This posting offers 10 diverse books presenting diverse characters experiencing a challenging world of change, hope and resilience.
ALONE: The Journey of Three Young Refugees by Paul Tom; illus. Melanie Baillairge; Arielle Aaronson (translator) (Non-Fiction)
Each year more tahn 400 minors arrive alone in Canada eeking refugee status. This documentary-style graphic novel is based on a true story of young asylum seekers who arrived in Canada without their parents. The storyies of 13 year old Afshin from Tehran Iran, 13 year old Alian from Bujumbura, Burundi and 16 year old Patricia from Kampala, Uganda are testimonies of sacrifice, hardships, obstacles and courage. The book is divided into 5 chapters, each featuring the journey of the three adolescents. (Chapter 1: ‘Leaving Everything Behind’; Chapter 2 ‘Saying Goodbye’; Chapter 3: ‘It Isn’t Over Yet; Chapter 4; ‘Mama, Where Are You?’: Chapter 5: ‘Hope for Tomorrow’. The artwork presented in limited palette of black, burgendy, green and beige is somewhat stylized, somewhat sketch-like and sometimes poetic well-servinge the mood of these biographies.
NOTE: The French version of this book (SEULS) is the recipient of the $50 000 TD Prix De Literature Jeunesse Canadienne. ALone is a fully illusgtrated adaptation of the critically aclaimed documentary Seuls, inpsired by the true stories of 3 refugees (directed by Paul Tom).
EB & FLOW by Kelly J. Baptist
Eb & Flow are in trouble. When Ebony ruined De’Kari (aka Flow), Flow struck back (literally) and the two 7th graders where suspended for 10 days where they provides them with time to think about their behaviours, their emotions and their family lives. Both tweens come from single-parent homes, money is scarce, and both have the responsibility of caring for siblings. It is the troubles in their lives that bind the two but neither is aware of the parallel circumstances. Both Eb and Flow angrily think about their responsibility inthe escapade that brought them to being suspended. The ten day suspension leads them to think not only their present circumstances but future possibilities and dreams. The free verse novel is presented in two alternating voices.
GREEN by Alex Gino
Opening: “Green’s life was pretty great, especially for a kid in a middle school. They were queer and nonbinary and had lots of queer and trans friends.” Green has a good relationship with their father and thier teachers and has good friends who belong to the Rainbow Spectrum club in this school. When the school is putting on the musical The Wizard of Oz Green and their friends take the opportunity to create a welcoming space for everyone by considering changing up the traditional roles of the characters. Even though Green doesn’t get the part that they wanted (the Tinperson), they become part of the crew, which appeals to Green because they have a crush on Ronnie who will also working as a crew member. Alex Gino presents some important issues confronting nonbinary students: infatuation, sexual preferences, conciuring traditional stereotypes getting the first period, decisions about taking hormone blockers. When Alex Gino wrote their first novel Melissa, there wasn’t a single middle grade book with a transgender main character released by a major character. Since that time, the author has written other titles about young people exploring gender identity (Rick, Alice Austen Lived Here, You Don’t Know Everything Jilly P!) and with Green we have another enlightening and engaging and important title to offer middle years readers. Hooray for Alex Gino.
MASCOT by Charles Waters and Traci Sorell
The school mascot is the image of an Indian head. When an eighth-grade teacher in Virginia assisgns a debate project to determine whether the mascot should stay or change, six students in the class choose sides and are determined to have their points of view heard. The two authors present a diverse cast of characters: Callie, A Black Cherokee citizen, Franklin, A Black football hero; Priay a budding journalist whos family is from India; Sean. a sixth-generation Irish stduent, Tessa, who is white and Luis who immigrated from El Savador. Diverse views and arguments are present in this free-verse novel helping readers to think about heritage, stereotypes, racism and taking a moral and ethical stance for what they believe is right.
SUNSHINE b y Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Jarrett J. Krosoczka is the author of many popular books ( e.g.,Lunch Lady sereis). His memoir Hey, Kiddo was a National Book Finalist. In this title, the author recounts his teenage experiences as a counsellor at Camp Sunshine to be part of a volunteer program to work with seriously ill kids and theirr families. Even though it was a one week experience, the opportunity was life-changing for Krosocska who learned about the captivity of illness but also the hope and determination that gets people through tough times. The author was assigned to work one on one with wheelchair-bound Diego who, although reluctant to participate in activities . developed a warm relationship with his buddy counsellor. The book recounts camp experiences (boating, crafts, a talent show, boating, fishing, and team-building activities. Each of the individuals that Jarrett J. Krosoczka and his 5 volunteer companions, offer sunshine even though most lived in the shadow of death. The subtitle of this memoir is ‘How Camp Taught me About LIfe, Death and Hope.’ It is an heartfelt story that will help teach readers about Life, Death and Hope. Inspiring with a capital “I”.
TREASURE ISLAND: Runaway Gold by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Zane is grieving the death of his father and worrying about the survival his family’s boarding house in Rocakaway Queens. One of the boarders, Captain Maddie is indeed quite mad. Zane enjoys listening to her stories and strange blathering of sailing the seven seas but upon her death, she implores Zane to “Honor th bones peole, whether buried in water or earth. Dead don’t stay dead. Homor the bones.” So Zane and his two best friends set off on a mission to Manhattan with their skateboards and a map in hand hoping to discover a treasure that would solve his family’s problems. Much adventure and danger ensues as Jack, Kiko, Zane and his ever-faithful dog, Hip-Hop set of on a wild search, hoping to find gold. A skateboard gang is ever-threatening. A meeting with John, another sailor hosts the trio into the environs of Manhattan and leads them to discover the buried history of Black New Yorkers of centuries past. Treasure Island is an exciting modern day adventure story of finding and solving clues that lead the protagonists through a church, a burial ground and tunnels. Updating Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel provided an intriguing tale of skateboarding pirates. Most of all the premise of the novel by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Ghost Boys) serves to present a rather unknown history of New York slavery in the 1700’s. and 1800’s. Enslaved Africans (which grew to well over a million) contributed to the development and economic engine of the city. Almost half of white households owned servants and laborers. The author also provides an important history of New York being an important stop for the Underground Railroad. “Historical fiction is a combination of accuracy and fictional lie. But always, the intent of fiction is to tell the emotional truth of characters journey through life.” (Afterward, page 317)
WATER WATER by Cary Fagan
Rafe wakes up to discover that he, and he dog, Buddy are floating in water? How did this happen? Where is Rafe’s family? How will the dog and boy survive? Is there land somewhere in the distance? Rafe is off quite an adventure a la James and the Giant Peach as he floats along and eventually encounters some surprises (a cello-playhing woman, a case of rubber ducks, plenty of canned goods, a storm, a parachute made out of a sail, a mean group of ‘pirates’ who want to steal his food). Fagan expertly shares Rafe’s resourcefulness to live calmly from day to day and to seek rescue. One day he meets up with a young girl sailing along on a small air mattress and the two develop a special friendship, even though they don’t speak the same language. Cary Fagan tells a wonderful story, ideal for reading aloud or enjoyed as an independent read. An adventure story that perhaps serves as a metaphor for climate change that causes flooding and the hope and survival of refugees seeking asylum. Jon McNaught’s black and white sky blue illustrations that appear throughout aptly depict story events.
WHAT YOU NEED TO BE WARM by Neil Gaiman; 13 illustrators (a poem of welcome)
In a time when there are so many citizens who seek shelter and warmth during the coldest seasons, this poem by Neil Gaiman, presented as a picture book, illustrated by 13 artists, answers the question, “What do you need to be warm?’. This moving poem is based on a film Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR ( The United Nations Refugee Agency) Goodwill Ambassador made about refugees and displaced persons seeking safety and shelter. The poet gathers images and memories that signify warmth and inspire thought about about those who have lost their homes, and even lost thier their countries and are hopeful about finding the warmth of family and friends and safety. Black and white and orange are the only colours used throughout. This poem was inspired by tens of thousands of people on Social Media, each shring a specific memory of being warm. Renowned author, Neil Gaiman, along with varied artists, has created a stellar literature artifact. This is a warm,omforting poem about hope and kindness that must be shared with young people. .
“A baked potato of a winter’s night to wrap your hands around/ or burn your mouth. A blanket kntted b your mother’s cunning fingers. Or your grandmother’s.
REMEMBER US by Jacqueline Woodson
“Delving deeplly into life’s challenging questions about time and memory, Jacqueline Woodson’s evocative story speaks to the power of both letting go and holding on! “(book jacket)
Though fiction, this novel is based on a real time (1970’s, 1980’s) and place, Bushwick Brooklyn, which came to be known as “The Matchbox” because there so many fires were destroying people’s homes. Although the 12 year-old Sage’s home was not burned down, she lost her father in a tragic fire incident. Her mother is determined to move out from Bushwick, but the community was so an important place for Sage, especially for the opportunity to play basketball. It was a time when Sage tried to find her place in a circle of girls who seemed to abandon her becuase she preferred to spend time shooting hoops with the guys. Meeting Freddy gave Sage strength as the two friends tried to deal with the pain of the past, the good parts of the present and the uncertainty of the future. The novel is told from the point of view of the adult Sage looking back on her life. Jacqueline Woodson’s writing, as always, is exquisite. Short chapters and short paragraphing present an efficient style to engage readers. Woodson absolutely captures time and place, but moreover, readers come to care about this Black fictional character, understand her and sympathize with her as she deals with grief and loss and feelings of being an outsider. (“What kind of girl are you?”) Many young adolescent readers will identify and connect with Sage’s life as she questions her gender and sexual identity, her friendship circles and her family loyalties.
Remember Us is amongst the best of the best books of 2023 by the wonderful, wonderful Jacqueline Woodson. I wholeheartedly recommend this fantastic novel.
I AM WONDERING NOW: WHO else remembers that year of fires?
Who else remembers the Bushwick we once lived in?
Who else remembers us?
A WORK IN PROGRESS by Jarrett Lerner (free verse novel)
When he was in fourth grade a mean kid tormented Nick Fisher by spitting out the words “Your FAT and Everyone knows it”. The words stuck inside his head for years and now that he’s in middle school, Nick is deeply angry and fully aware of his body and how others think about how he looks. His friends have abandoned him. He eats lunch alone outside the cafeteria. He overhears mean mean comments said by mean girls. Spoiler: Ast he title suggests: Progress is made (thanks to a new friendship, therapy and gradual self-acceptance). The novel is written in free verse style and is accompanied by graphic images illustrations that put Nick’s tormented feelings into art. Jarret Lerner dedicates this book “For anyone who has ever felt less than.” The author tells the story with full-out honesty and self-reaization and as a wit progressesit is a story of foregiveness, resileince and hope. This is a remarkable book, vital reading for middle age readers who feel ‘less than’ and essential reading for middle age students think about the progress needed to move forward by o accepting their identities as they move through the complexities of adolescenthood (and what middle age student doesn’t ask themselves about who they are and who they are becoming)? This is essential reading to think about body image and mental health issues.
Excerpt (pages 86-87)
I eat/ and eat/ and eat./ More/ and more/ and more. And chewing/ and swallowing/ and chewing/ some more more/ there are moments –
brief/ beautiful/ blissful moments/ – when I forget who I am/ what I am/ that I am / at all.