Tag Archives: #WNDB

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).

The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity by Amy Alznauer

by Amy Alznauer
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Alznauer, herself a mathematician, portrays this 19th century math genius growing up in India. She tells of his family, how he didn’t speak until he was 3, how school bored him and he went to a new one each year until finally a teacher saw his potential and encouraged his brilliant questions about math and numbers. Somehow he was able to connect with professors at Cambridge and trade ideas with other fine minds of his time. Daniel Miyares’ beautiful illustrations more than do the story justice – they bring it to life.

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.

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┬áher 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.

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.

My Maddy by Gayle E. Pitman

My Maddy by Gayle E. Pitman
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Curiously, this one is not listed on Pitman’s website, even under new releases. It caught my eye in a review journal because I know exactly who I would give it to – a 7-year-old whose parent is nonbinary.

My Maddy is a little bit the story of a child whose parent is neither mommy nor daddy, but a combo of both – a maddy. But more than that, it’s about all the things that are neither one thing nor another, but somehow sort of both (Maddy rides a motorcycle, which is neither car nor bike; they like to eat with sporks, which are neither fork nor spoon, etc). Some are very clever and the metaphor works well. The lesson is clear: things that are both have their own advantages. It’s also clear that Maddy and their child have a strong, loving bond.

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).

Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

by Rebecca Roanhorse
Overall: 2 out of 5 stars

This is a solid adventure story, but has been docked three full stars because of Debbie Reese’s “not recommended” status. I’ll let Dr. Reese and her associates explain why, but I’ll cover why it did earn a couple of stars from me, without knowing anything about Navajo culture.

It was a solid, western-style adventure story and I appreciated seventh-grader Nizhoni’s development over the course of it. It ties up neatly at the end and I felt like I learned something about Navajo culture (though, of course, what I learned could be incorrect and/or not something outsiders are supposed to know about – it’s worth mentioning that Roanhorse addresses the possible errors in her author’s note, as many authors do, but says that her husband and daughter, both Navajo, fully supported this book). I also had the audiobook and the reader, poet Kinsale Hueston, did what seemed like an amazing job with the pronunciations. Beyond these things, I will defer to Dr. Reese.

This is part of Rick Riordan’s imprint, Rick Riordan Presents. I respect the idea behind the imprint (using Riordan’s fame from his Percy Jackson and other kids’ series to bolster stories from other cultures), but in this case he maybe didn’t pick the best person for the job, or the best job for the culture.

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

by Linda Sue Park
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

14-year-old Hanna and her father have just moved to LaForge, Dakota. It’s 1880 and LaForge is a new town. Hanna’s father is able to rent a house for them and start construction on a store where he’ll sell dress goods – fabric and sewing materials for people to make their own clothes. Hanna has two goals: finish her studies and graduate from school, and make dresses in her father’s shop. But racism stands in her way.

Hanna’s mother was Asian, which means that Hanna is half-Asian. Her mother was actually half Chinese, half Korean, which, as Park discusses in the author’s note, was Park’s way of inserting her own Korean self into the Little House on the Prairie books, which she was obsessed with as a child. Hanna’s mother died after a long illness brought on by the rioting in Los Angeles, where they used to live, against the Chinese community in 1871. As long as Hanna’s white father is the face of their family, the two of them can get established in the town. But as soon as Hanna shows up at school and people take one look at her face, things start to fall apart. Parents pull their children from school, her presence “causes trouble” because the town drunks assault her, and people start to boycott the store before it’s even opened. But Hanna has managed to make two key friends and they help turn things around. It’s a middle grade novel, so all ties up neatly and ends well, yet I could see sequel potential (there’s a boy Hanna likes, but I worry that going down that road would lead to a very unrealistic tidy ending, which would be annoying).

Park does an amazing job of describing life on the frontier, especially details of dressmaking, which I wouldn’t have the slightest idea of how things work currently, much less 140 years ago. there is the commentary on the racism that Hanna faces, where even the sympathetic white people were only willing to bend the rules of society and help to a point, and Hanna boldly pushes them to be true allies. She also offers some commentary on the Native Americans that Hanna befriends and how they were treated, which she also expands on in the author’s note. I also especially appreciate her eloquent phrasing of my own thoughts: “I also can’t help pondering which of our current and widely held attitudes will be fond lacking by future generations. Is our vision any clearer than that of our forebears?” In her acknowledgements, Park lists a number of Native people (and their tribal affiliation) who helped her, both well known and not. If I hear that Debbie Reese has offered thoughts on this book, I’ll be sure to share them, as well.