Mary Ellen Oslick, Brenda Dales, Julia Hillman, Tracey Hodges, and Bethany Scullin
Each year, the Notable Books for a Global Society committee reads and discusses books in various genres and formats to select a final list of 25 outstanding books for readers in PreK to 12th grades. These books represent multicultural literature at its finest, amplifying diverse voices and illuminating new stories. In this first of two columns, members of the NBGS committee present reviews of winners from this year’s list.
Because of You, John Lewis: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship. Andrea Davis Pinkney. Illus. by Keith Henry Brown. (2022). Scholastic.
Speakers at the funeral service for distinguished Congressman John Lewis at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 30, 2020, included 12-year-old African American Tybre Faw, who recited Lewis’ favorite poem, “Invictus.” With an eloquent lyrical text, Andrea Davis Pinkney weaves together the story of John Lewis’ significant achievements as a civil rights leader with that of young Tybre Faw, whose desire to meet Lewis led to making a trip from his home in Johnson City, Tennessee, to Selma, Alabama, in 2018. An invitation to walk alongside Lewis in the annual march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge commemorating 1965’s Bloody Sunday resulted in their “remarkable friendship.” A highlight of the book is Keith Henry Brown’s stunning illustration of the two embracing. Back matter includes an informative “Two Journeys, One Dream” section, a time line, sources and further reading, captioned photographs, and a copy of “Invictus.” (PreK Up)
Different: A Story of the Spanish Civil War. Mónica Montañés. Trans. by Lawrence Schimel. Illus. by Eva Sánchez Gómez. (2022). Eerdmans.
In July 1936, the Spanish Civil War began as a group of Spanish generals overthrew the country's democratic government. Three years later, General Francisco Franco established a fascist dictatorship, and violently persecuted all opposition. Originally published in Spain, Different tells the story of the struggle of Paco and Socorro to survive with their mother after their father was forced to flee the country for his political beliefs and the reunion of the family in Venezuela eight years later. The narrative alternates between Paco and Socorro's first-person perspectives, providing a powerful and emotional account of the impact of the war on ordinary citizens, particularly children. Back matter includes extensive historical background; a glossary; and resources for children, young adults, and older readers. With expressive mixed media illustrations that capture Paco and Socorro's emotions, this story is an accessible introduction to the Spanish Civil War and its aftereffects. (Gr 3 Up)
Invisible. Christina Diaz Gonzalez. Illus. by Gabriela Epstein. Color by Lark Pien. (2022). Graphix.
This graphic novel presents a compelling narrative that explores the lives of five Latinx middle school students who are forced together to complete community service hours in the cafeteria: George, a gifted Puerto Rican-American student with a family secret; Miguel, a Dominican jock with a passion for drawing; Dayara, a Cuban girl with learning challenges; Sara, a Mexican student with a solitary disposition; and Nico, a Venezuelan student with a reputation for being “the rich kid.” Despite their differing backgrounds, they are all subjected to unfair stereotyping by adults who think they are all Mexicans and do not understand English. The use of connected speech bubbles with either Spanish or English as the translation to reflect each student’s language proficiency is particularly effective. Invisible is a thought-provoking read about not being seen and the possibility of visibility in coming together with others in middle school. (Gr 3 Up)
The Legend of Gravity: A Tall Basketball Tale. Charly Palmer. (2022). Farrar Straus Giroux.
When a new kid shows up in the Hillside Project area of Milwaukee and joins a three-on-three pickup basketball game, he is given the name Gravity because it seemed he “defied gravity or something.” Gravity is the best at dribbling, jumping, and scoring, and he makes the Eagles unbeatable. However, when they face the East Side Flyers in the final game of the end-of-summer citywide pickup tournament, it is Gravity who makes the Eagles realize that winning is a team effort. He also insists that teammates share the trophy, continuing to pass it around to this day. Charly Palmer based this tall tale on street legends of basketball—on recollections of players who were greats in their neighborhoods, but never played on NBA teams. The illustrations accentuate the witty word-of-mouth details of street players as curved lines of text follow basketballs in play. (PreK Up)
Lotus Bloom and the Afro Revolution. Sherri Winston. (2022). Bloomsbury.
Black seventh grader Lotus is a spunky, high-achieving, and gifted violinist with dreams of improving her talent by playing in the orchestra at the city’s school for the arts. When the tossing by bullies of paper wads and airplanes into her beautifully afroed hair results in a dress code violation for “unruly hair,” Lotus is faced with the decision to become an advocate and stand up against the injustice of hair discrimination in the school’s dress code or to sit in silence and ensure her musical dreams have a chance. With plenty of discussion points around student advocacy to change school policies, activism against inequality and discrimination, and being true to yourself, Sherri Winston’s compelling narrative, inspired by real stories of racism and inequality in schools, is ideal for middle grade readers. Lotus is a dynamic, aspirational heroine who represents many young people today. Winston weaves together representations of diversity, art, music, and school protest with an authentic preteen voice. (Gr 3 Up)
Moonwalking. Zetta Elliott & Lyn Miller-Lachmann. (2022). Farrar Straus Giroux.
It is the 1980s. Puerto Rican and Congolese Pierre (Pie or Pi) Velez lives with his mother and sister but never knew his dad. Joseph John (JJ) Pankowski is new to MS 126, having moved to Brooklyn with his Polish dad after he lost his job when President Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers. Pie loves art, especially the work of street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. JJ plays guitar and is a fan of the rock band Clash. Although both have challenges and difficulties, they form a bond. In alternating chapters Pie and JJ’s personalities promote empathy for both as they are differentially perceived by others, such as when they tag a wall and police do not hold them equitably accountable. The co-authoring of Moonwalking facilitates the development of the distinct voices of two unlikely friends in this historical novel in verse. Authors’ notes and acknowledgments are appended. (Gr 6 Up)
On Her Wings: The Story of Toni Morrison. Jerdine Nolen. Illus. by James E. Ransome. (2022). Paula Wiseman.
This uplifting picture book biography of Toni Morrison (1931-2019), the first African American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, explores the inspiration behind her work. From a young age, Toni develops a love of storytelling as she listens to her family share harrowing, enchanting, and wise ghost stories, myths, legends, and folktales, and she and her friends share stories at school. Lost in daydreams, she imagines herself in magical places where she can do anything and be anyone. Later in life, Toni Morrison writes powerful novels about the experiences of Black people that stir deep emotions in readers. James E. Ransome incorporates expressive portraits of Morrison in his stunning watercolor-and-collage illustrations. Back matter includes an author’s note and an extensive “Learn More About Toni Morrison” section with resources (her books, quotes, films and videos, articles of interest, and a timeline of achievements). (PreK Up)
Powwow Day. Traci Sorell. Illus. by Madelyn Goodnight. (2022). Charlesbridge.
Young River wakes on the morning of powwow day and feels elated before remembering she won’t be able to dance due to her lingering recovery from illness. She longs for things to go back to the way they were before she got sick, before her hair fell out, and before she lost her strength. At the powwow, River longs to join her elders and peers in dancing, but she cannot feel the drumbeat in her heart. She reminds herself of the reasons that they dance. “They dance for / the Creator, / the ancestors, / their families, / and everyone’s health … / including mine.” River knows she will get better and will dance again. With lyrical prose and vibrant digital illustrations, this picture book about one tribal powwow explores the power of hope, resilience, and traditional healing of indigenous cultures. Back matter includes information about powwows, an author’s note, and sources. (PreK Up)
Rima’s Rebellion: Courage in a Time of Tyranny. Margarita Engle. (2022). Atheneum.
In this compelling novel in verse set in Cuba in the early 20th century, 12-year-old Rima is shunned by society for being una niña natural, an illegitimate child. Her wealthy father has retained his status after casting off her Mamá. By law, Rima is not entitled to his surname, support, or inheritance. Incensed at this mistreatment, Rima joins her abuela and a group of horse-riding feminists, the Mambisas Voting Club. Las Mambisas fight for equality and women’s suffrage, and they challenge unjust laws such as the Adultery Law, which allows men to murder their wives, daughters, and lovers. This gripping novel in verse serves as a reminder of the long, arduous, ongoing battle for women’s rights and bodily autonomy. Back matter includes a historical note and an international timeline of women’s suffrage. (Gr 6 Up)
Still Dreaming/Seguimos soñando. Claudia Guadalupe Martínez. Trans. by Luis Humberto Crosthwait. Illus. by Magdalena Mora. (2022). Children’s Book Press.
“I’m not done dreaming/No he dejado de soñar.” These words, spoken by a young boy in this story about the Mexican Repatriation from 1930-1940 in which about two million people were relocated to Mexico, express his emotions as he travels from his home in Texas by car with Mamá and Papá as they move to a country he has never even visited. Along the journey, he meets people traveling to Mexico from all over the United States in fear and uncertainty. Through beautiful prose in both English and Spanish, Claudia Guadalupe Martínez provides a tender exploration of the impact of this mass exodus. Magdalena Mora adds to the story with colorful artwork that captures the reality of families being stripped of their homes. Complete with extensive back matter, this bilingual picture book offers young readers an introduction to an overlooked part of U.S. history. (PreK Up)
The Waiting Place: When Home Is Lost and a New One Not Found Yet. Dina Nayeri. Illus. by Anna Bosch Miralpeix. (2022). Candlewick.
The global refugee crisis has more than doubled in size during the past decade; in 2022, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) calculated there are over 32.5 million refugees worldwide. As a former refugee and daughter of a refugee, Dina Nayeri writes with clarity and compassion about ten young Farsi-speaking refugees whose “lives are suspended outside of time” in the Waiting Place, the Katsikas camp in Greece. Each is struggling to hold on to their personalities, dreams, and ambitions while they wait—for family members, for a chance to go back home, or for a chance to find a new home. Documentary photographer Anna Bosch Miralpeix captures the harshness of the camp alongside the playfulness of the children there. Back matter includes an afterward that details important points about the current refugee crisis, a glossary, and an author’s note. (Gr 6 Up)
We Deserve Monuments. Jas Hammonds. (2022). Roaring Brook.
Seventeen-year-old biracial (her mother is Black, her father white) lesbian Avery doesn’t remember much about her mother’s small hometown, Bardell, Georgia. Her mother and grandmother had a major falling out when Avery was a toddler and have been estranged for years, which makes it challenging when Avery and her parents move from D.C. to Bardell to take care of terminally ill Mama Letty. Avery’s first response to this new situation is to “focus forward” as her mother always advises, but her new friends (Simone, her Black neighbor, and Jade, a member of a prominent white family), who have grieved loved ones, push her to get to know Mama Letty and build a relationship with her before it is too late. As Avery starts to make progress in melting the frosty exterior of her grandmother, she learns about the town’s history of racial violence and the trauma that has haunted Mama Letty and wrecked her relationship with Avery’s mother. (Gr 9-12)
Mary Ellen Oslick, Chair of the 2023 NBGS Committee, is an associate professor at Stetson University, DeLand, FL. Brenda Dales is a professor emerita at Miami University, Oxford, OH. Julia Hillman is a teacher in the Tucson Unified School District, AZ. Tracey Hodges is the owner of The Empowering Advocate, LLC, in Texas. Bethany Scullin is an associate professor at the University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA.
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These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).