28/28: Sons of Liberty

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageI have avoided books about slavery this month because my students don’t read a lot of them and I like to offer them (and wanted to offer you) books about the black experience that go beyond slavery as much as possible. I am making an exception for this graphic novel series, The Sons of Liberty. A few years ago I presented this to our school board as part of a celebration of school libraries and I described it as, “Django Unchained except okay for middle school.” Thankfully, I did not get fired. This book is about two escaped slaves who get super powers and use them to get revenge on their former owners. Part Django Unchained and part superhero story, these are insanely popular. If you need a graphic novel for this age, this (and the second one) are definite winners.

And that’s it! We did it! Twenty-eight days of books! Thank you for reading and I hope that I have made a resource that is helpful. Did I leave anything off that you love? There are tons that I didn’t even get to, and I am not as knowledgeable about picture books as an elementary librarian would be, so I would love some suggestions there. Happy reading!

27/28: The Port Chicago 50

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageHere is another amazing non-fiction story that needs to be more widely known. After an explosion at Port Chicago killed over 300 black sailors in July of 1944, over 200 more refused to go back to work until conditions were safer. After being threatened with a firing squad, all but 50 went back to work. Those 50 were charged with and found guilty of mutiny and have still not been exonerated today. This is non-fiction at its finest and offers a perspective on Civil Rights that goes beyond the 1960s. I am glad it was a National Book Award finalist because we need more books like this one.

26/28: Chess Rumble

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageThis is a very cool story of a young man who uses chess to stay out of trouble on the streets. Besides being an engaging graphic novel, this book is popular with the members of the chess team at my school.

Other books by G. Neri that are great:
Ghetto Cowboy (a novel based on actual urban cowboys)
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty (one of the most popular graphic novels at my school)

25/28: The Great Greene Heist

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageI wrote about The Great Greene Heist over the summer, and I highlighted its Ocean’s 11 cleverness, its diverse cast of characters, and its nerdy fun. All of that is still true, but I also wanted to say that I love it because it is a contemporary story that features black characters and isn’t set in an “urban school” environment. I love those books because my students can relate to them, but I also want there to be a diversity of black experiences on my shelves. Jackson Greene helps me broaden what I can offer.

I probably love this one a little bit more than my students because I am so familiar with Ocean’s 11, but if I can get them to watch the movie as well, then I am definitely winning.

24/28: Finding My Place

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageWe have three books by Traci L. Jones in my school library, and all of them are popular. I picked Finding My Place because I love the cover. It is set in the 1970s and features Tiphanie, whose parents move to the suburbs, causing her to be the only black girl in her school. I like that this is set in the 70s, which is a time period that my students are curious about, and it is a much more graceful portrayal of the difficulties of race relations than many (most) books for this audience.

Her other two books:
Standing Against the Wind
Silhouetted by the Blue

23/28: Drama High

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageDrama High is another crazy popular series at my school. You can pretty much tell what it is about (drama at a high school). It fills the same need for my students that Sweet Valley High filled for me (and I mean that in a good way – I loved Sweet Valley High in middle school). As students figure out who they are as readers, it is great to hook them on a series and be able to hand them the next one. Drama High really fills that need for me. I don’t always get my copies back, but I am often able to find used copies to supplement at the local used bookstore. Highly recommended for middle school girls.

Two similar series that are also popular:
Del Rio Bay
Kimani Tru
So For Real

22/28: The Bluford Series

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageThe Bluford Series is the number one most popular sdries in my school. It is a low-level/high-interest series that focuses on the different students at Bluford High. The stories intertwine, but the books don’t really have to be read in any particular order.

This was a series that was a little bit of a surprise to me when I moved from the public library to the school system. It’s one of those things that is well-known in schools but not as well-known outside of that environment. Townsend Press has a lot of great offers for schools, and the series is available for just $2 per paperback copy. The Bluford Series is not great literature, but it is great for your reluctant readers, both boys and girls. Did I mention it is the number one most popular series at my school?

Some of the Bluford authors also worked on the Urban Underground series, which is not as popular but which students will accept when my Bluford books are checked out.

21/28: What Momma Left Me

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageThis is one that I have not read but which is very popular with my students (which was one of my goals, to highlight what they are actually reading). Since I haven’t read it, I am going to quote the description from the publisher here:

Serenity knows she is good at keeping secrets, and she’s got a whole lifetime’s worth of them. Her mother is dead, her father is gone, and starting life over at her grandparents’ house is strange. Luckily, certain things seem to hold promise: a new friend, a new church, a new school. But when her brother starts making poor choices, and her grandparents believe in a faith that Serenity isn’t sure she understands, it is the power of love that will keep her sure of just who she is.

I do know from discussions with students and from the cover that a cake recipe is part of what her mother left her. And I just want to say that one thing I really like about many of the books that my students read is that the faith communities play a large role in the stories, as such communities do in their lives (and, in life in the Bible Belt). Sometimes church and religion are ignored in YA literature so I appreciate books that weave them in (though I could use more books about Muslim teens!).

Anyway, I’m going to make it a goal to read this one this spring! You should join me.

20/28: Bad News for Outlaws

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageSome of my favorite books, both for children and adults, take a relatively unknown true story and bring it to our attention. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a book that comes to mind, or The Man who Walked Between the Towers. The book Bad News for Outlaws is a little bit like that, in that it tells an incredibly interesting story of a black deputy U.S. Marshal who worked in the Wild West. This is a great tale, plus it opens students’ eyes to a place and time they are not very familiar with. I recommend it as a read-aloud for all ages, because there is so much to talk about.

19/28: We Could Be Brothers

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

Do you remember what you liked to read when you were in middle school? I read a lot of books that focused on a particular after-school special type message, whether it was problem novels or Christian novels (or, my favorite, Christian problem novels). I don’t want to neglect some of the ones that my students like just because I find them to be a little bit didactic, so I am going to make sure and include them as we move into in the home stretch. Ready?

imageWe Could Be Brothers is about two boys who discover that even though their lives are very different, they have more in common than they might have imagined. It is constantly checked out, and I recommend it for middle school students. It has a lot of the topics you might expect, such as bullying and family issues, but it is also very, very warm-hearted.

remember your death.

We had some snow and sleet on Monday evening, and temperatures have been so cold that things remain closed and cancelled, including last night’s Ash Wednesday service.

Atticus has been enthusiastic about Ash Wednesday for the past few weeks (I would say “oddly enthusiastic” but he is my kid so I am raising him to be a church nerd. Of course he is enthusiastic), so we didn’t want to disappoint him. I checked with some churchy friends to see if applying ashes ourselves would be heretical and decided to stake my claim with the priesthood of the believers. We were fresh out of palm leaves, so Mike burned a piece of the Japanese maple beside our side door. I applied the olive oil to make it stick, and we were ready for business.

Except. Watching the minister put ashes on your kid (as in years past) is different than putting them on him yourself, telling him that he is made from dust and to dust he shall return. My heart froze up a little bit as I said the words. No, I thought, he was made from love and grew inside me. I repeated the words as I marked Mike’s forehead, and he repeated them for me.

The part that went unspoken is that today is my dad’s birthday. I never know how to mark these anniversaries, but I feel their presence just as I feel his absence. Talking to Atticus about his own death was made even more intense by that reminder of what my dad has not been present for. At the same time, remembering my dad made me less afraid. We talk to Atticus about death all the time, to the point that he knows where my dad’s ashes are. I am thankful that the church gives us a season to talk openly about death’s place in our lives as we prepare for the Resurrection.

As soon as I applied his ashes, Atticus ran to check them in the mirror. I won’t say that we did a great job pondering our mortality yesterday, but we did follow through on one of my most deeply-held values, which is allowing Atticus to participate in the activities of the church, whether he understands them or not. Even if they make us all a little uncomfortable.

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18/28: The Snowy Day

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageLook, I know you know about The Snowy Day. We all know about The Snowy Day. But it is important to have stories with black characters, and it is snowy here this week, and you should pick it up if you haven’t read it in a while. There is a reason that it is such an enduring classic, and it’s a lovely and charming book to be reminded of.

17/28: How It Went Down

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageToday we were out of school for a snow day and I finished a book that I got over the weekend from the public library, How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon. It’s an incredibly timely book about a black teenage boy who is shot by a white man. It’s told from varying perspectives as the people around him try to understand the story. Was he in a gang or was he a holdout? Did he have a gun or just candy in his pocket? Did he steal something or was the clerk just trying to give him change? It was impossible to read it and not think of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, but it also made me think of how we flatten their narratives and watch people insert themselves in the stories. I came away reminded that these lives matter whether these young men make perfect decisions or not. It also made me think a lot about how hard it is to really know someone, even our closest friends and family. Highly recommended for teenagers. I think it would make a great discussion in a social studies class as a framework for current events.

Kekla Magoon also wrote:
The Rock and the River, about a boy who feels pulled between his father, who works for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his brother, who is getting involved with the Black Panthers. Just as in How It Went Down, these complex issues are dealt with in a sensitive and thoughtful way. Also highly recommended.

16/28: March (volumes 1 and 2)

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageI am such a fangirl for the March graphic novels by John Lewis. When John Lewis was a young man, he was inspired by a comic book about Martin Luther King. He and Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell decided to take that same spirit and bring it to March, which uses the comic book format to bring the history of John Lewis and his participation in the Civil Rights movement to the next generation. I enjoy both the story and the format, but most of all I enjoyed the stories about John Lewis going to Comic Con to promote his book. These are great historical graphic novels and I love this as a way to explain these stories to my students.

Other graphic novels I like:
Malcolm X by Andrew Helfer and Randy DuBurke
Yummy by G. Neri and Randy DuBurke

15/28: We are the Ship

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageI don’t have a ton to say about We are the Ship, because its title (and its awards) basically explain everything. It tells the story of the Negro Leagues as if an old player is reminiscing. I have seen it described as a hybrid between a chapter book and a picture book, and that seems right to me. The artwork is gorgeous and the story is interesting. I recommend this for middle grades and middle school and anyone who likes baseball. Opening day will be here before you know it – go ahead and read this to prepare.

Kadir Nelson illustrated these other fine books:
Please, Baby, Please
Heart and Soul
Henry’s Freedom Box

14/28: One Crazy Summer

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageWhen One Crazy Summer won a Newbery Honor, I remember one of my favorite authors expressing dismay that it had gotten an honor instead of winning. I have to confess that I never read the book that did win that year but I really enjoyed One Crazy Summer. It is about three sisters who go to stay with their mother in California one summer. Their mother, it turns out, is involved with the Black Panthers. I loved this book because my students have so many questions about the Black Panthers and this book shows the positive side (feeding and educating the community) as well as some difficult interactions with the police. Most of all it is a story about s girl wrestling with growing up and with her relationship with her mother, which is something that most of us can understand. You can see from the cover that this is a book that is highly regarded and if you have not read it you should put it on your list.

I have not yet read the sequel:
P.S. Be Eleven

13/28: Max Axiom series

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

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Last week Mike and Atticus came home with a Max Axiom book about volcanoes. I have this series in my library at school and they check out a lot (as do all my graphic novels) but I have never done anything more than flip through them. Max Axiom is a “super scientist” and he takes the reader on a journey through a scientific topic, showing both the lab work and the field work. Atticus was enthralled, and I liked that the scientists that Max Axiom introduced us to were a healthy mix of male and female.

I have featured a lot of stories here that are particularly about how the characters experience being black in the world, but I don’t want all the depictions of black characters that my son and my students see to be specifically about race (or slavery, or Civil Rights). I like Max Axiom because he is just a super cool scientist. Definitely look for this series at your local library!

12/28: The Skin I’m In

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageA couple of years ago I did a book club with The Skin I’m In, which was the first time I had actually read it. Since then, a mentoring group we have at the school has used it several times. The book tells the story of Maleeka, a 7th grader who is teased because of her darker skin, and how her perspective changes through the influence of a teacher who has a birthmark (or possibly vitiligo?) on her face. The Skin I’m In is written in a straightforward, uncomplicated style that my students relate to and respond to. It makes for great discussions about the ways we see ourselves and the “flaws” that the world perceives. It’s also a good book to talk about bullying and peer pressure. I have never had a student tell me they didn’t like this one. Recommended for: middle school.

Other books by Sharon Flake that my students love:
Money Hungry
Begging for Change
You Don’t Even Know Me
Who Am I Without Him

11/28: Bronx Masquerade

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

bronx-masqueradeI used to work at a school where one grade level taught Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes to their students and it was always a hit. The only problem for me is that there’s not anything else quite like it to catch their attention (except maybe now I could give students The Crossover). It’s structured as an open mic in an English class – we learn a little bit about each character and then they share a poem about their lives. The stories weave together and paint a picture of a 10th grade classroom full of teenagers with stories they are learning how to share with the world. I think it is especially great for teaching because this is a book that should be read aloud. (I think we should do more reading aloud to teenagers, but that is another story for another day.)

My students also like:
The Road to Paris (which does not feature poetry)

10/28: The Crossover

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageMy one YALLfest regret: I saw Kwame Alexander and I wanted to go and speak to him (because he knows my cousin) but then I couldn’t find the place where his book signing was and I guess I missed my chance because even if he’s there next year surely he will be mobbed because his book The Crossover won the Newbery!

I have a soft spot for novels in verse and for basketball stories so of course I was in the bag for The Crossover from the beginning. It’s about twin brothers and their family life and their love of basketball. Kwame Alexander’s use of language in the book, the way he plays with words and sounds, makes this such a worthy winner. I finally sat down and read the whole thing through and it was magnificent. It would be a wonderful readaloud for a classroom or a family, and it will draw in even the most reluctant reader. I am particularly pleased to see a book like The Crossover be recognized because so often the Newbery winners are about plucky white girls (a genre I love and was raised on) but it is good to see the award going to something different.

I don’t have any recommendations for additional titles today. Just read The Crossover and marvel at its greatness.