Group Discussion: #NotYourPrincess

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and MaryBeth Leatherdale is an incredible collection we highly recommend and we’re excited to be discussing it here today.

Summary: Whether looking back to a troubled past or welcoming a hopeful future, the powerful voices of Indigenous girls and women across North America resound in this book. In the same visual style as the bestselling Dreaming in Indian, #NotYourPrincess presents an eclectic collection of poems, essays, interviews, and art that combine to express the experience of being a Native woman. Stories of abuse, intergenerational trauma, and stereotyping are countered by the voices of passionate women demanding change and realizing their dreams. Sometimes outraged, often reflective, but always strong, the women in this book will give teen readers insight into the lives of women who, for so long, have had their history hidden and whose modern lives have been virtually invisible.

Crystal’s Review

Debbie Reese’s Review


Crystal: #NotYourPrincess is visually stunning. I love the attention to detail throughout the book like the use of borders and the pairings of text and artwork. The essay “The Invisible Indians” by Shelby Lisk (Mohawk) was accompanied by photos that illustrated how the stereotypes people have in their head render the actual people in front of them invisible. It made the text so powerful to have both parts. Do you all have any favorite visual pieces?

Audrey: I agree–this collection did a wonderful job of pairing beautiful artwork with powerful words. When I read, I typically don’t find myself backtracking, but I did more than once with #NotYourPrincess so I could go back and forth between the text and the art it had been paired with. My absolute favorite set is the poem “When I Have a Daughter” by Ntawnis Piapot (Piapot Cree Nation) with the piece Memories by Aura Last (Oneida).

Jessica: It’s so hard to choose a favorite — they were all incredible in their own way. Two stood out to me in particular. The first was A Conversation with a Massage Therapist by Francine Cunningham — I saw the picture first and didn’t realize the context until I read the conversation beneath it that portrayed a massage therapist casually throwing around harmful stereotypes during a massage session. The second one was Real NDNZ Re-Take Hollywood by Pamela J. Peters, which recreated classic Hollywood portraits with Native American actors. Both demonstrated how harmful stereotypes were in the different ways they manifested themselves, whether through media and Hollywood, or through everyday conversations.

K. Imani: This collection, the mix of artwork with the amazing poetry, was absolutely beautiful. For me, I can’t choose between the two poems of “The Things We Taught Our Daughters” and “Honor Song”. I found both to be extremely moving as both talked about reclamation of the feminine and and the power that women have inside of them.

Crystal: In “Reclaiming Indigenous Women’s Rights” Nahanni Fontaine (Anishinaabe) writes, “Patriarchy is quite simply the systematic oppression and regulation of women’s bodies, minds, and spirits. Patriarchy sets the markers and outlines the box of what we can and cannot do; say or cannot say; think or cannot think; express or cannot express; live or cannot live.” Fontaine has clearly delineated patriarchy and the colonial legacy. Her essay, along with many other pieces here, not only explains how we got to where we are, but also marks out a path for the future. I think this is such a powerful text and I’m excited that young women, and specifically young indigenous women, could have this book available to them.

Audrey: I think that path for the future is one of the most important themes in #NotYourPrincess. The women in these pages are resilient, and several times they address past (and current) violence, pain, and other trials. Yet the collection always circles back to the triumph of survival and hope for the future. Fontaine’s essay really cuts to the heart of #NotYourPrincess. So does the opening text of the book, from Leanne Simpson (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg): “I am always trying to escape—from dangerous situations, from racist stereotypes, from environmental destruction in my territory, and from the assault on my freedom as an individual and as part of the Nishnaabeg nation. As an Indigenous person, I have to escape in order to survive, but I don’t just escape. I hold this beautiful, rich Indigenous decolonial space inside and around me. I am escaping into Indigenous freedom. I am escaping into Indigenous land and my Indigenous body.”

Jessica: I loved how everything was connected together in the book. Patriarchy and colonialism and oppression were all tied together, and then a goal was laid out of not just escape, but escape to a space of freedom and equality. And all this is possible through the strength of generations of women. I’m glad I read #NotYourPrincess all in one go, since it allowed me to see all these themes and works of art flowing together.

K. Imani: The theme of fighting the Patriarchy and colonialism throughout the book made me want to stand up and clap for all of these artists. These are women recognizing their power and owning it. Jessica Deer’s essay, “We Are Not A Costume” was so poignant specifically when she simply states “While someone may think they look supercute as an “Indian Princess” or as “Reservation Royalty” for a fun and harmless evening, they have the privilege of removing that costume at the end of the night. Indigenous women and girls do not. We have to deal with ongoing marginalization and the lingering effects of colonization, like a culture that normalizes violence against us.” I can imagine many young girls reading this passage, find their voice, and speak out against in justice towards marginalized peoples.

Crystal: This book shares so many examples of female role models. There are mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins and more. I couldn’t help but start to think about the women in my life who taught me what it meant to move through the world as a woman. The book invites such wonderings and offers some awesome role models. I’m eager to see the responses from young indigenous women reading this. I think it could be extremely encouraging.

Audrey: I agree! “What’s There to Take Back?” by Tiffany Midge (Hunkpapa Lakota) was all about her role models of Indigenous womanhood–real role models, not terrible stereotypes like Tiger Lily. Many of the pieces in #NotYourPrincess are about connection with past and future generations and learning from others. I also really enjoyed the piece “Living Their Dreams” with the photo spread of athletes Shoni Schimmel (Umatilla), September Big Crow (Tsuu T’ina Nation), Ashton Locklear (Lumbee), and Brigitte Lacquette (Ojibwe). It’s not often that I see professional athletes held up as role models for young women, so I loved seeing all of them in powerful, confident poses, representing four different sports, and talking about their experiences.

K. Imani: I agree with both of you. “What’s There to Take Back?” was another one of my favorites as well because the examples that Midge gave for true role models were all kick-butt women. I can see so many young girls being inspired by learning about Indigenous women who are out there fighting the good fight and are being awesome. I especially enjoyed the passage titled “Good Medicine” which was an interview with Janet Smylie. I found her story to be inspiring and a wonderful message for young girls who are struggling to know that they can overcome their challenges and achieve.

Crystal: In “Dear Past Self,” Isabella Fillspipe (Oglala Lakota) wrote, “If you have something to say Say it. Life is too short to sit in silence. And stop trying to please other people.” I really wish teen me had heard such things enough times to believe them. This is a message many young women could benefit from.

Audrey: There are so many wonderful lines in #NotYourPrincess, and I hope that this book makes its way into the hands of many girls and women, especially Indigenous girls and women.

Jessica: Yeah, the focus on different generations — past, present, and future — Indigenous women was incredible.

Audrey: One of the quotes that stayed with me after I finished was by Tanaya Winder (Duckwater Shosone): “As Indigenous women writers and artists we are continually trying to exist, live, and love in a world that doesn’t always show its love for us. This means, part of the artist’s call is to turn past traumas on their heads, upside down, inside out, lift it up then put it back down as something changed and transformed so that others can find something beautiful or hopeful in it. For that beauty and hope to exist we as Native American women must dive headfirst into the muck, ugliness, stark darkness of that wreckage. This is what we do–we recast wounds in unending light. And so, light, love, and courage are circles we keep coming back to.” It’s a powerful message, and  I find that a lot of creators from other marginalized groups have embraced similar philosophies when writing about their own communities.

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Review: #NotYourPrincess

Title: #NotYourPrincess
Editors: Lisa Charleyboy & Mary Beth Leatherdale
Publisher: Annick Press
Genre: Nonfiction collection
Pages: 109
Availability: October
Review copy: Final copy provided by publisher

Summary: Whether looking back to a troubled past or welcoming a hopeful future, the powerful voices of Indigenous girls and women across North America resound in this book. In the same visual style as the bestselling Dreaming in Indian, #NotYourPrincess presents an eclectic collection of poems, essays, interviews, and art that combine to express the experience of being a Native woman. Stories of abuse, intergenerational trauma, and stereotyping are countered by the voices of passionate women demanding change and realizing their dreams. Sometimes outraged, often reflective, but always strong, the women in this book will give teen readers insight into the lives of women who, for so long, have had their history hidden and whose modern lives have been virtually invisible.

Review: #NotYourPrincess is another fabulous collection brought to us by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. The magic of the book is that the many voices are seen and heard through a wide variety of formats with the design of the book framing the pieces beautifully. In most cases artwork compliments the texts and the words provide context for the artwork. There are images on nearly every spread and it’s a magnificent visual experience.

The stories shared both visually and in text reveal what it means to these women to be Native. They share challenges, triumphs, losses, hopes, family ties and so much more. These are stories that acknowledge the pain of the past, but also point to strength, resilience, and hope for the future. In the essay “Reclaiming Indigenous Women’s Rights,” Nahanni Fontaine (Anishinaabe) explains it this way, “When we begin to understand the colonial legacy and its collateral damage to the minds and bodies of Indigenous women, we can begin to forgive, accept, and heal ourselves from the countless hurtful, damaging ways in which this trauma manifests itself.”

These stories do not ignore the past, but they are very much stories of the present and the future. The many voices sound out against the stereotypes that often prevent people from seeing and recognizing Native women. The women ask to be seen as they are – not as they are expected to be. This is especially obvious in “A Conversation with a Massage Thereapist” by Francine Cunningham (Cree/Métis). The questions the massage therapist asks reveal much about biases people can have. The therapist asks, “What are you?” Indigenous and Cree are answers, but they are pretty much discounted as the therapist responds with, “You don’t really look it.” After learning that the person was raised in the city, “Oh, well, I guess you’re not a real one then?” It doesn’t take long to realize this person has completely succumbed to stereotypes. In “The Invisible Indians,” white-faced, red-haired Shelby LIsk (Mohawk) writes about a similar point of view. “They want fantastical stories of the Indians that used to roam this land. They want my culture behind glass in a museum. But they don’t want me. I’m not Indian enough.”

There are also many examples of confident young women who are using their strengths. We see young women like AnnaLee Rain Yellowhammer (Hunkapapa, Standing Rock Sioux) who are demanding to be heard. She’s an activist fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline and has been raising her voice loud and clear in defense of the land, water, and her tribe.

Lisa Charleyboy describes this as a “love letter to all young Indigenous women trying to find their way.” This is an excellent description. Readers will find love and encouragement here on every page.

Recomendation: #NotYourPrincess should be available in all young adult collections. Get it as soon as it’s available.

Extras:

Excerpt available here

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Review: Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir

enchantedairTitle: Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir
Author: Margarita Engle
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Genre: Nonfiction – Memoir
Pages: 192
Availability: On shelves now
Review copy: Library

Summary: In this poetic memoir, Margarita Engle, the first Latina woman to receive a Newbery Honor, tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.

Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.

Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

Review:
It really is possible to feel
like two people
at the same time,
when your parents
grandparents
memories
words
come from two
different
worlds.

Margarita Engle won the 2016 Pura Belpré author award for Enchanted Air. In this verse memoir, she shares her experiences growing up between two cultures. She lived in the United States, but part of her heart belonged to Cuba from the very start. She writes about her “second self, the invisible twin” or “true self” who belongs to Cuba. The invisible twin is the girl she would be if her whole family lived in Cuba. Instead, she lives on her father’s continent and grows up with an alternate life. Engle shares the complexity of growing up with multiple cultures and having more than one place to call home. This is difficult enough to start with, but is even more complicated when the governments of those places are at odds with each other.

From her first trip to Cuba, it seems Margarita was enchanted. She saw it as a fairy tale world. Cuba holds so many people, places, and things that she loves and admires. It also seems to be where Margarita Engle found her voice. You can hear that voice ringing throughout her memoir – singing about the beauty, mysteries, and even dangers of Cuba. At one point she describes Cuba as “Rain and sun at the same time. A mystery of brilliance and darkness.”

She not only experienced two cultures, but she often felt different and isolated in the culture where she spent most of her time. In kindergarten, Margarita drew a dancing tree from Cuba and her teacher scolded her saying, “REAL TREES DON’T LOOK LIKE THAT.” That’s when she learned that teachers can be wrong. Things got even worse once the civil war began in Cuba. The poem “What am I?” shows how students and even her teacher seemed angered by the events in Cuba leading them to ask “What are you?” She didn’t know how to respond. “It’s a question that requires fractions, and I don’t like math.”

Margarita was often on her own since she didn’t have close connections to the other children in school. Words and books became her companions. Books opened a world to her. In “Refuge” she writes, “Books help me breathe.” The books were windows for her, but she noticed a distinct lack of mirrors.

I never find any books
about the beautiful green
crocodile-shaped island
that throbs
at the center of my being,
like a living creature,
half heart
and half beast.
Maybe someday
I’ll try
to write one.

I’m glad she followed through on writing those books that are now mirrors for many children and young adults.

Along with contemplation of two cultures, we also see questions about gender roles. As she read classic literature, she noticed “that the heroes are always boys.” Her mother encouraged her daughters though, by letting them know they could do anything boys could do. Gender roles are a common theme running through many of Engle’s fiction works so it was interesting to see that she’s thought about these issues throughout much of her life.

Recommendation: Get it now especially if you enjoy memoirs. There’s a reason there are so many stickers plastered on the cover. Engle has a lovely way with words and has given us a glimpse into the journey that has made her the author she is today.

Extras:

In this video Margarita Engle shares a bit about how her parents met (this is part of the introductory story to the book)

Margarita Engle after being honored with the Pura Belpre award for Enchanted Air

A curriculum guide for teachers

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A Dozen YA Memoirs

“And that’s what this book is–my past, my people, my memories, my story.” Jacqueline Woodson about Brown Girl Dreaming

Memoirs are a vehicle for writers to explore their past and find out what has shaped their lives. They are also a way for readers to see many different ways of living. We get to find out how other people have faced challenges and what kinds of choices they’ve made. For me, memoirs have often been inspirational. I’ve also been happy to find that I am not alone in some of my struggles. While I didn’t have the same childhood as Sonia Manzano, I could relate to some of the situations she went through with her parents. While reading Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx, I couldn’t help but be brought back to some of the scary times in my own home. Memoirs, like other books, provide mirrors and windows for us all.

If you’re looking for memoirs, here are a few that I’ve enjoyed or look forward to reading soon.

mariaBecoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano
Scholastic Press

Summary: Set in the 1970s in the Bronx, this is the story of a girl with a dream. Emmy Award-winning actress and writer Sonia Manzano plunges us into the daily lives of a Latino family that is loving–and troubled. This is Sonia’s own story rendered with an unforgettable narrative power. When readers meet young Sonia, she is a child living amidst the squalor of a boisterous home that is filled with noisy relatives and nosy neighbors. Each day she is glued to the TV screen that blots out the painful realities of her existence and also illuminates the possibilities that lie ahead. But–click!–when the TV goes off, Sonia is taken back to real life–the cramped, colorful world of her neighborhood and an alcoholic father. But it is Sonia’s dream of becoming an actress that keeps her afloat among the turbulence of her life and times.

Spiced with culture, heartache, and humor, this memoir paints a lasting portrait of a girl’s resilience as she grows up to become an inspiration to millions.

messyMake it Messy: My Perfectly Imperfect Life by Marcus Samuelsson and Veronica Chambers
Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Summary: In this inspirational autobiography, world-famous chef Marcus Samuelsson tells his extraordinary story and encourages young people to embrace their mistakes and follow their dreams. Based on his highly praised adult memoir, Yes, Chef, this young adult edition includes an 8-page black-and-white family photo insert.

Marcus Samuelsson’s life and his journey to the top of the food world have been anything but typical. Orphaned in Ethiopia, he was adopted by a loving couple in Sweden, where his new grandmother taught him to cook and inspired in him a lifelong passion for food. In time, that passion would lead him to train and cook in some of the finest, most demanding kitchens in Europe.

Samuelsson’s talent and ambition eventually led him to fulfill his dream of opening his own restaurant in New York City: Red Rooster Harlem, a highly acclaimed, multicultural dining room, where presidents rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, and bus drivers. A place where anyone can feel at home.

Mo'ne DavisMo’ne Davis: Remember My Name: My Story from First Pitch to Game Changer by Mo Davis
HarperCollins

Summary: Be inspired to reach for your dreams!

In August 2014, Mo’ne Davis became the first female pitcher to win a game in the Little League World Series and the first Little Leaguer to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and a month later she earned a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. She was thirteen years old.

This inspiring memoir from a girl who learned to play baseball with the boys and rose to national stardom before beginning eighth grade will encourage young readers to reach for their dreams no matter the odds. Mo’ne’s story is one of determination, hard work, and an incredible fastball. Mo’ne is a multisport athlete who also plays basketball and soccer and is an honor-roll student at her school in Philadelphia.

With an eight-page full-color photo insert and an exclusive keepsake poster, this memoir celebrates our fascination with baseball in a story of triumph to be shared with generations of young readers to come.

pipestonePipestone: My Life in an Indian Boarding School by Adam Fortunate Eagle
University of Oklahoma Press

Summary: A renowned activist recalls his childhood years in an Indian boarding schoolBest known as a leader of the Indian takeover of Alcatraz Island in 1969, Adam Fortunate Eagle now offers an unforgettable memoir of his years as a young student at Pipestone Indian Boarding School in Minnesota. In this rare firsthand account, Fortunate Eagle lives up to his reputation as a Were all Indian boarding schools the dispiriting places that history has suggested? This book allows readers to decide for themselves.

flightTaking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince
Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary: The extraordinary memoir of Michaela DePrince, a young dancer who escaped war-torn Sierra Leone for the rarefied heights of American ballet.

Michaela DePrince was known as girl Number 27 at the orphanage, where she was abandoned at a young age and tormented as a “devil child” for a skin condition that makes her skin appear spotted. But it was at the orphanage that Michaela would find a picture of a beautiful ballerina en pointe that would help change the course of her life.

At the age of four, Michaela was adopted by an American family, who encouraged her love of dancing and enrolled her in classes. She went on to study at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre and is currently a member of the Dutch National Ballet’s junior company. She has appeared in the ballet documentary “First Position,” as well as on “Dancing with the Stars, Good Morning America,” and “Nightline.”

In this engaging, moving, and unforgettable memoir, Michaela shares her dramatic journey from an orphan in West Africa to becoming one of ballet’s most exciting rising stars.

malalaI Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition) by Malala Yousafzai, Patricia McCormick
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary: “I am Malala. This is my story.” Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime. They said women weren’t allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn’t go to school.

Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for teh cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school.
No one expected her to survive.

Now she is an international symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest- ever Nobel Peace Prize nominee. In this Young Readers Edition of her bestselling memoir, which includes excessive photos and material, we hear firsthand the remarkable story of a girl who knew from a young age that she wanted to change the world-and did.
Malala’s powerful story will open your eyes to another world and will make you believe in hope, truth, miracles, and the possibility that one person- one young person- can inspire change in her community and beyond.

Graphic Novels

MarchMarch: Book One by John Robert Lewis, Andrew Aydin
Illustrated by Nate Powell
Top Shelf Productions

Summary: March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.

Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1950s comic book “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.” Now, his own comics bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations.
darkroomDarkroom: A Memoir in Black and White by Lila Quintero Weaver
University Alabama Press

Summary: Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White is an arresting and moving personal story about childhood, race, and identity in the American South, rendered in stunning illustrations by the author, Lila Quintero Weaver. In 1961, when Lila was five, she and her family emigrated from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Marion, Alabama, in the heart of Alabama’s Black Belt. As educated, middle-class Latino immigrants in a region that was defined by segregation, the Quinteros occupied a privileged vantage from which to view the racially charged culture they inhabited. Weaver and her family were firsthand witnesses to key moments in the civil rights movement. But Darkroom is her personal story as well: chronicling what it was like being a Latina girl in the Jim Crow South, struggling to understand both a foreign country and the horrors of our nation’s race relations. Weaver, who was neither black nor white, observed very early on the inequalities in the American culture, with its blonde and blue-eyed feminine ideal. Throughout her life, Lila has struggled to find her place in this society and fought against the discrimination around her.

persepolisPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Mattias Ripa (Translator)
Pantheon

Summary: Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.

Poetry

Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books
My Review

Summary: 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.

airEnchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle
Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Summary: In this poetic memoir, Margarita Engle, the first Latina woman to receive a Newbery Honor, tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.

Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.

Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

howHow I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
Illustrations by Hadley Hooper

Dial Books
My Review

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.

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Review: I Will Always Write Back

always
Title:
I Will Always Write Back
Authors: Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 392
Genre: Nonfiction (Memoir)
Review Copy: Won in Internet giveaway
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: The true story of an all-American girl and a boy from an impoverished city in Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever.

It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin’s class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. All the other kids picked countries like France or Germany, but when Caitlin saw Zimbabwe written on the board, it sounded like the most exotic place she had ever heard of–so she chose it. Martin was lucky to even receive a pen pal letter. There were only ten letters, and forty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one.

That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives.

In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends–and better people–through letters. Their story will inspire readers to look beyond their own lives and wonder about the world at large and their place in it.

Review: Caitlin Alifirenka chose to have a penpal in Zimbabwe because the country sounded different and exotic. The name caught her attention. She didn’t know much about Africa and figured this would be a way to learn. That concerned me a bit. I worried that this would only be a look at how unusual Martin and his life was and that Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa only consists of impoverished people. Over time, readers do see that there is more to Zimbabwe than exotic animals, grass huts and poverty. Martin’s family does have very little, but through Martin’s visits to relatives and a boarding school, readers see that poverty is not the only story of Africa.

The text consists of alternating chapters from Caitlin and Martin. There is narrative mixed with their letters or portions of letters from their time as school penpals. Caitlin and Martin began exchanging letters and their correspondence lasted much longer than the school year. Caitlin found it easy to share her daily life with Martin. He was always positive about her and encouraged her so she told him about disagreements with friends, vacations, and things you would share with a close friend. Martin was more reserved. For quite some time, he was not precisely hiding the difficulties his family faced, but he wasn’t pointing them out. If Caitlin had read between the lines, she may have seen that his living conditions were more than a little challenging, but she truly couldn’t imagine that their homes and way of living were radically different. They both had loving families, but they had vastly differing access to resources.

Over time, Caitlin had a growing realization that Martin was smart, but could not stay in school because his family didn’t have enough money to keep him there. Caitlin began sending money. Later, when the needs exceeded what she could provide, she and Martin began to get more people involved.

What was nice about the book is that the voices seemed honest and real. Caitlin doesn’t try to hide the fact that she had been privileged and unaware of how others may be living. She has a giving heart and as her eyes are opened, she begins to look for ways to help not just Martin, but others too. Martin and his family definitely benefit from the love and resources Catilin and her family provide. Martin also helps Caitlin to see a wider world as he overcomes his reluctance to let her know about his families day to day life and struggles.

The book is written in a very conversational style so though it is a little lengthy, even younger readers, middle school or even possibly upper elementary, could read it rather quickly. I can’t help but feel this had an air of “white savior” to it as Caitlin and her family save the day many times, but Martin was also working at changing his circumstances. Had he not been keeping up with his studies, excelling in school, and seeking out all available resources, the work that was being done on the U.S. side would not have been effective.

Recommendation: Get it soon especially if you are a fan of memoirs or ever had a penpal (both of which apply to me). It’s interesting to see how two people connected  and caused a change in the life of the other. These voices reminded me that people are never too young to make a difference.

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New Releases

We found two new releases to get excited about this week. Let us know if we’ve missed any titles.

always I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda with Liz Welch
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin’s class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. All the other kids picked countries like France or Germany, but when Caitlin saw Zimbabwe written on the board, it sounded like the most exotic place she had ever heard of–so she chose it.
Martin was lucky to even receive a pen pal letter. There were only ten letters, and forty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one.

That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives.

In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends –and better people–through letters. Their story will inspire readers to look beyond their own lives and wonder about the world at large and their place in it.

 

 

 

andreo'sAndreo’s Race by Pam Withers
Tundra Books

Just as sixteen-year-old Andreo, skilled in death-defying ironman events in wilderness regions, is about to compete in rugged Bolivia, he and his friend Raul (another Bolivian adoptee) begin to suspect that their adoptive parents have unwittingly acquired them illegally. Plotting to use the upcoming race to pursue the truth, they veer on an epic journey to locate Andreo’s birth parents, only to find themselves hazardously entangled with a gang of baby traffickers. Never suspecting that attempting to bring down the ring would endanger their very lives, the boys plunge ahead. Compelling, poignant, and heart-stopping, Andreo’s Race takes readers on a perilous quest to discover the true meaning of family.

— Cover images and summaries via Goodreads

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