What’s In a Name?

Many of us know how it feels to have our name pronounced incorrectly. My name is Leah /Lee-uh/. It isn’t pronounced /Lee/ or /Lay-uh/. Most of the time, people get it right the first time and, if they don’t, I am able to correct them. However, there are lots of people who do not hear their names pronounced correctly the first time…or the second time…or the thirty-seventh time. That can become emotionally exhausting, especially if you are a child. However, the reason behind that exhaustion is a positive one. Names are a huge part of our identity. Thao Lam is an author who really gets that. Thank you to NetGalley and Owlkids for the opportunity to review this special book.

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An Invincible Hope

There are a lot of rather disheartening things going on in the world right now. I want to give a shout-out to anyone who takes action to improve the life of another human being. If everyone operated with the goal to just help and not harm, imagine what the world would be like. It would probably require a bit more reflection than we usually give ourselves time to do. We would have to consider the consequences of our actions before engaging. We would need to view the world through the eyes of others. In The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones, Daven McQueen introduces us to characters who seem to naturally operate with this goal, others who are learning to do so, and a few who seem determined to work against it. The story of how they all come together is beautiful, painful, and ultimately hopeful.

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Youth Activism in Action

The role of young people in movements for change has become more visible as social media usage has increased. This is not a new phenomenon, though. Children and teens have historically been involved in social movements for change, even if their roles were eclipsed by those of adults with greater individual power. In Kids on the March, by Michael G. Long, we are introduced to some of the activists from this century and the last. I would like to thank NetGalley and Algonquin Young Readers for the opportunity to read and review this book prior to its release.

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The Power of Personal History

There are many practical reasons for knowing about family history. It can help people to make medical decisions, inspire intellectual curiosity, or cause us to search for long-lost rich uncles. But I think there is something deeper within our collective psyche that calls us to search for greater knowledge of where we come from and who we are connected to. In I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage, poets and artists share their cultural backgrounds with readers.

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We Must Speak the Unspeakable

What happened in Washington, D.C., on January 6 was newsworthy, but it certainly wasn’t new. Violent attacks by mobs of white Americans carrying weapons are not as infrequent as so many of us like to pretend. This was history repeating itself. I in no way wish to diminish the significance of these events. Instead, I think the fact that they continue to happen makes it even more important that we talk about them. Remaining silent and covering up the dark parts of American history has not been effective in creating “a more perfect Union,” it is just making that dark history more likely to repeat itself.

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Chronic Illness Can Be Beastly

Lycanthropy, or the transformation of a human into a wolf, is probably not the first diagnosis that comes to mind when you think about chronic illness. However, as many people with unrecognized chronic illnesses find out on a daily basis, there are a lot of symptoms and conditions that medical science still cannot explain or treat. In Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses (available May 2021), Kristen O’Neal includes characters with many different conditions, from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome to celiac disease. However, she primarily focuses on two characters, Priya and Brigid, with two very different conditions that end up having more similarities than a reader might initially believe.

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Making Peace with Stories

Joseph Bruchac has written a number of extraordinary books for children and young adults that have brought the stories of Native American people to a wide audience of readers. Peacemaker will be released in January 2021 and, while the story takes place centuries ago, I feel like it is a perfect message for our times. I am so grateful to NetGalley and Dial Books for the opportunity to have read this extraordinary text ahead of its publication. The Peacemaker story belongs to the Iroquois Nation who speak of a time when the five longhouse nations were constantly at war, until a messenger came who united all of the people through peace and equality.

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The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

Without the subtitle, “A Refugee Story,” on the cover of The Paper Boat it might be difficult for children to immediately recognize the message that this wordless book shares so beautifully. It isn’t until reaching the end of the book, where there is an author’s note from Lam, that young readers learn exactly what the images in the book are meant to convey. This makes the book even more powerful, because it requires such focus and concentration from young readers in their first read and then invites many more visits through the illustrations once more information has been gathered.

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Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

Ada is a character who is learning to see herself through her own eyes. For her entire life, she has tried to be what others want her to be. A respectful and religious daughter for her father. An unconditionally loving daughter for her mother. A studious scholar for colleges and a submissive beauty for men. The desires of others have always come before her own best interest and her dreams for the future.

In Candice Iloh’s exceptional novel in verse, Ada is constantly trying to fit into the boxes of other people’s expectations. There are moments when she tries to break free, but the eyes of others seem always to be watching. Always judging.

When Ada moves away to attend college at an HBCU, she believes things might be different. The people here do not know her, so they shouldn’t have expectations of how she should look or behave. She should be able to be herself. The problem is, Ada has worked so hard to suppress her own feelings and personality that it is hard for her to find herself and she slips into old patterns.

Sometimes finding oneself is the most difficult search of all.

**Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Young Readers Group for access to an Advance Reader Copy of Every Body Looking.

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:

Identity 1: I have a positive view of myself, including an awareness of and comfort with my membership in multiple groups in society.

Action 16: I express empathy when people are excluded or mistreated because of their identities and concern when I personally experience bias.

The Ebb and Flow of History

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas begins in the late 1970s and ends in the early 1980s. Many of the 10-12-year-olds who read this book will think that seems like ancient history. For many of them, this precedes the birth of their parents. However, if these dates were not shared with them, and if they were unfamiliar with the Iranian Hostage Crisis, they could be forgiven for assuming that this story took place quite recently. The anti-immigrant sentiments of some of the characters are still present in the United States today. The bravery, resilience, and righteous indignation of children also continue to move us forward towards justice even as the tides of intolerance try to pull us back.

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