Mary Ellen Oslick, Brenda Dales, Jeanne Gilliam Fain, Julia Hillman, Tracey Hodges, and Bethany Scullin
In this second column on the 2023 Notable Books for a Global Society, committee members review books for readers in PreK to 12th grade that are both timely and timeless. CL/R SIG members will find additional resources (teaching suggestions and related books) for the 25 books on the 2023 NBGS list in an article in the spring 2023 issue of The Dragon Lode.
Ain’t Burned All the Bright. Jason Reynolds. Illus. by Jason Griffin. (2022). Caitlyn Dlouhy.
In three “breaths,” a young Black male shares his experiences during the summer of 2020. The nation is on Covid-19 lockdown, and his family is preoccupied with screen time. As his mom sits glued to the television, he wonders why she won’t turn it off and why the news keeps violence and destruction playing on a loop. His brother is playing video games, and his sister is on her phone making plans to attend a Black Lives Matter protest. While listening to his father cough, his mind races through the many issues that exist—mask mandates, gun violence, police brutality, protests. The imagery is suffocating, and he needs oxygen. He pauses to breathe deeply, creating space for reflection and healing. The design of the book like a notebook journal with lines of Jason Reynold’s spare free verse poem cut into strips and pasted into Jason Griffin’s stunning mixed-media illustrations is particularly effective. (Gr 6 Up)
Dream, Annie, Dream. Waka T. Brown. (2022). Quill Tree.
Annie has big dreams of starring in the school play and hearing her name, Aoi Inoue, spoken correctly over the loudspeaker. She works hard, auditions for The King and I, and lands a lead role. Her happiness is disrupted by suggestions from classmates that she only received the role because she is Japanese American. Annie’s dreams become nightmares as she reckons with racism and proving that she not only deserves the role but can excel at it. This heartwarming coming-of-age story conveys the trials of middle school complicated by issues of racism. Annie is a captivating protagonist. She is thoughtful, charismatic, determined, and an advocate for herself and others. This novel includes realistic representation of characters as well as nods to theater. An author’s note provides a context for the novel set in 1987 and addresses its relevance today. (Gr 3 Up)
Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association. Fred Bowen. Illus. by James E. Ransome. (2022). Margaret K. McElderry.
Veteran sportswriter Fred Bowen has written an engaging history of the 75-year evolution of the National Basketball Association. Documenting basketball’s humble beginnings from playing in YMCA gyms and on college campuses to the massive arenas of today, he introduces readers to early game changers and admired players who are now household names. He also chronicles the league’s changing rules and policies, such as the drafting of African American players in part due to the popularity of the Harlem Globetrotters and the addition of the 24-second shot clock, which made the game faster paced and higher scoring. James E. Ransome’s vibrant realistic illustrations include both full-page images of on court action and collaged portraits of players. Back matter includes lists of NBA finals champions, current NBA franchises and when they joined, and NBA/ABA career scoring leaders; an index; and an extensive bibliography with books, articles, websites, and documentaries. (Gr 3 Up)
Ida B. Wells, Voice of Truth: Educator, Feminist, and Anti-Lynching Civil Rights Leader. Michelle Duster. Illus. by Laura Freeman. (2022). Godwin.
Written by Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), this picture book biography provides an introduction to the life of the iconic African American educator, journalist, and civil rights activist. A fearless and determined advocate for justice and equality, Ida did not back down in the face of threats and violence. When three friends were lynched for competing economically with a White-owned business, Wells bravely spoke out against the injustices faced by Black people and called for a boycott of White-owned businesses and streetcars. Despite losing her job as a teacher for speaking out against school segregation, Wells continued her fight against sexism and racism, becoming a leading figure in the suffrage movement and co-founder of the NAACP. Back matter for this compelling biography illustrated in an appealing scrapbook format includes a timeline and note on Ida B Wells’ legacy. (PreK Up)
Isla to Island. Alexis Castellanos. (2022). Atheneum.
As a child, Marisol had a carefree life in Cuba, and especially enjoyed exploring the county’s lush flora with her family. That is, until Fidel Castro ascended to power in 1959. With hopes of keeping now 12-year-old Marisol safe, in 1961, her parents sent her to the U.S. to live with foster parents, an older couple, in Brooklyn. She had a new home, a new language, a new school. Everything was difficult. Her turning point came after discovering the library, visiting a greenhouse with familiar plants at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and receiving a letter from home. Marisol’s story is presented in an almost wordless graphic novel format in which variation of panels in full-color and gray tones reflect Marisol’s experiences and emotions. Back matter includes a section on Operation Peter Pan (1960-1962), a foster program experienced by Cuban children like Marisol; an author’s note; and further reading, (Gr 6 Up)
A Land of Books: Dreams of Young Mexihcah Word Painters. Duncan Tonatiuh. (2022). Abrams.
This lyrical story that embraces the significance of preserving Indigenous languages and stories begins with a young Mexihcah girl telling her brother the story of the tlahcuilohqueh, painters of words. She explains to him the intentional process their parents follow to create amoxtin, wordless, hand-painted books on long strips of paper with multiple folds and covers of wood. She shares with him that they will join their parents in creating amoxtin at the amoxcalli, the house of books, in the future, and says they should dream about these books that tell the stories of their gods, people, and history. Duncan Tonatiuh’s signature hand-drawn, digitally collaged illustrations inspired by pre-Columbian codices beautifully depict Mexihcah culture. Back matter includes a glossary of Nahuatl words with a pronunciation guide, an extensive author’s note that provides a historical context, a bibliography, and a list of websites with reproductions of codices. (PreK Up)
The Moon from Dehradun: A Story of Partition. Shirin Shamsi. Illus. by Tarun Lak. (2022). Atheneum.
Based on the author’s own family’s story, The Moon from Dehradun features the journey of young Azra and her Muslim family during the largest forced migration in recorded history: the Partition of British India in 1947 into two independent nations: India and Pakistan. As the family prepares to move from Dehradun (in India) to Lahore (in Pakistan), they are forced to make a hasty departure. In the chaos, Azra forgets her beloved doll, Gurya, and blames her little brother, Chotu, for the mistake. The book follows their treacherous journey to settling in a new home, a house vacated by a Hindu family leaving Lahore that finds refuge in the house vacated by Azra’s family. Tarun Turk’s dramatic digital illustrations show the upheaval of Azra and her family, as well as millions of displaced persons, with remarkable attention to detail and emotion. Back matter features a map; glossary; and background information about pre-partition, the partition, and the author’s family’s story. (PreK Up)
The Prisoner and the Writer. Heather Camlot. Illus. by Sophie Casson. (2022). Groundwood.
In 1895, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the only Jewish officer in top command in the French army, was imprisoned for life on Devil’s Island for treason. Émile Zola, in Paris, worked relentlessly to discover evidence that Dreyfus was not the spy and traitor who attempted to provide documents to Germany. Risking his career and imprisonment, in 1898, Zola wrote “J’Accuse…!” in a Paris newspaper to inform the public that Dreyfus was the innocent victim of antisemitism. The actual traitor ultimately confessed, and Dreyfus was released. Presented in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Dreyfus and Zola, this concise volume with Sophie Casson’s pastel artwork that adds period context is informative and emotional. In the author’s note, Heather Camlot considers the significance of this historical event “as a reminder that a person committed to truth, justice and equality must stand up and speak out, even when others stay silent.” (Gr 6 Up)
Sitting Shiva. Erin Silver. Illus. by Michelle Theodore. (2022). Orca.
Sitting Shiva is a story that sensitively addresses a child's grief following her mother’s death and the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva. Despite her initial “I want to be alone” reluctance to participate in the coming together of family and friends offering food, solace, and support, Jenny gradually opens up to the comfort of her loved ones and friends. With poignant and developmentally appropriate language and illustrations (created in ink and gouache and finished digitally) depicting emotions with soothing colors and empathetic faces, this picture book provides an accessible introduction to shiva for young readers. It will also appeal to a broad audience in its emphasis on the importance of community in the grieving process. Author Erin Silver includes an endnote about grief that provides further information about shiva as well as traditions of mourning in other religions. (PreK Up)
The Talk. Alicia D. Williams. Illus. by Briana Mukodiri Uchendu. (2022). Caitlyn Dlouhy.
Jay adores hanging out with his friends and extended family, racing down the block and listening to Grandpa’s stories about Black Olympic track stars. As Jay gets older, his family begins to worry about him. Grandpa alerts him not to go around in groups of four or more for fear of being viewed as potential troublemakers; his mom cautions him about how to behave at the mall; and, while riding in their car, his dad provides him with specific steps to take in case he is pulled over by the police. Then it is time for “The Talk” families of Black and Brown children must have with them. This powerful picture book provides a starting point for the difficult, but necessary, conversation about racism in the world that all children need to hear. (PreK Up)
Torch. Lyn Miller-Lachmann. (2022). Carolrhoda Lab.
At only 17, Pavol’s dream of attending the technical university in Prague is crushed when he is arrested after getting involved in trying to stop the Soviet Union’s 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. After the new oppressive government blacklists him, he turns to a final, desperate act of defiance: setting himself on fire in Prague’s Wenceslas Square. Following Pavol’s death, his closest friends, Štěpán and Tomáš, along with his girlfriend, Lída, are targeted by the government and watch their own dreams disappear. They lean on each other during this time, even though Pavol had kept them separate while he was alive. Facing dismal futures, they must decide if they want to fight against the totalitarian government, as Pavol and other protesters were hoping to inspire citizens to do, or if they want to leave everything for a new beginning in a different country.
Undercover Latina. Aya de León. (2022). Candlewick.
In this riveting, fast-paced novel, 14-year-old Latina Andréa Hernández-Baldoquín joins her parents as a spy for The Factory, an international group protecting the rights of people of color. Intelligent, clever, rational, and inquisitive, she stays undercover, passing as white to hide her Latina roots and taking on a new identity as Andrea Burke. She is tasked with befriending Kyle Summer, the estranged son of a white supremacist known to be planning a terrorist attack on Latinos. She does this by getting involved with Kyle’s special interest in a fantasy card game and comics. This compelling novel, which tackles issues of code-switching, “passing,” racism, and terrorism, will keep middle-grade readers hooked! (Gr 5 Up)
We Are Wolves. Katrina Nannestad. Illus. by Martina Heiduczek. (2022). Caitlyn Dlouhy.
Liesl Wolf is an 11-year-old girl living in east Prussia near the end of WWII. In her mind, it is a great time to be a German. She believes that after the war, Papa will return from serving his country and victorious Germany will “stretch across the entire world.” Her dreams are shattered as the Soviet Red Army enters the town, and the Wolf family is forced to flee into the forest. Liesl and her siblings, seven-year-old Otto and toddler Mia, are separated from their mother during a blizzard, and Liesl struggles to fulfill her promise to keep them together and safe. They, like other Wolfskinder, German children of WWII, must steal and scavenge to survive, all the while longing to be reunited with their parents. This heart-wrenching story serves as a reminder of the tremendous impact of war on innocent children, and of the many forgotten victims of WW II. (Gr 6 Up)
Mary Ellen Oslick, Chair of the 2023 NBGS Committee, is an associate professor at Stetson University, DeLand, FL. Jeanne Gilliam Fain, Co-Chair of the 2023 NBGS Committee, is a professor at Lipscomb University, Nashville, TN. 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.
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.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).