Allied Media Conference

Hello friends – This is just a short note to say that my friend Nakenya and I will be presenting on Diversity in Youth Literature at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit next Saturday, June 17.  There is nothing like trying to put together a well-rounded presentation to help me find holes in my own reading history!  Like, why are all the teen historical books I have tagged about Asian girls?  That and a flood of people signing up for summer reading have been severely limiting my time to write reviews.  I hope to be back writing soon – my to-be-reviewed list is getting really long.  And, if you’re able, come say “hi” in Detroit!

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Top 10 Books on My Want-to-Read List for the Second Half of 2017

Once again, the folks at the Broke and the Bookish say it’s time for me (and the rest of their groupies) to plan out our reading for the second half of the year.  I will not complain about planning ahead for once.

Top Ten Tuesday

But first – how did I do with my plans for the first half of the year?  Let’s see.  I’ve read seven of the 14 (hmm, how about that counting to ten?) books on my anticipated books for the first half of 2017.  I have two more checked out, and two aren’t available yet – Stephanie Burgis’s Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is officially out in the U.S. (hooray!!!), but not yet at my library.  Cindy Pon’s Want is out June 13.  That leaves just two I haven’t yet read.  I’m feeling OK with that.

Going back a little further and peeking at the books I missed in 2016 – well, OK, not doing so well with that one.   I’ve read four of those books, and have a fifth checked out.  But – we will not let the impossibility of reading all the books deter us!  Onward to see what is coming up next!  All but a few of these are happily anticipated sequels

The Emperor of Mars by Patrick Samphire – July 18 – (middle grade) – sequel to the very fun Secrets of the Dragon Tomb

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh (middle grade) – July 25 – We Need Diverse Book founder with a creepy middle grade thriller – I’ve got to try it!

The Silver Mask. Magesterium Book 4 by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare – August 29 –  (middle grade) – I couldn’t even review The Bronze Key last year because of the horrendous cliffhanger ending, but I still need to find out what happens next.

Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older – September 12 – (YA) – I’ve read Shadowshaper twice and am so excited for more with Sierra.

The Daybreak Bond by Megan Frazer Blakemore – September 12 – (middle grade) – sequel to The Firefly Code

The Empty Grave. Lockwood & Co Book 5 by Jonathan Stroud – September 12 -(middle grade) – I just keep coming back for more!  Start with The Screaming Staircase if you’ve missed these series.

Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste – September 19 -(middle grade) – sequel to The Jumbies.

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor – October 3 – (YA) Akata Witch was a while ago… so glad to see a sequel!

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford – October 3 – (middle grade) – sequel to Greenglass House, at last.

The Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston – October 3 – (YA) – any E.K. Johnston is one I want to read.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao – October 10 – (YA) – a happy discovery from other TTT – this sounds intriguing.

Winter of Ice and Iron by Rachel Neumeier – November 21 – (adult) – New Rachel Neumeier!  Happy Dance!

So September 12 and October 3.  Why, publishers, why?

What are you looking forward to?

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Juana & Lucas

I first took this book home because it was a Cybils Early Chapter Book finalist, but it went on to win a Pura Belpré Author Award.

Juana & Lucas by Juana MedinaJuana & Lucas by Juana Medina. Candlewick Press, 2016
Juana lives in Bogotá, Columbia and is very happy with her life there.  She is of energy and joie de vivre as she describes her dog, her mother, her friends and the trials of school.  Full-color, full-page pictures of the most important characters (including of course her dog Lucas) But her overall enthusiasm falters in the face of English class. Why should she suffer to learn English when Spanish is so much simpler and makes so much more sense?  Cheerfulness returns when her abuelos provide dream-come-true motivation (which I am not sharing to avoid spoilers).  The chapters are short, the illustrations child-like and plentiful, the action and humor both high – all of it perfect for the early elementary school kid.

I remember how difficult it was for me as a child to wrap my brains around the concept of people finding their own native languages easier than mine – but such a perspective is so very important.  Here, it’s shown through the eyes of a dog- and soccer-loving girl of contagious exuberance.  My daughter opened first to the diagrams and decided that it was boring.  The text, a little smaller than she’s used to, probably didn’t help. But a readaloud from Grandma, who once lived in Bogotá herself, changed her mind.  After that, she read it to herself at least three times.  I very much enjoyed it myself, and look forward to recommending it to many more young readers.  I note that the Booklist review says this is the start of a new series, and I certainly hope it is.

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The Sun is Also a Star

My memory is a little fuzzy as to why I picked this up – but I am a sucker for a good teen romance, and this adds to my #OwnVoices goals as well.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola YoonThe Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. Read by Bahni Turpin and Raymond Lee with Dominic Hoffman. Listening Library, 2016.

17-year-old Natasha is about to be deported to Jamaica due to a stupid mistake her father made.  She’s fighting as hard as she can, visiting the INS daily and hoping desperately that her plans attend college in the US will work out.

Daniel, a first-generation Korean-American, is kind of numbly going along with his parents’ plan for him to go to Yale, which they call “second best school.”  A series of events including a cult-crazed train driver end with him seeing Natasha, her Afro lit up like a halo, looking like a message from God. He knows it’s crazy, but he falls for her instantly.

Natasha, on the other hand, is a scientist.  She’s pretty dubious on romantic love as anything but brain chemistry, and she certainly doesn’t believe that Daniel can have developed real feelings for her so quickly.  Daniel, though, is able to recall a study that produced romantic feelings in people.  What with the out-of-reality nature of the day for both of them, he’s able to convince her to try and see if he can make her fall in love…

In between alternating points of view of the two characters (narrated by Bahni Turpin and Raymond Lee) a narrator who sounds like an older white man gives background information on things that come up in the story, like the politics of Black hair or the changing meaning of Jamaican slang words.

Normally I don’t like insta-love and I don’t like tragic, and this story could have been both.  The romance angle worked for me, though, in part because both teens recognized how improbable it was, and in part because Daniel is initially attracted to Natasha not by her amazing figure or some such, but by the words on her jacket and how clearly passionate she is about the music she’s listening to.  The ending, too, stays hopeful, with a message that a relationship can be transformative even if it can’t be permanent.  In between was a compelling look at two appealing characters, with thoughts on how children are affected by their parents choices.

This pairs obviously with Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.  Bahni Turpin seems to be the go-to narrator for African-American girl characters.  I’ve also enjoyed her work on The Mighty Miss Malone and The True Meaning of Smekday, and am currently listening to The Hate U Give, also narrated by her.

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Short Takes: House of Shadows, Girl Who Drank the Moon, Furthermore

Every so often, I realize that I am reading faster than I can write reviews.  Time passes, my friends, and I cannot seem to make more of it no matter how hard I try.   So here is an exercise in brevity in the interests of catching up.

House of Shadows by Rachel NeumeierHouse of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier. Orbit, 2012
I cheerfully purchased this backlist title by Rachel Neumeier at Kidlitcon on Charlotte’s recommendation.  I believe it’s published for adults, though it feels like it would work fine for teens as well.  Continue reading

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Gemina

Not only did I enjoy Illuminae myself, but it accomplished a near miracle, which is getting my son who will normally read only graphic novels and audiobooks for pleasure to read it to himself.  All 599 pages.  I might have mentioned this before, but it is pretty miraculous in my universe.  Miraculous enough that I went on to read Gemina right away, so I could screen it before he got to it.  Plus, I’d heard this book was even better.

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffGemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Illustrated by Marie Lu. Random House Teens, 2016.

Gemina is set in the same world as Illuminae, in the jump station the beleaguered ships of that book are heading for.  It has therefore a new cast of characters, with only some brief appearances by Kady.

Our heroine is Hanna Donnelly, the blond and blue-eyed captain’s daughter.  She’s fond of using her journal to draw pictures of her boyfriend, junior officer Jackson Merrick.  (Actually drawn by Marie Lu.)  She also has a black belt and a strong background in strategy, thanks to her father.  Unknown to him, her celebrations with her friend include using illegal “dust”, a powerful hallucinogen.

That dust is provided to her by Nik Malikov, secretly on board with some of his Russian mafia family members.  Hanna makes it clear that his crush on her is hopeless, but that doesn’t keep him from flirting with her with every text.  She doesn’t really want to know the history behind his tattoos, or where the dust actually comes from…

Because it turns out that dust production is disgusting, and involves eel-like parasites called lamia, whose skin coating will make you think you’re seeing God as they invade your brain. Nik’s family is raising them in cows in a disused hold of the ship.

Hanna may be getting ready for the big Earth Day party, but regular countdown pages let us know that both the Hypatia and an assault fleet are on the way.  A hole with an increasingly large dark stain in the corner of her journal is ominous as well.  We know the Beitech Corporation doesn’t want any word of its nefarious actions in the first book to get out.

When things start going very far south, very quickly – add an attack squad to the lamia, an earworm in all the station’s speakers, and a defective wormhole – it’s up to Hanna and Nik to save the day, with help from Nik’s whip-smart wheelchair-bound younger cousin Ella, as well as Isaac Grant, a rare capable adult.

This is another fast-paced sci-fi thriller with aspects to appeal to just about everyone able to put up with the high amounts of violence. The characters are even better rounded out here, I thought, the plot twistier, and the creative premise of Illuminae brought to even higher levels.  There’s plenty of room for a third book here, and I will happily read it when it comes out.

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Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

This book was recommended to me by so many people I trust, including Maureen at By Singing Light, the Book Smugglers and Fangirl Happy Hour  that I finally took the radical step of getting it through interlibrary loan, even though neither of my regular libraries owns it.  (It won lots of awards, too, though I place less weight on awards than on people whose taste I know is similar to mine.)

bintiBinti by Nnedi Okorafor. Tor, 2015.
Binti is setting off in the dead of night to go away to university.  She’s part of a rural minority African culture, the Himba, and her family doesn’t understand why she would feel the need to go to university at all, let alone university off planet.  One of the most notable features of their culture from the outside is that they all cover their skin and hair with a mix of special oil and the red clay of their homeland, reinforcing their connection to their land and home.  This tradition will be challenging for Binti to continue in space, obviously, and also marks her as decidedly different from the other people of the majority culture on the transport to the university.  But this already challenging journey changes abruptly when the transport is attacked by the alien Meduse, historical enemies of the majority population on the transport. Now Binti’s abilities, including her love for math and engineering, as well as her ability to communicate between cultures, are the only thing keeping her alive.

This novella is short enough to read in an evening, but packed with thought-provoking ideas, as well as characters we get to know surprisingly well in the short time span.  The Himba culture described is real, though I’d never heard of it before, which is suddenly striking to me when juxtaposed with the ideas of space transports and large residential stations in outer space, an idea that’s less real and more familiar.  (OK, I know there’s an international space station, but it only has humans, and we don’t send our talented young people off to it for university.)  Still, this is more a book about what makes home, about maintaining connection to your culture when you’re away from it, and about diplomacy and finding ways to cross large divides. Also, I really enjoyed spending some time getting to know Binti herself.

I can also heartily recommend two of Nnedi Okorafor’s other books (written for a teen or upper middle grade audience), Akata Witch and Zahrah the Windseeker. The difficulty of communicating with very alien species as found in Binti remind me of the middle grade duology Ambassador and Nomad by William Alexander.

Now I just need to make some room in my schedule to read Binti:Home.

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Asian-American Graphic Novels 2

Three years ago, I did a display in the library and a post here about Asian-American Graphic Novels.  This year felt like time for an update!  Just a few notes – this list was originally started around a core bibliography put together by Dr. Stephen Hong Sohn, now of UC Riverside, with his permission.  I’ve added more titles that have come out, after removing books that weren’t at my library.  There’s also a nice list at the Harris County Public Library, for those who are interested in more.  And, if you’ve read of generally available graphic novels by Asian-American authors that I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments!
Continue reading

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A Face like Glass by Frances Hardinge

This was a book that I had been waiting for five years to be published in the US, and had hoped in vain that some family member would buy for me from the UK.  I had already read and enjoyed Cuckoo Song, Fly by Night and Fly TrapIt was already on my list of the top 10 books I wanted to read for the first half of the year, when the publisher very kindly offered to send me a copy.  After all that, I was a little worried that this book wouldn’t live up to the hype.

A Face like Glass by Frances HardingeA Face like Glass by Frances Hardinge.  Amulet Books, 2017. Originally published in the UK Macmillian, 2012.

Welcome to Caverna, the huge and ever-expanding underground city ruled by artisan politicians.  Here you will find cheeses that will give you visions, wines that can erase or give back memories, puddings filled with the songs of a hundred birds…

In a secret passage in his own cheesemaking stronghold some years ago, Master Grandible the cheesemaker found a small girl floating face down in the curds.  Seven years later, Neverfell has grown into a quite useful apprentice, good at designing devices to make the work easier.  She always has to wear a mask when others come to the door, however.  As the story opens, she learns that it’s not because she’s ugly but because instead of showing only a carefully learned Face appropriate to the situation, her face shows an ever-shifting array of expressions that (very uncomfortably for people used to such things) reveal everything she is thinking and feeling at the moment.

The lowest ranks of society learn only a few Faces – calm acceptance, eagerness to take orders – while the upper class will be trained in hundreds, and those at the very top will commission Facesmiths to design expressions especially for them.  It is in the workshop of one of the most famous of Facesmiths that Neverfell finds herself after a complicated train of events beginning with a runaway rabbit.  Madame Appeline has green eyes like Neverfell’s own, and a kindly expression that reminds Neverfell of the mother she can’t quite remember. She can’t quite believe the words of her only friend her age, the delivery boy Erstwhile, who told her that no one in the Court can be trusted, least of the Facesmiths, who know best of all how to craft an expression and when to use it.

Soon Neverfell has captured the attention of the whole Court, including both that of the Grand Steward and the Kleptomancer.  She may be innocent, but she will have to pick things up very quickly if she’s to come away with her life.  These words are spoken to a girl Neverfell meets outside Madame Appeline’s, and apply just as much to Neverfell as they do to Zouelle:

“You decided that you were ready to start meddling in the Great Game. I really hope you were right, Zouelle, because once you start playing it you can never leave.

You are in the game now, my dear. There is no going back.” (p 102)

 This book absolutely delivered, with a twisty and fast-moving plot, delicious writing, detailed and carefully thought-out world-building  that with details like living lights, that feed off of grubs and carbon dioxide, and serious looks at the hazards of living underground.  And the characters!  Neverfell, not sure where she belongs, trying so hard and needing to grow so quickly!  And Erstwhile and Zouelle, both in tightly defined roles on opposite ends of the social spectrum, questioning those roles for the first time.

There was a discussion at Charlotte’s Library not too long ago on what makes a middle grade book appealing to adults.  That’s a tricky question – but this book has it.  A kid protagonist with concerns that are relevant to kids and with enough action and humor to hold their attention, but at the same time the complexity and high stakes that make a book that’s good for adults as well.  I’m now facing the painful decision of whether to keep this book, which I’ve waited for so long and now adore, or to donate it to my children’s school library, always in need of good recent books.

I’ll leave you with one final quote from later in the book – out of context to minimize spoilers:

“He felt like a chess master who, two moves from achieving checkmate, suddenly sees a live kitten dropped into the middle of the board, scattering pieces.” (p 469)

A Face like Glass comes out May 9.

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March. Book Three

March Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate PowellMarch Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. Top Shelf, 2016.
This is the third and final book in Congressman John Lewis’s graphic memoir about his time in the Civil Rights Movement, following March Book One and March Book Two.  Though the whole series is framed by Senator Lewis preparing for President Obama’s inauguration, this book opens wrenchingly with the bombing of the 16th St Baptist Church in 1963 and the wave of violence the surrounded it.  So much violence.  It’s a good thing the art is in black and white or it would be unbearable.  Despite all of this, the SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee works on to secure African-Americans the right to vote, even as it deals with both inner conflicts and differences of opinion between it and the NAACP.  The story culminates with the march from Selma to Montgomery,

As with the earlier books, Lewis is working right with the greats of all the organizations, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a chance meeting in Africa with Malcolm X.  It also includes portraits of people I hadn’t heard of before.  I fell in love with Fannie Lou Hamer, who was fired from her job when she tried to register to vote and went to work full-time for voting rights instead.  Her pictured conversation with a senator who considered himself a strong supporter but whom she considered weak is priceless.

The illustrations look to me like ink with gray scale watercolor fill – though I am not an artist and could be wrong on that.  True confession time: my eyes will often glaze over in mostly-male movies because everyone starts to look alike to me.  Here, besides capturing the times and the expressions, Nate Powell does a really good job drawing the mostly male characters so that they don’t all blur together.  So very important and helpful in a book like this!

I read the first two books during the Obama presidency, and it was both shocking and heartbreaking how different it felt reading the frame of his inauguration now that the administration is so different.  Then, it seemed like the Civil Rights Movement was a struggle, but one that made great progress, that even if we haven’t quite made it to equality, we were on the way.  Now it feels more like we need to learn from the past not just to remember but to remember how to fight that fight.  And those of us in the majority need to remember (paraphrasing from a training in the book) that we’re fighting not just to help the oppressed, but because none of us are free as long as any citizen is prevented from voting or from having their vote fully counted.

This book won All the Awards this year, and deservedly so.  Really everyone over the age of about twelve needs to read this series.

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