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.

9/28: The First Part Last

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.

The_First_Part_Last_(Angela_Johnson_novel)_cover_artAngela Johnson has written a lot of picture books, but I am not as familiar with those – my main knowledge of her work comes from two titles that are popular in middle school, Heaven and The First Part Last. Girls in middle school loooooove The First Part Last – it’s about a teenage father named Bobby who is raising his daughter alone because of a tragedy surrounding her birth. The cover alone does most of the work for me – doesn’t he look so swoony holding that baby? The book does a good job showing the stresses of teenage pregnancy and not glamorizing it (despite the swoony cover). Students love Bobby, and this book won both the Printz and the Coretta Scott King when it was published. A real and thoughtful story.

You should also read:
Heaven (another Coretta Scott King winner – the cover always looks young to me but the main character is 14)

8/28: Martin’s Big Words

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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Pretty much every Black History Month list of books is going to include Martin’s Big Words By Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier, but it really is just that good. The words and pictures come together to create a beautiful picture of Dr. King and the power of using your voice. If you have never read it, you really should.

When we read it to Atticus on Dr. King’s birthday this year, we had a good and difficult conversation at the part where Rosa Parks is arrested. Sometimes the rules are wrong. Therefore, I suggest you pair this one with:

I Have a Dream illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier (which I am particularly fond of because it makes it clear that Rosa Parks was not just a lady with tired feet who didn’t want to move but a woman with agency who made a choice because she was tired of injustice.)

7/28: Hazelwood 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.

The ALA awards this year hit all the right notes with me (except for the Printz winner, which I read back in the fall and recommended for, and I quote, “NO ONE”), and I will be mentioning them a few more times over the rest of the month. I was particularly excited about this year’s Edwards award winner. The Edwards award is given to a young adult author who has made a lasting contribution to the field, and it’s given for specific titles. This year, Sharon Draper won for six of her titles, all of which are very popular at my school. The three I am going to mention today are the Hazelwood High Trilogy: Tears of a Tiger, Forged by Fire, and Darkness Before Dawn. They tell the stories of three different teenagers at Hazelwood High, one who is dealing with the aftermath of a drunk driving incident, one who has an abusive home life, and one who is struggling with relationships after a suicide.

Sharon Draper wrote these books because she teaches English and wanted to write the kind of books her students (and mine) want to read. If there was one author I was tempted to post about more than one day this month, it would have been her.

Here are a few of her other titles:
Romiette and Julio
The Battle of Jericho
Copper Sun
Double Dutch
Out of my Mind

6/28: Bud, Not Buddy

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 find Bud, Not Buddy To be a little bit young for middle school, but it was one of Mike’s favorite’s to teach when he worked with fifth graders. Bud (not Buddy) is ten years old, and often my students don’t like to read about characters younger than themselves.

In this story, Bud is looking for the man he believes to be his father. His mother has died and he escaped a difficult foster home situation. Like a lot of children’s books, it talks about a lot of hard things, but it does so with a particular deftness and humor. Maybe this is not a book that needs talking up – it won the Coretta Scott King award and the Newbery, after all. Mike is such a fan, and I know he can’t wait to read it with Atticus in a year or two, but it’s not a book I would be immediately attracted to (the cover, for example, does nothing for me), and if you are anything like me, you might need a little nudge to pick it up, too.

Obviously you should also read:
The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963

5/28: Tyrell

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’m going to be honest, I haven’t read this one yet. As a librarian, I often read the books that might be a little bit tougher sell because I need to talk them up a bit. This one doesn’t need my help – as soon as it comes in, it goes right back out, and when I have asked why my students like it so much, the answer is that, “It’s real.” Tyrell lives in a shelter with his mother and younger brother and his father is in jail. He is determined not to end up like his dad, but also desperately wants money to get his family out of the shelter. The book is based on Coe Booth’s experiences working with families and teenagers in crisis, which is surely what my students are responding to so strongly.

I saw Coe Booth at YALLfest and she was wonderful, and if this book is ever checked in for more than two seconds, maybe I will snag it for myself to read one weekend. Even without having read it, I knew I should highlight it this month. My one disclaimer is that all the reviews make it clear that Tyrell contains mature themes, so be aware before you start.

Coe Booth’s other books are also popular:
Bronxwood
Kendra

4/28: Ron’s Big Mission

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 bought Ron’s Big Mission for Atticus when I was pregnant with him. I knew that it was about Ron McNair, the Challenger astronaut (who has Greensboro ties – he went to A&T), but not much else past that. It turns out that it is based on a true story about how Ron fought against segregation so that he could get a library card. Atticus knows it as the book where Ron jumps up on the library desk until the librarian will let him check out the books that he wants.

It’s a simple but powerful story, and a reminder that children see injustice. It gives us a great opportunity to talk about bravery and what we should do when we believe the rules are wrong. The pictures are charming and expressive and I love reading it to Atticus. I first read it to him just a few weeks after he was born, and we always read it on January 28th. This year we introduced him to the fact that we were reading it because it was the day that Ron had died, and it gave us another way to talk about Ron McNair’s bravery.

Also recommended:
I know illustrator Don Tate from the book She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story, which we do not own but which I also enjoyed. He has a lot of other highly-regarded books I haven’t read yet, so I am learning a lot through this series, too.

3/28: Monster

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.

imageIf I were to have to make a list of the top ten YA books of all time, I would try to get out of it because it’s too hard. There are three or four that I know would make the list, though, and Monster by Walter Dean Myers is one of them. Walter Dean Myers, who died over the summer, wrote a lot of great books for kids and teenagers, but I think Monster was his masterpiece. (I haven’t read everything, though, because he wrote a ton, so if you want to argue about this I am open to hearing you out.)

I first read Monster when I was working for a professor who taught a YA class and I had to check the students’ summaries so I read a lot of the books to make sure that the summaries were valid. Monster is about Steve, a boy who is in juvenile detention and on trial for a robbery/murder. The book alternates between Steve’s journal and the trial, written in screenplay format because Steve loves filmmaking. The format is interesting, the topic catches students’ attention, and the question of guilt is not resolved neatly. Walter Dean Myers was one of the all-time greats, and this is my favorite of his books. You should read it.

My students also love:
Autobiography of My Dead Brother
Handbook for Boys
What They Found: Love on 145th Street

I also recommend this piece by Walter Dean Myers that inspired the We Need Diverse Books campaign.