Monday, April 30, 2012

Diversity (or the lack of) Explored

 On April 27,  author Laura Lacamara wrote a post called Will Latino Stories Sell? Over at Mommy Maestra.  Lacamara first picture book, Floating on Mama's Song is gorgeous.  In her article Lacamara gives hard numbers about under-representation.
The day before  Jen Doll wrote an article in the Atlantic Wire called The Ongoing Problem of Race in YA  She does not reveal anything new but its still good  for the lack of diversity in YA to be talked about.  What was more telling was a previous article by Doll called The Greatest Girl Characters  of YA literature.  It actually was not list itself which was exclusively White that had me shaking my head  but the comments. Though before I get to that, the first thing I noticed about the list is that there were a lot of older middle grade titles.  Overall it was not a great list and it was  founded on nostalgia.  Anyone familiar with children's literature knows characters of color do not have a chance when nostalgia comes into play.  There's always room for A Little House in the Prairie and Tree Grows in Brooklyn  but never  House on Mango Street,  Born Confused, The Bluest Eye or Huntress  All but Huntress (which I included because I was on roll) are classics but sadly these titles do not warrant the same amount of nostalgia pull.  So I was not surprised that they were all overlooked.   To be fair to Doll it looks like she did not work on this alone.

But in the Y.A. books of our youth, they are far more complex, and more thoroughly drawn. They have been for years, and they continue to be so. Here are a few of our favorites

Knowing that this diverse free list was a group effort and not the work of one person is a bit more troubling.  To Doll's credit, she admits to the oversight  in The Ongoing Problem of Race in YA.  However it should not have happened in the first place. If I created a list in which I neglected include any White authors or characters I would be called out with the quickness. And that's how it should be. Though that is not what happened here 

PaulaNash left the fifty four comment, and was first person to suggest a character of color, Cassie Logan from Roll of Thunder Hear Me Cry. Before that comment no one mentioned or even questioned why the list was all White. Some people probably raised their concerns  privately via email, hence the Ongoing Problem of Race in YA article.  Even so the fact that no one deemed it necessary make note of this in public comments is very telling.   People should want to comment freely about the  lack of fair representation at any time not only when the article, piece, entry what have you is on diversity.  When it is only the latter it proves to me a lot more still needs to change.  

If you have read this far down, I hope you are a little amped up to support   YA diversity. If that is the case, Guys Lit Wire is currently running their annual book fair. This year they have returned to Ballou H.S. in Washington D.C.   Head on over to GLW and find all you need to know,

Friday, April 27, 2012

Giants Beware - Jorge Aguirre, Rafael Rosado

 Giants Beware by Jorge Aguirre, illus. by Rafael Rosado After Claudette hears the story of the giant who loved baby feet and terrorized her village she wants nothing more then to slay it. Claudette goes on this quest with her best friend Marie, a princess training and Gaston, her younger brother who wants to be a pastry chef.  Aguirre has created some wonderful characters. I love the author ignores traditional gender roles, making Claudette the hero.  At the same time, Claudette's best friend wants nothing more than to be a princess.  While Claudette may not understand why any girl would want to be a princess she still supports are friend.  The fact that the author doesn't feel the need  to show princesses in a bad light in order to play up Claudette desire to slay giants is another three points in his favor.  Then there's Gaston, the younger brother who works magic in the kitchen and wants nothing more than this father's approval. This graphic novel was so much fun, I absolutely loved it.  The text and illustrations all blend together very well, making for some adventure filled and laugh out story panels.  Since this does not even come close to doing Giants Beware justice, highly recommend checking out

An excerpt
The NYT review

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Wild Book - Margarita Engle

The Wild Book by Margarita Engle
A little girl in Cuba named Fefa is diagnosed with Word Blindness in 1912, long before the learning disorder became known as Dyslexia. Fefa is determined to see the words that won't still still on the page. She decides to keep a book and write in it daily. This novel set all in verse is filled with all of Fefa's thoughts and feelings.

Fefa's voice is strong from the start. Engle's writing is pure beauty.
The others laugh
They always laugh
When I am forced to read
Out Loud
they mock
my stumbling voice
and when I have to practice
my horrible
they make fun
of the twisted

While there are few word the reader still gets well acquainted with Fefa's family and community. Engle is known for her verse novels, and this is my favorite so far. It is visually and rhythmically very well crafted.

Read an excerpt

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cat Girl's Day Off by Kimberly Pauley

Cat Girls Day Off by Kimberly Pauley
Natalie is the middle Ng daughter. All the Ng's have at least one special talent. The parents are well accomplished and the dad is a member of BERM, Bureaus of Extrasensory Regulation and Management,a special governmental organization. Natalie's older sister Viv is already working for BERM, and her younger sister Emma, a genius will be recruited in the future. Natalie keeps her talent a secret and doesn't expect to hear from BERM anytime soon. While Viv and Emmy have more then one talent all Natalie can do is talk to cats. Natalie has a great relationship with her cat Meep's but other then that her talent isn't very helpful until a celebrity blogger goes missing.

While watching a clip of celebrity blogger, Easton West, with her two best friends Oscar and Melly, Natalie hears the cat calling for help. After some convincing from her friends, Natalie agrees to find the cat and see what's really going on. Soon the three friends find themselves trying to find out what happened to the real Easton West. This was fun, silly and easy to get into. I laughed out loud more then once and the mystery aspect of the storyline is handled very well. Some of the best parts are Natalie's conversations with the cats. Natalie works well with her friends, but the cats are the stars.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Maximillian & The Mystery of the Guardian Angel - Xavier Garza

Maximillian & The Mystery of the Guardian Angel by Xavier Garza
Max loves luche libre, his favorite fighter is Guardian Angel. Max is excited about going to a match with his dad. It's his reward for earning straight A's in the fifth grade. This book came out last year, it looked like fun and I wanted to read it. However I never got around to it. After it was selected as a 2012 Purla Belpre honor, I moved it up my tbr list and very happy that I did. Max is a very likable character, and has a lucha libra filled summer. He even gets to meet Guardian Angel. Along with Max's voice, Garza does an excellent job of including the family. There are over exaggerated and very cool black and white illustrations of the fighters included throughout. The big match at the end plays out very well visually and will easily draw the reader into Max's love of luche libre. This is a bilingual story. English and Spanish are side by side, so a reader can read one and not be distracted by the other.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Froi of the Exiles - Melina Marchetta

Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta
This is the second book in the Lumatere trilogy. Set three years later, Froi is one the many young men who found a home in Lumatere after the curse on the land in finally lifted. In the first one, Finnikin of the Rock, Froi unknowingly journey's with three people essential to restoring Lumatere. In return for their acceptance, Froi is very loyal to Lumatere. Froi finally gets to do something on behalf of his new kingdom. Sent on a secret mission to Charyn, where the king responsible for Lumatere's five days of the unspeakable lives. As Froi tries to do what he believes is best for his adopted kingdom, the queen, her husband and the people of Lumatere are doing their very best to heal and rebuild.

There are many excellent and complicated layers making the struggles, sorrows, successes and triumphs feel that much more realistic. I loved Finnikin of Rock and was very much looking forward to Froi of the Exiles and I was not disappointed. I should be embarrassed by how much I love Marchetta's work but am not. She's simply got some serious skills, every single time I read one of Marchetta novels (I've read them all) she simply raises the bar and crushes it. I realize this is more of a fan gush than a review but I don't care.

An excerpt via Candlewick press
It's best to read in order, Finnikin of the Rock is out in paperback.
An excerpt of Finnikin of the Rock via Candlewick press

Starred Publishers Weekly review
Kirkus review

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Explorer:The Mystery Boxes - Kazu Kibuishi

Explorer:The Mystery Boxes -edited by Kazu Kibuishi
A collection of seven graphic novels, each story stems from an unknown box being opened. One of the thing I love about all of the stories is while they may be short they are fully formed. Each story is well crafted, the authors used the small amount space wisely both visually and textually. While the stories are very different, the thread of the mystery box is a enough to bind them together.
In Under The Floorboards by Emily Carroll - A young girl is excited about her new friend/former doll, until it shows its true colors. Carroll starts this collection on a very strong note. And extra points for the doll's creepy face. In Spring Cleaning* by Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier - A young boy must find somewhere to hide living magic from three wizards desperate to get their hands on it. Roman and Telgemeier collaborated on very funny, entertaining and well layered story.
In The Keeper's Treasure by Jason Caffoe - A young man goes on a treasure hunt. What makes this story stand out is who the young man meets at the end of his travels.
In The Butter Thief* by Rad Sechrist - A granddaughter must figure out a way to help a creature who love the taste of butter if she wants to return to her human ever again. I loved the author's use of color.
In The Soldier's Daughter by Stuart Livingston with Stephanie Ramriez - After learning that her dad died in battle a daughter must decide what path she will take revenge or forgiveness. This was a very nice look at some of the emotional causalities of war.
In Whatzit by Johane Matte with Saymone Phanekham - A young alien's excitement about being box handler is quelled when something in the box won't cooperate. This one is fun light and silly.
In The Escape Option by Kazu Kibuishi - A man presented with a glimpse of the earth's future has a life changing decision to make. This one is filled with a lot of wow and will leave the reader with a lot to think about.
This is a wonderful anthology, even some one like me, who is sometimes blind to the beauty that is a graphic novel can appreciate This is one of the few times I've read a collection and had several favorites to choose from.

Starred Kirkus Review
Starred School Library Journal Review

*In Spring Cleaning the young boy is Black. In The Butter Thief the family is Japanese.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On Sale Now : New Releases

April new releases with characters of color or featuring a diverse cast

It Jes' Happened:When Bill Traylor Started to Draw by Don Tate illus. by R. Gregory Christie

Walking on Earth and Touching the Sky :Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School edited by Timothy P. McLaughlin illus. by Stephen D. Nelson
Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up the Stage by Alan Schroeder illus. by Ying-Hwa Hu (March)
Cat Girl's Day Off by Kimberly Pauley

The Temptation:A Kindred Novel by Alisa Valdes
The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda
Creeping With the Enemy by Kimberly Reid

All the Right Stuff by Walter Dean Myers
Body Slammed by Ray Villareal
Fat No More: A Teenagers Victory Over Obesity by Alberto Hidalgo-Robert
The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Nalo Hopkinson's YA Debut/ Starred Reviews for Authors of Color (So Far)

Later this week I will run my regular feature of new releases that feature characters of color or a diverse cast, though today I just wanted to point out two.

It Jes Happened : When Bill Traylor Started to Draw by Don Tate illus. by R Gregory Christie. Tate is a children's illustrator, and this is his author debut. I find it fitting that a visual artist would stretch themselves artistically and write a biography on a visual artist. I am looking forward to reading this one. Publishers Weekly review
Starred Kirkus review

The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson. I love the cover and I am super excited about Hopkinson's first YA novel (she's an award winning adult author) The book has received a starred Kirkus review and a starred Publishers Weekly review

In February CBC Diversity committee was formed. The members are primarily editors from various publishing houses.

The CBC Diversity Committee is dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices and experiences contributing to children’s literature. To create this change, the Committee strives to build awareness that the nature of our society must be represented within the children’s publishing industry.

We endeavor to encourage diversity of race, gender, geographical origin, sexual orientation, and class among both the creators of and the topics addressed by children’s literature. We strive for a more diverse range of employees working within the industry, of authors and illustrators creating inspiring content, and of characters depicted in children’s literature.

Anything that gets people talking or thinking about multicultural fiction is a good thing. Speaking of diversity, Edi did a wonderful post called trending in color last week. I thought her observations were right on point.

One thing I see trending this year are starred reviews for authors of color

1.The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani - Two starred reviews - Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.

2.No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson - Four starred reviews - Horn Book Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and School Library Journal. My interview with the author

3.Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson - Three starred reviews - Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal

4.The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis - Two starred reviews - Kirkus and Publishers Weekly

5.Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz - Two starred reviews - Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal

6. Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott - Booklist starred review

7. The Wild Book by Margarita Engle - Kirkus starred review

Including It Jes Happened by Tate and The Chaos by Hopkinson's that's nine* books so far by authors of color with at least one starred review.

*Figured I'd cover myself up front for the titles I missed