Knowledge of Our Past is Essential to Moving Forward

There are efforts around the country right now to ban the discussion of critical race theory in K-12 schools. Legislatures are doing their best to prevent people of color, particularly Black people, from being able to vote in future elections. In Iowa, where I live, House File 802 specifically prohibits school districts from including certain concepts in diversity and inclusion efforts, a few of which are: “that the United States and the state of Iowa are fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist;” “that members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex;” and “that any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of that individual’s race or sex.”

Now, luckily in my opinion, House File 802 does not prohibit responding to questions. Also, to be fair to the Iowa legislature and governor, it does not “prohibit the use of curriculum that teaches the topics of sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, or racial discrimination, including topics relating to the enactment and enforcement of laws resulting in sexism, racial oppression, segregation, and discrimination.” This brings me to Mildred Taylor and her exceptional Logan Family Saga. To me, these books are probably the best US History curriculum you could find for late middle to early high school students covering the years from Reconstruction all the way through to the mid-60s. Iowa even has a part to play.

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The Shape of Thunder

The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga is truly a book that speaks to issues we need to face today. I am grateful to NetGalley and Balzer+Bray for the opportunity to write this review. Warga has created two characters, Quinn and Cora, who reflect the type of young women that we see in middle schools in the 21st century. Quinn plays soccer, she is creative, and thoughtful. One of my favorite quotes in the book comes from Quinn. “Sometimes it’s like I get in trouble in school because I’m always thinking when I’m supposed to be learning.” Cora is on the Quiz Bowl team, is starting to have a crush on a teammate, and argues with her older sister. They have been best friends for a long time. Typical middle school girls, right? Absolutely.

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Bias on the Brain

Unconscious bias is something I have been reading about and talking about for at least 15 years. So, while reading This is Your Brain on Stereotypes: How Science is Tackling Unconscious Bias, written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi and illustrated by Drew Shannon, I was a bit disturbed by my response to the direction to draw a picture of a math professor. I didn’t actually get to the drawing stage, luckily I did catch myself by that point, but the image that automatically flashed in my mind when told to draw a math professor was still a white man. This is just one example of what I imagine are many implicit biases that I still hold over many years of learning that they are harmful. This is Your Brain on Stereotypes has many selling points, but its target audience of children and young adults makes it the perfect book to combat the creation of stereotypes in the first place.

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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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