Sandip Wilson, Mary Ellen Oslick, Osha Lynette Smith, and Jeanne Fain
In selecting twenty-five diverse and multicultural books for the annual Notable Books for a Global Society collection, members of the committee read trade books in different genres for readers in PreK through high school. This column includes reviews of books from the 2022 NBGS list that celebrate courage, hope, and self-discovery.
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids. Cynthia Leitich Smith (Ed.). (2021). Heartdrum.
This collection of eighteen stories, written by Native authors including Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation), Brian Young (Navajo Nation), Dawn Quigley (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe), and Eric Gansworth (Tuscarora Nation), celebrates tribal families from Nations all over North America who gather at the annual Dance for Mother Earth Powwow in Ann Arbor, Michigan. With a focus on the joy and pride of participants and observers in the dancing, music, and regalia, the interconnecting stories feature young people and their relationships with friends, families, and elders. (Gr 6 Up)
Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem. Amanda Gorman. Illus. by Loren Long. (2021). Viking.
“There is love where my change sings.” In her picture book debut, Amanda Gorman, presidential inaugural poet and activist, weaves a story of children working together to effect change in themselves, their community, and the world. Readers follow a young girl with a guitar as she recruits other children with diverse backgrounds and varied abilities to play musical instruments to parade with her. They march through the town playing their varied instruments, cleaning up a playground, building a porch ramp for a girl in a wheelchair, and updating a store front. Loren Long’s vibrant and detailed illustrations in a bold color palette complement the inspirational text. Gorman ends the book with a call to action: “We all hear change strumming. Won’t you sing along?” (PreK Up)
I Am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story. Martha Brockenbrough (with Grace Lin). Illus. by Julia Kuo. (2021). Little, Brown.
Wong Kim Ark, born in San Francisco in 1873, grew up in a time when people of Chinese heritage suffered cruelty and blame for hard times in the economy and were told that they could never be Americans. His immigrant parents returned to China in 1890, but Kim Ark stayed in San Francisco, visiting his parents on two occasions. His return to the U.S. in 1890 was uneventful. In 1894, returning from his second trip, Kim Ark was denied reentry when a customs officer said he was not a citizen although he carried the required document signed by three witnesses saying that he was American. Sharply defined digital illustrations accompany the text, which recounts Kim Ark’s challenges to the law that ended with an 1898 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that, since he was born in the United States, he was a citizen. Back matter includes additional information about Kim Ark’s story and the Fourteenth Amendment, a timeline, and arguments for both sides of his case. (Gr 3-5)
In My Mosque. M. O. Yuksel. Illus. by Hatem Aly. (2021). Harper.
This beautifully illustrated book takes readers inside a mosque as seen through the eyes of a young Muslim boy. He says his mosque feels like home, a place of love where everyone is welcome. Young and old leave their shoes outside, and everyone is dressed in their finest to show respect to the most High. Worshippers lay out prayer mats, listen to readings from the Qur’an, and hear the imam tell stories of living in harmony with others because we are all connected and come from one Creator. After the Muezzin’s call to prayers, the boy explains, “in our mosque, we pray for peace, love, and joy.” Hatem Aly’s striking digital artwork with colorful ink washes and patterns complements the text. Arabic words are translated in the glossary in the back matter, which also includes more information about mosques and identifies famous and historic mosques in the world. (PreK-Gr 2)
Indivisible. Daniel Aleman. (2021). Little, Brown.
What does being an American mean? Who decides if you are American enough to stay in this country? High school student Mateo Garcia has pondered these questions for his entire life because his parents are undocumented immigrants from Mexico. From an early age, he has heard them admonish him to keep this family secret. “If anyone from schools asks, tell them your parents are from the South. They’ll think we’re from Texas or something.” Nothing prepares Mateo for the fear he experiences when ICE comes to his family’s bodega, looking for his father. Daniel Aleman’s important and timely story about immigration and family shows how Mateo’s dreams of starring on Broadway evaporate as his parents’ impending deportation threatens to break up his family. (Gr 9-12)
Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Nikki Grimes. Illus. by Vanessa Brantley-Newton & others. (2021). Bloomsbury.
In this beautifully designed anthology, Nikki Grimes celebrates fifteen women poets of the Harlem Renaissance including Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Esther Popel, and Helen Johnson. Grimes pairs their poems with poems she creates using the Golden Shovel poetic form (which she explains in the introduction). Grimes takes a special line (or group of lines) of the poem and writes a new poem with the words in the line of the original poem appearing in order as the last word in the lines of the new poem. A colorful illustration by a contemporary Black woman artist accompanies each pair of poems. Back matter includes biographical material on the poets and illustrators, sources, and an index. (Gr 6 Up)
Nina: A Story of Nina Simone. Traci N. Todd. Illus. by Christian Robinson. (2021). Putnam.
This stunning picture book biography tells the fascinating life story of Eunice Kathleen Waymon (1933-2003), who sang before she could talk and learned to play piano on her father’s knee. While she was a student at the Julliard School of Music, Eunice heard rumors that she had failed to win a place at Philadelphia’s prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in spite of a flawless audition because she was Black. She gave up her dream of being a concert pianist and, changing her name to Nina Simone, began performing in night clubs. Gaining fame, she even performed at Carnegie Hall in 1963. Nina added her voice to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and used her music to fight for freedom for all. Back matter provides additional information on Nina Simone’s life and a bibliography. (Gr 3 Up)
Red, White, and Whole. Rajani LaRocca. (2021). Quill Tree.
In this realistic novel in verse, thirteen-year-old Reha feels too foreign as the only Indian-American student in her middle school, but she also struggles to feel at home with her conservative parents and their small community of predominantly Indian immigrants. Trying to balance the American and Indian complexities of her identity, she wants to dance to pop music with friends and attend her first school dance, but faces her mother disapproval. When her mother is diagnosed with leukemia, Reha is convinced that being the virtuous daughter her parents expect will help heal her. Readers will cheer for Reha to find peace with her parents and herself. Author Rajani LaRocca drew from her own experiences growing up as an immigrant in the 1900s to create this thought-provoking novel. (Gr 6-8)
Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory. Julie Abery. Illus. by Chris Sasaki. (2021). Kids Can.
Science teacher Soichi Sakamoto trained children from the sugar plantations on the island of Maui to become racing champions. Despite their only original access to practice being irrigation ditches, Sakamoto instructs and encourages the swimmers. Overcoming the challenges of limited coaching experience and resources, he eventually forms the Three-Year Swim Club and trains a swimming team that competes in the 1947 Olympic games. Vibrant illustrations capture the water’s reflection, the energy of the coach, and the persistence of the swimmers in this inspiring biographical story written in rhyming verse. Back matter includes an archival photograph of the swim team, an extensive author’s note, and a list of digital resources. (PreK-Gr 2)
Starfish. Lisa Fipps. (2021). Nancy Paulsen.
In this novel in verse, middle-school student Ellie has been bullied for many years at school and by her mother, brother, and sister at home because of her weight. She has coped by following her self-diminishing Fat Girl Rules such as “You don’t deserve to be seen or heard, / to take up room, / to be noticed,” and “If you’re fat, / there are things / you can’t have.” Ellie finds solace in the swimming pool where she feels weightless and can escape the fat-obsessed world. She makes friends with a new neighbor, Catalina, and begins seeing a therapist. With her father as her ally, Ellie builds an identity to stand up to her mother and other tormentors as she recognizes her worth and gains confidence in this novel based on the author’s experiences confronting fat shaming. (Gr 6-8)
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre. Carole Boston Weatherford. Illus. by Floyd Cooper. (2021). Carolrhoda.
Carole Boston Weatherford begins Unspeakble by writing, “Once upon a time in Tulsa” formerly enslaved people and Black Indians built a community called Greenwood. In lyrical text, she explains that the district of 10,000 people and thirty-five square blocks with schools and nearly 200 businesses on the other side of the railroad tracks from white Tulsa became the most prosperous Black community in the U.S. Floyd Cooper’s rich, earth-toned illustrations show the vitality of the thriving Greenwood District that led to the white community’s outrage and envy. The illustrations turn dark in the depiction of the attack of the white mob in 1921 who, after demanding the release of a Black man accused of assault so they could lynch him, burned Greenwood to the ground, killed residents indiscriminately, and left more than 8000 people homeless. Further information (including photographs) on the Tulsa Race Massacre and Greenwood today is provided in author’s and illustrator’s notes. (Gr 3 Up)
When You Look Like Us. Pamela N. Harris. (2021). Quill Tree.
African American eleventh-grader Jay Murphy, cross-country team member, math whiz, teacher in his church, and writer, wants to do well by his grandmother, MiMi, who has become the parent for him and his older sister, Nicole. Their father died from cancer and their mother is imprisoned as a result of problems related to drug addiction. Jay makes excuses for his sister’s trysts with her bullying and drug-dealing boyfriend, but then Nic goes missing and he discovers she is not with her boyfriend. Jay decides to solve the mystery of her disappearance, despite the police who decide she is just another Black girl gone missing. This suspenseful debut novel reveals misperceptions; abuses of privilege; devotion to friends, family, and oneself; and doing the right thing as Jay searches for answers to finding his sister. (Gr 9-12)
Your Heart, My Sky: Love in the Time of Hunger. Margarita Engle. (2021). Atheneum.
Margarita Engle’s historical novel in verse depicts the socioeconomic and political challenges that existed for most citizens in Cuba in the 1900s. The government controls the distribution of food and, while tourists enjoy fabulous meals, the Cuban people suffer from hunger. Liana finds the daily struggle of looking for food dominating her thoughts and conscientiously makes the decision to skip the “voluntary farm labor camp” although she fears retribution. After finding a friendly dog, she has a chance meeting with another teen, Amado, who is also skipping out of the farm labor camp. In alternating voices, Liana and Amado describe their fears and hopes as they explore the growing love between them in this riveting story from a dark period in Cuba’s history. (Gr 6 Up)
Sandip Wilson is a professor at Husson University, Bangor, ME; Mary Ellen Oslick is an associate professor at Stetson University, Deland, FL; Osha Lynette Smith is an adjunct professor at Walden University; Jeanne Fain is a professor at Lipscomb University, Nashville, TN.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).