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