So as you may or may not know, I started an MLIS program last fall, focusing on public libraries and youth services. This May I took a crazy, intense 3-week class in Multicultural Youth Literature. Let me tell you, I don't recommend it! Taking a regular class crammed into 3-weeks that is; the pace and workload were grueling, and I don't think I got as much out of it as if it had been a full semester class. However, I highly recommend a course in Multicultural Literature for all librarians, but especially youth services.
In just 3 weeks, we had to write 16 critical book reviews, participate in 5 online discussions, write two 2-page papers, and a big bibliography project. Fortunately, the professor gave us the reading list in advance, so I was able to obtain and read all the books before class started (luckily, I read very fast). But, I did learn a lot about selecting diverse literature. I've had a few people ask for the reading list out of curiousity, so I thought I'd go ahead and post it here, with a very brief mini-review of each, starting with picture books.
Each of these books is written by a cultural "insider", and most (if not all) have received literary awards that consider quality and authenticity. I've put an asterisk on the ones I particularly liked (there were only two I really didn't like).
*Let's Talk About Race (2005), by Julius Lester, illustrated by Karen Barbour.
Julius Lester explains the concept of race and racism in simple, age appropriate terms, without emotion or blame. He explains that we each have our own story, and that race is one part of that story. He goes on to say that some people try to say that their race is better than others, but that story is not true, and that under our skin we are all the same.
I think this is an excellent book for introducing the topic of race and racism with children.
Crossing Bok Chitto: A Chocktaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom (2006), by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges.
Tim Tingle, a recognized Choctaw storyteller and author, tells an Old Choctaw tale about a friendship that developed between a slave family and a Choctaw tribe, and how the Choctaw helped them escape to freedom across the Bok Chitto River.
An interesing legend, and shows how people of different races help each other.
Just A Minute: A Trickster's Tale and Counting Book (2003), by Yuyi Morales.
Senior Calavera (similar to the Grim Reaper) has arrived to escort Grandma Beetle "home", but she is not quite ready to go, and keeps asking him for "just a minute" to finish up another chore, culminating in her birthday party and Senior Calavera deciding to leave her with her granchildren.
Authentic illustrations, and counting from 1 to 10 in both Spanish and English.
Lailah's Lunchbox (2015), by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Lea Lyon.
Lailah has just moved from Abu Dhabi to Peachtree, Georgia, and is excited that she is going to be allowed to fast for Ramadan for the first time. But then she begins to worry about how to explain to her new teacher and classmates why she can't eat lunch, and takes refuge in the library, where the librarian helps her find the right words.
A great story for explaining what Ramadan is all about to children that is culturally authentic.
Heather Has Two Mommies (2015, first published in 1991), by Leslea Newmann, illustrated by Laura Cornell.
Heather has two arms, two legs, two eyes, two pets, and two mommies. On her first day of school she enjoys making new friends, playing at different centers, and snack time. During circle time the children talk about their parents and Heather realizes she is the only one with two mommies, and wonders if she is the only one without a daddy. But they all learn that every family is different, and special, and that all that matters is they love each other.
Fred Korematsu Speaks Up (2017), by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, illustrated by Yutaka Houlette.
This book tells about Fred Korematsu, who was interred along with many other Japanese-Americans during WWII, and filed suit against the U.S. Though he initially lost, many years later the case was reopened after evidence was discovered showing the U.S. attorneys had lied, and ultimately the case was decided in favor of Korematsu.
An important subject, but I didn't care for this particular book. It is told in alternating formats, one in free verse, and the other a jumble of historic facts, events, pictures, and timelines. Informative, but hard to read because of the lack of continuity, and Fred was portrayed as more of a legendary hero, in a superficial, flat way rather than as a real person. I would look for better books on this subject before buying this one, but it's OK.
*Amina's Voice (2017), by Hena Kahn.
This tells the story of Amina, the child of Pakistani immigrants, who loves to sing but is too shy to perform, and is dealing with all the changes that middle school brings. Her best friend Soojin is thinking of changing her name to something more "American" and has suddenly started acting chummy with their former "enemy". She also has to adjust to her much more conservative uncle visiting from Pakistan, and their community mosque being vandalized.
This is a great story that shows the plurality of the Muslim religion, and how people from various religions and cultures can be friends and pull together to support each other as a community. I highly recommend!
*El Deafo (2014), by Cece Bell.
In graphic novel format, Cece Bell shares her childhood experience with losing her hearing due to meningitis, learning how to adapt, and being self-concious about her hearing aids. She later realizes that her hearing aids and microphone give her "super powers", such as being able to warn the class when the teacher is about to return, and "El Deafo" is born. Cece not only struggles with being able to hear, she also has trouble finidng her voice when one friend becomes pushy and domineering, and another is well-intentioned, but insensitive.
Brown Girl Dreaming (2014), by Jacqueline Woodson.
In this memoir written in free verse, Jacqueline Woodson describes her early childhood, when she was first uprooted from Columbus, Ohio and moved to Greenville, North Carolina, after her parents split up, and then again after her mother moved them to New York. She describes hard times, tragedy, and living with segregation in the South, but through it all were the bonds of a close-knit, loving family and her developing dream to be a writer.
Not for those who need more action and drama, but other dreamers who enjoy a more thoughtful book, and particularly other aspiring writers, would appreciate.
*Gabi: A Girl In Pieces (2014), by Isabel Quintero.
We see all the struggles Gabi and her friends and family go through during her senior year in the form of Gabi's diary. And Gabi has a lot to deal with: body image, a domineering mother who expects her to be a "good Latina girl", a meth-addicted father, a best friend that's pregnant, another that has just come out as gay, and trying to find romance. Gabi copes with it all with humor, food, and discovering her talent for poetry, which leads to some truly beautiful poems within the book.
I highly recommend this book; well-written, authentic, and all teens can find something to relate to.
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (2014), by Meg Medina.
If it weren't bad enough that Piddy's mother suddenly decides to move to a different neighborhood without considering Piddy's feelings at all about changing schools in the middle of her junior year, Piddy is suddenly faced with finding out some girl she doesn't even know wants to kick her ass for no apparent reason.
This story focuses on the issue of bullying, but also has Spanish phrases and Latin culture sprinkled throughout. It is painful and frustrating to see how Piddy continues to suffer in silence, letting fear and pride get in the way of asking for help.
American Born Chinese (2007), by Gene Luen Yang.
This graphic novel uses three alternating stories that are interwoven in a very confusing timeline to tell the story of how an "ABC" boy struggles with his cultural identity, stereotyping, and facing the temtation to turn his back on his heritage for the sake of fitting in as an "All-American" teen.
Some people love this book, and I'm sure others could relate to the ridiculous stereotyping the protagonist faces as a child and struggling to fit in, but I wish it had just been told in a more straightforward, linear fashion. I found it very confusing and it took me reading a couple of other summaries and reviews, then re-reading before I could follow the story and what the message was.
*March: Book One (2013), by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell.
This graphic novel is a great way to get reluctant readers to read about history, and pays homage to the comic book that was used to teach members of the civil rights movement about passive-resistance and non-violent protest. In this first of the trilogy, Congressman Lewis tells about his childhood and early calling to the ministry, and his involvement in the civil rights movement, leading up to the march on the Nashville mayor's office. The print is on the small side and harder for adults to read, but the pictures bring history to life.
*The Hate U Give (2017), by Angie Thomas.
This story descibes Starr, a teenager living in the inner city who struggles with a dual identity as she splits her life between her friends and family in the neighborhood, and her more wealthy, predominantly white, suburban friends at the private school she attends. She has already witnessed the death of a childhood friend in a drive-by shooting, then tragically witnesses the shooting death of another friend in a traffic-stop gone bad, which causes her to question everything, and throws her neighborhood into turmoil.
This book has gotten rave reviews and is very well-written with wonderful character development. I loved Starr's close-knit family, and how hard her father worked to overcome his days as a gang member and become a good father and fight for their community. It is a very engaging story to read, but I have to confess I was a bit uncomfortable with the strong anti-cop message I perceived. While perhaps slighly less enjoyable to read, I prefer the message in Kekla Magoon's How It Went Down, which shows a similar shooting from many different perspectives, illustrating how no one can ever know what really happened, because each witness sees and hears something different, and it's all filtered through their own personal experiences and bias. THUG readers should keep in mind they are only getting one side of the story, albeit a very sympathetic and compelling one.
*Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (2015), by Becky Albertalli.
While Simon happens to be a gay teenage boy who is a bit hesitant to "come out of the closet" for fear of rocking the boat, this story is about all relationships, those with family, friends, and romantic interests. The main character has a good relationship with his parents and siblings, and a strong circle of friends, all of whom he thinks would be okay with his being gay, yet he still hesitates to tell anyone. Until a classmate accidentally sees a e-mail exchange between Simon and his secret pen-pal, and uses it to blackmail him into interceding on his behalf with a romantic interest.
A very touching, funny, and sweet story. Not too sappy or "polyanna", but not too heavy and serious, either. I highly recommend this one, as well.
Anna and the Swallow Man (2016), by Gavriel Savit.
Set in German-occupied Poland during WWII and written in a very detached, formal literary style some describe as poetic, this tells the story of a young Polish girl who is left alone in the streets after her father is taken away by the Nazis. She is taken in by a strange man with a gift for languages, and together they wander around the countryside, trying to stay invisible in order to survive.
Some give this book rave reviews, and I did really like it at first, but I think it gets lost in the middle, and then rushes to a non-ending with way too many things unexplained and too many questions unanswered (and I feel the author failed to properly research certain facts). Some have referred to this as magical realism, but I did not see it that way at all.
I personally would not have included this book in the reading for a multicultural youth literature class. For one thing, it seems to be written more for adults than kids. It is most definitely NOT a middle grade novel, despite the age of the main character. I could see it being assigned in high school English classes, but I think very few teens would find it appealing. The other thing is that many people have assumed Anna was Jewish, but the book gives no indication of this (unless I missed it), identifying her only as Polish, and saying her father was taken because he was an intellectual, thus an enemy of the Nazi empire. Furthermore, she did not speak fluent Yiddish, nor did she know the Hebrew prayers. It takes place during the Holocaust, but is not really about the Holocaust. I'm just not sure it really represents an identifiable culture. I would not recommend this book if you are like me: tend to be more literal, hate loose ends and things that don't quite add up, and need an ending that is more than just a stopping point with no closure. But other people loved it.
Have you already read some of these? Please share your thoughts in the comments!