This is a Top Ten Tuesday post, hosted by the great blog, The Broke and the Bookish.
The theme this week is "Books that Feature Diversity." This could mean so many things, and at first I generated a list of a few dozen. I finally decided to keep my focus on cultural diversity. Teaching ELD (English Language Diversity, aka ESL) for fifteen years, I developed a habit of looking for books that would either let my students see themselves reflected, or let them see that white people aren't the only ones worth writing stories about. If a future top ten concept doesn't work for me, I may be back with books that feature other types of diversity.
In no particular order:
1. Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero.
Gabi is a bright Latina high school senior with a drug addict dad, pregnant best friend, and a gay other-best-friend. So in terms of diversity, many bases are covered. I love Gabi's voice, and highly recommend this book.
2. Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Pena.
This book speaks to so many of my students. Danny is half Mexican, half white. He's grown up mostly in an upper class Anglo environment, but is spending a summer with his dad, in the barrio. This is one of those books I can sell to a certain type of student by saying, "Well, it has some cussing and other kind of inappropriate stuff. Do you think you can handle that?" Like Gabi, it captures the way teenagers actually talk to each other.
3. The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child by Francisco Jimenez.
The first book in a autobiographical trilogy, written as a set of specific memories rather than a continuous flow. If my students relate to the characters from the previous two books, this book gives them the story of their parents and grandparents. I've had many students tell me that they have a whole new respect and understanding for their families after reading these. In deceptively simple, straightforward language, Jimenez brings his memories to life, and illustrates themes of poverty, family, perseverance, and his thirst for education.
4. The Boys from Little Mexico: A Season Chasing the American Dream by Steve Wilson.
Woodburn, Oregon, aka Little Mexico due to its large immigrant population, is two towns over from the town where I taught ESL for a decade. The school's soccer team is 100% Latino, and makes it to the state championship year after year, only to lose to one of the wealthy, suburban high schools. Sportswriter Steve Wilson spent a year with the team, and the book he wrote is more about the boys and their lives than about soccer. I first heard about this book when I took a summer course with the team's coach, who is also an English teacher.
5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
What can I say about this book that hasn't been said already? It is heavily illustrated with comics, like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, but is nothing like it in terms of story. It is hilarious and heart-breaking. Like Danny in Mexican WhiteBoy, Junior is caught between two cultures. He doesn't fit in on the rez, and he doesn't fit in at the white in-town high school he decides to attend. Also, as with MWB, I can get tough guys to read it by warning them that it contains inappropriate language and content. (It's been banned in various districts because Junior admits both to masturbating and to getting an erection while slow dancing with his crush. Obviously, no middle schooler would ever realize either of those things were possible if they didn't read about them in a book.) (That was sarcasm.)
6. Winterkill by Craig Lesley.
This one isn't a YA book, although older teens would certainly enjoy it. Lesley and Alexie together form my education about the native Americans in my region. I enjoyed all of Lesley's books, but Winterkill is really great. Danny Kachiah is a Nez Perce Indian, a rodeo rider who travels around Oregon and Idaho. When his ex-wife dies in a car wreck, Danny becomes responsible for his son Jack. He tries to pass on the good from his own father, Red Shirt, while leaving the bad behind.
Another one that isn't written as YA, but is accessible to older teens. Like many, I went through a huge Toni Morrison/Alice Walker stage in the mid-80s. This title has always stood out to me as my favorite. Covering the 1930s to 1960s, this novel shines with magical realism and bleeds with the horrors of racism in America.
Nighjohn by Gary Paulsen.
A colleague of mine calls Paulsen "the Hemingway of kidlit." I have taught this book a half dozen times in my sixteen years of teaching. It is short, violent, and ultimately hopeful. It's also pro-education. What's not to love? The story is told from the point of view of Sarny, a slave girl, shortly before the Civil War. I usually read it aloud, as Paulsen writes in Sarny's vernacular, which can be off-putting for students on the page, but is easy to follow orally. He pulls no punches, and specifies at the beginning of the book that while he made up the characters and situations, every horror he describes is something that has been documented as being done to slaves in that era.
9. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. This graphic novel begins another autobiographical trilogy. Satrapi was born in the Shah's Iran, and the Islamic Revolution took place when she was a young girl, changing the trajectory of her life. Her parents are Marxists, with views in direct opposition to the new regime's. Satrapi and I are about the same age, but I am embarrassed to say how little I knew about what was going on in her country during our youth. These books balance the personal and the political, while still creating a sense of plot out of the randomness that is real life.
I've read this picture book to 7th and 8th graders many times. Say uses his grandfather's travels between Japan and California to perfecly illuminate what it means to be bicultural, and to have your heart in two homes. The watercolor illustrations are gorgeous.