Living Out Loud

I knew Maulik Pancholy was an actor and I remembered that he served on an advisory committee in the Obama administration, but I had no idea that he was a children’s book author as well. Netgalley and HarperCollins Children’s Books gave me the opportunity to read and review an advanced reader copy of Nikhil Out Loud, and I am so grateful that they did. This book will be released on October 11 and I can’t wait for middle grade readers to engage with the characters in this delightful book.

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When You Can’t See the Wolves

I read an article in The New York Times this morning that referenced another youth sports organization that has been embroiled in sexual abuse scandals involving both coaches and players. While I was already planning to write about The Wolves are Waiting this week, the Times story made this book seem even more important to highlight. Natasha Friend has authored a book that perfectly captures the sense of invincibility that seems to be communicated to athletes–often male athletes– and those around them when they are beloved by their communities.

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Queer History Lives Everywhere

One of the many important insights that readers can gain from reading Alex Gino’s Alice Austen Lived Here, is that LGBTQIAP+ people (acronym used in the text) are not new, even if they are able to live more openly in the present day. There have always been people with different gender identities and sexual orientations and it is about time that we start talking about their histories, too. In Alice Austen Lived Here, we are introduced to a talented and artistic individual who, for too long, was pushed into the closet by society.

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Who Should be Fighting this Fight?

Milagros “Millie” Vargas never wanted to be the center of attention. As an immigrant to Texas, she doesn’t want people to know the path her family took to become citizens. In Where I Belong by Marcia Argueta Mickelson, Millie deals with the consequences, both positive and negative, of being an advocate. That doesn’t mean she is happy about it.

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A Dream Read

An exquisitely rendered depiction of life in a Black community, Dream Street is a joy to read. Written by Tricia Elam Walker with collages by Ekua Holmes, Dream Street introduces readers to the unique and dynamic individuals who make up this community. The book is based on the neighborhood in which Walker and Holmes grew up and the vibrancy of the writing and illustrations make readers feel like a part of the story.

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Simply Delightful

To me, reading Black Boy Joy was as delightful as the first bite of Happy Winter Fudge cake with vanilla ice cream (in other words: quite delightful). Edited by Kwame Mbalia and with stories by 17 Black male and nonbinary writers, this collection is one that I simply devoured. Of course, this left me wishing that I had savored it a bit more. I will do this on my second read (and third…and fourth…).

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Living on the Border

We hear a lot about the crisis at the border between the United States and Mexico. In My Two Border Towns, written by David Bowles and illustrated by Erika Meza, the struggle of immigrants on the border is addressed, but we also view this location from the perspective of a Mexican American child for whom the border is simply home. For him, going back and forth between Mexico and the United States is a typical experience, allowing him to stay in touch with his entire identity while also supporting those in his community who cannot travel freely.

While the picture book is written primarily in English, there are a few Spanish phrases throughout the text. This demonstrates the many benefits that come from being bilingual. On el otro lado (the other side), the little boy describes the language use like this, “This town’s a twin of the one where I live, with Spanish spoken everywhere just the same, but English mostly missing till it pops up like grains of sugar on a chili pepper.” This vivid explanation is just one example of the exquisite writing in this picture book.

The illustrations are also extraordinary and add so much vibrancy to the text. As the little boy is leaving his home in the United States early in the morning, the colors of the shops in the community and the landscape along the Rio Grande are more muted and pastel in color. Once he and his dad cross into Mexico, the colors are bright and bold. Both sides are equally beautiful.

My Two Border Towns is a celebration of kindness, joy, and humanity.

Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards:

Identity 3: I know that all my group identities are part of me–but that I am always ALL me.

Diversity 6: I like being around people who are like me and different from me, and I can be friendly to everyone.

Justice 14: I know that life is easier for some people and harder for others and the reasons for that are not always fair.

Action 17: I can and will do something when I see unfairness–this includes telling an adult.

Building Community

One of the foremost results of community activism is, of course, policy change. But another, less acknowledged, impact that community activism can have is a sense of belonging. In Laila Sabreen’s young adult novel, You Truly Assumed, three Black Muslim girls begin a blog for other young women to share their thoughts and feelings after a terrorist attack in Washington, D.C. Sabriya, Zakat, and Farah, live in locations around the country and practice their faith in different ways, but they come together to fight against Islamophobia in the best way they know how.

The decision by Sabreen to tell this story from three different perspectives works exceptionally well. Each of the characters is well-rounded and the story is multi-dimensional, demonstrating that every individual who shares a group identity has different experiences and beliefs. This is powerful considering the one-dimensional focus of the hateful individuals who comment on the YTA blog. While these views and messages are frightening, they are not powerful enough to overcome the community that these young women have established.

You Truly Assumed is a book that will inspire readers to speak out when they see injustice, but it will also remind them that they do not need to do this work alone. Building community can make us all stronger.

Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards:

Identity 4: I express pride and confidence in my identity without perceiving or treating anyone else as inferior.

Justice 11: I relate to all people as individuals rather than representatives of groups and can identify stereotypes when I see or hear them.

Action 17: I take responsibility for standing up to exclusion, prejudice and injustice.

Action 20: I will join with diverse people to plan and carry out collective action against exclusion, prejudice and discrimination, and we will be thoughtful and creative in our actions in order to achieve our goals.

A Title that Fits Like a Glove

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet, by Jen Ferguson, has a perfect title. Rarely does a title match the text quite so brilliantly. The title, however, is just the beginning of Ferguson’s excellent young adult novel, which will enchant readers of all backgrounds. The book is full of rich character development and multiple stories which center around love and identity.

The protagonist of The Summer of Bitter and Sweet is Lou, a recent high school graduate who is spending the summer working at her uncles’ ice cream shop. The ice cream here is different than what you would typically see in a grocery store, because its flavors are based on the native plants in this area of Canada, where many Metis people still live. The book describes the conflicted, and sometimes violent, relationships between white and Native residents. In fact, one of these incidents is the reason why Lou is alive in the first place.

Lou’s parentage is just one way that this book balances both bitter and sweet. Her relationships with friends, her uncles, and romantic partners all come with both of these elements. This is so intricately woven into the story that it only became apparent after finishing the book. Lou’s understanding of romance is colored by experiences of women in her past as well as her own relationship history. Lou is one of the few asexual or demisexual characters that I have encountered in young adult literature. The story is told in her voice, which could be very empowering to individuals who are feeling similarly.

This is one of the best young adult books that I have read this year. It is a complex, thought-provoking, and rewarding text to engage with as a reader.

Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards:

Identity 3: I know that all my group identities and the intersection of those identities create unique aspects of who I am and that this is true for other people too.

Diversity 9: I relate to an build connections with other people by showing them empathy, respect and understanding, regardless of our similarities or differences.

Honest History

In Imani Perry’s excellent new book for adults, South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation, she points out that, “even if you are a lover of the national romance, integrity requires that the stories be at least halfway honest…Because history is an instruction. And what you neglect to attend to from the past, you will surely ignore in the present.” (228-229). That is why I believe the 1619 Project’s Born on the Water, by Nikole Hannah-Jones and RenĂ©e Watson, and illustrated by Nikkolas Smith, is so essential to our classrooms and school libraries. A story including slavery, it is, of course, all of the things that so many individuals now say they are opposed to. It is uncomfortable, disturbing, and painful for readers. It is also thought-provoking, powerful, and a catalyst for seeking to create a more perfect union today.

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