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.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).