A Literary Celebration of Eid

**Thank you to NetGalley and ABRAMS Kids for the opportunity to review this Advance Reader Copy. This book will be released on May 5, 2020.

When I was younger, one of my favorite parts of the Jewish holidays were all of the books and stories that went along with them. Hanukkah was one holiday with endless books that I enjoyed, but one of my favorites was While the Candles Burn: Eight Stories for Hanukkah by Barbara Diamond Goldin. I think I liked this book so much because it had eight stories, each one different and each one representing a different Jewish experience. Once Upon an Eid, edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, includes 15 stories of one of the most joyous celebrations of the year for Muslims around the world. It reminded me of reading While the Candles Burn because it shares many stories of a diverse community of people all celebrating the same holiday in different ways.

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Revolutionary Love

Many of us grew up with Sonia Manzano. We just didn’t know it. To us, for 44 years, she was Maria and she lived on Sesame Street. However, Sonia Manzano is much more than the television character she portrayed (as wonderful and iconic as that character continues to be). One of the many aspects of Manzano’s life that we might be less familiar with, even as educators, is her writing. Manzano has written several books for children and young adults, the first being The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano which is a Pura Belpre Honor Book of 2013.

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Progress in Fits and Starts

It is 2020 and one of the prospective Democratic candidates for the presidency of the United States is an openly gay man. Not only that, he kinda, maybe, sort-of won the Iowa caucuses (sorry about all of the confusion, by the way). This can be hard to reconcile with the fact that forty-six years and two months ago, homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. How far we have come and how far we have to go.

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History for Every Month

To me, it seems important that we have sections of the year that are dedicated to the history of marginalized communities. This provides one more “nudge” to encourage teachers to make sure that these communities are included in our instruction. However, these months or weeks devoted to the study of particular identity groups come with a risk that students will compartmentalize these events and individuals separately from what they consider to be “history”.

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American Dreamers

When Mia Yang’s parents decided to immigrate from China to the United States, they were convinced it was because they would have endless economic opportunities and would be free to pursue their dreams. Friends and colleagues had written home about their success and sent money to family members in China. This was the opportunity of a lifetime. What they realized when they got settled in the United States was that, instead, it might just be that the opportunity would take a lifetime to be achieved. Pursuing dreams in the United States often comes with a price tag.

At the beginning of Front Desk, by Kelly Yang, Mia’s parents are working in restaurants in California and their family is living out of their car. When they are finally able to move into an apartment, rent is the equivalent of her father’s salary. So free room and board in exchange for managing the Calavista Motel sounds like the answer to their prayers. However, unjust management practices cause endless problems for the family.

Mia is a wise, funny character who refuses to allow what is now to stand in the way of what should be. She is strong and stands up for her family, but she is equally dedicated to the rights of others. When Mia sees injustice, she refuses to remain silent, even when she knows she might be negatively impacted. If more individuals, children and adults, had Mia’s vision and respect for others, the world would be a very different place.

Kelly Yang has created a character who is equally compelling when she is playing Monopoly with the weekly guests as she is when standing up to racism. Her voice and personality will appeal to readers in late elementary and middle school. Luckily, we can look forward to another book about Mia coming out in September 2020. I hope that her voice will ring out in many books over the years to come.

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:

Identity 3: I know that all my group identities are part of who I am, but none of them fully describes me and this is true for other people too.

Identity 5: I know my family and I do things the same as and different from other people and groups, and I know how to use what I learn from home, school and other places that matter to me.

Diversity 7: I like knowing people who are like me and different from me, and I treat each person with respect.

Justice 11: I try and get to know people as individuals because I know it is unfair to think all people in a shared identity group are the same.

Action 17: I know it’s important for me to stand up for myself and for others, and I know how to get help if I need ideas on how to do this.

Common Core Standards:

RL.2- Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

RL.3- Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).

RL.6- Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.

Undeniable Courage

I have written about several books that contain brief biographies of courageous individuals across history. I am particularly fond of these books because I think they can inspire future, deeper study of the people profiled as well as the causes they champion(ed). There are many wonderful books that fit into this specific category of juvenile nonfiction, but few have impressed me quite as much as The Book of Gutsy Women by Chelsea Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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Inspiring Activists

Thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books-

If ever there was a book to inspire future social justice activists, it is Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden. This book also offers insight into a portion of African American history that we don’t often have the opportunity to read about in young adult literature. Saving Savannah takes place right after the end of World War I and the protagonist, Savannah, is growing up in a very wealthy African American family in Washington D.C. While the book primarily focuses on discrimination within the African American community between white collar and blue collar workers, readers also gain new knowledge of racial discrimination within the women’s rights movement.

Bolden alternates the perspective of Savannah, who is interested in learning as much as she can about the issues of the working class, and Savannah’s best friend Violet, who would rather remain solely within high society. One of the themes of this book is looking outside of one’s own experience to gain insight into the lives of others. This is a timeless idea and one that seems particularly relevant to young adults who are making choices about how they will relate to the world around them. Savannah chooses to open her eyes to different experiences, while Violet continues on the path that she views as normal.

Tonya Bolden is known for her diligent research efforts to create historical accuracy within her books. This research work is evident throughout Saving Savannah which introduces well and little known historical figures to young adult readers. Individuals such as W.E.B Du Bois have been huge influences on the lives of Savannah’s parents, but she finds heroes of her own. Nannie Helen Burroughs is one person who Savannah chooses to learn more from on her quest to greater independence. The Author’s Note at the end of the book provides excellent details about this time period and its influencers.

Saving Savannah certainly doesn’t make advocacy look easy, which is a good thing because activism never is. Savannah faces emotional as well as physical danger when she makes the choice to stand up for what she believes. This is something that activists, young and old, still face today and it is important that this is reflected accurately in literature for young adults. Bolden does a remarkable job of showing what it means to have the courage of one’s convictions.

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:

Diversity 8: I respectfully express curiosity about the history and lived experiences of others and exchange ideas and beliefs in an open-minded way.

Diversity 10: I understand that diversity includes the impact of unequal power relations on the development of group identities and cultures.

Justice 15: I can identify figures, groups, events and a variety of strategies and philosophies relevant to the history of social justice around the world.

Common Core Standards:

RL.2- Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

RL.3- Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

Searching for Friends

There are many picture books about making friends and playing with friends. But few address the challenges involved in this process as beautifully as A Friend for Henry written by Jenn Bailey and illustrated by Mika Song. Henry is on the autism spectrum and he navigates the world of his classroom differently than his peers. He likes structure and order and wants a friend who feels the same. Sometimes a friend like that is hard to find when you are very young.

Henry tries to make friends with several students. They don’t think about rules and expectations in the same way as Henry and don’t really understand how he thinks and plays. Bailey does an exquisite job of explaining how Henry feels during these interactions, using both internal and spoken dialogue. The expressiveness of Song’s illustrations also help to articulate the intensity of emotions that are common in young people. It seems like Henry might stop trying to find a friend and play alone. Then he meets someone who can be calm and follow the rules, but also doesn’t do things in exactly the same way as Henry. She offers the perfect amount of security and flexibility.

A Friend for Henry works on multiple levels. It helps other students to understand what students on the autism spectrum might be feeling. It also lets readers know that it is okay if you don’t want to play in the same way as other kids. You can be friendly without being friends. You can also enjoy some activities that you share with your friends and some that are individual to you. A beautiful picture book on every level!

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:

Identity 4: I can feel good about myself without being mean or making other people feel bad.

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

Diversity 9: I know everyone has feelings, and I want to get along with people who are similar to and different from me.

Common Core Standards:

RL.2- With prompting and support, retell familiar stories, including key details.

RL.3- With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.

Comfort Food

In Salma the Syrian Chef, written by Danny Ramadan and illustrated by Anna Bron, we are reminded of common bonds and universal languages that we all share. Languages like laughter, cooking, and beauty. In this book, which will be published in March 2020 by Annick Press (received as an ARC from NetGalley), Salma has just moved with her mother from Syria to a Welcome Center in Vancouver. Her father stayed behind in Syria, but they hope he will be able to come to Vancouver very soon. Salma notices that her mom seems quite sad and wants to do something that will bring joy back to her mother’s face.

Salma recognizes that no matter where the other residents of the Welcome Center have come from, they all miss food from their home countries. She decides to cook foul shami for her mother to bring happy memories of Syria to Canada. She needs help from some of the younger and older residents of the Welcome Center to make this dish and she encounters some challenges along the way.

Ramadan has taken the very complex experience of immigration and the simple, but profound, act of cooking a meal to create a feast of love and hope in this picture book. The bright and expressive illustrations by Bron bring the story to life and will draw in readers of all ages. This is a book to read again and again with children in schools and in homes.

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:

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

Diversity 8: I want to know about other people and how our lives and experiences are the same and different.

Diversity 10: I find it interesting that groups of people believe different things and live their daily lives in different ways.

Common Core Standards:

RL.1- Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.

RL.2- Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson.

RL.3- Describe characters, settings, and major events in a story, using key details.

RL.7- Use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting, or events.

A Special Place

During World War II, there were many individuals from multiple countries who stood up against Nazi persecution. It still wasn’t the norm, though, as resisting took unbelievable amounts of courage and a desire/ability to see beyond the message that many government officials were delivering to the public. Therefore, the fact that so many of the residents of the Haute-Loire plateau in south-central France participated in small and large efforts to resist the Nazis is remarkable. Village of Scoundrels by Margi Preus (ARC provided by NetGalley and Amulet Books) is a work of historical fiction that describes the efforts of several children and young adults who chose to aid refugees despite the risk to their own lives. The book might be a work of fiction, but many of the acts of the young people profiled are facts.

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