with learning English and making friends, though those turn out all right in the end. There’s also a nice elderly neighbor who is sometimes drafted into helping watch the boys who Jingwen hates at first but comes around to in the end.

We have this one in our graphic novel section even though it’s one of those hybrid books and it’s actually more paragraphs than panels. The author made good use of the dual formats most of the time, especially by using aliens to show Jingwen’s gradual turning into a Martian (I mean getting used to Australia), exaggerating the drawings and using dead-on facial expressions to great effect. I was very surprised at how long Jingwen went in school without getting additional help due to his lacking language abilities, but maybe that is a difference between Australia and the US. Jingwen and Yanghao would have immediately been assessed and placed in an ELL class before even being put into their regular classrooms to make sure they had enough English to understand their classes, but in this book they are in their regular classrooms right away and Jingwen goes months not understanding a thing before he finally realizes that his teacher wants him to stay after school for tutoring help.

I loved the relationship between the brothers. Yanghao is only a year behind Jingwen in school, but two years in age, and is so much less mature. Most of the time he sounded six instead of nine, bouncing off the walls and being impulsive and getting them both into trouble. Jingwen is definitely the more responsible of the two, far beyond his eleven years, and resists learning English (finding his brother’s ability to pick it up annoying) and mourning his father. There are some tender moments between the two and it just felt like a very realistic relationship to me. Also, I really wanted cake at the end of this book.

One more note – it’s unclear where the family is from, but it’s possible that they are from Singapore or Indonesia, and/or the story is based loosely on Lai’s upbringing, which would make this book #ownvoices so I’ve included that tag just in case.

Baking like: the Dirt Diary series
Sibling relationships like: Sisters and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

9780399546457by Ruth Behar
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

When she was ten, Ruth Behar broke her leg in a bad car accident and was laid up for almost a year in a full body cast. This is a fictionalized account of that time, mostly made of her fuzzy memories and some embellishing to make it a slightly happier story than it was. (Reading the author’s note was very interesting!) Most interesting to me were how much she changed as a result – when she finally gets to go outside, she’s not soaking it in and begging to stay out, she is begging for the safety of her room and her bed. When she finally finally finally gets the cast off (after a couple of false starts that extend her time laid up by more than double), she is too scared to try to walk again. Her process of overcoming that fear was also fascinating.

Ruth describes her various friends, including Ramu (whose kid brother falls out of a window to his death and the rest of the family, overcome with grief, moves back to India) and Chicho, a lovely and possibly gay artist from Mexico, who is very kind to Ruth and her family. She describes Danielle from France who appears to be a fairweather friend but in the end comes through and they become quite close. Ruth’s mother sacrifices the most for her and bears the brunt of the emotional toll, which was also quite interesting to read (as an adult; I don’t think that would hold much interest for kids). Ruth and her brother Izzie (Isaac) are quite close as well and rarely fight, and she gets a teacher/tutor who not only helps her not fall behind, but with whom she advances to a 10th grade reading level after just graduating from the ELL class.

The other interesting thing to note is that Ruth and her family are Jewish and Cuban, the history of which plays a decent role in the story. I’m glad to encounter more books of Jewish people of color because theirs are narratives that outsiders don’t get to encounter too often and which are quite different from the white/Ashkenazi Judaism as most Americans probably think of it. Through Ruth’s healing, you can see the seeds of anthropology starting to grow; she is now an anthropology professor and has explored her own “Juban” roots through work like the documentary Adio Kerida and the book An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba.

Nikki and Deja by Karen English

9780618752386_mres

by Karen English
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Nikki and Deja are best friends and next-door neighbors. They have their ups and downs, even in this transitional chapter book (think a step between Magic Tree House and The World According to Humphrey) and eventually become friends again. This book sees the arrival on their street and in their (second-grade?) classroom of a girl named Antonia who upsets the previously easygoing social balance and introduces the element of inclusion/exclusion. But they find a way to smooth things over between them. Each chapter feels like a stand-alone story but also makes a whole storyline.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

9780062691200

by Jerry Craft
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Jordan is starting 7th grade at a private school worlds away from his Washington Heights, New York neighborhood. He has to figure out how to fit in when everyone there seems to be rich and/or white and makes assumptions about him. Craft does a great job of portraying a day full of typical micro-aggressions (being called by another Black kid’s name, a bumbling teacher who’s always asking if anyone’s offended by something he just blurted out, being awkwardly stared at whenever the topic of race comes up). Jordan tries to make friends with a rich Black kid named Maury, but they have nothing in common. He eventually becomes friends with the rich white (but also modest and unpretentious) kid, Liam, who is assigned to show him around on the first day, and eventually also becomes friends with another Black kid, Drew. Jordan and Drew joke around about their micro-aggressions and get called out by a teacher who fancies herself an ally but is arguably the worst offender. My coworker’s and my favorite bit was the description of a book the boys are encouraged to read because it has a Black protagonist, which is hilariously described as being a gritty tale of urban grit and grittiness (or something – I had to send the book onto the next person in line so I can’t quote from it directly). It reminded me a little bit of The Hate U Give in how the main characters code switch in their two very different environments.

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

9781338129304

by Kheryn Callender
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

12-year-old Caroline Murphy was born during a hurricane and is cursed with bad luck. Her mother left her a little over a year ago, and she has no friends in her Catholic school on St. Thomas (in the US Virgin Islands), where she travels every day from her home on neighboring Water Island. For a few months, she and her father received postcards from her mother, but then they stopped. Convinced that only something drastic would keep her mother from returning to her, she has wanted to leave her home and find her ever since. But when she finds out where her mother has been, it’s Caroline who’s unsure whether to return to her. Meanwhile, Caroline is experiencing the ups and downs of not only her first real friend, but her first love – Kalinda Francis, who moved to St. Thomas from Barbados. The first thing that drew Caroline to Kalinda was the sense that they both saw spirits. The denouement comes when Caroline goes out in a hurricane and is pulled into the ocean with her spirit whom she calls the woman in black. At the end of the story, things have changed for Caroline at school. Even though her main bully, Anise, laid off her while Kalinda was there, she resumes when Kalinda moves away at the end. Anise eventually also moves away and Caroline gets the courage to talk to and even befriend another girl (whom she refers to as Marie Antoinette) who seemed to be her best friend but who was also bullied by her, so that was interesting.

Some spoilers in the commentary: Caroline doesn’t seem to have any qualms about coming out to Kalinda, and is surprised when Kalinda rejects her on religious principles, though Kalinda eventually accepts her own sexuality. Caroline shows a surprisingly shallow understanding of her (I imagine) small island community, being pretty shocked to learn that her principal was best friends with her mother, that felt odd to me. The spirits reminded me of Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes and added a new dimension to the story. It turns out that Caroline’s mother was depressed and tried to commit suicide, so left in order to deal with that somehow (I’m still not really sure how that turned into sending postcards from lots of different places), and came back to St. Thomas after a few months, settling down with another man and his daughter. Caroline is understandably very hurt by this, moreso than finding out that her father has a daughter by another woman (which may have played into Caroline’s mother’s depression? to be honest I was pretty distracted while reading this so may have lost some of the details). So anyway, trigger warnings for people with parents with mental illness.