Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Diversity in Middle Grade Books! (HOLIDAY GUIDE)

Continuing with my diversity holiday guide, I present to you: Middle Grade Books!


Summary: Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria love working with cars. You name it, they can fix it. But the team's favorite cars of all are lowriders—cars that hip and hop, dip and drop, go low and slow, bajito y suavecito. The stars align when a contest for the best car around offers a prize of a trunkful of cash—just what the team needs to open their own shop! ¡Ay chihuahua! What will it take to transform a junker into the best car in the universe? Striking, unparalleled art from debut illustrator Raul the Third recalls ballpoint-pen-and-Sharpie desk-drawn doodles, while the story is sketched with Spanish, inked with science facts, and colored with true friendship. With a glossary at the back to provide definitions for Spanish and science terms, this delightful book will educate and entertain in equal measure.


THE TURTLE OF OMAN by Naomi Shihab Nye

Summary: Praised by the Horn Book as “both quiet and exhilarating,” this novel by the acclaimed poet and National Book Award Finalist Naomi Shihab Nye follows Aref Al-Amri as he says goodbye to everything and everyone he loves in his hometown of Muscat, Oman, as his family prepares to move to Ann Arbor, Michigan. This book was awarded a 2015 Middle East Book Award, was named a Notable Book by the American Library Association, and includes extra material by the author.
Aref does not want to leave Oman. He does not want to leave his elementary school, his friends, or his beloved grandfather, Sidi. He does not want to live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his parents will go to graduate school. His mother is desperate for him to pack his suitcase—but he refuses. Finally, she calls Sidi for help. But rather than pack, Aref and Sidi go on a series of adventures. They visit the camp of a thousand stars deep in the desert, they sleep on Sidi’s roof, they fish in the Gulf of Oman and dream about going to India, they travel to the nature reserve to watch the sea turtles. At each stop, Sidi finds a small stone that he later slips into Aref’s suitcase—mementos of home.


GEORGE by Alex Gino

Summary: When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl. George thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte's Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part . . . because she's a boy. With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte -- but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.



Summary: A Choctaw boy tells the story of his tribe's removal from its Mississippi homeland, and how its exodus to the American West led him to become a ghost --one able to help those left behind.


BAYOU MAGIC by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Summary: A magical coming-of-age story from Coretta Scott King honor author Jewell Parker Rhodes, rich with Southern folklore, friendship, family, fireflies and mermaids, plus an environmental twist. It's city-girl Maddy's first summer in the bayou, and she just falls in love with her new surroundings - the glimmering fireflies, the glorious landscape, and something else, deep within the water, that only she can see. Could it be a mermaid? As her grandmother shares wisdom about sayings and signs, Maddy realizes she may be the only sibling to carry on her family's magical legacy. And when a disastrous oil leak threatens the bayou, she knows she may also be the only one who can help. Does she have what it takes to be a hero? Jewell Parker Rhodes weaves a rich tale celebrating the magic within.


MOVING TARGET by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Summary: Cassie Arroyo, an American studying in Rome, has her world ripped apart when someone tries to kill her father, an art history professor at an Italian university. Is she their next target?
Cassie sets out to uncover what is happening, only to learn that she is a member of an ancient bloodline that enables her to use the Spear of Destiny--a legendary object that can shape the future. Now running from a secret organization intent on killing those from her bloodline, Cassie must--with the help of some friends--decipher the clues that will lead her to the Spear. Her life--and the fate of the world--depends on it.



Summary: Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy—though you wouldn’t guess it by his name: his father is part white and part Lakota, and his mother is Lakota. When he embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota and American history. Drawing references and inspiration from the oral stories of the Lakota tradition, celebrated author Joseph Marshall III juxtaposes the contemporary story of Jimmy with an insider’s perspective on the life of Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse (c. 1840–1877). The book follows the heroic deeds of the Lakota leader who took up arms against the US federal government to fight against encroachments on the territories and way of life of the Lakota people, including leading a war party to victory at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Along with Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse was the last of the Lakota to surrender his people to the US army. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.


THE GREAT WALL OF LUCY WU by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Summary: Lucy Wu, aspiring basketball star and interior designer, is on the verge of having the best year of her life. She's ready to rule the school as a sixth grader, go out for captain of the school basketball team, and take over the bedroom she has always shared with her sister. In an instant, though, her plans are shattered when she finds out that Yi Po, her beloved grandmother's sister, is coming to visit for several months -- and is staying in Lucy's room. Lucy's vision of a perfect year begins to crumble, and in its place come an unwelcome roommate, foiled birthday plans, a bully who tries to scare Lucy off the basketball team, and Chinese school with the annoying know-it-all Talent Chang. Lucy's year is ruined -- or is it?



Summary: Naomi Soledad Leon Outlaw has had a lot to contend with in her young life, her name for one. Then there are her clothes (sewn in polyester by Gram), her difficulty speaking up, and her status at school as "nobody special." But according to Gram, most problems can be overcome with positive thinking. And with Gram and her little brother, Owen, Naomi's life at Avocado Acres Trailer Rancho in California is happy and peaceful...until their mother reappears after seven years of being gone, stirring up all sorts of questions and challenging Naomi to discover and proclaim who she really is.



Summary: Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he’s wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he’d settle for seeing a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune? With Libby’s help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There’s an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom.


Stay tuned for my Diversity in YA Holiday Guide!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Review: Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought Labyrinth Lost on Kindle and 20% into the book, I ordered a hardback copy. It’s that good.

Labyrinth Lost revolves around Alex, a bruja living in Brooklyn with her mother and two sisters who also have magical abilities. The problem is that Alex doesn’t want to be a bruja and on the day she’s supposed to receive her blessing from her ancestors, she tries to wish her powers away- and ends up exiling her family to Los Lagos. Realizing her mistake, she sets out to bring them back but runs into a dark and sinister force in this other realm.

When this book first came out, I saw it everywhere. Twitter, tumblr, blogs… I could not escape this beautiful cover. I decided to wait and give it a few weeks to let the hype settle down before I read it because I feel like a lot of times we get swept up in other people’s exuberance for a book and miss the experience for ourselves. What I realized was that the hype around this book isn’t actually hype- it’s just that good.

The plot is strong and the pacing flows. There were several parts where the author could have bogged us down with details and chose not to which kept the plot pushing forward. I’ve seen reviews where people are criticizing the handful of answered questions we were left with and that cliffhanger ending, but hello! Sequel!

I loved all of the characters and I think the author did a pretty good job on hashing out their personalities… except for one character and it was almost enough for me to drop a star from the rating. Alex has two love interests in this story- Nova and Rishi. Nova is fleshed out and given an entire backstory and has a very strong personality. Rishi, on the other hand, we don’t get much about her besides the fact that she likes Alex and she jumped into a portal. That’s it. I can give you all sorts of facts about Nova but really nothing about Rishi. Which was terribly disappointing to me. I felt like I was forced to want Alex to go for Nova because I know all these things about him. Rishi felt very bland and dry and I really didn’t care if anything happened between her and Alex. And this is coming from someone who generally always prefer f/f ships to m/f ships.

There is also PROPER BISEXUAL REPRESENTATION in this book. None of this “half gay” stuff or “gay for you” or “straight for you”. PROPER. BISEXUAL. REPRESENTATION. Let that sink in.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes magical girls, magical boys, sarcasm, and ancestors being sassy.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Diversity in Children's Picture Books (HOLIDAY GUIDE)

If you follow me on Twitter, you already know that I have six godchildren. Three of them are under the age of 5 and every year, I struggle to find picture books that depict them (as Native children) or even promote diversity. The holidays are always an incredible busy time and I know a lot of people don't have the time or energy to invest in searching for these books... so I figured I'd do that for you! I hope you find something you like!


Summary:In this Choctaw variant of Aesop's fable "The Tortoise and the Hare," master storyteller Tim Tingle reveals some unexpected twists and expands the cast to include a wild turkey, a colony of ants, and a cheering squad of Little Bitty Turtles as well. When Rabbit boastfully challenges Turtle to a race, he gets his comeuppance and Turtle gets a little assist from his winged friend, Turkey. In the process, we learn why Turtle's shell is cracked and why you never see Rabbit racing Turtle today. The bold and vibrant illustrations capture not only the grasslands of the High Plains but also the demeanor of its animal inhabitants and the humor of the tale. 


LITTLE YOU by Richard Van Camp

Summary: Richard Van Camp, internationally renowned storyteller and bestselling author of the hugely successful Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns, has partnered with talented illustrator Julie Flett to create a tender board book for babies and toddlers that honors the child in everyone. With its delightful contemporary illustrations, Little You is perfect to be shared, read or sung to all the little people in your life—and the new little ones on the way! 


DESMOND AND THE VERY MEAN WORD by Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams

Summary: When Desmond takes his new bicycle out for a ride through his neighborhood, his pride and joy turn to hurt and anger when a group of boys shout a very mean word at him. He first responds by shouting an insult, but soon discovers that fighting back with mean words doesn’t make him feel any better. With the help of kindly Father Trevor, Desmond comes to understand his conflicted feelings and see that all people deserve compassion, whether or not they say they are sorry. Brought to vivid life in A. G. Ford’s energetic illustrations, this heartfelt, relatable story conveys timeless wisdom about how to handle bullying and angry feelings, while seeing the good in everyone.



Summary: Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.


JUNA'S JAR by Jane Bahk

Summary: Sometimes a simple, everyday object can take you away on great adventures. Juna and her best friend, Hector, have many adventures together, and they love to collect things in empty kimchi jars. Then one day, Hector unexpectedly moves away without having a chance to say good-bye. Juna is heartbroken and left to wonder who will on go on adventures with her. Determined to find Hector, Juna turns to her special kimchi jar for help each night. She plunges into the depths of the ocean, swings on vines through the jungle, and flies through the night sky in search of her friend. What Juna finds is that adventure and new friends can be found in the most unexpected places. Coupled with dreamy watercolor illustrations by Felicia Hoshino, Juna's Jar is a heart-warming and whimsical tale about the power of the imagination.


KOHALA KUAMO'O: NAE'OLE'S RACE TO SAVE A KING by Kekauleleana'ole Kawai'ae'a

Summary: When a prophecy proclaims that the inborn Kamehameha would grow to overshadow the ruling chiefs, his life from birth is in danger. Naeole races with the helpless infant across the Kohala district of Hawaii Island to bring Kamehameha to safety.



Summary: Trickster Coyote is having his friends over for a festive solstice get-together in the woods when a little girl comes by unexpectedly. She leads the party-goers through the snowy woods to a shopping mall -- a place they have never seen before. Coyote gleefully shops with abandon, only to discover that fi lling your shopping cart with goodies is not quite the same thing as actually paying for them. The trickster is tricked and goes back to his cabin in the woods -- somewhat subdued -- though nothing can keep Coyote down for long.



Summary: Sassy is a long-legged girl who always has something to say. She wants to be a ballerina more than anything, but she worries that her too-large feet, too-long legs, and even her big mouth will keep her from her dream. When a famous director comes to visit her class, Sassy does her best to get his attention with her high jumps and bright leotard. Her first attempts are definitely not appreciated, but with Sassy's persistence, she just might be able to win him over. Dancing in the Wings is loosely based on actress/choreographer Debbie Allen's own experiences as a young dancer.



Summary: When Tai Shan and his father, Baba, fly kites from their roof and look down at the crowded city streets below, they feel free, like the kites. Baba loves telling Tai Shan stories while the kites--one red, and one blue--rise, dip, and soar together. Then, a bad time comes. People wearing red armbands shut down the schools, smash store signs, and search houses. Baba is sent away, and Tai Shan goes to live with Granny Wang. Though father and son are far apart, they have a secret way of staying close. Every day they greet each other by flying their kites-one red, and one blue-until Baba can be free again, like the kites.



Summary: It's Christmas in San Juan, New Mexico, and young Luz worries that with her grandfather sick and her father in the hospital, wounded from the war, their usual Christmas celebration will not be. Then Luz decides to make her own little lanterns or farolitos to light the path for the oncoming celebration, and for her father, who returns home in time for the holiday.


I hope you find something in here that will interest both you and your children. It's never too early to start teaching kids about diversity and how important it is for them to understand, care for, and fight for people who live outside of their own experiences.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Review: Sins of the Father

Sins of the Father Sins of the Father by Thelonious Legend
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I give this book a solid 3.5 stars.

I loved the characters. We have an incredibly huge shortage of books that involve marginalized characters that are not "trying to escape the hood/barrio/rez" and I was so excited to see a book about not only about Black girls but Black girls who also had privilege in the form of financial security.

The storyline was interesting and I loved the ending, the way it wrapped but fairly nicely but also left room for the series to be continued.

The only real issues I had with the book was the pacing (it seemed to drag in spots and I felt like the side characters sometimes bogged the story down in terms of moving forward) and the dialogue felt kind of awkward until I got used to the author's writing style.

Overall, it is a good, quick read and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a diverse book with a little sci-fi twist!

**Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for a completely honest review**

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Review: My Name is Not Easy

My Name is Not Easy My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I knew this book would be hard for me to rate and write a review on because of the subject it handled. I went into this book unsure of Edwardson's connection with the events that unfolded in her story and I wish I would have known that Luke, Bunna, and Isaac were modeled after her husband and his brothers' real life experiences.

The pacing is a little off in the first part of the book but to me it didn't detract from the entirety of the book at all. This would be a great starter book to get your children into reading more diversely because while it does tackle some very heartbreaking issues and shows how Indigenous people were regarded as less than human and disposable by white people, it does it in a way that protects younger and more naïve sensibilities.

I was grateful for the epilogue and the way Edwardson showcased through Luke (now proudly boasting his true name- Aamaugak) how the Catholic schools effected both the individual students and the families.

This passage struck me the hardest and I hope it inspires you to read the whole book:

Legal name? He puts the pen right there on that line and signs his name, his real Inupiaq name, the one he left behind: Aamaugak. He hears the sound of it as the pen scratches the paper, the sound of his mother's voice, a warm, guttural buzz in the dusky darkness of Johnson's Lodge and Bait. Sometimes there's nobody going to give you permission. Sometimes you just have to take it for yourself.

Aamaugak. Luke thinks. What's so hard about that?

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Review: Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.

I loved everything about this collection. If you are looking for poetry to touch your soul, this is for you.

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Friday, November 4, 2016

November's Native American/Indigenous Peoples Heritage Month TBR!

I usually don't do monthly TBRs but I figured since I have been promoting Native American/Indigenous Peoples Heritage month so hard the last few weeks that I would give everyone a peek into what I hope to get to this month.

Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King. I haven't read anything by Thomas King as of right now but I've heard about his diligent work in eliminating common stereotypes about Native Americans. King is Cherokee.

The Cure for Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson-Dargatz. "The cure for death by lightning was handwritten in thick, messy blue ink in my mother’s scrapbook, under the recipe for my father’s favourite oatcakes: Dunk the dead by lightning in a cold water bath for two hours and if still dead, add vinegar and soak for an hour more." (With a beginning summary like that, who wouldn't want to read this book?)

My Name is Seepeetza by Shirley Sterling. Takes a look at residential schools.

The Other Slavery by Andres Resendez. I'm very excited to read this one. Nonfiction.

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse By Louise Erdrich. I've loved everything I've read by Louise Erdrich and I can't imagine this one will be any different.

This is a very small list. I usually read between 15-20 books every month but with YallFest and NaNoWriMo going on this month, I didn't want to make a huge TBR list that I would have no chance of finishing.

I hope you find a book you'll enjoy from my previous post and celebrate Native American/Indigenous Peoples Month with me!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Review: soft magic.

soft magic. soft magic. by Upile Chisala
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Today and all days,
I am thankful for women of color
who love/write/create/emote
from the root
and never
apologize for their magic.

And I am thankful for Upile Chisala and her poetry.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Happy Native American Heritage Month!

Starting November 1, I will be celebrating Native American Heritage month and I'm inviting you to share this time with me! If you've never explored the rich and diverse culture of the 3.2 million Native Americans living in this country or haven't fully realized the historical sacrifices we've made or the genocide we've faced, this month would be the perfect time for you to do so.

Listed below is a very, very small selection of Native American and Indigenous books, authors, and poetry. I hope you find at least one to read!

Mvto! (Thank you!)

1. Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King
2. The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King (nonfiction)
3. Medicine River by Thomas King
4. Truth and Bright Water by Thomas King
5. Tracks by Louise Erdrich
6. The Round House by Louise Erdrich
7. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich
8. House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle
9. Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Vol 1 by Hope Nicholson
10. My Name is Seepteeza by Shirley Sterling
11.Broken Circle: The Dark Legacy of Indian Residential Schools: A Memoir by Theodore Fontaine (nonfic)
12. Beyond the Great River by Zoe Saadia
13. The Cure For Death By Lightning by Gail Anderson-Dargatz
14. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by Andres Resendez (nonfic)
15. Birdie by Tracey Lindberg
16. Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese
17. Blue Horses Rush In: Poems and Stories by Luci Tapahonso (poetry)
18. Songs of Shiprock Fair by Luci Tapahonso (children's book)
19. Who Will Tell My Brother? by Marlene Carvell (middle grade)
20. Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell (poetry)
21. Playing Indian by Philip Deloria (nonfic)
22. Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Simpson (poetry and short stories)
23. All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life by Winona LaDuke (nonfic/social justice)
24. Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time: An Indigenous LGBT Sci-Fi Anthology by Hope Nicholson
25. If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth
26. The Heart of a Chief by Joseph Bruchac
27. Indians in Unexpected Places by Philip Deloria (nonfic)
28. God Is Red: A Native View of Religion by Vine Deloria, JR. (nonfic)
29. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (nonfic)
30. The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Joy Harjo (poetry)

I just want to end this post with something I heard on Native Talk radio years ago and it stuck with me. It's hitting harder now with what is going on at Standing Rock.

“But here’s what you’ve got to understand. When you look at black people, you see ghosts of all the slavery and the rapes and the hangings and the chains. When you look at Jews, you see ghosts of all those bodies piled up in the death camps. And those ghosts keep you trying to do the right thing.
“But when you look at us you don’t see the ghosts of the little babies with their heads smashed in by rifle butts at the Big Hole, or the old folks dying by the side of the trail on the way to Oklahoma while their families cried and tried to make them comfortable, or the dead mothers at Wounded Knee or the little kids at Sand Creek who were shot for target practice. You don’t see any ghosts at all.
“Instead you see casinos and drunks and junk cars and shacks.
“Well, we see those ghosts. And they make our hearts sad and they hurt our little children. And when we try to say something, you tell us, ‘Get over it. This is America. Look at the American dream.’ But as long as you’re calling us Redskins and doing tomahawk chops, we can’t look at the American dream, because those things remind us that we’re not real human beings to you. And when people aren’t humans, you can turn them into slaves or kill six million of them or shoot them down with Hotchkiss guns and throw them into mass graves at Wounded Knee.
“No, we’re not looking at the American dream. And why should we? We still haven’t woken up from the American nightmare.”