Sandip Wilson, Mary Ellen Oslick, Osha Lynette Smith, and Joyce Herbeck
In selecting books in diverse and multicultural literature for the Notable Books for a Global Society, we read many books in different genres. In this second column presenting the 2021 NBGS collection, the writing and artwork show richness in topics of interest to young people in prekindergarten through high school and reflect the themes of transition and persistence that characterize our lives today.
All Because You Matter. Tami Charles. Illus. by Bryan Collier. (2020). Orchard.
With poetic text and vibrant, bold illustrations (rendered in collage and watercolor), Tami Charles and Bryan Collier share the important message that children of color matter, and that they always have and always will. This picture book reassures young readers that they do matter as they grow up, experiencing both joy and pain in our world. Charles expresses these ideas in lines they can understand such as “On the night you were born, / stars sprayed across the sky, / each one full of / light, / hope, / love, / and all the moments / in your life that would matter ” and “Did you know that / you were born from / queens, / chiefs, / legends?” Salient and timely, this book offers affirmation and hope and can serve as a conversation starter for early anti-racist education by parents and educators. (GR PreK-3)
The Eagle Huntress: The True Story of the Girl Who Soared Beyond Expectations. Aisholpan Nurgaiv (with Liz Welch). (2020). Little, Brown.
From her early childhood, Aisholpan, born and raised in western Mongolia, loves the eagles that live with her family. She longs to be an eagle hunter like her father and grandfather. Although her father recognizes her talent and affinity for the birds, the tradition of eagle hunting has always passed down from father to son. Aisholpan insists on undertaking the challenges to be an eagle hunter, raising and training her eagle, to become the youngest contestant at the annual contest in Ogli, Mongolia, and the first woman to win in centuries. The memoir includes details of the nomadic life of her family and the introduction of tourists who visit the family as a result of people’s fascination with eagle hunting. (GR 3 Up)
Efrén Divided. Ernesto Cisneros. (2020). Quill Tree.
Because his parents are undocumented, seventh-grader Efrén’s life changes drastically when his Amá (mother) is deported to Tijuana, Mexico. His father takes two jobs to support the family and raise money for her return to California, and Efrén must take care of his younger twin siblings while continuing his studies and school activities. A distinctive feature of the book is Efrén’s journey to Tijuana to meet his mother where he learns about life in limbo. Efrén has to face challenges in his changed life, redefining the meaning of being brave in a time of uncertainty, in this novel of empathy and hope. (GR 4-7)
Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon. Simran Jeet Singh. Illus. by Baljinder Kaur. (2020). Kokila.
Born in Punjab, India, Fauja Singh was a weak child. Villagers said he would never walk. “Fauja did not listen and Fauja did not stop,” and he worked to stand and took his first steps at the age of five. Walking miles and working in the village, he went on to raise a family and develop a farm. Once widowed, he joined his children in England where watching runners on television inspired him to run. Lively illustrations show him practicing, completing his first marathon at 89, and at 100 years old, in 2011, becoming the oldest person to complete the Toronto marathon. Back matter includes biographical material on Fauja Singh’s Sikh heritage and his running. (GR PreK-3)
Finish the Fight: The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote. Veronica Chamber & the staff of The New York Times. (2020). Versify.
This collective biography chronicles the lives of Native American, Asian American, and African American women in the suffrage movement. With archival photographs, the chapters describe their work to educate and persuade voters and the government to support women’s equality and suffrage, at times putting their lives in danger with their activism. Readers meet women such as Frances Ellen Watkins, who was told to give up her seat on the streetcar in Pennsylvania in 1850, and Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, who organized a suffrage parade in Manhattan in 1912. The extensive back matter includes an author’s note, detailed timeline, biographical material on additional women involved in the movement, reading lists, and sources. (GR 5 Up)
The Only Woman in the Photo: Frances Perkins & Her New Deal for America. Kathleen Krull. Illus. by Alexandra Bye. (2020). Atheneum.
Young readers are introduced to Frances Perkins (1880-1965), the first female U.S. Secretary of Labor, in this narrative picture book biography. Encouraged by her grandmother to use her voice, Perkins grew up to be an advocate for the welfare of American workers. With compassion and determination, she fought against injustice and built programs to protect people in New York. President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized this talent and asked her to serve as U.S. Secretary of Labor, becoming the first woman in a presidential cabinet. Roosevelt wanted her help to design the sweeping programs of the New Deal to lift Americans out of the great depression and promote social justice. Some aspects of this safety net continue to protect today’s American workers and their families. Perkins’ story is empowering and inspirational. (GR 2-5)
Sharuko: El Arqueólogo Peruano/Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello. Monica Brown. Illus. by Elisa Chavarri. (2020). Children’s Book Press.
The story of Indigenous Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello invites readers into the caves and burial grounds of the Andes Mountains where Sharuko (his nickname, meaning “brave”) and his brothers uncovered the bones and pottery of their ancestors. Sharuko’s passion for these artifacts of the Chavin and Paracas cultures leads him to study in Lima and then to Harvard University. Authentically illustrated with the Chavin de Huantar cabezas clavas (carved stone heads) and the patterns of the Paracas textiles, the book encourages relooking at the many vivid images. The text, in both Spanish and English, features the Spanish text first on each page. A truly beautiful bilingual treasure. (GR 2-5)
She Was the First!: The Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm. Katheryn Russell-Brown. Illus. by Eric Velasquez. (2020). Lee & Low.
Born in Brooklyn, Shirley and her sisters went to live with their maternal grandmother on the island of Barbados in 1928 so her parents could save enough money to provide for the family. When she was ten years old, Shirley and her sisters returned to Brooklyn. Certain that she wanted to improve people’s lives, Shirley paid attention to current events and discussed world events with her father at dinner every night. After graduating from Brooklyn College, she became an educator while actively engaging in politics. In 1968, she became the first Black woman elected to Congress, and four years later, she was the first Black person and the first woman to run for President of the United States. The watercolor illustrations of the book and the photos in the Afterword bring the “firsts” of trailblazing Shirley Chisolm (1924-2005) to life for readers. (GR 2-5)
Show Me a Sign. Ann Clare LeZotte. (2020). Scholastic.
Deaf author Ann Clare LeZotte invites readers to learn about a flourishing nineteenth-century community on Martha’s Vineyard, where about a quarter of the population is deaf, but families of mixed deaf and hearing members communicate with sign language. Eleven-year-old Mary, a descendant of one of the first English settlers, who is deaf, lives in such a mixed family, and until a young scientist visits from Boston, she doesn’t know that her community is different from other places. As the scientist studies what he considers to be the detrimental cause of the community’s prominent deafness, Mary becomes an experimental subject. The multifaceted depiction of Mary’s community, along with a thrilling plot, make this a well-paced and fascinating read. (GR 3-7)
The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth. Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis Hudson. (2020). Crown.
Thirty diverse authors join in The Talk project to tell their stories in narrative, poetry, and graphics of growing up with racism, coming to terms with identity, and grappling with self-esteem. In the stories, parents and caring adults share The Talk with children preparing them for the challenges of growing up. One talk begins with a conversation between a father and son as the young Black boy relays a school incident in which his friend said he looked like the monkeys jumping on the bed in a book read in class. In another talk, a mother explains to her daughter why she bristles when someone points out that the girl looks like a China doll. Each story addresses the intentional or unintentional microaggressions that people of color face on their journeys through life. The back matter includes notes from the authors. (GR 5 Up)
The Teachers March!: How Selma's Teachers Changed History. Sandra Neil Wallace & Rich Wallace. Illus. by Charly Palmer. (2020). Calkins Creek.
The Reverend F. D. Reese could not be satisfied teaching science at R. B. Hudson High School in Selma, Alabama, where he did not have the freedom to exercise his voting rights. Knowing black people would not have the rights they were entitled to unless they could vote and have their voices heard, he called together teachers, as leaders, to march with him even though marching and talking about voting rights was made illegal in Alabama in 1964. Dramatic illustrations rendered in acrylic on board show the teachers marching to the courthouse in January 1965 to register to vote despite fears of going to jail and losing their jobs. Back matter includes an extensive author’s note, timeline, photographs, and selected bibliography including interviews. (GR 3 Up)
This Is My America. Kim Johnson. (2020). Random House.
For the past seven years, Tracy has been fighting against what she believes is her father’s wrongful murder conviction and death sentence. Every week she writes a letter to the head lawyer of Innocence X, sharing her story and asking for legal help to attain justice for her father as his time on death row grows to a close. Tracy’s heart breaks again when her older brother is accused of a horrific murder and flees town. She knows that her father and brother are innocent. She also understands that time is running out and that she must help them. Kim Johnson’s debut novel is suspenseful and relevant for examining racist injustices within the U.S. justice system. (GR 7-9)
Woke: A Young Poet's Call to Justice. Mahogany L. Browne (with Elizabeth Acevedo & Olivia Gatwood). Illus. by Theodore Taylor III. (2020). Roaring Brook.
“If we must live, let it not be in silence.” Voices for social justice and a call to action can be heard in this collection of poems. One poem on self-acceptance, which ends with the lines “Your body is always a good body / because it carries the good in you,” encourages those dealing with insecurity. Another poem expresses the thought-provoking message “Sometimes we have sight / sometimes we have the sense of smell, / sometimes we are working with a different / set of skills altogether.” The book’s bold illustrations convey the diversity of ways of being in the world. The poetry highlights community, forgiveness, and empathy. Collectively, the poems take a stand for equality and the right to dignity at the same time they suggest hope and possibility. The need to be “Woke” in the pursuit of social justice is emphasized. (GR 3 Up)
Sandip Wilson, Chair of the NBGS Award Committee, is a professor at Husson University in Bangor, Maine. Mary Ellen Oslick, Co-chair of the committee, serves as associate professor at Stetson University, Deland, Florida. Joyce Herbeck serves as associate professor at Montana State University, Bozeman. Osha Lynette Smith serves as contributing faculty for Walden University
Sandip Wilson, Mary Ellen Oslick, and Sharryn Larsen Walker
Each year the Notable Books for a Global Society Committee of the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) of the International Literacy Association (ILA) reviews and selects twenty-five trade books that enhance the understanding of people and cultures around the world. This column, the first of two that introduce readers to the 2021 NBGS collection, features books that provide insight into human experiences, stories of individuals who show persistence (and resourcefulness) in a time of uncertainty and transition.
The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story. Aya Khalil. Illus. by Anait Semirdzhyan. (2020). Tilbury House.
As a newcomer who wishes to fit in at school, third grader Kanzi is embarrassed when her mother arrives wearing a hijab to deliver a forgotten kofta sandwich. After a tough day, Kanzi wraps herself in the quilt made by her Egyptian tieta (grandmother). The comfort of the quilt and the poem she writes about it stave off the feelings of longing for her grandmother’s home in Egypt. When her teacher discovers Kanzi’s gift for writing poetry, she invites her to share her work with the class. This insightful teacher then invites Kanzi’s mother to school to lead a lesson in quilt making. The class makes a quilt with each square containing a student’s name written in Arabic. When completed, the quilt is hung in the hallway and inspires other classrooms to create similar quilts. Through poetry and quilt making, acceptance of others is learned. A glossary of Arabic words is included in the back matter. (GR 1-4)
The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person. Frederick Joseph. (2020). Candlewick.
Frederick Joseph is clear about his intentions for this book: For it to be a mirror for young people of color growing up in America and a call to action by white people committed to becoming anti-racist. The stories in his memoir are realistic and brutally honest. He describes his white teacher’s disbelief that a Black boy would enjoy Star Wars and cites multiple instances of his unjust treatment by police officers. Through all of the chapters, Joseph treats his readers as friends. He really wants to convey to them that now that they know better, they can do better. As a jumping off point, the back matter includes an encyclopedia of racism, a playlist of music, a “People and Things to Know” section of recommended reading, source notes, and an index. (GR 7 and Up)
The Cat Man of Aleppo. Karim Shamsi-Basha & Irene Latham. Illus. by Yuko Shimizu. (2020). Putnam.
Mohammed Alaa Aljaleel, an ambulance driver and paramedic in Aleppo, loves the city with its “gentle, polite, and loving people.” Witnessing the destruction of war in which families fled for their lives to escape the bombing, he sees the many cats left behind without a home. Alaa brings them food and water. People remaining in the city join in the effort to care for the cats and their efforts grow into community projects for the cats and other abandoned animals in the war torn city. With expressive illustrations, rendered in ink on heavy paper with computerized color, the book recounts efforts that reflect hope, care, compassion, and community. The back matter provides background for Alaa’s story and includes author and illustrator notes. Inspired to write the book on the ancient city of Aleppo, the authors collaborated and consulted Alaa by telephone. Shimizu conducted research on the culture for nine months to create the illustrations. (GR PreK-3 )
Dragon Hoops. Gene Luen Yang. Color by Lark Pien. (2020). First Second.
Using his expertise of storytelling in the graphic novel format, Gene Luen Yang shares his journey to understanding the game of basketball as he follows the Bishop O’Dowd High School Dragons through its 2014-2015 season. He details the storied season by weaving in tales of basketball history and its place in American and world culture. As the season progresses, Yang finds himself more deeply invested in the histories and lives of the coaches, players, students, and the community. He realizes that high school basketball is not just a game, but a connection that binds people across cultures, ages, and communities. Yang includes extensive notes and a bibliography. (GR 8-12)
Land of the Cranes. Aida Salazar. (2020). Scholastic.
Immigration is key to survival for many people in this world, and just as cranes migrate to begin families or escape extreme climates, Betita’s family fled cartel wars in Mexico to find a better life in Los Angeles. Now nine-year-old Betita takes comfort in her papi’s stories of how her Aztec ancestors, who were descended from cranes, migrated to Tenochtitlan (modern-day Mexico City) and would eventually return to Aztlan (the Southwestern United States). Although Betita’s family thought they had returned home, without the proper documentation, Betita’s papi was arrested and deported to Mexico. To make matters worse, when Betita and her pregnant mother attempt to meet him, a misstep results in their being sent to a family detention center outside of Los Angeles. Depicting heartbreaking realities, this novel in verse makes the humanitarian issues of immigration accessible to younger readers. (GR 4-8)
Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It. Andrea Davis Pinkney. Illus. by Brian Pinkney. (2020). Little, Brown.
With its stage-like presence, readers can imagine this historical fiction novel as theater performance. The curtain opens with a lone figure, Loreta Little, sharing her life story as a sharecropper’s daughter in the 1920s in tales that show resilience and tenacity. Roly, a foundling taken in by Loretta’s family, follows. He recounts his journey into adulthood, using what he learned from the Littles in his life as farmer, husband, and father. Then Roly’s daughter, Aggie B., tells of her participation in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, connecting the life lessons of Loretta and Roly to her life. The production of what Andrea Davis Pinkey calls a tri-monologue closes with the three performers in a field of wildflowers reminiscing about how their stories intertwine across generations setting the path for those who will follow them. (GR 5-8)
The Magic Fish. Trung Le Nguyen. (2020). RH Graphic.
Tien, a teenager born in the U.S., and his mother, Helen, who grew up in post-war Vietnam, read folktales together each night so Helen can practice her English. The folktales weave throughout the novel, with connections to Tien’s relationships and challenges at school and to Helen’s life before coming to the U.S. The color of the panels retelling folktales, different from the color of those for the story of Tien and his mother, create a clear distinction between them for readers, yet show the connection between folktale and their lives. Ultimately, the folktales they share every night help them understand their current lives in unexpected ways and fortify their mother-son relationship. In the back matter, Trung Le Nguyen explains the source of the interlacing stories and provides information on the artwork, integrating text and image of folktale. (GR 7-9)
The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read. Rita Lorraine Hubbard. Illus. by Oge Mora. (2020). Schwartz & Wade.
Reading is a gift and Mary Walker’s story proves that one is never too old to receive that gift. Born a slave in 1848, Mary’s long life spanned from the century of the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement. She raised a family, working hard to take care of them and putting aside her desire of learning to read. When she was the last living member of her family, she signed up for a reading class at her local community center. At the age of 116, Mary learned how to read, earning the designation of the nation’s oldest student. This picture book celebrates the importance of persistence and patience in attaining a personal goal. (GR PreK-4)
The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne. Lisa Cline-Ransome. Illus. by John Parra. (2020). Paula Wiseman.
Born in Chicago, Ethel L. Payne had an eye for story, and as she learned of the racism and discrimination African Americans faced, she started to use her gift for writing in community social action. The book, with illustrations rendered in acrylic, shows her passion for story and justice that inspired her to write about the discrimination African Americans faced during the Great Depression and World War II. Publication of her articles in the Chicago Defender led to her becoming the first African American press correspondent in the White House. Over more than three decades she challenged presidents, questioning their efforts to address discrimination and racism. Back matter includes additional biographical material and books for further reading. (GR 2-5)
We Are Not Free. Traci Chee. (2020). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
In this historical novel, fourteen teenaged friends from San Francisco tell the diverse stories of their goals and relationships as Japanese American citizens incarcerated at Topaz, Utah, during World War II. Their families face racism and hatred before and after the war, and live with uncertainty throughout the war. In the camp, everyone must sign a loyalty oath, an action that divides families and challenges friendships. Families are split up, individuals are moved to a high-security camp in Northern California, and some young people volunteer to serve in the U.S. war effort. The novel includes archival images, and Chee provides detail about her family history in that period. (GR 8 and Up)
We Are Water Protectors. Carole Lindstrom. Illus. by Michaela Goade. (2020). Roaring Brook.
Using the format of the folklore of indigenous people in North America, Carole Lindstrom presents from the black people standing together as one, with courage, honoring water and protecting the Earth. As foretold by the people, the black snake is encroaching upon the land, ready to take life from the Earth. Lindstrom uses the metaphor of the black snake to symbolize oil pipelines crossing the land, leaving their mark on the land and harming the water, the sustainer of life. She issues a call to action “To stand for the water / To stand for the land” in the repetitive pattern of the text, and Michaela Goade’s vibrant illustrations include elements of the author’s Ojibwe culture, with waves of blue to suggest people standing together, united, as they resist the black snake. (GR PreK-4)
When Stars Are Scattered. Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed. Color by Iman Geddy. (2020). Dial.
Omar Mohamed narrates the story of the years he and his brother, Hassan, spend in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya after their father is killed in Somalia and their mother goes missing. They live years in the camp, designed as a transitional safe haven, experiencing daily trials of hunger and uncertainty. One of the many decisions Omar must face is whether to take tests so he can continue middle school, which would require leaving his challenged brother. Overall, the novel focuses on gratitude and hope, reminding readers of the community and kindness that people can share. (GR 4-7)
Sandip Wilson, Chair of the NBGS Committee, is a professor at Husson University in Bangor, Maine. Mary Ellen Oslick, Co-chair of the committee, serves as associate professor at Stetson University, Deland, Florida. Sharryn Larson Walker, a member of the committee, is a professor at Central Washington University, Ellensburg.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).