Being Together While We Are Apart

Around the world right now, we all have something in common; being kept apart. While some places around the world are starting to return to something resembling normal, there is a sense of insecurity that comes from being around other people. In the time of a global pandemic, it becomes even more important for us to teach children about our common bond as a global community. If we don’t, we risk becoming more divided than we were before COVID-19.

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Sticking Together

Most of the recently published material that I read comes from the library and, at least right now, I haven’t been making as many library trips as I used to. This has afforded me the opportunity to revisit some of my favorite books from the past that reside on bookshelves at home. One rediscovered treasure is The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had by Kristin Levine, which was published in 2009. Oddly enough, this book takes place in Alabama from the summer of 1917 through the summer of 1918, including one short portion of the Flu Pandemic to which our current coronavirus crisis is being compared. That, however, is not the main focus of Levine’s story.

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A Sporting Chance

** Thank you to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the opportunity to review an Advance Reader Copy. This book will be available for purchase on April 7, 2020.

The world is currently in the midst of a pandemic, which has prohibited many sports teams from competing or even practicing. This might not seem like the perfect time for a book about sports to be released. Still, I think it is the perfect time for this book about sports. Social distancing had a different meaning to soldiers with spinal cord injuries after World War I. They were seen as a lost cause and were given little help, even from the medical community, to survive. A Sporting Chance: How Ludwig Guttmann Created the Paralympic Games, written by Lori Alexander and illustrated by Allan Drummond, tells the story of one doctor who refused to accept the status quo and upended society’s beliefs about disability in general.

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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).