Friday, February 5, 2021

Isaiah Dunn is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist

Black Boy Joy has become a fashionable trend of late but has always been a thing. This book is one of my new favorites and yes although it starts with a sad premise, the main protagonist is resilient and most importantly he has a village that surrounds him with love and lifts him up.  

Isaiah Dunn's father has recently passed away and we meet him as he, his mother and his adorable little sister are still coming to terms with this.  Isaiah has a good friend, Sneaky, and the two spend hours cutting up and getting on Sneaky's older brother's nerves. Isaiah's mom however is having a hard time with coping and Isaiah tries as hard as a 10 year old kid can to help her out.

Image result for isiah dunn

Conflict is never far away from a boy like Isaiah and in school, he is sat next to a girl called Angel who, for some reason doesn't like him. When the two eventually butt heads, instead of suspension, they are made to do an alternative conflict resolution which eventually gets to the root of their disagreement.

One positive that I noted in this novel were  the many positive role male models that came into Isaiah's life to lend him support and advice.  Role models are especially important for youth of any age but especially for black youth.  Another positive I noted was the power of words. Isaiah's father kept books of poems and Isaiah spends hours poring over the books and eventually writes his own poetry. Also, one of his safe spaces outside school is the library.

Black Boy Joy (and Black Girl Joy as well, Charlie is one of the most joyful supporting characters I have seen in some time) can come in different forms and just like in any family, sometimes you need to go through rocky patches in order to get to the sweet stuff on the other side. I read this book to my very discerning 10 year old and he lay awake listening to me read anxious to find out what would happen to Isaiah. There were also a few points for us to stop and discuss as well. Some read alikes are Free Lunch by Alex Ogle, I'm Ok by Patti Kim and l Curtis and Paper Things by Jennifer Jacobson.


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

War Stories by Gordon Korman

There is a saying that history has been written by the victors. Often, we learn history in school but as we get older and reflect on what we learn, we see that some parts of history have been glossed over.  Our nation still has soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, a fact that many people probably do not think about unless they have family serving overseas. 

War Stories: Korman, Gordon: 9781338290202: Amazon.com: Books

This is not the first war that America has fought in- World War II was the deadliest conflict in world history to this point. America sent more than 16 million troops overseas to fight this war.  In this book, Korman introduces us to a kid called Trevor who loves playing war video games and is obsessed with war lore, especially that of World War II.

Trevor is lucky enough to still have his great grandfather in his life. G.G. as they call him is crusty, matter-of-fact but with a soft side underneath it all.  Trevor's dad adores G.G. but is not a big fan of the war stories that G.G. tells from his time in World War II.

As it is the anniversary of G.G.'s unit liberating a French village, they invite him to be honored.  Trevor soon discovers that not everything that G.G. has told him and his dad may have been the truth. Sometimes the truth is complicated and knowing it doesn't make you feel any better.  War is not a simple thing and sometimes hard sacrifices have to be made for the good of the whole.

Korman does a good job of showing all sides of the conflict. The eager Trevor reveres G.G. (probably because he has heard the stories dozens of times). A read alike to this book would be The Bicycle Spy by Yona Zeldis McDonough and Allies by Alan Gratz.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

The Great Upending by Beth Kephart

 Upend means to "set or turn something on its head upside down". So a great upending sounds like it would be extremely serious in anyone's life (some may say that the year 2020 has upended the entire world, nut that's another story. Kephart introduces us to Sara, a kid who is called "giant" by other kids but who has a serious illness which makes her body oddly proportioned.

Amazon.com: The Great Upending eBook: Kephart, Beth: Kindle Store

Sara and her brother Hawk live life very differently to many of the children that I know- of course I live in the suburbs where life tends to follow more defined patterns. For Sara and her brother, witnessing struggle and loss on a farm has made them very mindful about things like using too much water, using ingredients and taking care of goats.

A new visitor to the farm is mysterious and does not want to be bothered. The curious kids however want to learn more about who he is and what he does and in the course of this, discover things that will change their world indeed

The ramifications of things that have occurred are still with us today. As children growing up we often don't reflect on the life of our parents, but they had lives, hopes and dreams of their own before we came into their life. Sometimes, a kindness that someone in our family tree did for someone way back when can rebound on us in ways that we never would have imagined. Some read alikes to this book are Kate Dicamillo's Louisiana's Way Home and Patricia MacLachlan's Dream Within  a Dream.


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley

 Would you rather be a lion or a flea? One aspect of life in many societies is that those who are stronger physically or personality wise tend to dominate social circles. This is true in  Frederick Frederickson's school where cool kid Devin sits atop the social circle and Frederick, an unathletic, a cruise-loving fifth grader sits at the very bottom. In their school there are lions, gazelles, meerkats and on the bottom of the totem pole, fleas. Frederick is a flea. 

As you can imagine, Frederick sometimes wishes he wasn't a flea, but he secretly hopes that some day he will get his moment. Maybe some day he will be top dog in dodgeball AND get more wings on his plate at lunch.

Lions & Liars: Beasley, Kate, Santat, Dan: 9780374302634: Amazon.com: Books

When by a weird series of events, Frederick finds himself on a camp for boys who need behavior adjustment, he suddenly gets a chance to vault right to the head of the pecking order. Of course this brings a set of consequences that he didn't anticipate. For one, at this camp, the kids seem to revere Frederick. Then as if that wasn't enough, mother nature throws a huge spanner into the works.

This is a good read about friendship and about doing the right thing under pressure. Kids at this age are beginning to make decisions for themselves and the influence of the peer group is becoming so very important. Some similar books are Louis Sachar's classic Holes, Lisa Graff's Absolutely Almost and Erin Entrada Kelly's excellent Hello Universe.




Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Colorism is a fact of life in many countries and in the lives of many people of color.  In many societies, families sometimes favor offspring who are lighter in color and often encourage their children to marry people who are lighter. It is all in an effort to "better" the family and possibly increase their chances of success in life. Skin whitening products do a roaring trade in many parts of the world also.

Amazon.com: Genesis Begins Again (Audible Audio Edition): Alicia D ...

Author Alicia D. Williams introduces us to Genesis, a young teen who wants what most teens want-social acceptance. This is a challenge for her due to the many upheavals her family experiences and also, in her mind, because of her dark skin. Genesis gets a chance to broaden her social circle when her family moves to the suburbs of Detroit but she finds some other obstacles in school. Luckily, she has a loving family, true friends and caring teachers who are there.

Williams adeptly tackles a variety of social issues such as colorism, social pressure, identity, family issues and generational trauma. It is sometimes said that people spend their adult years getting over their childhoods and evidence of this is true to some extent with some of the characters in this novel. One takeaway from this book for young readers is that kids should never be expected to fix the messes made by adults and should seek help from those qualified to do so (teachers, counselors, mentors etc.)

I recommend this book for older tweens and teens. Some read alikes are Like Vanessa by Tami Charles, The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake and The Fold by An Na. 

#ownvoices

Monday, July 27, 2020

Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros



I work in education with many children who come from a similar background as the main character of this book and who also face similar challenges. In my school it is not uncommon for students to leave school in the middle of the school year to visit Mexico. Some of these trips may be in order to reconnect with family but others may be due to a family member being deported.

Efrén Divided: Cisneros, Ernesto: 9780062881687: Amazon.com: Books


Efrén is a great big brother who takes care of his sometimes pesky younger siblings. His mom and dad (whom he calls amá and apá respectively) work hard to take care of the family. They have a secret however, they are in the country illegally and the specter of deportation always hangs over them.


One day however, amá goes missing and Efrén's worst fears come true. His father must scramble to fix things and Efrén has to pick up the slack at home with the little ones while also keeping things going at school.  As if this isn't enough, David is running for school president and needs Efrén's help but Efrén isn’t 100% sure he wants to help his pal


It is a basic human desire for parents to want better for their children. Although it may not be the right thing to do legally, all throughout history people have left their country whenever things go awry due to war, conflict or disease.


Cisneros provides a comprehensive glossary of terms in the back of the book as well which is good for those who don't speak Spanish or don't understand it that well (there is much Spanish used in the book).  Books like these are good ways to introduce topics to younger readers who may see topics on the news or on social media but don't understand. A few read alikes to this book are Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan, Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez and The Crossroads by Alexandra Diaz.






Thursday, July 2, 2020

Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow

I hesitated for a long time before reading this book and it sat on my nightstand for a few days. If you've read many of this blog's posts, you will notice that I read a lot of fiction books. Some, like Courage by Barbara Binns and Front Desk by Kelly Yang deal with weighty issues but others are pretty light. I know that in order to encourage kids to read, oftentimes you must lead with light books that catch their interest.

Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Tonya Bolden is not by any stretch of the imagination, a light book. It deals with heavy, weighty issues that many, even people like myself who are of African descent, sometimes struggle to read. The weight of history, of the struggles of the ancestors and of the cruel and inhumane treatment suffered during slavery is sometimes too hard to process.

But, in the year 2020 when so many things concerning civil rights are in the public consciousness, I decided to read this book not least because I wanted to delve into some of the things that shaped the nation. Things that occur today are as a result of centuries of oppression, state policies and outright bigotry.


Amazon.com: Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim ...


Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr and his co-author create a very readable account of a little studied period in American history between 1865 and 1877 called Reconstruction.  It is important to remember that not everyone was happy to see former slaves now given rights such as the right to vote through amendments to the Constitution.

I finished this book and felt a sense of pride for the enduring spirit of those who resisted and fought for the rights to live and prosper and so that their children could have a better future.  This book is, in my humble opinion, a must read for teens and adults.  We must learn from history or be doomed to repeat it.



Isaiah Dunn is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist

Black Boy Joy has become a fashionable trend of late but has always been a thing. This book is one of my new favorites and yes although it s...