Lewis Michaux provided a venue for his fellow African-Americans to have access to their own history and philosophy at a time when the very idea was revolutionary.
Michaux’s family despaired of him, as he engaged in petty crime and was obviously headed in the wrong direction. He began to read, however, and discovered a connection to the writings of Marcus Garvey and others, and he determined that knowledge of black thinkers and writers was the way to freedom and dignity. With an inventory of five books, he started his National Memorial African Bookstore as “the home of proper propaganda” and built it into a Harlem landmark, where he encouraged his neighbors to read, discuss and learn, whether or not they could afford to buy. His clients included Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni. Nelson, Michaux’s great-niece, makes use of an exhaustive collection of interviews, articles, books, transcripts and FBI files, filling in the gaps with “informed speculation.” Brief entries arranged in mostly chronological order read seamlessly so that fact and fiction meld in a cohesive whole. Michaux’s voice blends with those of the people in his life, providing a full portrait of a remarkable man. Copious illustrations in the form of photographs, copies of appropriate ephemera and Christie’s powerfully emotional free-form line drawings add depth and focus.
A stirring and thought-provoking account of an unsung figure in 20th-century American history.
(author’s notes, source notes, bibliography, index)
(Fictional biography. 12-18)
Janna Yusuf has two major problems: the boy who assaults her at her friend’s party is well-respected in the local Muslim community, and now the boy from school she’s been crushing on likes her back.
Janna, a high school sophomore whose Egyptian mother and Indian father are divorced, is surrounded by caring friends and family, but there are things her non-Muslim friends don’t understand, and there are things she won’t tell her Muslim friends and family. It all comes to a head when her aggressor tries to publicly shame her by posting videos of her talking with her crush, a white boy named Jeremy, who, as a non-Muslim, is not considered a proper match for her…even if Janna did date, that is. As she stumbles through her social dilemmas, Janna finds out who her allies are—the everyday “saints” she’s overlooked. Finally, with the help of an unpredictable niqabi on her own mission to crush misogynists, Janna gets in touch with her rage and fights back, refusing to take on the shame that belongs on the aggressor. Ali pens a touching exposition of a girl’s evolution from terrified victim to someone who knows she’s worthy of support and is brave enough to get it. Set in a multicultural Muslim family, this book is long overdue, a delight for readers who will recognize the culture and essential for those unfamiliar with Muslim experiences.
This quiet read builds to a satisfying conclusion; readers will be glad to make space in their hearts—and bookshelves—for Janna Yusuf
. (Fiction. 12-18)
What can sidewalk activity mean to someone high above on a balcony?
The opening spread, which establishes the composition that’s used throughout, requires studying to parse: it’s a city sidewalk from almost straight above. At the left is a line of trees; in the middle, a wide sidewalk paved with small, square, welcomingly irregular bricks or stones; toward the right, there’s a thick, unidentifiable line from the top of the page to the bottom. “Slam!” comes a sound from the far right. The thick, rough line is a balcony wall, and onto the balcony emerges a person—but only far enough to show her feet resting on her wheelchair’s footrests. When she peers down toward the sidewalk, readers see the top of her head, the tip of her nose, and her hands gripping the balcony rail. A sidewalk game and bustling pedestrians capture her interest, but nobody will “look up!”—until one boy does. He realizes that lying down will help the girl see him better, and he stirs others to join him. She looks skyward, smiling, and for the first time, the black-and-white (-and-gray) drawings show tiny bits of color: pinks in treetops, a green seedling in a pot. The illustrations’ style is loose and unfinished (the pedestrians below lack eyes), nicely balancing the high concept.
Conceptually sophisticated; especially inviting for young artists ready to explore new visual angles.
(Picture book. 5-8)
A refreshing spin on a story about fitting in and overcoming obstacles features two viewpoints written by two authors.
Just arrived from Bangalore, Ravi Suryanarayanan is eager to make friends at his new American school. When he spots Dillon Samreen, a popular, cool classmate with swoopy bangs and a big smile, Ravi believes the two could become great friends. Even if Dillon is an ABCD—American-Born Confused Desi—another name for U.S.–born children of Indian immigrants, Ravi believes catching Dillon’s attention will take him from the lame table in the cafeteria to where the popular kids eat. Meanwhile, all white Joe Sylvester wants is not to catch the attention of Dillon Samreen. Joe is large and awkward and completely aware of how Dillon can smile at you one minute then torture you forever and ever. When Ravi, Joe, and Dillon wind up in Mrs. Beam’s class, the trio are on a collision course that will end with the unlikeliest of friendships. Veteran Weeks pairs with newcomer Varadarajan for this tale told in Ravi’s and Joe’s alternating first-person narrations. Varadarajan’s voice offers an authenticity and liveliness that perfectly pairs with Weeks’ realistic, quietly poignant style. Using the daily school-lunch schedule as a structural device, the authors bring alive a humdrum, ordinary routine, making it crackle with emotion and humor. Glossaries of Hindi and American terms and two recipes round out the book.
A novel treatment of a familiar situation delivered with fizz and aplomb.
School bullies claim Jimmy McClean’s blue eyes, fair hair, and Scottish surname mean he’s not a real Indian; to validate Jimmy’s Lakota heritage, Grandpa Nyles suggests a road trip in search of another Lakota with fair hair and skin: Crazy Horse.
Their journey takes them across the Great Plains to where Crazy Horse first witnessed attacks on his people and where he fought to end white appropriation of their homeland. Accounts of battles and stories of his integrity and commitment to providing for the weak and elderly in need bring Crazy Horse into focus. The Lakota author’s first book for children (The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn, 2007, etc.) doesn’t airbrush tragic events; they are here, placed in context. At each site, Nyles tells the story (set in italics) of what happened to Crazy Horse there. Between stops, Nyles answers Jimmy’s questions in conversations that allow readers distance to process often bleak events and to reflect on their meaning today (the art’s storybook sensibility helps here). The story’s heavy in losses and defeats, but it’s also uplifting in ways seldom addressed in children’s fiction. Crazy Horse could have led his last small band of warriors to a heroic end in battle. But great leadership mandates a different kind of courage. He chose surrender as the best hope for protecting his people—the vulnerable children, women, and elderly.
This powerful introduction to a great warrior and leader invites readers to ponder the meaning of “hero.” (author’s note, glossary, bibliography) (Fiction. 9-12)
Rani Patel, daughter of Gujarati immigrants, feels isolated for more than one reason on the Hawaiian island of Molokai in 1991.
Readers first meet Rani as she shaves her head following her discovery of her father’s affair with a “barely out-of-adolescence homewrecker.” That this is the traditional gesture of a widow takes on ever greater significance as the story progresses. Her mother distant, her crush on the handsome, (mostly) Native Hawaiian Pono unrequited, Rani’s only comfort is in hip-hop and the rhymes she lays down—until Mark, a hot, older haole who works at a nearby resort and patronizes her family’s convenience store, shows some interest in her slam poems and in her. When, as MC Sutra, Rani’s invited to audition for hip-hop club 4eva Flowin’, she finds community—and complication. Rani relates her tale in an energetic, often wry present-tense account that effortlessly enfolds unitalicized Hawaiian and Gujarati as well as Hawaiian pidgin and hip-hop slang; import if not exact meaning should be clear to readers, and a glossary fills in the gaps. Rap’s political side is, like Rani, “in full effect,” as she takes on some of the traditions that have critically injured her family in electric slam poems. Author Patel is a psychiatrist, and a concluding note explains that although Rani’s recovery from incest is unrealistically speedy, it can stand as a model for victims.
A powerfully particular, 100 percent genuine character commands this gutsy debut.
(Historical fiction. 14-18)
In the early 1900s in Texas, the Mexican Revolution crosses the border, dividing the brown-skinned gente (people) from the white authority of the Texas Rangers.
Eighteen-year-olds Joaquín del Toro and Dulceña Villa love each other; however, after their families fall out, they must resort to keeping their relationship a secret. The del Toros own a large estate with cattle and farmland and are friendly with Capt. Munro, the local leader of the Texas Rangers. The Villas own the print shop and are publishers of El Sureño, the local periodical considered seditious by the town’s authorities. Told from Joaquín’s point of view, the novel spans three and a half years of corrupt agendas, power struggles, violence, racism, and loss. Scattered throughout are well-placed, nonitalicized Spanish words and phrases, both archival and fictional newspaper clippings, letters exchanged between hotheaded Joaquín and no-nonsense Dulceña, and Joaquín’s poetry-filled journal entries, personalizing and adding context to the overall political conflict. Far beyond a love story, the novel successfully tackles all kinds of hardship, including sexual violence and lynching; the historical conflict between the Rangers and the Tejanos feels uncannily contemporary. Women are the hidden heroes, because they must be, the hearts of both the revolution and the novel.
Pura Belpré winner McCall delivers an ambitious, sardonically relevant historical novel—a must-read, complex twist on a political Shakespearean tragedy.
(cast of characters, author’s note, further reading, sources, glossary)
(Historical fiction. 12 & up)
Wearing her long red cape, Lucía goes POW and BAM better than the rest. The brown-skinned Latina’s a daredevil on the playground, leaping from the top of the monkey bars and conquering that dreaded dark, swirly slide. But: “Girls can’t be superheroes,” say the boys that refuse to play with her. Lucía doesn’t give in to their taunts. “I feel mad. Spicy mad. KA-POW kind of mad!” Garza shines in her children’s debut. The text bursts with infectious energy and Lucía’s endearing personality. When her abuela reveals a luchadora past, Lucía discovers a new outlet for her superhero aspirations. In a flashy white cape and fearsome silver mask, the budding luchadora makes her debut on the playground, introducing a lucha libre frenzy among her peers. Soon, masked faces are everywhere. But when a boy teases a fellow luchadora, Lucía faces her first real challenge as a lucha libre superhero. Can she stand up for what is right like a true luchadora? A madcap pace keeps the story moving along with humor, heart, and bravado in equal measures. Likewise, Bermudez’s colorful, buoyant illustrations radiate pure joy. Nifty text placement, variations in type color, and use of sound effects add to this delightful package, making it a joy for readers to root for this plucky young girl.
A KA-POW kind of wonderful.
(Picture book. 3-7)
Sixteen-year-old Suzette was sent to boarding school when her bookish older brother, Lionel, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but now she’s back in Los Angeles for the summer.
Despite the strange looks their family attracts—Suzette and her mom are black, while Lionel and his dad are white—Lionel and Suzette were always close before Lionel’s diagnosis. With Suzette back home, Lionel confides in her that he’s going off his medication. Fearing that to divulge his secret will ruin any chance of rebuilding their bond, Suzette keeps quiet even though she feels responsible for her brother’s well-being. Simultaneously, Suzette balances her blooming feelings for Emil Choi, a sunny, biracial (black/Korean) boy with Ménière’s disease, and for Rafaela, a pansexual Latina—whom, disastrously, Lionel is also falling for. To make matters worse, Suzette is still grappling with a homophobic act that exposed her relationship with her white boarding school roommate, Iris. Suzette’s engrossing present-tense narration intertwines with sporadic—but pertinent—flashback chapters. Colbert (Pointe, 2014) sensitively confronts misconceptions about mental illness, bisexuality, and intersectional identity (“people have too many questions when you’re black and Jewish,” thinks Suzette). A vibrantly depicted Los Angeles and a rich, though at-times unwieldy cast of characters create a convincing world.
Readers will empathize with Suzette as she explores both her sexuality and the tricky line between honesty and betrayal.
Funny and deeply affecting, this novel by the Steptoe Award winner for Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It (2007) revisits the still largely unexplored world of multiracial heritage. Twin daughters of a black mom and white dad, Minerva and Keira King, 11, fly from Washington State to North Carolina to stay with oppressive Grandmother Johnson and compete in the Miss Black Pearl Preteen pageant. The narrator, shy Minni, who appears white, is reluctant; outgoing Keira, who appears black, is thrilled. Back home, Minni has unknowingly benefited from white privilege, while Keira’s appearance has subjected her to bias. In North Carolina, Keira fits in, and Minni stands out. Although she’s favored by their grandmother, Minni’s white appearance leads others to question her right to identify as black. As their experience of race threatens to divide the sisters, Minni struggles to heal the rift. Frazier highlights the contradictions, absurdities, humor and pain that accompany life as a mixed-race tween. Never didactic, this is the richest portrait of multiracial identity and family since Virginia Hamilton’s 1976 novel Arilla Sun Down. An outstanding achievement. (Fiction. 9-12)
In the 1960s, Ruthie Mizrahi, a young Jewish Cuban immigrant to New York City, spends nearly a year observing her family and friends from her bed.
Before the accident, Ruthie’s chief goals are to graduate out of the “dumb class” for remedial students, to convince her parents to buy her go-go boots, and to play hopscotch with other kids in her Queens apartment building. But after Papi’s Oldsmobile is involved in a fatal multicar collision, Ruthie’s leg is severely broken. The doctor opts to immobilize both legs in a body cast that covers Ruthie from chest to toes. Bedridden and lonely, Ruthie knows she’s “lucky” to be alive, but she’s also “broken.” She begins collecting stories from her Jewban grandparents; her fellow young immigrant friends, Belgian Danielle and Indian Ramu; her “flower power” tutor, Joy; and her vibrant Mexican neighbor, Chicho, an artist who teaches her about Frida Kahlo. Ruthie also prays and writes letters to God, Shiva, and Kahlo, asking them for guidance, healing, and forgiveness. A cultural anthropologist and poet, the author based the book on her own childhood experiences, so it’s unsurprising that Ruthie’s story rings true. The language is lyrical and rich, the intersectionality—ethnicity, religion, class, gender—insightful, and the story remarkably engaging, even though it takes place primarily in the island of Ruthie’s bedroom.
A poignant and relevant retelling of a child immigrant’s struggle to recover from an accident and feel at home in America.
(Historical fiction. 10-13)