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Ghost Boys

As we approached 2018, I created (once again) my list of most anticipated reads. Last week, I got to read my third one from the list. If you’re not familiar with Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ghost Boys, here a quick synopsis.

While playing in the park one afternoon, Jerome is shot and killed by a police officer who feared for his life because Jerome held what he thought was a real gun. Rhodes writes the novel from Jerome’s point of view as his spirit observes his family, his new friend Carlos (who gave him the toy gun), and the officer as he goes to court for the preliminary hearing. As Jerome watches the new dynamic of his family, he also meets Sarah, the officer’s daughter, and another ghost–Emmett Till. Navigating the significance and meaning of these relationships proves to be the heart of story.

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For Every One

“Dear Dreamer,

When life hands you lemons, read Jason Reynolds.” 🍋📚💪🏽

04.10.18

The day I graduated from gifting Oh, the Places You’ll Go! to loved ones as commencement gifts. It’s been a go-to for several years, but with the (publishing) birth of For Every One, I think it’s time for something new.

If you’ve read any of my writing before, you know this blog is catered to children’s and young adult lit. And usually I stick to the script. Because . . . those are the rules (haha rules—also penned by Jason Reynolds; pick up Long Way Down, if you haven’t read it). Today, however, I’m making an exception. The last book I read is for every one, pun intended. And I adore it, which, of course, means, I’m going to share it with you. So for the purpose of this blog, I’ll just file it under YA and middle grade lit.

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Historical Fiction Series

If you’re a lover of historical fiction–books like Deborah Wiles’ Revolution (Sixties Trilogy), the March Trilogy, or Christopher Paul Curtis’ The Mighty Miss Malone–sit a few minutes and let me introduce you to Rosa Lee Carter of Stillwater, Mississippi.

It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve read middle grade historical fiction. Probably because I’ve been so inundated with YA lit that I haven’t had the chance to devote time to reading the middle grade genre I like most. In the past few months, I had the chance to fall in love with middle grade historical fiction all over again, thanks to Linda Williams Jackson, the author of Midnight Without a Moon and A Sky Full of Stars.

The pair tell the story of Rosa Lee (or Rose as everyone calls her), who is coming of age in the 1955 Jim Crow South. The daughter of an absent mother and father, Rosa has long been cared for by her maternal grandparents–Ma Pearl and Papa. The family lives on the Robinsons’ land–working the cotton fields and keeping the house. Often, Rosa and her brother Fred Lee are called upon to help with the labor rather than attend school. But working for the Robinsons is only half the story of Rosa Lee.

It’s 1955 and a number of Negro men have been shot and killed by whites, including young Emmett Till, visiting from up North. Many of the Negro residents of Stillwater are afraid for their lives; Rosa is one of them. Yet her best friend, Hallelujah, is always nearby, educating her, encouraging her to be bold and get involved in making things right in their town. But Rosa struggles between taking a stand and following the rules. Her heart tells her to speak out, but her conscious reminds her of Ma Pearl’s wrath if she even thinks of stepping out of line.

Gosh! I didn’t know how much I’d missed this genre until I read Midnight Without a Moon. When I finished, I was anxious to read it’s companion, A Sky Full of Stars. needed to know how Rosa’s story ended. There was a point in which Rosa Lee had the chance to go up North like many others who left Stillwater, but something inside her told her this town was where she was supposed to be. Staying there wasn’t easy and she pondered what life would have been like in St. Louis. But the way Linda Williams Jackson wrote Rosa’s internal conflict was so intimate and moving, it made me realize it’s not necessarily the historical context in these novels that I’m most drawn to, but instead, the coming-of-age element of the protagonist.

Not only did Rosa Lee have to grown into a sense of confidence needed to speak out against the injustices of her people, but she needed to find her voice when it came to engaging with Ma Pearl.

I hope you can find the time to hear Rosa’s voice. Check out Linda Williams Jackson’s Midnight Without a Moon and A Sky Full of Stars at your public or school library or support your local indie bookseller. Even if they aren’t in stock, you can make the request.

💜💫

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Little Leaders

It’s a new year and I’ve committed to posting to this blog twice a month. I know, I know…it’s pathetic, but I knew saying weekly would be overreaching. #dontjudgeme Moving on…what better way to begin this year of blog posts than with a gorgeous nonfiction title targeted at middle grades but perfect for all ages?!

I’ve been extremely excited about what would be artist/filmmaker (now author) Vashti Harrison’s debut book. I began following her on Twitter and Instagram, captivated by her work. I finally dedicated the time to truly take in her literary baby, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. I took my time, soaked it all in, and it sits with me still.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History IMG_7128

by Vashti Harrison

Little, Brown (2017)

What she started as a social media challenge to post female African American history makers daily during the month of February, became a collective biography of forty bold women who made their marks in history. Incorporating some well-known and not-so-known leaders, Harrison’s subjects range from civil rights activists to athletes and everything in between. The text for each individual is composed of a single-page biography highlighting the impact each leader had, accompanied by a full-page illustration. Most stunning about the work are  the simple “little figures” Harrison draws for each leader. Keeping the same expression for each, she simply changes their attire, hair, and background. It’s amazing how each one manages to have her own look. Without the intent of reading, the book even impresses you as a flipbook as you thumb the recto pages.

Vashti Harrison has written a stunning debut! ✨What I love most about this work is how Harrison’s intentionality radiates from the pages. From front cover to back, this book is everything, down to the case size, endpapers and font. If you don’t purchase any other book this year, buy. this. one. 

Shout out to Matthew Winner, whose #AlltheWonders podcast episode with Vashti Harrison made me want to take a picture book class. Check it out here.

Can I just say: MerryMakers should link up with Vashti and make some of these Little Leaders into plush toys. Those should definitely be a thing. Until then, I’ll be anxiously awaiting Harrison’s collective biography of little leaders around the world. 👧🏾

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Middle school sucks!

I was shopping in my local indie bookstore a couple of months ago and spotted this beautiful cover. And, les’ be honest, I totally judge a book by its cover. It recently came in one of my book orders so I added it to my winter break TBR pile. I’m glad I can finally move it to my read list. But, boy oh boy, is it a stark reminder of how middle school sucks!

Karma Khullar’s Mustache

by Kristi Wientge

Simon & Schuster (2017)

In less than two weeks, Karma Khullar will begin middle school. But that’s not the only thing different in her life. After a recent layoff, her dad is learning to be the stay-at-home parent while her mom tackles the demands of a new full-time job. What’s worse? Karma has unexpectedly grown seventeen hairs above her lip and has no idea how to get rid of this unwanted mustache. Her best friend Sara is the perfect person to help Karma find the solution to the mustache problem, but it seems Sara has a new best friend. Karma Khullar’s Mustache is the story of a biracial Indian-American who struggles with friendship, identity, and middle school woes, hopeful for someone to connect with to make it all easier to handle. Is all of the bad karma for her past or does she simply have to learn to find strength to deal with life’s difficult moments?

Kristi Wientge has written a contemporary story reminiscent of how tough middle school can be. She hits on all the things that impact middle schoolers the most–family, friends, peers and changes within themselves. I’ll definitely have a new perspective when I greet my middle schoolers again at the start of the new year.

I rarely post the back cover, but I couldn’t resist this time. Karma’s jacket illustrator is brilliant.

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Pashmina

I’m so far behind on my TBR pile it’s ridiculous. I was supposed to read Nidhi Chanani’s Pashmina a few months ago when I got a copy on Net Galley. I finally made the time to read it when one of our print copies arrived Friday. Pashmina is a quick and easy read. It probably took me so long to read it because I’d much rather hold a book than an iPad. I’m so happy to see an Indian-America protagonist in a graphic novel.

Priyanka is a teenager searching for understanding of her family and culture. Her mother immigrated to the US when she was Priyanka’s age, but has never spoke of the girl’s father or talked much about her family. After much begging and Priyanka finding a magical pashmina, her mother finally approves of her traveling to India to visit an aunt. Priyanka looks forward to meeting her family, but her priority is discovering the truth behind the magic of the pashmina.

I’m not much a fan of magic, but I love how the magic in this story shines light on people’s futures and gives them the courage to step outside of their comfort zone. When we first met Priyanka, she doubted herself and didn’t exude a high level of self-confidence. But by the time the story ended, readers see her believe in herself and also value the family dynamic her mother has put in place.

While not quite a coming of age story, Priyanka’s character does evolve some, especially in the way she comes to appreciate her mother and the decisions she made.

The illustrations vary between muted tones and full-color, based on the different settings in the story. I adore the richness of the hues in the full-color illustrations; bold tones are a favorite of mine. While the text is appropriate for upper elementary, I’d recommend this more for middle graders and up because readers have to be conscious of the shift in color that symbolizes the transition from past to present or present to magical realm. There are also a couple of places where the illustrations/storyline jump, causing you to somewhat do a double-take if you’re an intentional reader when it comes to graphic format.

Overall, it was a pleasant read and one out of my personal norm, but glad to have finally sat down with it. ✨

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The YA Narrative Nonfiction We Need

It was a normal afternoon for two students heading home from their respective high schools on Oakland’s public 57 bus. Sasha, an agender teen, falls asleep while reading. Richard, engages with his cousin and friend. During the few minutes they are on the bus together, Richard lights the skirt Sasha is wearing, causing them to wake in fear and panic. The 57 Bus is the account of Sasha and Richard’s backgrounds, what happened that day, and the impact it had on their lives.

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