Chicago: Read Through the Windy City

Cloud Gate, aka "The Bean" in Millenium Park. Photo by Libby Gorman.
Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean” in Millenium Park. Photo by Libby Gorman.

Our family vacation this year was a road trip from our home in Maryland to Chicago, so I thought it would be fun to find books with a connection to this famous metropolis.

Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko (Best Book for Young Adults 2005, 2005 Audiobook for Young Adults). Although NOT set in Chicago, but rather on Alcatraz Island, near San Francisco, the title character was of course famous for his illegal rule of the Windy City. Since we had the fun of eating deep-dish pizza at The Exchequer, known for being one of Capone’s haunts, I couldn’t Al_Capone_Does_My_Shirtsresist including this title. The story actually focuses on Moose, a twelve-year-old who’s forcibly moved to Alcatraz when his father takes on a guard job there, but the historical details provide some interesting insights on the era when Capone was active.

An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green (2007 Printz Honor Book). Ok, main character Colin Singleton starts this story by needing to get out of Chicago, after he’s dumped by his 19th girlfriend named Katherine. Still, between the road trip and the pictures of his early life around the University of Chicago, the book came to mind when I visited the city myself.

DivergentDivergent, by Veronica Roth (2012 Teens’ Top Ten, 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults). I admit it, I haven’t read this series yet. But now that I know it takes place not just in some abstract future, but in Chicago of the future, I will have to get started. If you are one of the few who, like me, haven’t read it yet, Divergent and its sequels follow the story of Tris, a girl who, on her sixteenth birthday decides to change her “faction” from Abnegation to Dauntless. Hunger Games-like tests follow, along with chilling revelations about her society.  Continue reading Chicago: Read Through the Windy City

Black Lives Matter: Building Empathy Through Reading (Part II)

black livesYesterday, I wrote about the duty all librarians and educators share to instill empathy and compassion in our young readers by actively promoting books that engage and educate them in the experiences of others. You can read my first post on this topic here and see the books I recommend from Slavery through Jim Crow. I’m continuing that post today with books that address various aspects of the Civil Rights Movement as well as novels that look at contemporary teenage Black lives.

Civil Rights

John Lewis is a civil rights legend and his graphic novel memoir March: Book One (2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound, 2014 Top 10 Great Graphic Novels for Teens) should be required reading in classrooms across America. The book details his childhood in rural Alabama, his introduction to non-violence, the founding of the SNCC, and ends with the historic lunch counter sit-ins in the late 1950s. With the sequel coming out today, it’s the perfect time to showcase both works!

lies we tell ourselves by Robin TalleyRobin Talley’s Lies We Tell Ourselves is a fictionalized account of the desegregation of schools in the late 1950s. Set in 1959, the story is told in two voices: Sarah, one of ten Black students attending the all-white high school in Davisburg, Virginia, and Linda, the white daughter of a prominent newspaperman intent on keeping segregation alive. The visceral accounts of Sarah’s first days at school alone make the book worth reading but it is the examination of how internal change can and does happen that truly makes the novel a compelling read.

Another book told in two voices is Revolution by Deborah Wiles which follows Sunny, a young white girl, as she grapples with the tumultuous changes happening around her during 1964’s Freedom Summer and Raymond, a young Black boy, who is coming to terms with the vast disparities between his community and the white community that surrounds him. Despite focusing more heavily on Sunny’s story, the book provides extraordinary insight into an era by incorporating numerous primary sources ranging from photographs, SNCC recruiting brochures, song lyrics, and even KKK pamphlets….fascinating stuff!

Kekla Magoon’s debut novel The Rock and the River won the 2010 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent when it came out and with good reason. A complex and layered look at the struggle for civil rights, the book tells the story of 13-year-old Sam, son of a well-known Civil Rights activist. As the story begins, Sam follows his father’s belief in non-violence unquestioningly until tragedy strikes and he finds himself siding more and more with his older brother who is a follower of the Black Panthers. The books offers no easy answers and is eloquent in its portrayal of a time fraught with tension and change. Continue reading Black Lives Matter: Building Empathy Through Reading (Part II)

The Seven Princples of Kwanzaa in Teen Fiction

Kinara and Seven Kwanzaa Candles.

Kwanzaa is a holiday that lasts from December 26th through January 1st. The celebration originated in the 1960s and honors the impact of an African heritage on Americans.  While Kwanzaa is enjoyed by mainly people of African descent, the values shared at this celebration can be appreciated by everyone.  Originally defined in the Swahili language, Kwanzaa illustrated seven principles intended to guide and strengthen our community. (Kwanzaa)

  1. Umoja – Unity
  2. Kujichagulia – Self-Determination
  3. Ujima – Collective Work and Responsibility
  4. Ujamaa -Cooperative Economics
  5. Nia – Purpose
  6. Kuumba – Creativity
  7. Imani – Faith

Each principle is represented by a black, red or green candle; the colors of the Pan-African flag.  One candle is lit every night in a special order and each candle represents one of the seven principles.  To incorporate these ideals into your Kwanzaa celebration, here is a list of YA books that embody the seven principles.

Continue reading The Seven Princples of Kwanzaa in Teen Fiction

Graphic Novels for Non-GN Readers

Have you finished all your Christmas shopping, or do you still have 10 gifts to find? If, like me, you like to give books as gifts, it can be a challenge to strike the right balance between a book you know someone will enjoy and a book that will give them a new experience. Graphic novels have been my new experience this year.Boxers Gene Luen Yang

I am emphatically not a graphic novel reader–I have nothing against the format, but it’s just not something that I tend to pick up on my own. My 5-year-old son, however, loves comic books and my elementary school librarian mother, who also grew up loving comic books, has been helping him out by recommending graphic novels for kids his age. Since I seem to be destined, for at least the next 12 years, to be around a graphic novel reader, I’ve been trying to dip into the format a little further. As I’ve done so, I’ve come up with a few guidelines for helping graphic novel lovers lure us non-GN readers into the format.

  1. Choose a story to match your reader, just as you would for a regular novel. I’m not a huge fan of superheroes, which are what first come to my mind when I think of graphic novels. So a graphic novel about Superman is probably not the best bet when recommending for me. But a graphic novel version of Romeo and Juliet, adapted by Gareth Hinds (nominee for the 2014 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list)? Gareth Hinds Romeo and JulietOr a historical graphic novel set about the Boxer Rebellion in China (Boxers and Saints, by Gene Luen Yang, 2013 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature)? Yes, please! While it may be a no-brainer, this is definitely the most important tip I can offer–just like you have to find the right story for the right reader with regular format books, you must do the same with graphic novels. Those of us who aren’t familiar with the format may not realize there’s a graphic novel with a story for us, so prove us wrong! Continue reading Graphic Novels for Non-GN Readers

Youth Media Awards wrap-up

Monday was a big, big day for young adult literature. After months of speculation, Mock Printz committees, posts about the finalists for the William C. Morris and Excellence in Nonfiction Awards, and tons and tons and tons of reading by dedicated committee members, the ALA’s Youth Media Awards were announced at the Midwinter Conference in Dallas.

One of my favorite things about being a young adult librarian is the incredible sense of community that’s grown up about libraries and young adult literature, and the YMAs were a perfect example. I wasn’t able to be in Dallas this year, but luckily for me and other librarians, publishers, and YA and children’s lit fans around the world, the announcements were streamed live (in fact, you can watch the archived announcements and videos by some of the honored authors and illustrators on the YMA’s YouTube Channel).

I watched the announcements in one window and had Twitter up in another. There was plenty of buzz on Twitter–so much so that #alayma was trending for more than an hour! Lots of author names and book titles also trended following the announcement of each award. If you haven’t had the chance before, I highly recommend watching the announcements live if you can. It’s so great to hear the audience erupt in cheers when the winners are announced, and if you’re anything like me, you might find yourself cheering along. Being a reader of and writer for the Hub made this year’s awards especially fun for me. I’d read four of the five Morris finalists (two of which won other awards–including the Printz!), something which I might not have done were it not for The Hub.

Here’s the complete list of all the awards given in young adult literature. The name of each award will link to the award’s page on the ALA website, where you can learn about the history and see a complete list of winners. If The Hub did any coverage of a book before its big win, I’ve linked to that too. Enjoy!

Continue reading Youth Media Awards wrap-up

31 Days of Authors: G. Neri and Ghetto Cowboy

Teen Read Week is officially October 16th through 22nd, but here at The Hub, we’re celebrating all month long with 31 Days of Authors. On each day in October, we’ll bring you author interviews and profiles and reflections on what YALSA-recognized books have meant to us.

G.Neri knows urban youth. He is a visual storyteller who uses his powerful mastery of language and pacing to create stories for reluctant readers. His work has an authenticity that grabs you immediately. You are listening to the narrator’s voice and you are in it. G. Neri takes you there.

I was first introduced to G. Neri by way of Yummy, one of YALSA’s 2011 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels and 2011 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. Yummy is the true story of the final days of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, who died as a result of gang conflict. I couldn’t wait to read more by G. Neri after reading this heartbreaking/groundbreaking graphic novel.

I’ve known about the Federation of Black Cowboys who ride not too far from my home in Brooklyn. So I was extra excited to read Ghetto Cowboy, the story of Cole, a young boy who becomes involved with the black cowboys in Philadelphia. The book begins in the heart of the action, an emotional tailspin as Cole is forced to leave his life in Detroit to live with his father in Philadelphia. His mother wants to keep him out of trouble, and this is the only way how. What she doesn’t know is how the Cowboy Way will affect her son, and the relationship he will build with his father.

Jesse Joshua Watson’s illustrations bring this story to life. You see Cole transform from a boy afraid of horses to a fearless rider. Cole learns what it means to care for his horse Boo, in return Cole receives love and trust from him.

What’s amazing is that although Ghetto Cowboy is a work of fiction, it is based on the actual struggles of urban black horseman in Philadelphia. His father Harp says, “You never know what someone will do with his life once he finds himself.” These are inspirational words that will resonate with readers of all ages.

G. Neri knows the power of voice, the vernacular carries this story, and readers of will rejoice in a story that speaks to them not at them.

— Marie Penny, currently reading Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.