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The Track Series (Pt. 1)

So, there’s this guy, right. He goes by the name of Jason Reynolds. Dude got mad skills. There’s not one piece of work by him that I’ve read and not liked (excuse the double negative). I fell in literary love with Jason Reynolds in 2015 when he spoke on a panel at the National Conference of Association of African-American Librarians. While he’s mostly written young adult lit, he’s also dipped in the middle grade lit pond. Quick overview, The Track Series is about a group of middle school students on one of the best track teams in the city. While we meet the four newbies on the team in Ghost—Ghost, Patina, Lu, and Sunny—as they begin a new season, the novel deeply surrounds the experience from Ghost’s perspective. Although each book delves into an individual, Patina picked up where Ghost ended, drawing a seamless connection between the two. Today, I’m introducing you to the first two novels in The Track Series. IMG_6285

First up: Ghost, Reynolds’ 2016 National Book Award Finalist novel that begins the The Track Series. In this first book, Ghost stumbles upon the annual try-outs for the Defenders track team. Track really isn’t his thing though; basketball is. This doesn’t stop Ghost—or his big mouth and snark—from a challenging the team’s best runner. When he wins and the coach decides he belongs on the team, Ghost has to finally come to terms with all the things he’s been running from figuratively.

Up next: Patina, where Reynolds takes us into the life of Patty, the only female newbie on the team. For Patty, life’s a little complicated, and running is her way of paying homage to those she loves most, and proving her worth to those who taunt her. Being a part of the Defenders helps her realize her strength and that she can withstand.

Why I love Jason Reynolds, Ghost, and Patina:

  • When I first opened Ghost, I was immediately drawn to the story. The writing is so relatable. Most of the students I work with use similar vernacular. I can appreciate Reynolds using this style of writing because it helps my students feel comfortable with the prose. As I got ready to write this blog, I noticed a Banned Books Week bookmark sticking out from another book, and it presented an AHA moment. This year’s Banned Books Week theme was Words Have Power. For me, Reynold’s use of this dialect is an example of how words have power. The power of his words comes in his use of a particular style of language. It connects a certain audience to the writing and makes them want to continue reading. I’m in a new school this year, which means building relationships and working intently to build a culture of reading. A couple of weeks ago, an 8th grader was sitting at the circulation desk and I asked him if he liked to read. His response, “I used to, but I don’t anymore.” We proceeded to discuss why and before the end of the conversation, I knew this was my chance to make him fall in love with reading again. I asked if I gave him a book I knew he would love, would he read it. I promised he could bring it back if he didn’t like it, but asked that he at least give it a chance. A few days later, his class was in the library—I was actually in a classroom; when I came back, my clerk was thrilled to tell me this young man had started reading the book and really liked it. Hashtag WIN. That leads me to my next point.
  • These books—and just about everything Jason Reynolds writes—are perfect for reluctant readers. Engaging realistic fiction.
  • Each book gives more depth to each newbie. In book one, we see the multiple layers of Ghost—a kid we want to loathe but can only truly have love for. In book two, we view the intricate way in which Patty has to weave different worlds. Sure, it would do well to produce a novel in which the end results of the team’s season are revealed, but Reynold’s decision to separate the personal stories of the newbies allows for true character depth and guaranteed opportunities for readers—especially, reluctant readers—to engage with relevant literature in the future. After all, Ghost and Patina were both witty and emotional, and Reynolds’ history reveals a promise to continue that trend.
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fam·i·ly

family | fam-uh-lee

noun: a social unit consisting of one or more adults with the children they care for

I chose this definition from dictionary.com because it’s open to interpretation. It isn’t rigid like some others. It embodies the essence of many different types of families. No two families look the same, so why should the phrase used to define the term be so close-ended? Families come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. That sounds cliché, but it’s real life. We all know the traditional idea of family is still prominent; it’s what most reference when they engage in conversation surrounding family. Truth be told, the image of family is increasingly different. Some families are single-parent. Some are adoptive or foster. Others include multiple races. More households than we can count have grandparents or other relatives at the helm. More than we’d like to count include children of incarcerated parents. And some are same-sex. It’s the latter that appears to bother people the most, especially when it involves educating children about the “norm.” Just ask Lesléa Newman, the author of the heavily challenged picturebook Heather Has Two Mommies (1989) and more recently published Donovan’s Big Day (2011).

If you examine family closely, the central theme is LOVE. It’s what’s most important—that children feel and exhibit love. That may look the same for most, and look different for many. In our efforts to grow families collectively and people individually, we explore various social norms and ideas. With that in mind, this post is to share some relevant titles—not to push an agenda or challenge any person’s ideology or morals—that are representative of some of the types of families that exist. They are simply a resource through which adults can combat hesitation and ease into essential conversations on the diversity that is our society. Experience has proven hesitation to engage (especially young children) in conversations around “hot topics” comes from an uncertainty of how to begin the discussion. Oftentimes, reading together with young children is a great place to start. These stories mimic real life and offer an opportunity to see things from a different lens. I hope that as you or others you know gain the confidence to talk with the children in your lives about the essence of family and how each one might look different, you might choose a title (or more than one) from this list to help make the engagement enjoyable and informational, rather than tense, biased, and uncomfortable. After all, the children in your lives will at some point encounter and befriend someone whose family doesn’t look like yours.

My hope is that you can find these at your local public (or child’s school) library. But I’m a realist, and I know for some that may not be the case. If you’re one of the unfortunate ones, hit up your local indie bookseller; they’re sure to have you covered.loving

Alko, Selina. The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage. (2015). Interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving fight for the right to be married and raise their family in Virginia. You can find my original post here.

 

 

Austrian, J. Worm Loves Worm. (2016). Two worms have fallen inworm love. The obvious next step is marriage. But who will wear the dress and who’ll wear the tux? Or does it really matter at all?

mixedDiggs, Taye. Mixed Me. (2015). When Mike realizes his wild curly hair doesn’t match his mom or dad, he wonders why. Having a mother with light skin and a father with dark skin, Mike is somewhere between the two, navigating what it means to be mixed.

 

tangoRichardson, Justin and Peter Parnell. And Tango Makes Three. (2005). An innocent, heartfelt, story of male penguins Roy and Silo who complete their family when the egg they’ve been gifted hatches.

stellaSchiffer, Miriam. Stella Brings the Family. (2015). When Stella’s teacher announces to the class they will be having a celebration for Mother’s Day and students can invite a special guest, Stella worries who she’ll bring since she has two dads.

oneShannon, George. One Family. (2015). Shannon’s book teaches little ones numbers and counting, but also explores family. Blanca Gomez’s illustrations depict how families can look different.

Woodson, Jacqueline. Pecan Pie Baby. (2010). New babies can be a fun addition to the pecanfamily, but for young Gia, it creates some anxiety. What will happen to the bond she shares with her (presumably single) mom when the new baby arrives?

I decided to save the best for last. A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary should be your go to! Open the cover and find every unique family that exists. family

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kismet + comics + coding + kissing

When Dimple Met Rishi was on my list of top 5 most anticipated reads going into 2017, and I’m glad I finally got the chance to read it—even if it did take me almost two months. Yall! I am the slowest reader ever, especially when I have a lot going on like I did this summer. But I couldn’t not finish this book! (Don’t judge my double negative; none of my degrees are in English.)

So here’s the gist: IMG_6012

Female protagonist

  • recent high school grad
  • excitedly headed to Insomnia Con for the summer to jumpstart her tech career
  • hellbent on not finding the Ideal Indian Husband (IIH) her parents want for her

Male antagonist

  • hopeless romantic
  • involved in a love-hate relationship with his true passion—art
  • intent on honoring his parents and taking up the cultural tradition of marrying the young woman they’ve chosen for him
  • couldn’t care less about technology or Insomnia Con, but Will Travel For Love

IMG_6073When Dimple first sees Rishi, it is anything but love at first sight. Rishi can tell as much from the ice coffee she’s dumped on him. But, persistent Rishi refuses to let that deter him from the original plan. He continues to pursue Dimple, and, as luck would have it, is left to pair with her for the Insomnia Con project. She tries her best to keep him at bay, but as the weeks go by, Dimple realizes the closest person she has now is the person she’d like to hate the most. Will she get in her own way and challenge kismet, or will Rishi be her IIH?

Summer’s over but that doesn’t mean you’ve missed your turn to read this cute, witty, and charming Indian-American + this cover is perfect for fall.

 

If you’re looking for a similar read, try Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed; absolutely gut-wrenching! I love having had the opportunity to read both novels and gain some insight into Indian culture yet having it presented from different perspectives.

Sending a huge shout out and thank you to author Sandhya Menon for offering up goodies to those who pre-ordered WDMR! And of course an attribution to her for the title of this post.

IMG_6074

 

 

 

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She Persisted

I love Mr. Schu. Not because he’s an avid poster on Twitter. But because he has the best book recommendations EVER. If you don’t know him and you read and/or purchase kid lit, check him out. He also blogs here. A couple of months ago, he tweeted about Chelsea Clinton’s new book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World. I anticipated its release.
Last week I bought a copy and purchased one for a dear friend’s school library, as it was on her bookfair wishlist. *Shameless plug: support a school library near you–shop their bookfair onsite or online OR simply add an extra new release to your shopping cart 🛒 the next time you’re in your local bookstore and just drop it off at the school. The librarian and students will be more grateful than you’d imagine. We don’t always get the chance to add those to our collections between January and September.*

I love how readers are emboldened as they read how each woman “(she) persisted.” The color for the typography of that phrase seamlessly mimics the dominant color in the illustrator’s accompanying artwork. Those two seemingly small words are written for each woman, to consistently spread the message of how important it is to pursue your dreams and never let anything stand in your way. While the book focuses on women, the illustrator’s inclusion of male figures throughout, dispel any myth that this book is only for young girls.

I always love learning something new when I read, so I was happy to be introduced to a couple of amazing women AND read a few facts about others that I hadn’t already known. I had hoped that maybe there would be a shortlist bibliography, but that’s completely okay, because I like to think I’m competent enough to do a little fact checking on my own. 

It seems like there are several books that focus on women and their contributions to the world being published recently and in the near future, and I’m Here. For. It! Thank you Chelsea Clinton for writing a book that includes women from different backgrounds, for all the different types of girls (and boys) who will read these words and be reminded to persist, regardless of who or what tries to stand in their way.

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We’re ALL Wonders

The magnificent R.J. Palacio recently released We’re All Wonders and my heart couldn’t be happier. Auggie is back in picturebook format spreading the importance of acceptance. While the audience of Palacio’s text and illustrations are obviously K-3, readers of all ages are sure to fall in love with Auggie and his message. 

“The Earth is big enough for all kinds of people.”

In We’re All Wonders, Palacio introduces us to Auggie, a kid who knows he’s not ordinary, but does ordinary things like anyone else. Auggie accepts he doesn’t look like other kids, but he wishes people didn’t focus on how different his appearance is. What he wants the most is for others to see him as the unique wonder his mom thinks of him as.

I loved Palacio’s original novel Wonder, and share the same sentiment about We’re All Wonders. What better time to begin teaching differences and acceptance than with young readers? The icing on the cake: Palacio’s vibrant illustrations. They’re the perfect complement to a story where the protagonist is hopeful despite how dark life can sometimes seem. Palacio’s incorporation of Wonder cover art-inspired look for Auggie will resonate with lovers of the chapter book. You’ll love this book and so will the little ones in your life. 💙❤️💛

If you’ve read enough of my posts, you know I’m an advocate of acceptance, diversity, and inclusivity, so I’ll leave you with one of my favorite pages from the book. This! This is diversity! And a beautiful illustration of how we may not look the same, but we’re all wonders. 💜

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rad women

If you’ve been hiding under a rock, newsflash: March is Women’s History Month and today is International Women’s Day. I happen to know some pretty badass women and I hope you do, too. What better time to blog about some children’s and YA titles that highlight amazing women! Check out one or a few of them at your school or public library. I hope you enjoy curling up with them to read with the young rad girls in your life.

Elementary

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty. illus. by David Roberts. Abrams. 32 pp.

Curious about what surrounds her, young Ada is the scientist of her class. A classmate to Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck, Ada does research to find the answers to her questions. Perfect addition to a STEM or makerspace collection. (Inspired by Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie.)

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Beaty, Andrea. illus. by David Roberts. Abrams. 32 pp.

Rosie is an innovator and can build just about anything. When one of her contraptions turns out different than expected, she learns failure isn’t such bad thing. Spark a child’s imagination by adding this one to the collection. (Inspired by the life of Rosie the Riveter.)

Continue reading

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DIR: The Hate U Give

It’s connection day again, post DIR; seems like I always choose text-to-world. I’m reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas—a highly acclaimed “Black Lives Matter” novel. It recently received its eighth star review in the literary world.

At today’s point in the novel, Starr (the protagonist) is wondering why her best friend at school seems so distant now and thinks back to when Hailey started to drift away.

Quote:

“Plus she unfollowed my Tumblr.

She has no clue that I know. I once posted a picture of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old black boy who was murdered for whistling at a white woman in 1955…Hailey texted me immediately after, freaking out.”

The irony in Thomas’ inclusion of this event is that the woman who accused Emmett Till of whistling at her recently acknowledged she lied about the incident, ALL THESE YEARS LATER. I wonder, if this information had been revealed before or during Thomas’ writing process, would she have still used this particular example to drive the point that Hailey was so disturbed and angered by Starr’s choice to use Till’s photo on her blog? What would have been the alternate image?

I can’t help but also relate this to the news that departments at my alma mater, including the one from which I received my information sciences degree, recently pulled their sponsorship of a lecture by an assistant professor at Morgan State University solely based on the title—”How Killing Black Children is an American Tradition.”

What message are we sending when we try to censor a journalism professor based on title alone because (the) words have too much “power?” What message are we sending when we criticize our “friend” (as Hailey does in THUG) for exposing history because it looks “awful?”