#nErDCampMI Celebrated Diverse Books

nErDcampLOGO2014

Logo designed by author/illustrator Laurie Keller

If you haven’t yet heard of #nErDCamps, they are EdCamps with a literature focus. They came into being through Colby Sharp and other members of the Nerdybookclub. As you may have guessed, the members of the Nerdybookclub are quite enthusiastic about reading. At this amazing “un” conference, the participants decide the session topics and each session is run collaboratively by the attendees.

I was able to attend this fantastic event earlier this month. In the morning we met to decide what sessions would be happening. I was super excited to see Cindy Minnich and Sarah Andersen offer up the topic  “Finding Diverse Lit for Diverse YA Readers.” Cindy started out the session highlighting the work of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and encouraging everyone to participate and spread the word about the campaign and about diverse books through blogging and social media. Cindy and Sarah have a website called YA Lit 101. “Cindy and Sarah created this course so teachers can read and discuss YA, try new genres, and find ways to incorporate it in their curriculum.” (quote from their site) They explained that after participating in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, they were going to have a diversity focus this year for YA Lit 101. Yesterday, they officially announced their plan. I am looking forward to seeing what they have in store for the coming year.

In addition, the people who attended the session (and there were many – yay!) spent a lot of time asking for specific types of titles and sharing great titles they have found. A list of titles and resources was compiled here. I was encouraged that there were so many teachers and librarians that wanted to learn and share about diverse lit. I look forward to seeing the conversation continue throughout the education and library communities. More than that though, I am eager to see actions taken as a result of these types of discussions.

Two More Releases This Week

We’ve got two new books out this week that sound like they’d be fantastic summer reads. You should check them both out!

ExtractionExtraction by Stephanie Diaz
St. Martin’s Griffin

“Welcome to Extraction testing.”

Clementine has spent her whole life preparing for her sixteenth birthday, when she’ll be tested for Extraction in the hopes of being sent from the planet Kiel’s toxic Surface to the much safer Core, where people live without fear or starvation. When she proves promising enough to be “Extracted,” she must leave without Logan, the boy she loves. Torn apart from her only sense of family, Clem promises to come back and save him from brutal Surface life.

What she finds initially in the Core is a utopia compared to the Surface—it’s free of hard labor, gun-wielding officials, and the moon’s lethal acid. But life is anything but safe, and Clementine learns that the planet’s leaders are planning to exterminate Surface dwellers—and that means Logan, too.

Trapped by the steel walls of the underground and the lies that keep her safe, Clementine must find a way to escape and rescue Logan and the rest of the planet. But the planet leaders don’t want her running—they want her subdued.

With intense action scenes and a cast of unforgettable characters, Extraction is a page-turning, gripping read, sure to entertain lovers of Hunger Games and Ender’s Game and leave them breathless for more.

The Fire WishThe Fire Wish by Amber Lough
Random House Children’s

A jinni. A princess. And the wish that changes everything. . . .

Najwa is a jinni, training to be a spy in the war against the humans. Zayele is a human on her way to marry a prince of Baghdad—which she’ll do anything to avoid. So she captures Najwa and makes a wish. With a rush of smoke and fire, they fall apart and re-form—as each other. A jinni and a human, trading lives. Both girls must play their parts among enemies who would kill them if the deception were ever discovered—enemies including the young men Najwa and Zayele are just discovering they might love.

Book Review: Girl in Reverse

Girl in ReverseTitle: Girl in Reverse
Author: Barbara Stuber
Genres: Historical, Realistic Fiction
Pages: 320
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: When Lily was three, her mother put her up for adoption, then disappeared without a trace. Or so Lily was told. Lily grew up in her new family and tried to forget her past. But with the Korean War raging and fear of “commies” everywhere, Lily’s Asian heritage makes her a target. She is sick of the racism she faces, a fact her adoptive parents won’t take seriously. For Lily, war is everywhere—the dinner table, the halls at school, and especially within her own skin.

Then her brainy little brother, Ralph, finds a box hidden in the attic. In it are a baffling jumble of broken antiques—clues to her past left by her “Gone Mom.” Lily and Ralph attempt to match these fragments with rare Chinese artifacts at the art museum. She encounters the artistic genius Elliot James, who attracts and infuriates Lily as he tries to draw out the beauty of her golden heritage. Will Lily summon the courage to confront her own remarkable creation story? The real story, and one she can know only by coming face-to-face with the truth long buried within the people she thought she knew best. (via Goodreads)

Review: Set in the time period of the second Red Scare and McCarthyism, Girl in Reverse is a lovely novel about a Chinese girl searching for her identity. I felt for Lily as she had to deal with horrible racism and bullying in school, and even in her own family – through her parents refusal to even admit that she was being bullied. Lily is the only Chinese person in her high school and the treatment she receives shuts her down, as would anyone else in that situation. It was brutal and honest and I respected Barbara Stuber for not sugar-coating the hurtful words expressed because of fear and propaganda that was being spread at the time. Lily’s search is beautifully done as the mystery is revealed slowly, with Lily questioning if she really wants to know the answers. I like how Stuber expressed the inner conflict an adopted child may go through and the effect that it can have on a family. There is a push and pull desire to want to know one’s origins, one’s biological identity, but also knowing that our identity is also shaped through our experiences. This inner conflict within Lily was beautifully written and very true to life.

On the other hand, while Lily’s character was well-written, I did take issue with the portrayal of two other characters. Mr. Howard, the janitor at Lily’s schools, comes off to me as the Magical Negro trope. Lily ends up befriend Mr. Howard because she received detention for an act of protest and Mr. Howard assures her that she did the right thing. I felt like Mr. Howard’s sole purpose was to guide Lily on being able to stand up for herself and deal with the racism head on. While he does not sacrifice himself for Lily, he is written fairly one-dimensionally because he was just there to help Lily. And yes, I’m glad that Stuber gave Lily a person of color to help her make sense of her world, but I think there could have been more to Mr. Howard to make him seem real instead of a caricature. The other character I had a problem with was Auntie Chow, who Lily ends up befriending, in a way, to learn more about being Chinese. Auntie Chow and her husband are immigrants, but speak with the stereotypical broken English given to Asian characters. The Chows have a son in medical school, so I can presume they have been in America a while, therefore their English would be much better. I just felt that in a novel about searching for identity, specifically a girl’s Chinese heritage, writing Chinese characters using a stereotype was bad form. Both of these character portrayals ruined my enjoyment of the novel.

Recommendation: While the overall story is excellent and Lily is a character you can love, but with the characterization of Mr. Howard and the Chows, I cannot give it a glowing recommendation. Borrow it someday.

Mini-Review: Pointe

pointeTitle:  Pointe
Author:  Brandy Colbert
Genres: contemporary, realistic
Pages: 352
Publisher: Penguin
Review Copy: the library
Availability: April 10th 2014

Summary: Theo is better now. She’s eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor.

Donovan isn’t talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn’t do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she’s been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.

Review: In Pointe, Theo is a high schooler and ballet dancer determined to live out her dream of joining the most elite ranks of ballet dancers. Dance is the one thing that lets her escape from her everyday life and memories — but when her best friend Donovan returns home after years of living with his abductor, her dance starts to suffer. Memories of losing her friend and memories of her ex-boyfriend begin to collide.

Through Theo’s perspective, Pointe deals with a lot of issues — such as abuse, eating disorders, trauma, and kidnapping. These issues are handled in a sensitive, realistic, and eye-opening way. Pointe is an incredibly important book for teens to read.

Recommendation: Buy it now!

New Releases

hero

It’s finally here! The Shadow Hero’s release date is this week. I reviewed it back in March and have been waiting impatiently for the release ever since. This was one of the best books I have read so far this year. Even if you aren’t a graphic novel, super hero kind of reader, this one is worth a try.

Title: The Shadow Hero
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Illustrator: Sonny Liew
Publisher: First Second

Summary: In the comics boom of the 1940s, a legend was born: the Green Turtle. He solved crimes and fought injustice just like the other comics characters. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding something more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity… The Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero.

The comic had a short run before lapsing into obscurity, but the acclaimed author of American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang, has finally revived this character in Shadow Hero, a new graphic novel that creates an origin story for the Green Turtle.

With artwork by Sonny Liew, this gorgeous, funny comics adventure for teens is a new spin on the long, rich tradition of American comics lore. – Cover image via Goodreads, summary via publisher

wings

Another book being released is Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry. Kelly Jensen wrote an excellent review here. It’s the second book in a series, but Kelly explained that it could easily be read on its own.

Title: Dirty Wings (All Our Pretty Songs #2)
Author: Sarah McCarry
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Summary: A gorgeous retelling of the Persephone myth, Sarah McCarry brings us the story of Cass and Maia–the mothers from All Our Pretty Songs–and how their fates became intertwined.

Maia is a teenage piano prodigy and dutiful daughter, imprisoned in the oppressive silence of her adoptive parents’ house like a princess in an ivory tower. Cass is a street rat, witch, and runaway, scraping by with her wits and her knack for a five-fingered discount. When a chance encounter brings the two girls together, an unlikely friendship blossoms that will soon change the course of both their lives. Cass springs Maia from the jail of the only world she’s ever known, and Maia’s only too happy to make a break for it. But Cass didn’t reckon on Jason, the hypnotic blue-eyed rocker who’d capture Maia’s heart as soon as Cass set her free–and Cass isn’t the only one who’s noticed Maia’s extraordinary gifts. Is Cass strong enough to battle the ancient evil she’s unwittingly awakened–or has she walked into a trap that will destroy everything she cares about? In this time, like in any time, love is a dangerous game. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: There’s a Name For This Feeling

Print

Title: There’s a Name For This Feeling: Stories
Author: Diane Gonzales Bertrand
Spanish-language translation by Gabriela Baeza Ventura
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 150 (half in Spanish)
Publisher: Arte Público Press
Review Copy: Received review copy from publisher
Availability: Available now

Summary: In the title story, Lucinda hatches a clever plan to get her boyfriend back and is crushed when she ultimately realizes that it’s impossible to force a guy to love you. Like all young people, she ignores the advice of her mom and learns that lesson—and many more—the hard way.

In this bilingual collection of ten short stories for young people, kids deal with both serious and humorous consequences after they ignore their parents’ suggestions and disobey rules. At a friend’s house on New Year’s Eve, Raymond plays with fireworks even though he promised his parents he wouldn’t. Kids on a track team search for a mysterious naked woman with embarrassing results. And two girls in a wax museum are in for a surprise when they ignore the signs about touching the figures.

These short and accessible contemporary stories are alternately amusing and poignant as they explore issues relevant to today’s youth. Teens deal with everything from grandparents suffering from dementia to difficult customers at a first job. And in one story, a young girl grieves the loss of her baby, a miscarriage her mom calls a “blessing.” These stories highlight the emotional tailspins of living in a complicated world.

Review: There’s a Name For This Feeling: Stories is aimed at the younger end of the YA spectrum, but this collection of ten short stories makes up for its slim page count with some hard-hitting vignettes. Each of the stories is tightly focused on a different character, and while some stories share similar elements (there are two stories involving grandmothers who have dementia, for example), the approach to each is unique.

Diane Gonzales Bertrand excels at showcasing a broad range of emotions in these short stories, and they come together to form a mostly compelling, slice-of-life exploration of Latin@ teenagers. The stories are a good mix of serious and funny and touching (and sometimes a bit of all of those).

My favorite of the short stories was “My Twisted Tongue,” mostly because it got me right in the heart. My father is Latino, and my mother is white, and neither I nor the rest of my siblings speak Spanish. I learned Spanish in school (the last class I had was over four years ago), and I’ve always panicked a little whenever someone tried to speak to me in Spanish, was surprised at my skill in English, or questioned why I didn’t speak Spanish. Ninfa’s dilemma and the conversation she had with her dad made me want to wrap her up in a fuzzy blanket until she felt better. Other standouts include “Crooked Stitches” and “A Small Red Box.”

While the collection is a pretty solid one, I wasn’t enamored with all of the stories. Neither “Agapito” nor “The Naked Woman on Poplar Street” were interesting to me, and I disliked the framing device in “Trajectory.” These stories only distract a little from the rest of the collection, but I do wish I had been able to enthusiastically endorse all of them.

Teachers may also be interested to know that the book also includes discussion questions (Ideas for Conversation) and writing prompts (Ideas for Writing). All of the stories, along with the discussion and writing prompts, are translated into Spanish. This collection would be an especially great addition to classrooms with Spanish-speaking students.

Recommendation: Get it soon, if you’re a teacher looking to expand your short story curriculum—otherwise, borrow it someday. It’s a short, fast read with some great slice-of-life explorations of Latin@ teenagers. The stories fall at varying places on the spectrum of “great” to “boring,” but the great stories make There’s a Name For This Feeling: Stories worth checking out.