Tag Archives: #ownvoices

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).

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.

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram

by Adib Khorram
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My favorite gay Persian teen is back! This time he’s dealing with his first boyfriend, his first real job, and the mysterious tensions in his house, especially when his dad travels for work for a month and his grandmothers come to visit. And by “dealing with his first boyfriend,” I mean everything from feeling not ready for sex, to feeling attracted to someone else, to doubting whether the relationship is a good fit for him. He’s attracted to a former nemesis, now a soccer teammate and friend, who is not out for most of the story and yet surprisingly bold with Darius.

As always, I loved Darius’ relationship with his father, and especially that they talk about all this sex and relationship stuff. I mean, it’s awkward, but his dad does a really good job. It’s actually Darius’ mom who he thinks has a harder time with it. Darius’ grandfather passes away, his grandmothers don’t say much so that’s always awkward, and his best friend Sohrab goes silent on the other end of Skype (spoiler: turns out he and his mom are applying for asylum). Throughout it all, Darius is himself, struggling with depression, super into watching Star Trek with his dad, sweet and caring and protective with his little sister Layla (and the same with his new friend’s 2-year-old niece), trying to figure out what he wants from his job, from a boyfriend, from life.

Khorram does an exceptional job of especially showing the nuances of a relationship and what would cause someone (or both someones) to be rethinking it, even in a high school relationship. I also loved that he gets into the grandmothers’ backstory – this is Darius’ father’s parents, and it turns out one is trans. They open up to Darius a bit about their history, but he – and I – were left wanting a lot more. Khorram also shows Darius making some big realizations about hobbies vs. careers, which is not something many teen books grapple with and it was nice to see.

The Ship We Built by Lexie Bean

by Lexie Bean
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

This is the story of a fifth-grader who feels more like a boy than a girl. Throughout the course of one school year, Ellie / Rowan / many other names sends diary-like letters to an unknown reader via balloon, spending allowance money on the balloons and waiting by a special rock to see if anyone responds. (Spoiler alert: someone does eventually respond, at the very end.)

This is a big year for Rowan, who has had a falling-out with their former best friends and also shares in their letters hints of sexual abuse from their father. As Rowan explores their gender identity, they become more aware that what their father is doing is not right or normal or okay. Rowan’s year is so quiet; they stop speaking, and through the epistolary format we get so little of the dialogue that populates most novels, leading to the quiet feel. Mr. B, Rowan’s teacher, doesn’t say much to Rowan about their ever-changing name on their homework, except maybe to Rowan’s mother at parent-teacher conferences. This prompts Rowan’s mother to take Rowan to a psychologist and also forbids them from seeing their new best friend, Sofie. Rowan’s mother thinks Sofie is a bad influence for accepting Rowan as they are, and Rowan continues to see her anyway. The end of the book is satisfying and positive without wrapping up absolutely all of the pieces and feeling unrealistic.

There is also Sofie’s storyline, with her father’s arrest and prison time. Sofie’s family is “darker skinned” and she has “curly black hair” but to me is otherwise racially ambiguous. Rowan notices her father, Richard, get watched in a store, and is upset with Sofie that he was racially profiled and arrested unfairly. His arrest impacts Sofie’s life as she starts missing more and more school to watch her baby sister while her mother works, which in turn affects Rowan’s life because they miss their only friend in a profound way.

I have noticed something of a trend in children’s books lately where the best friend character always says and does the exact perfect thing, making them seem wise beyond their years. Now, some kids are like that sometimes; there may even be kids who are like that all the time. But it feels more like the author just making that character act as their stand-in in the story, and that’s how Sofie seemed to me sometimes.

On a more positive note, I loved all the Michigan references! Everything from Faygo Redpop to Yoopers to Michigan/Michigan State rivalry references was great. This is a historical novel, set in 1997-98, and I loved most of the references that put me right back there (though there were a few too many for my taste; not all of them served a purpose to the story).

Lila and Hadley by Kody Keplinger

by Kody Keplinger
4.5 out of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Hadley is understandably angry. Her mom went to jail for embezzling, her father died when she was little, she’s losing her eyesight, and her big sister left home 5 years ago and never came back. But now she is back, to take Hadley to live with her while their mom is in jail. Hadley isn’t destructive, though, she’s just shut down. But when she meets a pit bull named Lila who is equally shut down, they are fast friends and change each other’s lives for the better.

Because of Lila, Hadley makes a new friend, starts Orientation and Mobility training (walking with a cane and navigating the city), and even forgives her mother. Because of Hadley, Lila is reunited with her beloved owner. The parallels between Lila’s and Hadley’s stories are a bit heavy handed at times, but would be perfect for a 4th or 5th grader, especially as a follow up to a book like How to Steal a Dog (dogs+social issues/poverty), Lety Out Loud (dogs+friendship+shelters), or Rain Reign (dogs+disabilities).

The other thing that bugged me were how much more mature than their ages Hadley’s sister and her new friend are. (I don’t know any 24-year-olds who rent a whole house in the suburbs with a guest room and everything; and the friend was the wise voice that I don’t think a kid would notice but just seemed to do everything right and perfectly.) But one of my favorite things was how Hadley’s sister, Beth, had a crush on her female coworker and it wasn’t a huge deal about her coming out, it was just that she was being so obvious that “even a 12-year-old can tell.”

One of the reasons I like reading the acknowledgements of books (besides finding out which famous authors are friends) is that I get to learn interesting things about authors. In this case, that Keplinger is also vision-impaired, making this an #ownvoices novel.

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian

by Zanib Mian
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Omar is an elementary schooler of indeterminate age (though his siblings are 3 and 13 so I am guessing he’s 8-ish). His family is Muslim and lives in London, though they move at the beginning and he has to change schools. He quickly makes a new friend and a new enemy, but by the end of the book, the enemy has been won over with just a little compassion and understanding (turns out his little sister is very ill and gets all the attention). Omar’s new next-door neighbor is anti-Muslim when they first move in, but their efforts to be friendly finally win her over, too. All’s well that ends well!

This book has lots of illustrations and different text, in a Geronimo Stilton type way, but fewer different fonts and no colors, so it gave me less of a headache to read and might be a good stepping stone book between Geronimo Stilton and more traditional chapter books. This book also seems to be more of a window for others into Pakistani Muslim culture and less of a mirror for Muslims themselves as almost all of the terms are explained or at least given some context. I’m not sure I’ve seen any books like that for this age level but I’ll keep looking because mirrors are so important. I really enjoyed this one, but docked it a star because the title seemed to suggest more cohesion around the fact that Omar is an accidental trouble magnet, but the story seemed to meander a bit more than that (or be straight-out more about the bully storyline).

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.