Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January in Review

My Reading

# of books read: 19
Best(s): Night of Cake and Puppets, Steel Seraglio, Revolver, Akata Witch

Easy Challenges: all 17 worked for Beat the Backlist; and 13 for Library Love
Challenging Challenges:

Bookish Events and Happenings

Well, let's see. Here I am at a reading retreat. During summer of 2016 I came down to the coast for four days for a writing retreat, and it was so amazing and wonderful and fun. The same organizers have added a "book club" retreat this year. I thought how wonderful it sounded, but dismissed the possibility. Then I found out The Winemaker is leaving town for close to two weeks in March, and I thought--hey, maybe I should find out about this four day retreat! And it turned out it was coming up in two weeks, and it turned out they had some extra room, and it turned out they offered me a scholarship, and BOOM, I had just enough time to burn through two of the three books (the third one being one I'd already read) and make some plans, and now here I am:

We read Glass Castle, This is Where I Leave You, and Steel Seraglio. The first two have movie adaptations, so we're discussing in the afternoon and watching the movie in the evening, then we'll discuss the third one Sunday morning before breaking up. Our discussion guide is a professor at a small local college, and she is really getting us to think and reflect as we discuss. Plus, they cook amazing food for us, and as a side bonus, most of the other participants are also adoptive parents, so we have that to bond over and discuss as well. 

If it sounds interesting, definitely look into it. Both retreats have had people flying in from around the country, as well as plenty of Oregonians. 

Oh, and if you haven't seen the Trevor Noah interview with Jason Reynolds, check that out too.

On the Blog

This is my 17th post this month, which is a big jump from my norm. It's partly because I took an unplanned hiatus in December, and am feeling motivated and energized again. It's also because I got a bee in my bonnet on MLK Day and spent the rest of that week posting lists of books that I believe honor his spirit and message. The last one is here, and it links to all the others. I posted two actual reviews (go me!), for Akata Witch and Night of Cake and Puppets


Did I mention that I'm at a reading retreat?  😀 😀 😀

It's rained a bunch, but we've not had the crazy winter other parts of the country have, or that we had last year. I tried Stitch Fix for the first time, and sent everything back. One of my kids switched schools, and it's going okay? Sort of? There's not really much to report this month.

We usually start seeing some early flowers in February here, which is something to look forward to for sure!

My monthly summaries are always linked to the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up on Feed Your Fiction Addiction, along with many other terrific blogs' monthly reflections.  Nicole usually puts together a fun scavenger hunt giveaway too, so go check it out!

Monday, January 29, 2018

TTT: I Can't Believe I Read That When I Was That Young!

With the delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish moving on to other things, TTT is now hosted by just one of their contingent, That Artsy Reader Girl .  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check it out!

The topic this week is Books I Can’t Believe I Read

to which I am adding "when I was that young."

1. Clan of the Cave Bear and its even racier sequels, when I was in middle school. SO educational.

2. Watership Down in second grade. My older sister, a freshman in college, got it for Christmas the year it came out, and I read it first, which really annoyed her. Which, of course, I loved.

3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest sometime in late elementary or early middle school. The same sister had a copy in her closet, and I was fascinated by the story, in part because our mom did a rotation at that mental hospital when she was in nurse's training, and she said it was pretty accurate to the conditions in the 1950s.

4. Oliver Twist was my first Dickens. The SAME SISTER started reading it to me during an ice storm that knocked power out for a week during fifth grade, and I loved it.

5. Then when I had appendicitis in sixth grade, she brought me some Agatha Christie in the hospital, and I spent the rest of middle school with Poirot and Miss Marple as my steady companions.

Basically, I owe it all to my sister, Peg.  Thanks, Peg!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

MIrrors, but also Aspirations

The first time I had an openly gay co-worker was in 1986. I was a senior in high school, and I got a job at a one-hour photo shop downtown. (Google it if you don't know what that is, young'uns.) Alan was probably in his 40's, living with a 20-something Filipino man. He was friendly with his ex-wife, although she had allegedly told him it would have been easier if he'd left her for another woman. Some years later I heard through the grapevine that he'd died of AIDS. His story is perhaps not very remarkable for a gay white man born in the 1940s and 50s.

I have, of course, known many GLBQT people since then. I obviously knew some before then too, I just wasn't aware of it. It's hard to remember how very closeted people were, not all that long ago. But here's the thing:

I have been employed steadily since that time, and I still haven't had another out GLBQT co-worker.


In over 30 years.

I work in education, you see, and that offensive and  ridiculous association between homosexuality and pedophilia keeps everyone afraid.

One of my colleagues at my first US teaching job (1998-2008) hosted the annual end-of-year party at the home she shared with her female "roommate." It wasn't a secret, but neither was it ever discussed, or mentioned in front of students. Another colleague in the same era had a reputation as a heart-breaker and partier. He socialized with many of our colleagues, was friends with them. But he never told anyone he was gay. I only found out because he ended up rooming with a friend of mine, and even then, she had to reassure him ahead of time that a) I wouldn't mind and b) I wouldn't gossip. 

In my current district, I've had one co-worker who was fully out to her colleagues, but employed a sort of don't-ask don't-tell policy with her students. After several years, she decided to post a picture of her girlfriend near her desk, and to not deny her sexuality if a student asked her flat-out. The next year she moved to a more urban school district, and while she struggled with various aspects of a new job, she reported her sense of relief at being fully, matter-of-factly out. But in our small town district, she doesn't know if she would have ever been comfortable with it.

This is appalling. Obviously, the fact that so many GLBQT educators feel a need to hide an important element of who they are is upsetting. I can't imagine going to work every day and basically pretending my husband doesn't exist. But as a teacher and parent, I'm also horrified to think of all the GLBQT students who are missing out on SEEING THEMSELVES, on seeing successful adults who share an identity with them. Then there are all the straight kids who would benefit from getting to know and respect adults who don't identify as heterosexual.

The onus, obviously, is not on GLBQT teachers to out themselves for the benefit of their students. The responsibility lies with colleagues, administration, school districts, and communities to make it safe for teachers to simply be who they are.

I make a point of bringing books into my classroom library that center the experience of all types of people. I want my students to find themselves in literature. But don't we all also deserve to see who we could become? Until (and, of course, even after) schools become a safer place for GLBQT adults, here are some YA books that feature amazing grown-ups who just happen to not be straight.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life Benjamin Alire Saenz wrote beautifully about two gay boys in the 1980s in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. In this book, the main character is straight, but both his dad and one of his good friends are not. Sal's dad is one of the great parents in literature, like Atticus Finch without the racist sequel. He has so much to teach his son (and his son's friends) about life and love and how to be human.

The Upside of Unrequited Becky Albertalli's second book (why do people always say "sophomore" for artists' second published work? It's not a four year institution. If they write 8 books, is the ninth one their PhD book?) Again, this book has a straight main character with GLBQT parents and supporting characters. Mona's lesbian moms are completely adorable, and the background recognition of changes in marriage equality is just lovely.

The War that Saved My Life This one is trickier to hail as an example of positive adult role models who are GLBQT, because Susan's lesbianism is only implied (pretty sure it counts as canonical though). But it is also set in the middle of WWII, and the fact that the neighbors all know she is still mourning the death of her special friend, and don't seem to gossip about her or shun her makes it as open as it could be in those days. And her ability to mother two abused children who are foisted upon her, despite a certain innate prickliness, is lovely.

I am disappointed with how quickly I ran out of books that fit this category. Please share other examples in the comments!

(Linking up with the Discussion Challenge hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts at Midnight.)

Monday, January 22, 2018

TTT: I Love You, But I Don't Remember Why

With the delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish moving on to other things, TTT is now hosted by just one of their contingent, That Artsy Reader Girl .  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check it out!

The topic this week is  Books I Really Liked but Can’t Remember Anything/Much About

Oof. This is, like, all the books? Except the ones I read over and over as a child. And the one I finished yesterday. Otherwise, this is the downfall of being a fast reader.

Here's how we're going to play: I'm going to go look at all of my five star books on Goodreads. The first ten that I really don't remember anything significant about will make it to this list. Ready?

1. Song of Solomon. I just featured this on my MLK week list as one of my favorite novels by an author of color. I know I loved this book in college, but c'mon, my class had its 25th reunion recently. 

2. Graceling I love this book and series. The only thing I really remember is the first scene and some of the journey over the mountain. Sounds like a good candidate for a re-read.

3. The Monkey Wrench Gang I was a big Abbey fan back in the day, starting with this book. I'm pretty sure the objectification of women would bother me even more now, but I don't know for sure, because I don't really remember it. 

4. The Sparrow Space travel and religion. That's all I've got.

5. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay I read this tome for a book club I used to be in (before kids). I didn't know what to expect, but I loved it. There were comic books. And some post-war Jewish immigrant stuff. 

6. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting I remember the experience of reading this book, and I remember a scene in which a young wife wore only pearls, but that is it. I felt so worldly at 20, reading a racy book set in a socialist society, written by the poet king of the Czech Republic.  Well, poet-president anyway.

7. Good Omens Apparently this is my favorite Neil Gaiman book. And I love Terry Pratchett's writing and humor as well. Now if I just had the slightest idea what it was about...

8. The Golden Compass I read the series when it first came out, which is to say that like HP, I read it first as an adult. And loved it. And remember very little other than it helped me finally understand what "steampunk" means and they have animals that are sort of like familiars, or like their external souls. 

9. Vicious Like many of you, I love All Things Schwab. But her books are such page-turners that when it's all over, it doesn't take long for me to forget the actual plot. The upside is, I'd "have" to re-read this before tackling the sequel.

10.The Once and Future King Who knows when I read this? After I saw The Sword and the Stone, and before I read H is for Hawk, both of which draw from this classic in very different ways. I know I loved it, but that it also sowed a lifelong distrust of King Arthur stories. Always with the tragic ending. 

What I found most interesting about this process is looking at the books I do remember a fair amount about, compared to these. As I assumed, books I read as a kid are easier for me to remember, because if I liked a book at all, I would re-read it several times. Books I read for classes, or even book club books, stuck with me. Processing them and discussing them made books from Great Expectations to The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down have certain aspects imprinted in my brain because of conversations I had, and ways other people prodded me to think carefully about the book. (Apparently we didn't have much conversation about Kavalier and Clay.) 

Books I wrote actual reviews for also qualify for this. Finally, any book I've read out loud, whether to my classes or my children, is easier to remember in detail. I definitely get much more from a book with the process of reading it out loud, often repeating sections multiple times a day. I notice more of the author's craft than I normally do, and certain passages start to sing. And then, obviously, I remember more of the books I've read more recently. At least half of these are books I read more than a decade ago.

Even though I can't tell you exactly why, I highly recommend all of the above books!

While you're here, would you be so kind as to click over to this survey and tell me which authors I should feature on my classroom cabinets instead of the all white middle class authors and all white middle class characters I have up now? We're making the world a tiny bit better!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

MLK Week: Why Haven't I Read These Yet?

In honor of Dr. King's birthday earlier this week, I made a bunch of book lists.  Every day all week I posted a new list of books related to race in America, mostly  YA and MG fiction, mostly backlist, and mostly looking at the black/white issue. Tuesday I shared YA titles that deal with life as an African American teen in today's United States. Wednesday I put together a list of historical fiction for MG readers. Thursday I talked about some 20th century classics and pop fiction novels. Friday I listed some terrific African American poets. Then I put together a survey asking you to vote on some authors I should feature in my classroom displays. 

For my grand finale, I'm going to fangirl about:

Books I Haven't Read Yet But I Really, Really, Really Want To

You've read all of Kwame Alexander's and Jason Reynold's oeuvres.  You've been following along all week, wondering, "But why hasn't she mentioned___ yet?"  You are woke to the infinite degree and would like some NEW titles, not these ancient ones. You got money for your birthday yesterday and want to spend it on books by authors of colors. Have I got some suggestions for YOU--and ME!  Prepare for some caps locks and excessive exclamation points as I share how eager I am to get to these books.

Solo by Kwame Alexander.  Why haven't I read it yet? I bought it the first time I saw it. I love his work. I saw him in person a few years ago, and was blown away by his wit, use of language, and heart. It's a novel in verse, so even though it LOOKS big, it would be a quick read. WHY, Wendy, why?

As Brave As You, Patina, and The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds. Reynolds is another author whose entire body of work I'd like to read. Two of those books are in my classroom library. NO EXCUSES. Time to read them.

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson. I really liked This Side of Home, and I'm excited to read the next one. As a Portlander, I LOVE the cover! And again, I have not one but TWO copies of this in my classroom library. So I should read it already!

Little Green, Rose Gold, and Charcoal Joe by Walter Mosley. I stopped reading the Easy Rawlins series after Blonde Faith, which ended with the presumed death of the protagonist. I didn't realize that six years later, Mosley took up the series again, so now I'm three books behind. 

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor. I loved the first book in ths middle grade fantasy series set in Nigeria. The author is Nigerian born and US raised, and her protagonist is US born and raised for part of her childhood before returning to her family's homeland of NIgeria. So I count this as African American #ownvoices writing, but it's set in a very different and fully realized setting.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone. I know, I even name-checked this one in my intro post, and I have it sitting on the end table at home, but I haven't had a chance to dive into it yet. I've heard it's a great choice for First Chapter Friday, and when I start that in two weeks, there's a good chance I'll want to keep going if no kid grabs it.

X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Maggon. I almost started to read this last summer. It's still on my bedside table. STOP STALLING, FALCONER!

X is based on Malcom X's early life. I'm going to go from there with some straight-up nonfiction I really need to get to.

They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of An American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Baroletti. The title makes it clear this will be no "fine people on both sides" dismissal of evil. Um, if a white author writes about the KKK, does that make it #ownvoices?  I guess that would actually be a horrific insult to her. 

Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge. I've had this in my classroom library for a couple of years, and it looks like a wonderful, primary source rich work of narrative nonfiction. So, maybe I should JUST READ IT ALREADY?!?

Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice by Phillip Hoose. This biography of a teenaged girl who was ridiculed and harassed for doing what Rosa Parks would do a short time later sounds fantastic. I'm hoping for something as moving as Ruby Bridge's MG memoir, Through My Eyes.

We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March by Cynthia Levinson Cynthia Skyped with one of my classes last year, and she's done a lot of research and has a lot of passion about history and how it affects our society today. 

From YA/MG nonfiction to a couple of adult nonfiction books I've been meaning to read FOR-EFFING-EVER.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Slacks by Rebecca Skloot. Goodreads tells me I put it on my TBR in November. Of 2014. Ridiculous.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.  It's a classic. I've never read it. I'm pathetic.

Finally, a couple of professional books I'd like to read, even though during the average school year I teach one black and two biracial children. Lisa Delpit's Other People's Children and Beverly Daniel Tatum's Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria taught me a lot about teaching kids of color, even if my population is much more Latino than black, so I know these books would strengthen my ability to teach without with less bias. 

Multiplication is for White People Lisa Delpit's newer title digs into what happens to create the so-called "achievement gap" in schools. 

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood and The Rest of Y'all Too by Christopher Emdin. This was the book everyone was talking about last year, but I never got a chance to read it. 


Thanks for hanging out with me this week while I talk up books that support the dream Martin Luther King shared with us. It's more complicated than we ever knew--well, at least growing up white in the 1980s, ending racism seemed imminent, and now I understand how deeply entrenched it is, both in all of us as individuals and in our society as a whole. It's definitely a case where (again, speaking as a white woman), the more you learn, the more ignorant you realize you are. I was motivated this week to take down and change a classroom display that was full of implicit bias, and you still have time to VOTE on which authors I should feature instead.  Please do!

Friday, January 19, 2018

SURVEY!! Who to Feature?

Working on the reading lists I posted all week in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday made me stop and reflect a bit about my reading habits, my teaching, and the classroom environment my students walk into every day.

I've taught maybe a dozen black and biracial black/white kids during my twenty years of teaching, a mix of immigrants and African Americans, but I've taught hundreds and hundreds of Latinx kids. When I look around my classroom, I see a lot of books with non-white characters and stories, and I think I've done a good job at highlighting those books in my displays and teaching. 

However, I have these laminated posters on a row of cabinets. They are freebies I picked up from a display coming down at the local rec center. All are books I love, books I consider classics, books I think all kids should read. But check it out:

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryHarry PotterThe Secret GardenHarriet the SpyThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Charlotte's Web. Do you notice anything off about this?  After all the reading and thinking I've done about diversity, own voices, and books as both windows and mirrors, I can't in good conscience leave this display as is.  I put my money into books, not posters, so I can't come up with anything this fancy to replace them, but I can shell out six bucks for the color printer this weekend and highlight authors and books that better reflect my classroom. 

As part of my bulletin board outside my classroom I feature Matt de la Peña (Mexican American), Meg Medina (Cuban American), Gary Paulsen (raised in poverty by alcoholics), Julie Murphy (fat and bi representation), Sharon M. Draper (African American) and Thanhha Lai (Vietnamese American). I don't need to repeat them inside the room (though I kind of want a de la Peña shrine, TBH).

Now I have to make some hard choices. I want equal representation between female-identified and male-identified authors. I want to be sure to include Latinx authors, since between 52% and 90% of each of my classes is Latinx. I'd like to include GLBQT authors.  Ideally, the authors would be a) alive, b) writing books my students actually read, and c) quality role models as human being as well as being great authors. Bonus points for being prolific and for being local (in this case, that means Renée Watson and April Henry).  I only have six cabinets, although now that I think about it, I could put them on the six lower cabinet doors as well. One thing at a time though--for now, please vote on the six total that you think I should feature.  Runners-up will go up next. 

Thanks for voting! 

MLK Week: Black American Poets I Love

In honor of Dr. King's birthday earlier this week, I'm making book lists.  Tune in every day all week for a new list of books related to race in America, mostly  YA and MG fiction, mostly backlist, and mostly looking at the black/white issue. Tuesday I shared YA titles that deal with life as an African American teen in today's United States. Wednesday I put together a list of historical fiction for MG readers. Yesterday I shared some 20th century classics and pop fiction novels. Today we're on to:

African American Poets of Note

You were blown away by Kwame Alexander's The Crossover. You occasionally dabble in some Mary Oliver or Billy Collins, or go old school with Robert Frost and e. e. cummings. You know that one Gwendolyn Brooks poem ("We real cool...") and a few pieces of Langston Hughes, but you realize African American poets probably have more to say than that. Have I got some poets for YOU!

Langston Hughes--yep, he's the obvious one, but did you know "What Happens to a Dream Deferred" is actually part of a whole jazzy poem cycle? I didn't. 

Gwendolyn Brooks has a lot of great poems you might not know too.  I just read one about abortion and one about the woman who falsely accused Emmet Till of coming on to her, and both left me in chills.

Nikki Giovanni 
"...I really hope no white person ever has cause
to write about me
because they never understand
Black love is Black wealth and they'll
probably talk about my hard childhood
and never understand that
all the while I was happy." 
Robert Hayden is the author of a poem I never associated with African American poets, but I've long loved his poem about "love's austere and lonely offices," but for something a little tougher, check out "Middle Passage."

Pamela Sneed is a New York professor and poet known for spoken word poetry. I've only been able to track down a couple of her poems, but they are electric, angry, and smart.

Lucille Clifton wrote about her hips, imagined a one-sided conversation between Lucifer and God, and gave voice to the black man dragged to death behind a car by KKK members in 1998. I especially like her poem "I Am Accused of Tending to the Past," in which she confronts the idea that people should just let all that old stuff go.  

Kwame Dawes is from Ghana via Jamaica and Canada, but has taught in South Carolina since 1992. Coffee Break takes a poignant turn, and "Train Ride" made me look up the Scottsboro boys. (Spoiler: a complete miscarriage of justice.) It's from his collection, Wisteria, which is his poetic rendering of a series of interviews he did in South Carolina of older black women looking back on their lives.

Donovan Livingston had a Harvard graduation speech/spoken word poem go viral in 2016. I didn't know this when I happened to see him doing a poetry reading at my local library. Have I mentioned how much I love my library? I loved his educator's slant as he addresses the school-to-prison pipeline and the true potential of children.

I can't let this list close without mentioning Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde and bell hooks. I read some of their collected works long, long ago. Lorde and hooks are brilliant, but their poetry is more challenging to "get" than the poets I'm focusing on. 

Stay tuned tomorrow for my final post: works by African American authors that I am DYING to read. 

I was introduced to several of these poets by Nikki Giovanni's wonderful collection The 100 Best African American POemts (but I cheated).  It inspired me to dig deeper into some of the writers whose poems really struck me, whether I'd heard of them before or not.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

MLK Week: Pop Fiction of the 20th Century

In honor of Dr. King's birthday earlier this week, I'm making book lists.  Tune in every day all week for a new list of books related to race in America, mostly  YA and MG fiction, mostly backlist, and mostly looking at the black/white issue. Tuesday I shared YA titles that deal with life as an African American teen in today's United States. Yesterday I put together a list of historical fiction for MG readers. Today, I'd like to share a couple of short lists. First up is: 

20th Century Classics of African American Literature and Popular Fiction That I've Read and Loved

You have heard of these books and authors, but haven't read their work. You admire contemporary authors and wonder which giants' shoulders they are standing on. You are ready for something grittier than the MG and YA novels I've been talking about. Have I got some books for YOU! 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou's classic memoir, the first in a multi-volume autobiography, is a heart wrenching read, dealing as it does with sexual abuse of a child. We read it in freshman English in high school, which kind of surprises me in retrospect.

The Color Purple Alice Walker's masterpiece is one of the few books I think should be required reading for all. Oprah's movie was surprisingly good, but you need to read the book to really appreciate it.

Song of Solomon I need to read this book again. I read a bunch of Toni Morrison in late high school/college, and I know this was my favorite, but I don't remember a lot of detail about it. If you haven't read any Morrison (or have only read The Bluest Eye, which is horrifically upsetting), fix that now.

Waiting to Exhale Terry McMillan was THE crossover black author of the 1990s. This story of four middle class black women in Atlanta dealing with life and love is probably a time capsule at this point, but it was eye opening for me as a young white woman in the northwest.

Devil in a Blue Dress This is the first of Walter Mosley's excellent detective series set in LA in the 1950s and 60s. Hero Easy Rawlins hops into bed with every single woman he meets, but otherwise his life and troubles  are a beautiful, heartbreaking look at the diaspora of non-Southern Jim Crow America.

Next, here are a few

Urban and/or Sports Focused Black Teen Novels My Students Swear By But I've Never Read
They are all a bit dated, so your mileage may vary.

The Contender
Brothers in Arms
The Hoopster
The Moves Make the Man

Books I Was Forced To Read in Elementary School and Did Not Enjoy, But They Are Classics, So Maybe Give Them a Try?
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Phillip Hall Likes Me I Reckon Maybe

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

MLK Week: MG Historical Fiction Worth Reading

In honor of Dr. King's birthday earlier this week, I'm making book lists.  Tune in every day all week for a new list of books related to race in America, mostly  YA and MG fiction, mostly backlist, and mostly looking at the black/white issue. Yesterday I shared YA titles that deal with life as an African American teen in today's United States. Today, I'd like to share:

Backlist MG Novels that Dive Into African American History (In Roughly Historical Order)

You want to know more about how we got into this mess, and you want to equip young people with some perspective. You want to celebrate strength, courage, and resilience throughout the US's sordid history of slavery and racism. Have I got some books for YOU! 

Jefferson's Sons Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's book imagines what it would be like to grow up as a slave in the household of one of the most famous and respected men of his age--who is also your father. As author and reader Betsy Bird points out in her Goodreads review, Bradley keeps this painful and sordid story honest while still child appropriate by staying with the viewpoint of three different children over a period of several years. Not #ownvoices.

Day of Tears In this slim book, Julius Lester uses data from the largest slave sale in American history, when over 400 slaves from one estate were sold over two days, and lets multiple narrators tell their story of what happened that day. From slaves young and old, to the master's daughters, to slave sellers themselves, we experience what they were thinking and feeling on that day, and the repercussions of the day for years to come. #ownvoices

Nightjohn I started teaching Gary Paulsen's powerful little book about slavery during my first year of teaching over 20 years ago, and I still think it should be required reading for all. There's no shades of grey here--Sarny's "master" is evil personified, and there are brief but memorable scenes of rape and torture. But the book is as much about how vital literacy is to a free people as it is about slavery being bad. Nightjohn himself is my teacher hero. Would I get a toe cut off in order to be able to bring letters to the unlettered?  Not #ownvoices.

Carver: A Life in Poems The title is self explanatory. This is a biography told in free verse. I liked how it covered all periods of George Washington Carver's life, not just the peanut thing that is all I knew about him before starting this book. Marilyn Nelson also wrote My Seneca Village, another great piece of historical fiction in verse, and A Wreath for Emmett Till, which I didn't like as much. #ownvoices

Witness Karen Hesse's second-most-famous novel in verse has a cast of thousands. Well, a dozen or so, anyway. She helps you keep them straight by providing a portrait gallery at the beginning of the book with authentic 1920s portraits of people to represent her characters, and by writing each character with a unique voice and point of view. When the Klan comes to a small Vermont town in the 1920s, the local black family and the local Jewish family become targets. Rumrunners, hypocritical preachers, farmwives and disaffected youth all have their role in the story.  Not #ownvoices.

Stella by Starlight Another pick that might not be as well known as the author's Out of My Mind, Stella's story takes place in the 1930s and draws on Sharon M. Draper's family history from two generations. It begins with Stella and her little brother seeing flames flickering in the night and a crowd of sheeted men gathered around, and keeps the tension high throughout. It also explores Stella's learning differences, which as a teacher, I loved.  #ownvoices 

The Watsons go to Birmingham-1963 This book came out when I was in my twenties, the least likely era of my life to read middle grade novels. So I just read it last fall, after one of my reluctant readers told me how much he liked it. The beginning was hilarious, although big brother's level of violence is frightening. The ending, when the Watsons finally get to Birmingham--in 1963--is a serious change in tone. Like one of my favorite movies, Life is Beautiful, the comedy and family lore of the early part underscores that the targeted population weren't just victims, they were humans. #ownvoices

I haven't read, but hear great things about One Crazy Summer, set in 1968, the Countdown series, also set in the 60s, and Mississippi Trial, 1955, which takes place around the time and place of Emmett Till's murder.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

MLK Week: Timely YA

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and our president continues to say awful racist things, and I have so little control over any of this.

So I'm making book lists.  Tune in every day all week for a new list of books related to race in America, mostly  YA and MG fiction, mostly backlist, and mostly looking at the black/white issue. Starting off, we have:

Backlist YA Novels to Read if You Loved, THUG, Dear Martin, and All American Boys

You like your fiction timely, you're pissed off about police violence and the school-to-prison pipeline, you're not afraid of shades of grey, and you're not going to get all bent out of shape if someone starts talking about white privilege. Have I got some books for YOU! 

How It Went Down A favorite of mine, this 2015 release starts with a black teen getting shot by a white adult. Multiple points of view weigh in on what they saw that day, and how their lives are affected by the event.

When I Was the Greatest Jason Reynolds has been writing good books for awhile now. In this one, the narrator befriends two brothers, one of whom is looking for trouble. It all comes down in an instant.

Lockdown Walter Dean Myers is iconic, and this is one of my favorites of his. Told in vivid first person, the book shows how hard it is to stay out of trouble once you're already in jail.

The First Part Last I don't think this book is high literature, but it's a gripping story about a teen dad trying to do the right thing. It's also super short, if you're trying to tempt reluctant readers.

The Silence of our Friends A graphic novel loosely based on the authors' experience growing up as neighbors in a Texan town that wasn't yet comfortable with "mixed" neighborhoods.

This Side of Home I've reviewed this one before, and have yet to read her latest, but I have to include hometown author Renée Brown and her look at gentrification.

Monster (or its graphic novel adaptation) Another WDM classic, this one is told as if it were a screenplay the main character writes in his head. Steve was the lookout for a robbery in which someone was shot and killed. But is he a monster? Honestly, I found the graphic novel easier to follow.

Boy 21 This is the only book on this list that isn't #ownvoices, but it's too good to leave off.  Matthew Quick's narrator is Boston Irish, but lives in a largely African American neighborhood. He is asked to mentor a young black man whose family has just been killed. The newcomer is a basektball phenom, and Finley is torn between sympathy for the kid, and fear that he will take his place on the team, thereby ruining his one shot at escape from their mob-run town. Probably my second favorite on this list after How It Went Down.

Tune in tomorrow for MG Historical Novels about the African American Experience from Colonialism through the Civil Rights era!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Review: Akata Witch

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Published 2011 by Viking Press

349 pages, fantasy.

Reading this book made the chittim rain down around me. You will have to read it too to find out what I mean by that!

I kept trying to read this book.

I checked it out from the library last summer, because I'd heard it was good. That's all I really knew about it though, and something about the cover didn't really draw me in. I renewed it over and over, until I finally had to return it three months later, without ever cracking the cover.

More recently, I tried again. I know I tend to default to white, Anglo authors and familiar settings. I still didn't know what it was about, but I had a vague idea it was set in an African country. Again, I renewed it faithfully while I read other books.

It's due tomorrow, with no more renewals possible. So yesterday, I decided to give it a try. In case you ever wonder about the power of blurbs, as soon as I noticed that Ursula K. Le Guin praised it on the cover, I kicked myself for waiting so long.

And then I started the book.

Let's get this out of the way first: you will think of Harry Potter when you read this. There are four young people dealing with the magical world even as they deal with the regular challenges of puberty The POV character was ignorant of the magical world and her own elevated status within it until the age of 12. She is instantly recognizable to others because of a physical anomaly. The other children grew up in that world. The world is divided into magical and non-magical people, who are called a vaguely condescending name ("lambs"). There are rules about what underage wizards can't do, and our band of friends regularly flouts these rules. There are teachers, all wise, but not all kind, and there is a terrible evil that only the children can defeat.

And...there's a magical sport that is hugely popular.  The sport is about as far from Quidditch as you can get, but this was still the parallel that made me go, "C'mon, is this really necessary?"

Still, there have always been stories about groups of kids dealing with magic, from Five Children and It to The Inquisitor's Tale. The story is fresh and original and stands entirely on its own feet. Not just because it's set in Nigeria, and not just because the protagonist is female, although both of those things are hugely important features of the book. The story focuses on the tension between the spiritual and the physical, between greed and a hunger for knowledge, between myth and everyday life.

The book also dives into issues of immigration, duality, and belonging.  "Akata" itself is a derogatory word for African Americans, meaning something like "wild animal." Sunny, our hero, was born in the United States to Nigerian parents, and the family returned to Nigeria only three years before the story begins. She is asked frequently throughout the book to claim one nationality or the other, and she is confused about which to say and stubborn in her inclusion of both. Two of her friends are Nigerian born, and the fourth member of their group is a recent immigrant from Chicago, a boy seen as even less Nigerian than Sunny.  Her name could be heard as Sonny. Her American friend's name is Sasha, and he gets teased for having a girl's name.* Two members of the group are girls, and two are boys. Two are impulsive and aggressive, two are reflective and peaceful.  One theme of the book is that we all have more than one side. Another theme is that our perceived weaknesses can also be our greatest strengths.

Despite being a teacher, I rarely read a book and feel compelled to analyze it for theme. The fact that Akata Witch pulls me to analyze it to such an extent (my scribbled notes include "What is the importance of smoking to the story?" and "gender roles/soccer game") should not be seen as meaning the book is dry or didactic. It's magical and humorous, terrifying and alive.  It also does a great job at setting up a higher stakes conflict for the next book.

5/5 stars

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Sunday Post #24

Kimberly at Caffeinated Book Reviewer hosts the weekly (duh) Sunday Post link-up. I participate sporadically, but am ready to roll this week!

Books Read: Five

This week I was reading for Cybils and finished two of the short-listed books, Leigh Bardugo's Wonder Woman: Warbringer and F. T. Lukens's The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths and Magic. I can't say much about them yet as we're still in process with judging, but I will point out that both have heavily alliterative titles, and assure you that both deserve to be on the short list. I skimmed the collection called Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever. and found that very few of them lived up to their subtitle. I also finished up two books that for some reason took me forever to get through. I started listening to Laini Taylor's Night of Cake and Puppets on audiobook before winter break, but then I neglected it when my commute stopped for those weeks, and then the library took it back, TWICE (so rude), but I finally came across a hard copy at the library and devoured the rest of it. Loved it, too. The other book I read is Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor. This one I checked out from the library last summer, renewed for a total of three months, never read it, tried again, renewed for a total of three months, realized it's due this Sunday, and devoured in two days. Review coming soon, which is not something I usually say.

Acknowledging that I can't give away my reaction to the Cybils books, my favorite of the week from the remaining options has to be Akata Witch.



Which cover do you prefer? I read the one on the top right, which is definitely less scary looking. It seems the book has been published under the name What Sunny Saw in the Flames too, and I'm not sure why.

This is my third post this week, which is a good improvement from my blogging slump in December. I also have ideas and enthusiasm for more posts, and time to write them this weekend, so I am looking forward to a good blogging week too. I am very close to two milestones for me--I'm coming up on my 500th post, and on (this is probably embarrassing) my 50,000th page view. I'm sure there are bloggers that get that much traffic daily, but well, I don't. What should I do to celebrate?

Reading Life
If you need some lists of terrific YA and MG (and children's) books published in 2017, go check out the Cybils finalists as well as the Nerdy Book Club Winners. I look at those lists and despair of ever reading enough books. (The Nerdies release several days of winners; I linked to one of the YA days, and you can explore from there.)

I'm still trying to get myself organized for my reading year. I've made a Google Form the last few years that tracks all sorts of data, and I've tweaked it this year again. I also signed up for some challenges. I don't usually do that, because I'm such a mood reader, but I figured out that if I sign up for challenges I DO ANYWAY, it should be easy. So I'm doing both the Backlist Challenge and the Library Love challenge, which is somewhat redundant, now that I think of it. But both have different rules around how to submit books for their records and giveaways, so I have to track that too.

Out of nine books read this year, all nine were backlist books, seven were from the public library, and three qualified for a Popsugar category (GLBQT protagonist, author of color, and protagonist with mental illness.)

Best for last: I just (as in, on another tab while I write this post) signed up for a reading retreat at the end of this month. It's organized by the same person who ran the writing retreat I went to in summer of 2016, Beth Woolsey. Her blog is not a book blog, but she loves books too, and I am thrilled that I decided to go--and that she offered me a substantial discount. Thanks, Beth! 

Real Life
I just negotiated with my tween that we'd eat pot stickers for dinner so I don't have to go to the store for actual ingredients tonight. I have been napping a ridiculous amount lately. My son started a new school and it seems to be going okay. My daughter just learned how to do a bridge kickover at a rec center gymnastics class. My husband is playing bridge. That's pretty much what's going on here these days.

My Friday afternoon/evening set-up. Blankets and books. 

My kids have become obsessed with setting out breakfast for me. This is a Very Good Thing.

Have a good week, everyone!