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Author: Mia Cabana

Nonfiction Award Finalist: Courage Has No Color, by Tanya Stone

CourageHasNoColorHistory and biography are among my favorite types of nonfiction to read. There is something extra powerful about a story that reads like fiction, is filled with the same themes that make the best fiction unforgettable, but rests on a foundation of truth and having actually happened. Even the most exciting fiction asks the reader to eventually think “what if this was real?” while nonfiction brings me to constantly reflect on how amazing humans are, and what can be accomplished in the face of incredible odds.

So in some ways I was predisposed to enjoy the YALSA nonfiction nomination Courage Has No Color, The True Story of The Triple Nickles: Americas’ First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone from the title alone. I should probably also admit here to a paralyzing fear of heights, so the idea of jumping out of a plane voluntarily is pretty unimaginable to me. Choosing to face prejudice, train independently, and jump out of a plane in the context of military combat is even more incredible, but that is just what the brave members of the “Triple Nickels,”  U.S. army’s 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, did.

During World War II, the U.S. military service remained deeply segregated. As the book introduced me to the men who would go on to become the Triple Nickles, it was humbling to me how many enlisted in the army when the war began through a deep desire to serve a country that would not fully accept them and afford them the same privileges as their white counterparts– a feeling reinforced as I learned that for most black men enlisting in the service at that time, the only jobs available were service jobs, such as oiling machinery, working in mess halls, or in the case of the founding members of the Triple Nickles, working as night guards at the paratrooper training grounds of Fort Benning, GA. Walter Morris noted that morale among his men was low, and formed a plan to start training in secret with the same drills that paratroopers practiced by day while on their night watch. This sets the tone of the whole incredible story: men who chose to become the best they could be at a job that was both dangerous and thrilling, in spite of receiving little or no support.

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Transgender Characters in Teen Literature: An Interview with Author Ellen Wittlinger

ParrotfishYALSA’s Young Adult Library Services Journal recently featured a list of titles featuring transgender teens, including the book Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger. The books tells the story of Grady, a high school student who identifies as a male and the difficulties and support he faces at school and home. The story is told with humor, warmth, and a deep respect for the courage Grady displays in forging his identity. I was lucky to ask Ellen Wittlinger a few questions.

I think to some degree, defining your identity and constructing your self is a part of any adolescent experience, and makes stories about transgender characters relatable. How did you think about the process of constructing a gender identity for Grady in Parrotfish?  In general, how do you as a writer signify gender identities in your characters? How does the gender identity of a character affect the way you think about them as you are creating them?

I’m going to answer your first two questions together because my answer is pretty much the same for both. How does the gender identity of a character affect the way I think about them? It doesn’t necessarily. The way I begin to think about a character is to imagine who they are at their core, their center. I think everyone is pretty similar deep down, no matter what their gender, race, religion, or ethnicity happens to be. I look for the place in which we’re all human–that’s where to begin building the character. In other words, I don’t begin with the differences, but with the similarities we all share, things like, our hope for a good life, our fear of death, our need for love. The big things.


New Takes on Star-Crossed Love

…these hot days is the mad blood stirring…

These words from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet have always made me think that Romeo and Juliet’s frenzied, wildly hopeful, passionate, and fateful/fatal love affair would have been a different story if it was set in a cold climate. Not that there isn’t probably a wintery version of the story out there. Romeo and Juliet has captivated audiences for centuries with its universal themes of forbidden love, loyalty, and family pride.

The book adaptation of West Side Story is consistently on the summer reading list in my library’s community, which may be another reason I’ve been thinking of the theme of star-crossed love in literature and the way this eternal story has been used to reflect current culture. West Side Story tells the story through the clash between the Puerto Rican Sharks and the Polish-American Jets in 1950s New York city. Fifty years later, new adaptations present thoughtful, challenging, and very current twists on the classic theme.

Farizan_IYCBM_300dpiIn If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (available August 2013), Sahar is a teenager living in Iran, dedicated to her widowed father, her studies and hopes for entry to medical school, and her best friend Nasrin, with whom she has been in love since she was six years old. But in Iran, their love is illegal. If it were discovered they could be imprisoned or even executed. The stakes are raised when Nasrin’s family announces her engagement to Reza, a handsome doctor who seems like a brilliant match for their daughter. Sahar is broken-hearted, and it is the tenacity of her love that both leads to the central contradiction of the story and gives its universal appeal, because Sahar learns that while homosexuality is illegal in Iran, gender re-assignment surgery is not only legal, but even funded by the government. To be a man trapped in a woman’s body is viewed as nature’s mistake. To love Nasrim openly, would Sahar sacrifice who she is?

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Happy Mother’s Day!

My mother was a second grade teacher. She loved children’s books and reading to kids — lucky for my brother and me, because even after we were reading on our own, she still read to us often. Mostly I remember this as a sweet summer bedtime ritual, when the long twilights would lend themselves perfectly to us wheedling later bedtimes. In this way, I experienced a lot of books with complicated ideas before I may have been able to comprehend them on my own. Even with the ones that I read again independently, I find that to this day my memories of the stories are as my mom read them to us. These books undoubtedly shaped the reader and the person I became as I grew older.

Happy Mothers Day! We are never too old to enjoy hearing a good story read out loud.

Mia C Yalsa Mothers Day002

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The Voices in My Head: Audiobooks and the reading experience

Beats By Dr. Dre Mixr Headphones for David Guetta
from flickr user Beats by Dr Dre
I choose to experience a story as an audiobook for a few different reasons.

  1. It’s a book that everyone in the universe has already read, or told me to read, or that I’ve meant to read for months but can’t get from the library because it is just that popular. This was the case with The Hunger Games. After experiencing the shocked looks on fellow readers’ faces enough times when I admitted I had not yet read the book, I realized that I had to fix the situation. But how to squeeze it into my mile-long line up of to-be-read books? I snagged the audiobook off my library’s shelf, and was immediately hooked. This leads me to reason #2:

We’ve Already Covered This: New Trends In YA Cover Design

YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

Whether you’re looking forward or back, this is a great time for young adult literature. Not only is there a quantity of quality literature out there to pick from, there is also an interesting study in book design. Some young adult book covers become instantly iconic, while other stories that stand the test of time go through many cover trends and represent a survey of publishing style. Here are a few things I’ve noticed lately when stepping back and looking at the shelves:

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Short Form Summer Reading Summaries

by flickr user sara. nel
Whether you’re a librarian, a parent, or procrastinator not too proud to admit it, you’re probably familiar with the question that comes up around this time of year regarding assigned summer reading. Not just panicked students requesting the books they need, but the slightly desperate plea, “What is this book about?” We put the question to the collective mind of our Hub bloggers, with the added challenge to summarize familiar summer reading classics in the shortest form possible. Here is a round-up of the quirky, clever, and funny responses we got:

From Sarah Debraski with an assist from Paul, some great haiku

The only thing you
need to know is Big Brother
is always watching
(1984 by George Orwell)