Happy Halloween reads

Happy Halloween! What did you read to get in the holiday mood?
I’m averse to scary movies and books, but I do love Halloween-ish stories with witches and ghosts and pumpkin delights. That usually means that when October arrives I start feeling the itch to watch Practical Magic, Hocus Pocus, or It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. This month, however, I felt pulled to re-listen to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. It doesn’t actually involve Halloween (or any holidays), but, being set in a graveyard, it’s full of autumnal atmosphere. It really got me in the October spirit despite quite warm temperatures in Virginia.

I also love the Halloween feasts in the Harry Potter books. Here are a few other not-so-spooky October reads I recommend.

Boo-La-La Witch SpaBoo-La-La Witch Spa by Samantha Berger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s synopsis: Halloween is the most important day of the year for any witch. So when the holiday ends and the witches are tired from tricking and treating, they all head to the fa-boo Witch Spa. Here they indulge in Bat-Whisker Tea, Broom Bristle Facials, and other spooky spa goodies. A trip to the Witch Spa is sure to make any witch or warlock feel refreshed, revived, and positively revolting.

My review: Such a fun Halloween read! And the rhyming is so well done. As I read it, I felt like I was back in second grade listening to my teacher read Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss or The Night Before Christmas. Kids will love discovering all the witchy details in the illustrations.

Fright ClubFright Club by Ethan Long

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher’s synopsis: Each year, on Halloween eve, Fright Club meets to go over their plan: Operation Kiddie Scare. Only the scariest of monsters can join Fright Club-Vladimir the Vampire, Fran K. Stein, Sandy Witch, and Virginia Wolf have all made the cut. They’ve been practicing their ghoulish faces, their scary moves, and their chilling sounds. But when a band of cute little critters comes along asking to join in the fun, the members of Fright Club will find out who really is the scariest of all!

My review: Fun and clever.
Leo: A Ghost StoryLeo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s synopsis: You would like being friends with Leo. He likes to draw, he makes delicious snacks, and most people can’t even see him. Because Leo is also a ghost. When a new family moves into his home and Leo’s efforts to welcome them are misunderstood, Leo decides it is time to leave and see the world. That is how he meets Jane, a kid with a tremendous imagination and an open position for a worthy knight. That is how Leo and Jane become friends. And that is when their adventures begin.

My review: Now I want to be Leo for Halloween. Love the cut paper and crayon (oil? i don’t know) illustrations in this simple friendship tale.

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Muslims in Kidlit Friday: Refugee experiences

Today President Trump signed an executive order that halts the processing of refugees to the U.S. for four months. He cited national security concerns and said “We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”

That statement describes most refugees. Shutting them out is profoundly un-empathetic.

Reading about refugee experiences is the opposite. Reaching out to refugees in your community all the more so.

Here are two children’s books about refugees (one picture book, one middle grade). The characters in these books are Muslim, but not all refugees are Muslim. See here and here for some more lists of children’s books about refugees.

Four Feet, Two SandalsFour Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: When relief workers bring used clothing to the refugee camp, everyone scrambles to grab whatever they can. Ten-year-old Lina is thrilled when she finds a sandal that fits her foot perfectly, until she sees that another girl has the matching shoe. But soon Lina and Feroza meet and decide that it is better to share the sandals than for each to wear only one. As the girls go about their routines washing clothes in the river, waiting in long lines for water, and watching for their names to appear on the list to go to America the sandals remind them that friendship is what is most important. Four Feet, Two Sandals was inspired by a refugee girl who asked the authors why there were no books about children like her. With warm colors and sensitive brush strokes, this book portrays the strength, courage, and hope of refugees around the world, whose daily existence is marked by uncertainty and fear.

My review: When a relief truck delivers clothing to a refugee camp in Pakistan, Lina and Feroza each find one yellow sandal. The two girls share the sandals, along with their daily chores, memories of lost family members, and hopes for a new home. After Lina and her mother get word they will be resettled in America, the girls decide what will happen to the sandals, but the future of their friendship (and lives) remains unknown.
This touching story opens a window onto life in a refugee camp in a heartfelt, non-didactic way, as well as speaking to the meaning of friendship. Timely and timeless.

The Red PencilThe Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

 

RELATED: 2 Picture Books about Welcoming All People (and Pets)

Muslims in Kidlit Friday: “Tell me Again How a Crush Should Feel” and “It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel”

Today’s post features two novels — one YA, one middle grade. Each has an Iranian or Iranian-American main character.

My first introduction to Iranian culture and history was when I read the graphic novel Persepolis. At that time, I only knew of Iran as a harshly ruled, conservative Muslim country. In America we often hear Middle Eastern countries talked about as if their culture and governments have been static for centuries. Learning about the Islamic revolution exposed me to how dramatically a country’s politics and daily reality can change in a short time period. That’s something worth remembering in our own nation…

Anyway, on to the books!
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should FeelTell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.

My thoughts: Good teen novels, such as this one, are like candy. Sweet and not too complicated, so you just want to keep eating/reading. Leila’s voice is funny and real. Although this is a coming out story, I like that it starts with her already knowing she’s gay and seeming pretty comfortable with it — at least for herself. Sharing that part of her identity with private school friends and Persian family is another thing. At the same time, Leila is figuring out other parts of who she is, like what her interests are and how she can measure up to her premed sister in the eyes of her father.
Enmeshed with Leila’s coming out and coming of age narrative are the swirling drama of crushes, dating and friendship that all teens experience, and there are interesting twists in how those storylines develop. Granted, I saw the twists coming, but that they surprised Leila was believable. Some of the characters are a bit stereotyped (e.g. the vegan stage crew feminists), but part of that is tied into assumptions Leila makes about her classmates. Everyone in this story has more going on than meets than eye.
In sum: a fun YA read with a distinctive voice.
Continue reading

Hurricane Katrina 10th anniversary: 5 children’s books about strength through the storm

Hurricane Katrina children's books

This month is the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. A number of children’s books related to Katrina have come out in the last ten years, ranging from nonfiction on the storm itself to fictional stories of how kids and their families were affected.

The five books below focus on survival and recovery after the storm, but news coverage of the 10th anniversary this month also has highlighted ongoing gentrification, education reform debates and other issues. I wonder what types of children’s stories about New Orleans we’ll see in the future as the rebuilding and reinvention of the city continues to play out. Continue reading

My diverse reading from February

I read 20 books last month. Fourteen were by or about diverse characters — that’s 70 percent, an improvement from last month. Twelve of those were for children, shown below. They are picture books unless otherwise noted.

February diverse reading

Top row: “A Little Piece of Ground” by Elizabeth Laird (middle grade); “A Place Where Hurricanes Happen” by Renée Watson; “Freedom on the Menu” by Carole Boston Weatherford; “Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin” by Chieri Uegaki

Middle row: “Harlem’s Little Blackbird” by Renée Watson; “Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century” by Carole Boston Weatherford; “Little Melba and Her Big Trombone” by Katheryn Russell-Brown; “Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens” by Nina Nolan

Bottom row: “Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People” by Monica Brown; “Soccer Star” by Mina Javaherbin; “The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage” by Selina Alko; “Those Shoes” by Maribeth Boelts

The two adult books on my diverse reading list in February were “On Beauty” by Zadie Smith and “MARCH: Book One” by Congressman John Lewis. The latter is a graphic novel about Lewis’ involvement in the civil rights movement and would be great for teenagers as well as adults.

March! Book one

In case you missed it, my We Need Diverse Books resolution this year is 50 books. I’m almost halfway there already — maybe I need to bump it up?

What diverse reading have you been doing?

 

Got graphic novels?

Illustrator Mary Rockcastle recently posted a list of “9 Graphic Novels Every Girl Should Read” that look wonderful. Hat tip to Emily C. for sharing the link with me!

Although the headline refers to “girls,” I don’t think Rockcastle’s suggestions are geared to children. Some would no doubt be good for teenagers, though. I’ve only read two on the list, so getting to the rest is now among my 2015 reading goals.

For younger kids, my top graphic novel recommendation is Cece Bell’s “El Deafo.” Published by Abrams last year, it depicts a deaf girl navigating friendships and crushes while wearing a “phonic ear” device that allows her to hear her teacher anywhere in the school. (Yes, that includes when the teacher’s in the bathroom!) It’s actually a memoir about Bell’s own childhood, though she’s portrayed as a rabbit.

Here’s a video of Bell talking about “El Deafo”:

Got any suggestions for graphic novels focused on social justice events, characters or themes? If so, please share them in the comments!

(And if you feel iffy about the merits of reading graphic novels, go read this feature story I recently wrote on the subject: “Want your kid to read more? Give them graphic novels.”)

Political violence from a child’s eyes: I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín

I Lived on Butterfly Hill

I first read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank in third grade. I distinctly remember thinking it was a FAT book. Child view of the world right there. Imagine if I’d seen a copy of Moby Dick! I don’t know how I got my hands on that book — my teacher? a sibling? — but I’m certain I read it solely for the accomplishment, because my seven-year-old mind didn’t really grasp the moral weight of it.

Yes, I got that the Frank family were hiding from persecution. But the scale of the Holocaust and the testament to the human spirit that Anne’s voice became?

I was a little too busy pretending I was an alien from a planet called Orton for that. (True story.)

Three years later, however, several classmates and I plowed through stacks of books set during the Holocaust. Some of the stories were true, like The Cage by Ruth Minsky Sender. Many were fictionalized based on real events. I’ve forgotten most of the titles, but I remember snippets of other details. Like kids hiding at a school when Nazis came (a Google search says that’s from a book called Twenty and Ten), or a litle girl peering through a a hole in a suffocating cattle car on the way to a concentration camp.

We may have talked about the Holocaust in class, but I honestly don’t remember that. Memoirs and fiction were the primary way I learned about concentration camps and Jewish ghettos and genocide.

Now that I’m older, though, I also know about mass atrocities in other places throughout the world and modern times. And I wonder why I didn’t read books told from the perspective of kids living through, say, the Trail of Tears, or Argentina’s Dirty War?

Enter I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín. I stumbled upon this middle-grade novel, published by Simon & Schuster in March, last week at the library. What a find! Continue reading