It’s been a great year of reading for me. Here are some of my favorites and why they stood out for me.
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
Summary: A powerful and thought-provoking Civil Rights era memoir from one of America’s most celebrated poets.
Looking back on her childhood in the 1950s, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson tells the story of her development as an artist and young woman through fifty eye-opening poems. Readers are given an intimate portrait of her growing self-awareness and artistic inspiration along with a larger view of the world around her: racial tensions, the Cold War era, and the first stirrings of the feminist movement.
A first-person account of African-American history, this is a book to study, discuss, and treasure.
* From my review: “Reading How I Discovered Poetry is like looking through a photo album with a loved one while they share memories. Here a laugh, there a tear, sometimes even an admission of mischievousness. Marilyn Nelson has crafted fifty sonnets that begin with the simplicity of a pre-schooler and progress to the complexity of the early teen years.”
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books
Summary:Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
* From my review: “Story is a ribbon running through the book as she tells the stories from family members and of how she herself breathes stories. In her author’s note she explains that this book is “my past, my people, my memories, my story.” Most readers will be tumbled into their own memories along the way.”
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatramen
Nancy Paulsen Books
Summary: Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient Bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.
Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her. — Cover image and summary via IndieBound
* From my review: “Venkatraman’s writing brought me to tears, but also gave me many opportunities to smile. Above all, as Veda found out more about herself and explored her beliefs, readers will be likely to think about their own beliefs and spiritual life.”
No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay
Write Bloody Publishing
Summary:Following the success of her breakout poem, “B,” Sarah Kay releases her debut collection of poetry featuring work from the first decade of her career. No Matter the Wreckage presents readers with new and beloved work that showcases Kay’s knack for celebrating family, love, travel, history, and unlikely love affairs between inanimate objects (“Toothbrush to the Bicycle Tire”), among other curious topics. Both fresh and wise, Kay’s poetry allows readers to join in on her journey of discovering herself and the world around her. It’s an honest and powerful collection.
* I didn’t actually review this for Rich in Color because it wasn’t marketed as a young adult book, but it would certainly appeal to readers of YA. Sarah Kay is a young author and many young adults are familiar with her spoken word poetry. I was fortunate enough to see her in Chicago this year and get a signed copy of No Matter the Wreckage. She has a way of stringing the words together in powerful ways. Here’s a sample:
Defying Genre Labels
Summary:A powerful and visually stunning anthology from some of the most groundbreaking Native artists working in North America today.
Truly universal in its themes, “Dreaming In Indian” will shatter commonly held stereotypes and challenge readers to rethink their own place in the world. Divided into four sections, ‘Roots, ‘ ‘Battles, ‘ ‘Medicines, ‘ and ‘Dreamcatchers, ‘ this book offers readers a unique insight into a community often misunderstood and misrepresented by the mainstream media.
Emerging and established Native artists, including acclaimed author Joseph Boyden, renowned visual artist Bunky Echo Hawk, and stand-up comedian Ryan McMahon, contribute thoughtful and heartfelt pieces on their experiences growing up Indigenous, expressing them through such mediums as art, food, the written word, sport, dance, and fashion. Renowned chef Aaron Bear Robe, for example, explains how he introduces restaurant customers to his culture by reinventing traditional dishes. And in a dramatic photo spread, model Ashley Callingbull and photographer Thosh Collins reappropriate the trend of wearing ‘Native’ clothing.
Whether addressing the effects of residential schools, calling out bullies through personal manifestos, or simply citing hopes for the future, “Dreaming In Indian” refuses to shy away from difficult topics. Insightful, thought-provoking, and beautifully honest, this book will to appeal to young adult readers. An innovative and captivating design enhances each contribution and makes for a truly unique reading experience.
* Here I feel like I’m cheating. I’ve only just begun to read this, but I am still claiming it as a favorite. I’m taking this one slowly and savoring it. The many different voices and perspectives are vivid and speak truths using words, art, and other means. It is visually stunning and I’m thankful that so many people shared their stories.
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
Summary: n 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.
* From my review: “What I love is that The Shadow Hero has such a nice balance of action, adventure, humor, seriousness, and flirtation. There are action sequences in each issue and several doses of comedy. I didn’t want it to end.”
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Summary: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.
* This was a very fun story at a time when I was needing just that. I even got to have a bit of a twitter conversation with Jenny Han about one such bit of fun. I wrote about that here.
How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon
Henry Holt and Co.
Summary: When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.
In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth.
Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.
* From my review: “This wasn’t an easy book to read. There are many moments of pain to be found and experienced. The worst part is that our news headlines contain similar situations. The story seemed all too possible.”
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Our Group Discussion – with spoilers
Summary: In Bed Stuy, New York, a small misunderstanding can escalate into having a price on your head—even if you’re totally clean. This gritty, triumphant debut captures the heart and the hardship of life for an urban teen.
A lot of the stuff that gives my neighborhood a bad name, I don’t really mess with. The guns and drugs and all that, not really my thing.
Nah, not his thing. Ali’s got enough going on, between school and boxing and helping out at home. His best friend Noodles, though. Now there’s a dude looking for trouble—and, somehow, it’s always Ali around to pick up the pieces. But, hey, a guy’s gotta look out for his boys, right? Besides, it’s all small potatoes; it’s not like anyone’s getting hurt.
And then there’s Needles. Needles is Noodles’s brother. He’s got a syndrome, and gets these ticks and blurts out the wildest, craziest things. It’s cool, though: everyone on their street knows he doesn’t mean anything by it.
Yeah, it’s cool…until Ali and Noodles and Needles find themselves somewhere they never expected to be…somewhere they never should’ve been—where the people aren’t so friendly, and even less forgiving.
* The strength in this book for me was the strong relationships between friends and family. There are rough patches, but the relationships are key. It doesn’t hurt that there was knitting in the book too. I’m a sucker for knitting books.
What were some of your favorite books this year?
Unless otherwise noted, cover images and summaries are via Goodreads.