Sandip Wilson, Osha Lynette Smith, Maria Teresa Manteo, and Jeanne Fain
The diverse and multicultural books that committee members select for the Children’s and Reading Special Interest Groups’ NBGS Award often have a timeliness in topics and themes while other books on the annual list provide new perspectives on familiar topics. This second column on the 2022 Notable Books for a Global Society presents reviews of books of interest to readers in PreK through high school and reflect themes of resourcefulness and identity.
Black Boy Joy. Kwame Mbala (Ed.). (2021). Delacorte.
This uplifting collection of 17 short stories, poems, and comics celebrating Black boyhood are written by well-known Black male and nonbinary authors. They are counternarratives to the negative stories of Black boys in the media. The stories organized in three related sections, each beginning with a part of Kwame Mbala’s three-part story “Griot of Grover Street,” show a diverse range of experiences ranging from losing a close relative to preparations for the first day of school. Joy resonates across the cohesive collection that speaks to the empowerment of Black boys growing up. The tone is refreshingly honest and will resonate thoughtfully with intermediate readers. Kadir Nelson’s cover illustration is inviting to readers and suggests the book’s theme. Back matter includes biographies of contributing authors. (Gr 3 Up)
Born on the Water: The 1619 Project. Nikole Hannah-Jones & Renée Watson. Illus. by Nikkolas Smith. (2021). Kokila.
“Who are you? Trace your roots,” the teacher says to a young Black girl. She responds with doubt, questioning her generational knowledge. Her grandma gathers the family and tells their origin story. She describes the language, the dancing, and the rich culture of the people who “had a home, place, a land, a beginning” before the dreadful voyage in 1619 that stole their freedom. Exquisite paintings in bright, then dark, color palettes complement the series of evocative poems that chronicle the lives of the ancestors before, during, and after their transportation across the Atlantic Ocean on the White Lion to Virginia. Nikkolas Smith’s artwork returns to a brighter palette as the poems express the rich legacy of those who survived, fought, made better lives for their families, and gained freedom. Authors’ and illustrator’s notes include a discussion of their perspectives on the origin story. (PreK Up)
Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope. Jodie Patterson. Illus. by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. (2021). Crown.
Penelope knows he is a boy but no one else does until he is five and tells his mother he doesn’t feel like a boy, or want to look like a boy; he is a boy. His mother and father accept him; his grandfather, visiting from Ghana, says that his language of Twi does not have gender pronouns; but Penelope’s older brother is resistant. Their mother says, “Not everything makes sense. This is about love.” The bright, digital illustrations in this book about identity and teamwork depict his being confident at school with friends and teachers. He follows his dream of training to become a karate expert. He gets up when he falls believing Ninjas don’t quit but rise to meet challenges as the team prepares for their first tournament. (PreK-Gr 2)
Escucha Mi Voz / Hear My Voice: Los testimonios de los jóvenes detenidos en la frontera sureña de los Estados Unidos / The Testimonies of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States. Compiled by Warren Binford. Illus. by Cecilia Ruiz & others. (2021). Workman.
This heartrending book reveals the harrowing testimonies of children from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras at the southern border of the United States in Clint, Texas. In reporting the use of an overcrowded immigration detention center for holding children, rights advocate and lawyer Warren Binford conceived this book project with Project Amnesty to present the voices of the children. Double-spread illustrations by 17 Latinx illustrators complement the excerpts of the children’s accounts of cold, hunger, fear, and hope. Back matter of this compassionate picture book includes illustrator biographies, an author note, resources for ways to help the migrant children, and discussion ideas. This bilingual book is in Spanish when read in one direction and in English when turned over and read in the other direction. (Gr 3 Up)
Firekeeper’s Daughter. Angeline Boulley. (2021). Henry Holt.
Angeline Boulley, an enrolled Chippewa, shares the culture and experiences of the Ojibwe people in this complex novel set in her community on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Daunis is a biracial, unenrolled Ojibway woman who takes care of her grandmother and is a dedicated athlete graduating from high school. Although unsure of where she fits in, she needs to decide whether she wants to go to college. Belonging to two nations, Daunis navigates her multiple roles as she deals with the conflicts of her opposing family members in the United States and Canada. When she uncovers tribal corruption after the murder of her best friend, she becomes enmeshed in the FBI investigation, helping an undercover agent solve the crime. Combining coming of age and mystery and drawing from her experiences, Boulley provides views of Native American cultures, values, and dreams in a novel that will keep readers turning pages all the way to its dramatic conclusion. (Gr 9-12)
Healer of the Water Monster. Brian Young. (2021). Heartdrum.
Twelve-year-old Nathan visits his grandmother, Nali, at her Navajo reservation home. He has to adapt to an unexpected challenge of not being able to communicate with his friends in Phoenix, Arizona. The increasingly arid region complicates his plans of doing a science experiment on his grandmother’s land comparing the growth of corn from traditional and modern seeds. Nathan meets Pond, a Holy Being, one of a number of spirit beings that include a toad and a family of spiders who enlist his help to enter other worlds to save Pond, who is dying. Nathan discovers he is stronger and more resourceful than he thought when he helps the spirit beings despite his fears. Nathan learns who he is in his relationship with his grandmother, his uncle Jet, and other family members. In this novel, steeped in Navajo tradition, Nathan shows that heroes are ordinary people who take extraordinary risks. Back matter includes acknowledgments and a glossary of Navajo words, phrases, sentences, and pronunciation guide. (Gr 6-8)
The Last Cuentista. Donna Barba Higuera. (2021). Levine Querido.
Twelve-year-old Petra Peña has learned stories, cuentas, of generations of women from her grandmother, Lita. The year is 2061, and she and her parents and younger brother are selected to embark on a trip in one of three spaceships transporting people to a habitable planet, Sagan, just before a comet destroys Earth. Because they are knowledgeable in science and stories, her family is among the hundreds of individuals to be put in stasis and to awaken in 380 years to colonize another planet and continue humanity. When she awakes, Petra finds that her parents and brother have been purged and that the expedition is governed by the ominous Collective. She soothes children with her cuentas as she pretends to act in accord with the Collective’s programming. Selected for a team to explore the viability of Sagan’s environment to support human life, she disguises her intentions of fleeing the Collective’s control. (Gr 6 Up)
The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art. Cynthia Levinson. Illus. by Evan Turk. (2021). Abrams.
Born in Lithuania, Ben Shahn (1898-1969) drew everything he could from a young age. Witnessing the social injustice of Czarist oppression and his father’s exile to Siberia for standing up for workers’ rights, he and his mother and siblings immigrate to the United States and settle in New York City. There, Ben is bullied for his religion, but drawing saves him. Encouraged by his teacher, he decides to become an artist. Evan Turk’s stunning multi-media illustrations complement Cynthia Levinson’s narrative of Shahn’s determination to paint people and stories depicting injustices he saw in the 1920s, people’s hardship during the Depression of the 1930s, the Red Scare of the 1950s, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Back matter includes author and illustrator notes, a timeline of Shahn’s life in relation to the bigger historical picture, references, and resources. (Gr 3 Up)
Saving American Beach: The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch. Heidi Tyline King. Illus. by Ekua Holmes). (2021). Putnam.
MaVynee Betsch (1935-2005) grew up with a love of sun, sand, and music of the sea on American Beach near Jacksonville, Florida, that her great grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, had bought so African Americans could enjoy the beach in the time of Jim Crow segregation. MaVynee discovered the music of opera and became an international opera singer. Her mother’s death brought her back to the beach. Although American Beach was no longer segregated, she found that it was threatened by neglect and development. Rekindling her passion for the beach, she became its caretaker and, using her voice to advocate for the beach, she led a campaign for laws to protect it forever. Back matter includes an author note and sources. Ekua Holmes’ illustrator note highlights the orange butterflies depicted in the colorful acrylic collage illustrations because MaVynee loved creatures of the air. (Gr 3 Up)
Unbound: The Life + Art of Judith Scott. Joyce Scott (with Brie Spangler & Melissa Sweet). Illus. by Melissa Sweet. (2021). Knopf.
Joyce Scott details the colorful life she and her twin sister, Judith (1943-2005), born with Downs Syndrome, shared as young children. When Judith was seven, their parents placed her in a residential school, and the sisters’ world filled with imaginative games, outside adventures, and reading disappeared, “replaced with the colors of gone.” Melissa Sweet’s changing multi-media palettes from bright to dark colors show the joy, love, and sadness of their lives. Years later, Joyce arranged for Judith to live with her and enrolled her in the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California. After a period of being withdrawn, Judith picked up twigs, yarn, and other materials and created colorful, imaginative fiber sculptures that have been shown in museums around the world. Back matter includes photographs of Judith and samples of her celebrated work, a timeline, information on Downs Syndrome, author and illustrator notes, and sources. (GR 3 Up)
Wishes. Mượn Thị Văn. Illus. by Victo Ngai. (2021). Orchard.
In spare, patterned text and striking illustrations, the perils and hopes of a family of refugees are depicted on double spreads in this beautifully crafted picture book. As a young girl’s family packs their belongings and joins other families fleeing Vietnam in a small boat, inanimate objects voice wishes. “The boat wished it was bigger. / The sea wished it was calmer. / The sun wished it was cooler. / The heart wished it was stronger.” And as the hazardous journey in the overcrowded boat nears its end, the girl voices her own hopeful thoughts—“And I wished… / I didn’t have to wish… / anymore.”— as they sight the Hong Kong harbor. The text is emotive and the artwork creates poignant mood through use of color and visual detail. The author’s note explains that the story is based on his family refugee experience. (PreK Up)
World in Between: Based on a True Refugee Story. Kenan Trebinčević & Susan Shapiro. (2021). Clarion.
When the Bosnian War reached Brčko, Bosnia, in 1992, eleven-year-old Kenan’s life changed. In this autobiographical novel, Trebinčević writes of increasingly harrowing months for his Muslim family of surviving with less and less food and water. Young Kenan can’t grasp what has provoked the hatred and cruel treatment of the ethnic cleansing in his country and doesn’t understand why his friends have turned on him. The family escapes to Vienna, Austria, and eventually immigrates to America. Although the Trebinčevićs find a new home in Connecticut with the help of the community, as refugees they remain unsure of whom to trust. In the author’s note, Trebinčević tells how this book about his life from age 11 to 13 originated with a class assignment from his former teacher and coauthor Susan Shapiro. (Gr 6-8)
Sandip Wilson, Chair of the 2022 NBGS Committee, is a professor at Husson University, Bangor, ME. Osha Lynette Smith is an adjunct professor at Walden University. Maria Teresa Manteo is Founder and Director of Learning Support in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Jeanne Fain is a professor at Lipscomb University, Nashville, TN.
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).