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.

Continue reading “Chronic Illness Can Be Beastly”

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.

Continue reading “Making Peace with Stories”

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.

Continue reading “The Paper Boat by Thao Lam”

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.

Continue reading “The Ebb and Flow of History”

Cinderella is Dead, by Kalynn Bayron

I have to admit that the 1950’s animated version of Cinderella was one of my favorite movies as a little girl. I could probably still sing every song. I honestly don’t know exactly what I liked about it. It might have been the mice. Anyway, I don’t think I will ever be able to watch the movie in the same way again after reading Kalynn Bayron’s new book Cinderella is Dead. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Great  books can inspire us to view media with a critical lens and this is definitely a great book.

Continue reading “Cinderella is Dead, by Kalynn Bayron”

“The Truth Is” by NoNieqa Ramos

It wasn’t so long ago when I still believed that it was impossible for a politician to run on a platform of white nationalism and come anywhere close to winning. Now I realize that this belief was a result of my white privilege and that, for many people in the United States, this possibility was never in doubt. Hate has always been a presence in their lives.

Continue reading ““The Truth Is” by NoNieqa Ramos”

Brave Acceptance

Think back to a book you have read that was so absorbing, so beautiful that it made you want to be a participant in the story. I often feel like I want to befriend a character in a book that I am reading, but it is rare for me to wish that I could just pack up and move to live within a fictitious community. Reading The Brave by James Bird was definitely one of these rare experiences.

The book begins with Collin, the main character, being expelled from yet another school in California. In what seems to be a not uncommon scenario in today’s schools, Collin has been asked to leave because he is being bullied. You read that right, Collin is the one being bullied. He is unable to respond in conversations without counting the letters in words that someone has spoken to him and beginning his own speech by reporting on that number. Collin can’t control this compulsion-it is painful for him not to announce the numbers- but everyone, including his father, is annoyed by the counting. Collin lives with his dad and hasn’t seen his mom since he was an infant. So finding out that he is going to live with her on a Native American reservation in Minnesota is a bit of a surprise.

From the moment he arrives, though, Collin finds belonging and acceptance. While there are still bullies at school, he has people to come home to who see his counting as just something that he has to deal with and not as something that is wrong with him. It is a stumbling block that he will get past when and if he is meant to. In the meantime, he is exactly who he is supposed to be. It isn’t just Collin’s family who sees him this way, it is also the wildly wonderful young woman who lives next door. She spends most of her time in a treehouse where she paints and feeds members of her family (many of whom happen to be butterflies).

This hints at the mysticism that is included in the book, but I would shy away from using words like fantasy or magic. There are ghosts and metamorphoses, but they are handled so gently by Bird that none of it ever seems unbelievable. These parts of the story always feel right; like nothing else could be so real or justified. Collin helps us to accept these elements because they are also so new to him. Near the beginning of the book, Collin asks his mom if all of her feelings and intuitions are a “Native American thing” and she responds by pointing out that he, too, is Native American. The way we see the world might be influenced by our cultural backgrounds, but in the end it is always up to us. We choose how we view ourselves, each other, and the events that shape our world.

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:

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

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

Common Core Standards:

RL.2- Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

RL.3- Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

Elevating Black Voices to Support Black Lives

I don’t know what to do or what to say. All I know is that doing and saying nothing is indefensible. Lately, I have been hearing so many people say that actions speak louder than words. This is often true. Still, I believe that words are powerful and that stories can change people’s hearts and minds. The action that I can take today is to lift the voices of individuals who have lived and are living Black lives. Because Black lives are beautiful. Black lives are honorable. BLACK LIVES MATTER.

(I know this list is woefully short. It represents only a few of the voices that need to be lifted. Please share more with each other, with your students, and with me.)

Picture Books:

Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis written by Jabari Asim and illustrated by E.B. Lewis

The Undefeated written by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Hair Love written by Matthew A. Cherry and illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Little Leaders and Little Legends written and illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Let’s Talk about Race written by Julius Lester and illustrated by Karen Barbour

Julian is a Mermaid written and illustrated by Jessica Love

Don’t Touch My Hair! written and illustrated by Sharee Miller

Thank You, Omu! written and illustrated by Oge Mora

Wings written and illustrated by Christopher Myers

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Coretta Scott written by Ntozake Shange and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World written by Charles R. Smith Jr. and illustrated by Shane Evans

Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills written by Renee Watson and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Ekua Holmes

This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by James Ransome

Middle Grade:

Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

The Watson’s Go to Birmingham and many other books by Christopher Paul Curtis

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Ghost (Book 1 of the Track series) by Jason Reynolds

The Land (entire Logan family saga) by Mildred D. Taylor

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi

Young Adult:

Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess

We are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson with Tonya Bolden (and other works by Tonya Bolden)

Little and Lion and other works by Brandy Colbert

Tyler Johnson was Here by Jay Coles

Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History by Joel Christian Gill

Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes

Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson

A Certain October and anything else written by Angela Johnson

How it Went Down and other works by Kekla Magoon

How I Discovered Poetry written by Marilyn Nelson with illustrations by Hadley Hooper

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty written by G. Neri and illustrated by Randy DuBurke

When I Was the Greatest and all other works by Jason Reynolds

Dear Martin and other books by Nic Stone

On the Come Up and other works by Angie Thomas

If You Come Softly and other works by Jacqueline Woodson

American Street and other books by Ibi Zoboi

Who Tells the Story

In Color Me In, by Natasha Díaz, issues of belonging and advocacy are contemplated at the deepest of levels. The story begins with Nevaeh Levitz’s introduction to Harlem, where she is now living with her mom’s family, whose Liberian and Jamaican, Baptist background differs significantly from her father’s Ashkenazi Jewish one. Nevaeh has never really felt like she fit in anywhere. She isn’t white, like the overwhelming majority of students at her suburban private school, but she is also made to feel like she isn’t Black, both by her white peers and her Black cousin.

Continue reading “Who Tells the Story”