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Ramblings of an urban highschool librarian. Single. Old. Very old. On a good day, I even wear the traditional library bun.
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1. book review: Ask Me

book_askme_100title: Ask Me

author: Kimberly Pauley

date: Soho Teen; April 2014

main character: Aria Morse



Ask Me is the most recent offering from Kimberly Pauley who self describes as “half Chinese half everything else”. She was born in California and now lives in London. Pauley is the founder of YA Books Central, one of the largest teen book websites in the world.

Ask Me is a the story of Aria, a paranormal teen growing up in Florida with her grandparents. Like her grandmother, Aria has the ability to give and honest answer to any questions she hears. She provides an answer whether or not the question is directed at her. And, the answer is sometimes more of a riddle. This ability came to Aria at the age of twelve. Imagine being a 12 year old girl living with your grandparents who struggle to make ends meet and you suddenly find yourself blurting our answers to every question you hear. Aria was not very popular.

As a defense mechanism, she chose to wear earbuds as much as possible  to block the questions. But, when Jade, the one classmate who defended her turns up dead, the questions fly so fast that Aria cannot avoid hearing or answering them. She hears herself speak truths that she does not know how to handle. And she actually begins connecting to people.

She gets to know Will and Alex, the two boys who had been involved with Jade. Each of them warns her about the other and Aria follows her instincts in deciding who to trust. Readers wonder who will bring harm to Aria and who may be behind the murders but Aria trusts that she knows. Pauley maintains the intrigue about who really killed Jade until the very end.

Aria was meant to be a weak character, one with no friends and little confidence in herself but in giving her so little support, Pauley neglected to develop her beyond her supernatural ability. She was simply a girl who answered questions. When she finally begins to have a relationship with Will, he manages to speak to her in a way that doesn’t ask questions; that allows her to have a choice in what she says. While this had to be so empowering for her, why did this freedom have to come from a male friend?

Nonetheless, Pauley wrote this scene so well that readers will feel the flip of the switch when Aria becomes turned on to him.

The ability to answer questions is an usual talent in which Pauley explores the power of truth and coming of age by embracing both our talents and our voice. Ask Me is a fun, smooth read that keeps you wondering to the end.

Filed under: Book Reviews Tagged: Kimberly Pauley

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2. Blog Tour: Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley


Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley was released this month by Soho Press.

Aria Morse is an Oracle, blessed—or cursed—with the gift of prophecy.  Ask her anything, and the truth spills out immediately. But Aria’s answers sound like nonsense, even to herself… just as they did at Delphi 2500 years ago. 
book_askme_100To cope, Aria has perfected the art of hiding in plain sight—until Jade Price, the closest person she has to a friend, disappears.  All of a sudden, everyone around her has questions. The “nonsense” Aria spouts becomes a matter of life and death.
She may be the only one who can find out what happened to Jade.  But the closer she gets to the truth, the closer she comes to being the next target of someone else who hides in plain sight. Someone with a very dark plan.  (Amazon)

She doesn’t want to hear the questions so that she won’t blurt our the answers. She avoids the questions by putting in her earbuds and cranking up her playlst.

Aria’s First Day of School Playlist
Music is so important to Aria, the main character in ASK ME. It’s what she uses to shield herself from the world. Each of the chapter titles in the book is a song that she would have been listening to during the chapter in question. But, what would she have listened to on her first day of school? This is what I think it would have been:

Listen on Spotify

Don’t Ask Me Why by Laura Marling
Mad World by Adam Lambert (rather than the Tears for Fears version, which would be mine)
You are Invisible by Anya Marina
Doesn’t Remind Me by Audioslave
On the Outside by Sheryl Crow
Stay Out of Trouble by Kings of Convenience
One of Those Days by Joshua Radin
Sullen Girl by Fiona Apple
Impossible by Shontelle
Unhinged by the Eels


Filed under: New Books Tagged: Kimberly Pauley, new release

1 Comments on Blog Tour: Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley, last added: 4/18/2014
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3. Male Monday: Tim Z. Hernandez

Tim Z. Hernandez is an award winning author and performance artist. His debut collection of poetry, Skin Tax (Heyday Books, 2004) received the 2006 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, the James Duval Phelan Award from the San Francisco Foundation, DSC03383and the Zora Neal Hurston Award for writers of color dedicated to their communities.


Dr.Tim Z. Hernandez in his own words.

“Growing up I wasn’t one of those well-read literary types, not in high school, and not in those liminal years after, when I found myself in a void, a space of total possibility. I was not well read at all, but well read-to. My first encounters with literature were through voice, expression, and embodiment. It was my mother, Lydia Hernandez, a self-made woman and product of the harsh New Mexico landscapes, who believed in the transformative magic of language and narrative. And she would read to me during those long migrant road trips, field to field, across state lines and shifting landscapes. The whole way my father, Felix Hernandez, a sarcastic Tejano, spun these tales, these written words, off in new and strange directions. He was a consummate jokester, a stand-up comedian of the fields, and of family barbecues. But always, stories were at the heart of our family. This was my beginning.” source



Fresno is the inexhaustible nerve
in the twitching leg of a dog
three hours after being smashed
beneath the retread wheel
of a tomato truck en route to
a packing house that was raided
by the feds just days before the harvest,
in which tractors were employed
to make do where the vacancy
of bodies could not, as they ran out
into the oncoming traffic of Highway 99,
arms up in dead heat, shouting
the names of their children,
who were huddled nearby,
in an elementary school, reciting
out loud, The House That Jack Built.

source; with reading by the author


The following is from an interview by Dini Karasik and appeared on the blog “on writers and writing” earlier this month. Click here to read the entire interview

DK: Speaking of limitations, young writers are often told that they should write what they know. Do you agree with this instruction? What is a writer’s obligation to himself, the craft, the reader?

TH: I think each writer has to come to these terms on his or her own, it’s different for each. In our process, if we stick with it long enough, we build our own philosophies about why we write and who we write for. Around 1997, the late poet Andres Montoya and I were having a conversation one day, and he asked me about a poem I had written. I was trying to articulate to him what it was about and when I was done he leaned his head to one side and sort of chuckled, then said, “What’s your purpose, bro?”

I think this is the question we ultimately end up confronting. What is our purpose? As to the question of “writing what we know/don’t know,” that’s a one dimensional way of looking at it. Things aren’t merely black or white. Right or wrong. True or false. Know and don’t know. And this is precisely why we write, to work through the complex layers toward some sense of an understanding.

If we look honestly at our own lives, we know this is true. Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder who the hell that is staring back at me. On the one hand, I know that guy. On the other hand, there are things taking place inside me, tiny exchanges, unjust compromises, molecular wars going on, things I’ll never know about within me. But again, this comes down to personal philosophy. If I was forced to choose a side I would have to say I only write about what I don’t know. I have experiences and impressions about things, and maybe some informed opinions, but I truly, simply, do not know.

So for me, I write to explore the possibilities, and am perfectly okay with not knowing. But it’s because of this not knowing that I’m free to write about whatever I want. This is what dictates my approach to subject, form, obligation, audience—the investigations. I suspect every writer wants the freedom to write about whatever piques their interest.

Filed under: male monday Tagged: Tim Z Hernandez; Latino; poet

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4. SundayMorningReads


They’re that eyeglass wearing black family in that cellphone commercial. They’re all over Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

They’re watching Cosmos with @neiltyson

And now, they’re reaching YA Lit.


Black + Nerd = Blerd

The numbers of urban lit books for teens has been decreasing for quite some time and nothing had really become the new niche for black authors. With very few romance, adventure, dystopian, science fiction or mystery books written that featured black protagonists, one had to wonder what publishers would establish as the next genre where we would find black characters.

This month, HMH Books for Young Readers give us Eddie Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile written by debut author Marcia Wells and illustrated by Marcos Calo. In May, Varian Johnson’s Great Green Heist (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic) hits the shelves. I believe both books are part of a series.

The timing is great for each of these as MG fiction is becoming the hottest thing since sliced bread and Blerds are in!!

image001 I think the glasses were the first sign that Blerds were trending.

I’ve stumbled across some on Twitter.

@BlackGirlsCode Our mission is to empower young women of color ages 7-17 to embrace the current tech marketplace as builders + creators. http://www.blackgirlscode.com/ 

@BlackGirlNerds An online community devoted to promoting nerdiness among women of color. Live tweeter. Ranter. Raver. Geeker Outer. Tweets by @jamiebroadnaxblackgirlnerds.com (Shorty Award nominee)

@BlackGeeksMeet A place where Geeks of Color can Meet, Talk and get excited over their passions. Not exclusive, just empowering and energizing. blackgeeksmeet.com

@blkintechnology Blacks In Technology is the premier online community for Black techies. Membership is free. Visit us. Bringing Unity to the Black IT Community Cincinnati, Ohio ·blacksintechnology.net

@TheNerdsofColor Pop culture with a different perspective. Watch us at: http://www.youtube.com/thenerdsofcolor  thenerdsofcolor.org

No, they’re not only Black.

@GirlsinCapes On identity in geek culture. Tweets by @FelizaCasano. http://facebook.com/GirlsInCapes girlsincapes.com

@LatinasinSTEM Org established and run by #Latina #MIT alumnae. Our mission is to inspire and empower Latinas to pursue, thrive and advance in #STEM fields.LatinasinSTEM.com

@Latinitas Empowering Latina youth through media & technology, 1st digital mag by & for Latina youth. Now accepting Summer internship applications!· latinitasmagazine.org

Melo Funkademic1 @melofunkademic1 STEM Ambassador for The People. Tumblr: funkademic1funkademic1.wordpress.com

And, they morph into futurism and fantasy.

@iafrofuturism Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi & Fantasy Culture (Lawrence Hill Books) by @ytashawomack http://iafrofuturism.wordpress.com  The Future of Now · iafrofuturism.com

@scifilatino Commenting on Latinos and Latinas in science fiction and fantasy. Includes TV, movies, books, and other media.The ‘Verse · scifilatino.wordpress.com

Asian girls fight this stereotype and aren’t as likely to embrace nerd power. While I’ve found several black and Asian males who tweet about technology and STEM, I’ve not found a consolidated effort tweeting for male nerds of color.

So, why am I giving all the attention to these nerds? I do so for three reasons. First, I think they’re part of a growing trend that tells our children that it’s OK to be smart, it’s preferable to be intelligent and information in necessary for success. I see this as a direct consequence of having a black president.

Second, I hope this trend continues to influence publishing. Not only should it lead to a wider variety of books, but it should get decisions makers to make that tiny leap to realize that Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans do read (and write!!) books.

And finally, it’s also important for librarians to be aware of nerds of color. It would be wonderful if we could attract them to our profession because their knowledge and skills are germane to librarianship of the future. 21st century librarianship is all about collaboration, data management and scholarly communication. These new activities transcend all areas of librarianship in different forms.

As these new groups begin to develop and strategize, they benefit from our ability to network with them as they seek new collaborators and ways to organize information and data. Working with them grows our field and provides many mutual benefits. I’ve reached out to do some networking and found myself in the middle of a tweetup on coding. As participants shared their needs and frustrations, I saw ways librarians could easily address these concerns while participants could go on explore the world of coding. Other librarians would find ways to develop their coding skills.

We can also work in our public, school and academic librarians to provide space and leadership for those groups who need to know it’s OK to be a nerd.

Students of Middle Eastern decent.

American Indians.

Even Asian girls and boys need to know it’s OK if the want to be a nerd.

Black and Latino males. Let’s overcome the lies told about black boys. (Read this informative article to find out how the numbers of black males in college and prison are misrepresented and how sports do not build habits of mind necessary for success in our young men.)

It can start with book groups that provide safe places for students to talk about their love of reading or technology clubs that developing information literacy skills, but it needs to expand to uncover and nurture these students desire to go to college, invent new technologies, lead countries or vacation on the moon. Move them forward with metaliteracies. Librarians touch the future. (BTW, National Library Week begins today!)

Have you read any books featuring nerds of color?

Filed under: Sunday Reads Tagged: blerds, nerds

1 Comments on SundayMorningReads, last added: 4/13/2014
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5. April New Releases

Danny Blackgoat Rugged Road to Freedom by Tim Tingle; 7th Generation
Son Who Returns by Gary Robinson; 7th Generation
A Matter of Souls by Denise Lewis Patrick; Carolrhoda Press
Point by Brandy Colbert; Putnam Juvenile
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han; Simon and Schuster
Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland; Simon and Schuster

Prom Ever After: Haute Date\Save the Last Dance\Prom and Circumstance by Dona SarkarCaridad Ferrer; Deidre Berry (Kimani Tru)

Filed under: Me Being Me Tagged: new releases

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6. Male Monday: Frank X. Walker

Frank X. Walker is an African American poet from Danville, KY.  In 2013, he became the Poet Laureate of  the Commonwealth of Kentucky. (Wikipedia) Hes’ the first African American and the youngest person to hold this post.In 2014, He won an NAACP Image Award for his poetry.

He’s founder of Affrilachian Poets and is a Professor of English at the University of Kentucky.


In the parking lot behind the funeral home, my eyes settle on
the bulky white noose my father has lost a wrestling match to.
Though he is not convinced Windsor knot know-how can plantwalker_frank_x
tobacco or drive a nail true, he concedes his flawed results,

abides my desire to fix it. Calling up knowledge passed to me
from a book, I execute the maneuvers with fluid precision
and imagine I am creasing and folding a Japanese paper swan.
He stares at my knuckles, smiling, perhaps seeing his own hands



Listen online to Walker reading from his work on a radio program produced by UK’s NPR affiliate, WUKY 88.1 FM, at

Filed under: male monday Tagged: african american, Frank X. Walker, Male Monday, poetry

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7. review: Knockout Games

KG cover2datetitle: Knockout Games

author: Greg Neri

date: Carolrhoda Labs; August 2014

main character: Erica “Fish” Asher

Note: There are minor spoilers in this review. I could not avoid them. ARC courtesy of NetGalley.

Greg Neri is unpredictable if nothing else. His writings have ranged from Surf Mules to Yummy to Ghetto Cowboy to Hello, I’m Johnny Cash. And now, Knockout Games.

If you’re an adult, if you’re over, let’s be generous and say 30, you need to get your hands on an advanced copy and begin reading this book from the back. Start with the conversation between Greg and Carrie Dietz, the school librarian who gave Neri the idea for Knockout Games.

It didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t like Erica Asher, aka Fish, the books main character. She’s weak, indecisive and has little to say. She’s a white girl with long red hair and is a new student in an urban school in St. Louis filled with Black and Latino students. Destiny is the only person in the school who bothers to become friends with Erica and she’s the one who gives her the moniker “Fish”.

“I been watching you ever since you came to Truman. All you do is sit there and look at people, filming them and what not. It’s like that camera’s your tank and you just watching everyone pass you by. And with that hair, you the same color as Nemo, Fish. Yeah, that’s what you are.”

Erika and her mother move to St. Louis from Kansas after her parents break up. Erica’s mom finds a job working nights in a lab and can’t afford much of an apartment for them to live in.

Fish’s friendship with Destiny and her access to a camera gives Fish access to Kalvin, ‘King K’, and the knockout games.

Fish makes decision that I thought were just plain stupid. But, I’m not a teenage girl growing up in a new city with just my mom in the 21st century. My teen years are far behind me and I just ought to know better.

I’ve never really experienced this before while reading YA: realizing that a books just wasn’t written for me. Fish was true to her teenage self, figuring out the kind of person she wanted to be, what she valued and how to maintain relationships. Neri reveals her talents to us, but Fish has no idea what she’s capable of doing. This book was not written for those of us oldheads!

As an adult, I wanted clarity on Destiny and her relationship with Fish, but relationships are complicated, especially for teens. Remember those weeks you didn’t speak to your best friend and suddenly you were spending hours on the phone? There was no more of an explanation for the not talking as there was for the sudden forgiven and there certainly weren’t pages of dialog between the two of you about your ‘feelings’.

Fish’s ignorance, which I should politely call ‘naiveté” is magnified in her relationship with Kalvin. The smooth talking, game playing, King K. First person narrative gives us no room to figure him out, it just gave us Kalvin in Fish’s eyes. We meet him and are pulled in by his soft voice with a slight rasp and piercing green eyes just she is. We feel her falling for him.

His hand engulfed mine. It was all rough on the outside, he’d seen battles. But his inside palm was soft. He pulled me up and his height caught me by surprise. He seem about two feet taller than me.

Kalvin teaches the Tokers about classic movies, boxing and how to be a leader. Yet, he’s as elusive to them as he is to us, the readers. Just as he seems to be spilling his emotions, he yanks all of ours with a line that has us doubting anything he’s said. Yea, he probably saw Fish as soon as she hit town.

In the conversation at the end of the book Dietz tells Neri “I feel like a lot of YA authors write great books for adults but not necessarily for teens, but the books that you write are definitely for teens. You write in a way that’s real, the way they really talk. They recognize those worlds.”

They recognize the knockout game, an activity that I heard about a few months ago on the national news. This game has actually been played in Dietz’s school for years and it involves students picking random strangers, walking up to them and hitting them hard enough to knock them out.

Young people don’t often consider the consequences of their actions, but that’s what they get in Knockout Games. What kind of people do we become when we join gangs and participate in such violence? Don’t get me wrong, Neri’s no preacher. He gives this to teens in ways they don’t even know what’s been put on their mind. And, teachers wise enough to teach with these books will find a multitude of ways to reach their students.

Knockout Games is a tough read for us old heads as it shows the many ways we’re letting our young people down. It’s a tough read for teens as it reflects one of the ways they’ve chosen to fight for their survival. The tough reads show us who we are and leave room for us to figure out who we’re going to become.

I can’t help but wonder what Neri will write about next.



Filed under: Me Being Me

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8. SundayMorningReads

This weekend ALA President Barbara Stripling sent out an email announcing a joint statement that the BCALA and the ALA cooaboratively developed and was then endorsed by the other ethnic affiliates, AILA, APALA, CALA and REFORMA. Stripling will be appointing a Special Presidential Task Force on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to develop strategic atction ideas.

In response to BCALA’s concern regarding holding the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, in 2016, the ALA Executive Board thoroughly explored the options for moving the conference. ALA started by clarifying the facts underlying conference site selection, the implications of trying to move the Orlando conference, and the prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws across the United States. The contracts for Orlando were negotiated originally in 2000; the Stand Your Ground law in Florida became effective on October 1, 2005. Cancelling the hotel and convention center contracts would result in a minimum fine of $814,000. Conferences as large as ALA must be scheduled for specific sites and contracts signed at least 7–10 years in advance. At this late date, it would be highly unlikely that ALA would be able to find another site with availability during our window of late June/early July 2016.

Most troubling is the growing prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws. Twenty-two states have laws that allow for that self-defense provision to be asserted (as of August 2013). An additional 21 states have enacted laws that allow for self-defense within one’s home (called Castle Doctrines). However, each state has implemented and applied the Stand Your Ground laws differently, and it is the interpretation and application of the Stand Your Ground Law in the Zimmerman and Dunn cases, as well as the Marissa Alexander case, that has heightened the urgency for discussion and action.

With that information in hand, our ALA’s Executive Committee and BCALA’s Executive Board decided that the best way to respond to the Florida situation is by turning it into an opportunity to educate, build awareness, and advocate for equitable treatment, inclusion, and respect for diversity.

Congratulations to Nahoko Uehashi (Japan) on winning the 2014 Hans Christian Anderson Author award.

EH_140325_MoribitoAccording to the IBBY jury chaired by María Jesús Gil of Spain, “Uehashi tells stories that are replete with imagination, culture and the beauty of a sophisticated process and form. Her literary subjects are based on ancient Japanese mythology and science-fiction fantasy that are deeply rooted in human reality.”

Congratulations to Roger Mello (Brazil) for winning the 2014 Hans Christian Anderson Illustrator award.

thAn illustrator, writer and playwright, Roger Mello has illustrated more than one hundred titles, having also provided the text for twenty of them. He works as an illustrator for five different publishing houses and he is also the author of several theatre plays.


The awards were announced at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy. This event first began in 1963 and has become a premier event for children’s publishers around the world. A few trends seemed to develop at the Book Fair this year. There was a growing number of Chinese picture books that originating in China, indicating that imported books to the country will no longer dominate the market. The L.A. Times reports that this year’s Fair had strong interests in middle grade fiction in general and in contemporary realism for YAs.

Marvel Comics announced a female Muslim superhero in November and School Library Journal (SLJ) postedad_119746744 a very informative interview with the creator of the character. While Ms. Marvel is the first American Muslim female character to have her own series, she’s not the first Muslim super hero.

  • Sim Baz, Lebanese American who took over for the Green Lantern “In his debut issue, Baz, who is Lebanese, is watching the events of 9/11 unfold on his TV as a 10-year-old, and dealing with the aftermath that Muslims faced in America. And his first major obstacle isn’t a conventional super-villain, but “a federal agent who deems him a terrorist.” (Marvel)
  • Dust, a young Afghan woman whose mutant ability to manipulate sand and dust has been part of the popular X-Men books. (Marvel)
  • Nightrunner, a young Muslim hero of Algerian descent, is part of the global network of crime fighters set up by Batman alter ego Bruce Wayne. (DC Comics)
  • The 99 created by Naif Al-Mutawa, developed a 6 issue crossover with DC Comics in 2010.
  • Dust, aka Sooraya Qadir, is an Afghanistan-born Sunni Muslim who, when kidnapped by slave traders, uses her mutant power to turn herself into a sand-like substance to flay them alive. (Marvel)

I’m not much into Comics, never read much beyond Richie Rich and Archie. In fact, I wouldn’t have realized Stan Lee’s pattern of same first letter for first and last name if it wasn’t for Raj on Big Bang Theory (video). I was pleasantly surprised to find out how diverse comics are.

I think if I could have super human abilities, I’d be able to speak, read and understand all languages. Or maybe never gain excessive weight no matter what I eat. What about you?

I have a busy week coming up with visitors to the library from Thailand, high schoolers coming to learn about scholarly research and the beginning of the garden season. Wishing you all the super abilities you need to shine this week!



Filed under: Sunday Reads Tagged: ALA, Muslim comics, sundaymorningread

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9. Saturday Trailers: Leila Rasheed

What better day for book trailers than a Saturday?

Meet author Leila Rasheed!

Rasheed’s most recent book, Diamonds and Deceit (At Somerton series) was released in January.

London is a whirl of balls and teas, alliances and rivalries. Rose has never felt more out of place. With the Season in full swing, she can’t help but still feel a servant dressed up in diamonds and silk. Then Rose meets Alexander Ross, a young Scottish duke. Rose has heard the rumors about Ross’s sordid past just like everyone else has. Yet he alone treats her as a friend. Rose knows better than to give her heart to an aristocrat with such a reputation, but it may be too late.

Ada should be happy. She is engaged to a handsome man who shares her political passions and has promised to support her education. So why does she feel hollow inside? Even if she hated Lord Fintan, she would have no choice but to go through with the marriage. Every day a new credit collector knocks on the door of their London flat, demanding payment for her cousin William’s expenditures. Her father’s heir seems determined to bring her family to ruin, and only a brilliant marriage can save Somerton Court and the Averleys’ reputation.

Meanwhile, at Somerton, Sebastian is out of his mind with worry for his former valet Oliver, who refuses to plead innocent to the murder charges against him–for a death caused by Sebastian himself. Sebastian will do whatever he can to help the boy he loves, but his indiscretion is dangerous fodder for a reporter with sharp eyes and dishonorable intentions.

The colorful cast of the At Somerton series returns in this enthralling sequel about class and fortune, trust and betrayal, love and revenge. (Amazon)

diamonds-and-deceitThe gorgeous cover for this book was created by photgrapher Howard Huang. Part of his creative process has become creating Behind the Scenes videos. Take a look at Behind the Scenes: Diamonds and Deceit.

Filed under: Me Being Me Tagged: howard huang, leila rasheed

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10. review: Secrets of the Terre-Cotta Soldier

title: Secrets of the Terre-Cotta Soldier

authors: Ying Chang Compestine and Vinson Compestine

date: Amulet (Imprint of Abrams)photo; January 2014

Main character: Ming

Ying Chang Compestine, author of Revolution Is Not A Dinner Party, grew up in the time of the Cultural Revolution in China and wants to interest young readers in Emperor Qin, ancient Chinese history and the power of friendship. Secrets of the Terre Cotta Warrior was written with her son to explore duty to family, friends and country.

Fourteen year-old Ming has been left home alone while his father goes to once again plead for more time to maintain the village’s archeological office. Ming’s ba-ba believes that they’re close to uncovering the treasures of Emperor Qin and he’s not ready to stop searching. While he’s gone, the Gee Brothers make an incredible find: a complete terre cotta soldier. Though initially comfortable leaving the statue with Ming, they eventually decide they want the statue back.

Ming magically brings the Shí, the soldier to life and the two quickly becomes friends. This friendship is just as quickly tested when the Gee brothers come to reclaim their statue. Ming wants to keep his friend through a sense of duty rather than the sense of greed that comes to destroy so many others in the book. Through interplays between Ming and Shí, text and images and the past and present, readers explore loyalty to country then and now.

Shí shares stories of his life in ancient China as parallel events play out in Ming’s life. As an example, Shí recounts his battle again the Mongols and Mao’s rebels come to Ming’s home. Through is overlap in storytelling, the Compestines create a sense of continuity in the histories they’re telling.


Shí looked impress. “Ha, you paid attention, young man! That’s correct. But they changed their tactics when the weather grew cold. The Mongols desperately wanted to capture our supplies, so they attacked indiscriminately. Believe it or not, I secretly wished they would succeed in getting onto the wall. That way I would have a chance to kop off their heads, claim my rewards, and free my father.”

“Why didn’t you just go down after the battle to collect a few heads?” Ming imagined farmers out in the fields harvesting watermelons.

“We couldn’t.”

“Why not?

Ming heard rough voices outside and then heavy pounding on the gate. He stood up.

We were prohibited from leaving our post,” answered Shí. “The cavalry men knew that too. To mock us, they would wave the heads at us. That was when I vowed to join them.”

There was a sharp crash. Startled, Ming jumped up. The front gate had been kicked open!

Images used in the story are actually historic photos that are placed to reinforce the text. Junot Diaz states that “The more accurate the image, the more ‘ghost’ the ghost becomes.” Indeed, these pictures deepen the sense of history the story provides.

The book I reviewed was an advanced copy. I encountered awkward in-text translations of some of terms that were first presented in English, then Pinyin and then Simplified Chinese.

I think the book’s strong focus on history distracted from the authors’ ability to build suspense. Historical detail is rich, but I didn’t feel sense of urgency, impending danger or mystery to solve. I did enjoy the history. I liked the authors’ ability to paint verbal scenery, bringing the setting to life. I think this book would have to be classified as historical fiction, but it will appeal to middle grade male readers much more that historical fiction typically does.






Filed under: Book Reviews Tagged: China; Chinese American; review; Ying Chang Compestine

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11. Saturday’s Hyphenated Authors

I usually do a ‘quick’ Trailer post on Saturdays and go on about my day. But, on this Saturday, the thoughts have simmered into a different post. I think it came to a boil today at the post office when I read a bumper sticker that stated “American-American”.

Wouldn’t we all love to be able to display such a sticker on our vehicles? Isn’t that the American dream IMG_0606that led Rodney King to ask “Why can’t we all just get along”?

Because, we don’t get along. There’s a lot of pride in hyphenating our Americanism and I say more power to each and every group. This America really is big enough for all that self love.

I prefer ‘Black’ to African American and I like ‘people of color’. I like the inclusiveness of these terms and the new centers they create. I’ve begun to wonder why more and more I see people question the use of ‘people of color’. I do know that it excludes American Indians because you can’t reduce a nation to skin color. Ah! There’s the rub! We cannot reduce nations to skin color. In being “Black” or “people of color” we are no longer tied to a place, we diminish our identity.

Take the time to watch this conversation with Junot Diaz and Toni Morrison.

So, much of my Saturday has been creating better identities on my Author’s Page.

Filed under: Authors Tagged: people of color

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12. book review: The Deep

Cover_v8.inddtitle: The Deep

author: Zetta Elliott

date: 2013; Rosetta Press

main character: Nyla

The Deep continues the stories of Nyla, Keem and D that began in Ship of Souls. While Ship of Souls was D’s story, The Deep is Nyla’s. We knew something happened to Nyla in Germany and now we find what it was and how that terror stole Nyla’s sense of self. She moves to Brooklyn with her stepmother and begins covering herself in an array of body piercings, spiked hair and black clothing. In appearance, she is oddly matched with Keem, an attractive athlete, but he seemed to give her the space and respect that she needed. She is as impulsive in her decision-making as any 14-year-old would be.

As a character, I found Nyla difficult to like just as I imagine a real life Nyla would be. A smart black girl struggling with so many personal issues, would indeed take some special love if you didn’t know her. This girl managed to build a thick, protective covering around herself that didn’t manage to interfere with her sense of independence or her core values.

Before leaving for Brooklyn, Nyla rhetorically asks if she could indeed belong in Brooklyn. Identity and fitting in are themes in this book and they’re themes that shape the lives of many nerdy black girls who rarely find themselves represented in American media. Nyla finds that she has a special purpose, a unique calling that comes from her mother; the woman who walked out on her and her father when she was 4 years old.

Elliott creates a strong sense of place as the Brooklyn landscape plays a prominent role in Nyla’s fate. Prominent public locations become portals that transport Nyla into the deep and deliver important messages to the characters. As D, Keem and Nyla ride the trains, visit the pizza shops and hangout out in the parks we feel such a strong connection to this place that we want to believe this is where they all belong. But our Nyla is being pulled away.

These three friends are once again confronted by powers from below the ground that  bring many threats, not the least of which is the threat to end their friendships. Nyla struggles with her new-found powers and with so many major elements in the book, yet Elliott lets these teens remain teens. Each of them wants to know how to maintain  relationships with parents, friends and lovers. And, each of them wants to find their place in the world. Well, D and Nyla do. We still need to hear Keem’s story!

Elliott continues to self publish imaginative and provocative young adult speculative fiction. Her commitment to her readers is evident in the honest portrayals that she gives them. Zetta sent me a copy of this book back in December when I was knee deep in BFYA reading. I never committed to when I would read The Deep and honestly, I didn’t want to read it because I didn’t want to not like it. I shouldn’t have doubted her skills.

Filed under: Book Reviews Tagged: african american, book review, speculative fiction, Zetta Elliott

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13. Librarian Opportunity

ALA seeks candidates for 2014 Google policy summer fellowship

For the seventh consecutive year, the American Library Association is pleased to participate in the Google Policy Fellows program for 2014. Here’s a link to the application: https://www.google.com/policyfellowship/faq.html

For the summer of 2014, the selected fellow will spend 10 weeks in residence at the ALA Washington Office to learn about national policy and complete a major project. Google provides the $7,500 stipend for the summer, but the work agenda is determined by the ALA and the selected fellow. The Google Washington office provides an educational program for all of the fellows, such as lunchtime talks and interactions with Google Washington staff.

The fellows work in diverse areas of information policy that may include digital copyright, e-book licenses and access, future of reading, international copyright policy, broadband deployment, telecommunications policy (including e-rate and network neutrality), digital divide, access to information, free expression, digital literacy, online privacy, the future of libraries generally, and many other topics.

Jamie Schleser, a doctoral student at American University, served as the ALA 2013 Google Policy Fellow. Schleser worked with OITP to apply her dissertation research regarding online-specific digital libraries to articulate visions and strategies for the future of libraries.

Further information about the program and host organizations is available at the Google Public Policy Fellowship website. Applications are due by Monday, April 14, 2014. ALA encourages all interested graduate students to apply and, of course, especially those in library and information science-related academic programs.


Content in this post originated in email from the ALA.

Filed under: Me Being Me

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14. Looking In, Looking On

I remember back in the mid 90s going to buy a car with my then husband. While we were initially impressed with the presence of black sales reps who approached us, it didn’t take more than a couple of visits to realize that the black sales reps were assigned to black customers.

I was reminded of this experience when I read Walter Dean Myers’ recent editorial.

Years ago, I worked in the personnel office for a transformer firm. We needed to hire a chemist, and two candidates stood out, in my mind, for the position. One was a young white man with a degree from St. John’s University and the other an equally qualified black man from Grambling College (now Grambling State University) in Louisiana. I proposed to the department head that we send them both to the lab and let the chief chemist make the final decision. He looked at me as if I had said something so remarkable that he was having a hard time understanding me. “You’re kidding me,” he said. “That black guy’s no chemist.”

I pointed out the degrees on the résumé that suggested otherwise, and the tension between us soared. When I confronted my superior and demanded to know what about the candidate from Grambling made him not a chemist, he grumbled something under his breath, and reluctantly sent both candidates for an interview with the chief chemist.

Simple racism, I thought. On reflection, though, I understood that I was wrong. It was racism, but not simple racism. My white co-worker had simply never encountered a black chemist before. Or a black engineer. Or a black doctor. I realized that we hired people not so much on their résumés, but rather on our preconceived notions of what the successful candidate should be like. And where was my boss going to get the notion that a chemist should be black?

Publishing more books out by authors of color seems like such an obvious solution to so many problems, however the problem of not enough books with characters of color does not exist in a vacuum.

Numerous people have suggested ways to change what is published and many of these people work outside publishing as do I. I’ve never attempted to write a book, never visited a publishing house and have never tried to obtain an agent. My criticisms of this industry are a bit like Sandra Bullock cursing the universe when she realizes her spaceship had no fuel.

But, I see things and it makes me wonder.

I’ve read too many books by authors of color where the author is truly skilled, the story is fresh, entertaining and well developed. Yet there were shortcomings that ranged from flaws in world building, lacking character development, or the lack or a good sense of setting. Who edits these books?

I know that when artwork and teaching materials is needed for a book, the preference is to assign the project to a person of the same ethnic group.  I can’t identify the thought process behind this. Is a book so “Black” or so “Latino” that only people from that ethnic group will relate well enough to the story to develop it correctly? Or, do we just not work together if we don’t have to?

Isn’t it the oddest thing that we see so many creating ways to help Whites write books about people of color rather than identifying and publishing more authors of color and Native Americans? And don’t tell me authors of color don’t exist! Where are the new books by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich? Neesha Meminger? Sheba Karim? Padma Venkatraman? Derrick Barnes? Alex Sanchez? Kelly Parra? Torrey Maldenado?

Creating a culture inside any industry where people understand the advantages to themselves as individuals, their company and even society as a whole is something that no one outside that industry can force.

I don’t believe there will be more books by authors of color until those in publishing understand that they can mentor and edit someone of a different complexion, that they can be as demanding of these authors and have high expectations of them. Or unless more companies like Quill Shift Agency, 7th Generation Press, Cinco Puntos or Just Us Books exist to innovate alternative avenues of success.

When CBC Diversity first formed, I wondered why they didn’t reach out to those outside their industry to build an alliance. There are so many people who address diversity from so many perspectives that it would have to be empowering to bring them all together. But, as I’ve come to believe I understand problems within the industry, I can’t help but applaud these individuals for trying to do something that certainly will not increase their popularity in their own offices. They best know the limitations inside their industry and what changes need to be made.

How can I end this on a positive note? Well, I cannot ignore all the voices (predominantly female, I must add) that continue to fight the good fight. In many different ways and in many different corners, there are people who are passionately trying to make a difference for young readers. Because right there, those pages in the hands of a young child will color their entire worldview. We have to keep hoping because there is no change without hope. We have to keep our ear to the ground and listen for those who are beating a new path. We can move beyond talk and take action. And, we have to continue questioning this industry.



Filed under: culture, Diversity Issues Tagged: diversity, publishing, racism, walter dean myers

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15. Review: House of Purple Cedar

Hproductsprimary_image_215_touse of Purple Cedar

Author: Tim Tingle

Date:  February, 2014; Cinco Puntos

adult crossover

The House of Purple Cedar is set in Skullyville, Oklahoma at the turning of the 20th century. The New Hope Academy for Girls just burned down and a new Indian Agent has just arrived in town. Rose and her brother, Jamey joined Amofo, their grandfather, for a trip into town, a rare treat that would replace their daily chores. This outing actually placed them in the right place at the wrong time. The town marshall appears, alcohol leads to events and Amofo is struck with a board.

House of Purple Cedar unfolds as a story of how those who are disempowered choose to react when they are abused. The process of deciding how to react was a slow, deliberate process for Amofo as it was for Choctaw elders and Rose keenly observes this process. The narrative voice changes and we come to understand power balances throughout the community. We realize that while an individual’s actions define their own relationship, the community as a whole plays a role in allowing things to happen.

There are houses of purple cedar in the story, however, I’m not sure why ‘purple cedar’. I’ve spent some time researching this wood and can’t find anything about it. The more I looked, the more curious I’ve become about its significance.

Tingle manages better than most to weave in and out of time and back and forth between narrative voices. Rose, a young girl throughout most of the story, is the only character who has a narrative voice thus making the book appealing to young readers. Rose lives with her parents and grandparents in a home outside the city. Skullyville is a small community where Choctaw and Nahullos (Whites) all know each other, worship separately, maintain prejudices and come together in unpredictable ways. While Choctaw identity is essential to the story, this isn’t a story about being Choctaw.

‘Hearing’ the community sing “Amazing Grace” will give you goose bumps. Tingle brings faith to life and makes it another character in this story. No doubt, Tingle is a storyteller! He brings together many characters, details and events in this story in a very gentle, purposeful way.

Thank you, Bobby Byrd  of Cinco Puntos, for providing me a review copy at ALA Midwinter!

Filed under: Me Being Me Tagged: adult crossover, book review, native american, Tim Tingle

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16. March Releases

I Lived On Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin; Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj; Albert Whitman and Company
Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai; Albert Whitman and Company
Alpha Goddess by Amalie Howard; Sky Pony Press
Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle; HMH Books for Young Readers
Promise of Shadows by Justine Ireland; Simon and Schuster
also available on Pinterest
complete list of releases

Filed under: Me Being Me

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17. Interview: Crystal Chan

Crystal Chan debuted in January with Bird. I caught up with Crystal a few weeks ago and she was gracious enough to give me some time for an interview. While I hadn’t read Bird at the time of the interview, I have completed and reviewed it.

This summary appeared on Amazon.

Gr 4–6—Jewel never met her brother. On the day she was born, he tried to fly off a cliff and died. Her Bird-coverparents believe that Grandpa’s nickname for his grandson, Bird, caused a bad spirit, a duppy, to trick the boy into believing he could fly. Twelve years later, Grandpa has still not spoken a word and Jewel is fed up with her moody parents and unloving household. She meets a boy who calls himself John, her brother’s real name. They share their hopes and dreams and Jewel opens up about visiting the cliff to bury her worries as small stones. Grandpa thinks John is a duppy in disguise, come to cause more harm. Jewel is a multilayered, emotional character who struggles to come to terms with her family’s issues. The mixture of superstition and science creates a wonderful juxtaposition in this powerful story about loss and moving on.—Clare A. Dombrowski, Amesbury Public Library, MA

Your website tells me that you enjoy public speaking, performing and writing. What are your passions? What do you enjoy sharing with audiences?

I have a lot of passions – for starters, I have a pet turtle, and I love biking around Chicago, especially in the winter (though this winter was too snowy for biking). I also love flower arranging, origami, and I just got into calligraphy. Oh! And I love overhauling my bike – taking it all apart, piece by piece, cleaning it, then putting it back together.

With audiences, I love sharing stories, plain and simple – stories about how Bird came to be, stories IMG_7240-revised-241x300about growing up mixed race, stories about life and the lessons it holds. Every time I speak to an audience, large or small, I consider it a success when there’s that moment in my presentation when everyone’s focused on the same image, we’re all breathing in that same breath, we’re all as present as present can get.  With books, the sharing of a story is one-on-one: your book and the reader. With audiences, storytelling takes on a collective experience. I love them both.

I did a lot of digging on your website! It opens with the quote “imagine beyond boundaries”. What boundaries or limits do you work to overcome?

Growing up as a mixed-race kid in Wisconsin in the 80’s, there were a lot of boundaries. Take, for instance, on application forms there would inevitably be that section that said Your race: check ONE box – and then I’d have to choose what race I was in that moment: Chinese or White. I couldn’t check both, which was the only truth. So I had to choose one and deny a large part of myself in the process. And that’s just a form, a piece of paper. In person, I’d get the What are you? question a lot – why am I a what when everyone else is a who? Why does it matter? Limits like that.

Obviously, these kinds of limits hinder us from being fully ourselves, from being as dynamic of a society as we can be.  The problem with these racial boxes and labels lies first not in laws or “–isms” but in imagination. Case in point: we have a mixed-race president who we say is Black. (shaking head) It’s just so hard for us to imagine beyond these boundaries, these labels of ours. I encourage people to continue to stretch their imagination, because if you can’t envision it, you can’t build it. So I wrote about two kids – one who’s multi-racial, the other a transracial adoptee – who don’t fit into boxes, and to hopefully continue that dialogue.

What are some of the things you’ve experienced as a debut author that you weren’t quite expecting?

(laughing) There’s been a lot! First of all, I got my agent pretty quickly – in a couple weeks’ time, which is very short in the publishing world. More importantly, I honestly wasn’t expecting that anyone would care about what I wrote; when I was writing the draft, I was purely writing for myself. I thought Bird was too dark, too different for publication. There were no vampires. On a deeper level, no one understood me growing up mixed-race – that word mixed race didn’t even exist for me back then, there was no vocabulary to describe someone like me – so why would anyone connect with my story? I’m actually still surprised that Bird has sold in eight countries and that my isolated experiences are translating into a universal experience. That’s pretty trippy.

What can you tell us about Jewel, the protagonist in Bird?

Jewel’s this smart, passionate, curious kid who’s just not seen for who she is. Her mom wants her to be a (secular) teacher, her Dad tries to feed her his Jamaican belief system, and all the while they don’t understand her passion for geology, her spirituality – and nor does she feel comfortable sharing with them her experiences at the cliff where her brother died. It’s like she’s a giant and her parents are trying to shove her into a small Tupperware container.  She’s ripe for bursting out – and her meeting of John sets everything in motion.

Was she easy to write?

Sure was. Her voice popped in my head and she started prattling away. My job was to dictate.

What superhuman qualities do you wish you possessed?

(laughing) Oooh, good question! The superhuman quality that I’ve pined for for years has been what I call the Delivery Man Superpower. That’s where you see a delivery man with, oh, say, pizza in his arms, ready to go to someone’s house, and you go up to him and say, “I think that’s for me,” and he says, “Okay,” and just hands it over. Thai food, sandwiches, ribs, you name it – all you have to do is suggest to the delivery man that it’s for you, and it’s yours. I’ve seriously thought about this for years.

What process do you use to get to know your characters?

I let them roam around a little for the first couple chapters, just let them do what they want. After that, I start a separate document and create a character profile: what this person’s wants, fears, secrets, etc, are.  Usually whatever profile I make, they go off the charts, anyway, so it’s a loose guide.

Have you hidden any special details or symbols in BIRD that readers should pay attention to? (It’s OK if you didn’t; I can just drop this question.)

I really like how it turned out where Jewel’s main natural element is the earth while John’s element is the sky. Grandpa has his element, too, but you’ll have to read the book to find that out. J

What are some of the things we can look forward to from Crystal Chan?

I’m working on a YA novel now that is different. Quite different. But I think that whatever I write is going to have layers of emotion. I like that, delving into the muck of the heart, seeing what’s down there, what can be brought to light.

What does diversity mean to you?

I don’t know. I don’t really like that word – it conjures up images of everyone of different colors holding hands and singing. Diversity is hard work, plain and simple, and it means giving up a bit of your defined world (your boundaries!) to be able to let others in, to see the “other” as just as human as you are. I’ve been in “diversity groups” where people are different races, yes, but they’re all of the exact same political leaning and religious bent, they all have the same hobbies and interests. I’m not sure that’s diverse, I’m not sure that diversity is going to get us where we want to go. Personally, I think the word is too small, or at least how we’re thinking about it is too small. Again, this is where imagination comes into play. Just the fact that you’re asking this question (and I’m glad you are) raises the fact that there are many, many different ways to even define the word, and that people who use this same word can be actually meaning different things.

What makes you shine? What do you do that you feel is vital and gives you energy? What delights you?

I live in Chicago and am literally across the street from Lake Michigan. I spend a lot of time out there – summer, winter, it doesn’t matter – and I get a lot of juice doing that. Also, I meditate/pray on a regular basis, which helps give me my grounding. I love being spontaneous with my friends – last winter I went out and made snow angels with a girl friend of mine, and then later a couple of us played pirates on the playground. It was totally awesome and liberating to break out of the “adult” box. (those boxes again!) In general, there’s obviously a lot of output as a writer, so I have to be careful that I’m putting enough gas in the tank, so to say. There have been times when I’ve needed to scale back on the writing/marketing of it all and just really make sure that my heart and inner life are well nourished – for writing is simply your inner life unfolded onto paper.  That’s really all it is.

Crystal, it is a pleasure getting to know you. Wishing you much success!


Filed under: Authors, Interview Tagged: author interiew, Crystal Chan, mixed race

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18. Peace Reading

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ~Nelson Mandela

I remember being in my high school English class and reading a story about apartheid. I’d never heard of this before! I’d never read about it in my history classes and, if this were real wouldn’t it be in my history book? Such a systematic and oppressive regime would be important enough to be in the history books if it were real and South Africa was a real place so, I went home and asked my dad if apartheid really existed in South Africa. I was stunned as much in the fact that it existed as I was in the fact that I’d never learned about it before.

Even today, literature introduces issues related to social justice throughout the world that young people never learn about in history or geography classes. Teens will probably be more likely to read the actual words of Nelson Mandela or Paulo Friere in an English class than in a history class.

They may also be more likely to learn cultural similarities and differences through literature. When studying different themes in English class, including writings by Asians and Native Americans will help students realize we’re all in this together. Choose good, authentic writing by African Americans or Latinos that relates directly to the topic being studied. That’s how I began learning about apartheid. Once I was aware of the conditions in South Africa, I paid more attention to news from this country.

And I learned about Nelson Mandela.

English teachers, librarians and parents can continue to introduce young people to South Africa using literature from this region.

This Thing Called the Future by J. L. Powers (Cinco Puntos Press, 2011 Fourteen-year-old Khosi’s mother wants her to get an education to break out of their South African shantytown, although she herself is wasting away from an untreated illness, while Khosi’s grandmother, Gogo, seeks help from a traditional Zulu healer.

Journey to Jo’burg by Beverly Naidoo  (J.B. Lippinott, 1985)  Separated from their mother by the harsh social and economic conditions prevalent among blacks in South Africa, thirteen-year-old Naledi and her younger brother make a journey of over 300 kilometers to find her in Johannesburg.

Totsi by Athol Fugard (Random House, 1980) Athol Fugard is renowned for his relentless explorations of personal and political survival in apartheid South Africa — which include his now classic plays Master Harold and the Boys and The Blood Knot. Fugard has written a single novel, Tsotsi, which director Gavin Hood has made into a feature film that is South Africa’s official entry for the 2006 Academy Awards. Set amid the sprawling Johannesburg township of Soweto, where survival is the primary objective, Tsotsi traces six days in the life of a ruthless young gang leader.

When we meet Tsotsi, he is a man without a name (tsotsi is Afrikaans for “hoodlum”) who has repressed his past and now exists only to stage and execute vicious crimes. When he inadvertently kidnaps a baby, Tsotsi is confronted with memories of his own painful childhood, and this angry young man begins to rediscover his own humanity, dignity, and capacity to love. (adult crossover)

Somehow Tenderness Survives: Stories of Southern Africa by Hazel Rochman (Harper and Row, 1988)  A collection of ten short stories and autobiographical accounts by authors of various races expose the conditions of racism in South Africa.

Themba A Boy Called Hope by Lutz van Dijk (Aurora Metro Books, 2011). A teenager in South Africa achieves his dream of playing professional football – but the prevalence of AIDS in South Africa, affecting young and old alike, means that he must face tough choices along the way.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ~ Nelson Mandela


Filed under: Diversity Issues Tagged: South Africa

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19. Monday Meanderings

I didn’t post my usual rambling post yesterday, so here it goes today!

I’m working from home this week, working to get an article completed and ready for submission. I’ve got to clear my mind and my ‘to do’ list so I can concentrate on what I need to get done.

I’ve been stalling.

My mind was struck by wanderlust forever ago and I think of writing in small European city where I can visit markets for fresh meats and cheeses and sip hot beverages at a bistro while working late. Or take a long afternoon walk in a tropical hillside to refresh my thoughts after hours of working. These four walls aren’t working for me right now!

I’ve found other, short projects that might get me started.

It doesn’t help that I’m writing about places in YA lit! Or, does it?!

Around this time of year, I work with Zetta Elliott to complete a list of YA fiction books written and published by African American authors. So, far I’ve identified all of 22 books. We do typically identify books that were missed throughout the year, however, that’s a frightfully small number.

Dr Jonda C. McNair release the current edition of Mirrors and Windows newsletter which features informational texts and a profile of author/illustrator Steve Jenkins.  I’ve placed the pdf in Google Drive to make it available, however if it is not accessible, email me at crazyquilts at hotmail dot com and I’ll be glad to forward a copy.

A completely separate publication that came out this week is Windows and Mirrors: Reading Diverse Children’s Literature by Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen in the online publication Gazillion Voices.

Despite the statistics, today’s diverse children have more options to see their experiences reflected in children’s literature. White children, too, have many more opportunities to learn about experiences other than their own. In this essay, I primarily (but not exclusively) discuss Asian American children’s literature to highlight principles for meaningful multicultural content, as well as point out some of the persisting problems, with the ultimate goal of encouraging you to pick good books for young people, especially during this coming holiday season. Given that 3,000-5,000 children’s books in many different genres for a range of reading levels are published each year, I hope to provide you with some principles and guidelines for critically evaluating children’s literature and thinking about our role in supporting and promoting diverse, high-quality stories for all young people.

I recently wrote about the impracticability of expecting students to express their desire for books with characters of their own ethnicity. This is anecdotal statement is something I hope to research further. Why are some young children able to indicate an interest in a book based upon the race of the character while others are not? How and when do children develop racial awareness? My interest deepened when I read an article shared by @WritersofColour on Twitter. The article written by @hiphopteacher posed a much more reflective analysis into why children of colour are less likely to write about their own ethnicity.

In her essayPlaying in the Dark’, Toni Morrison argues that “the readers of virtually all of American fiction have been positioned as white.” (Morrison 1992:xiv) We might ask if the same is true of children’s literature and how that might affect children’s relationship to story-writing.

All in all, giving the young people in your life a book (or books!) written by authors of color this holiday season sounds like a gift worth giving. It would be a great time to donate books by authors of color to your local school or public library, too. Young adult books perfect for giving can be found on my annual booklists and books for all ages of children can be found on the BirthdayPartyPledge.

Teachers and students will equally appreciate learning apps for those tablets Santa places under the tree this year. Consider these 10 (mostly free) apps for documenting learning.

 #NPRBlacksinTech continues on the Tell Me More blog through 20 December. The series is well worth following because there are continuous ‘day in the life’ posts giving readers insights into real life experiences of Blacks in technology. This is so valuable to young people who need to see real life role models! This linkwill take you to the postings on Twitter and you do not have to have an account to read them.

I have another recent post which lists young adult literature from South Africa. In looking at the list you may wonder why J. L. Powers was included as the only non African on the list. Reading her recent post will help you understand why.

… my classmates and friends were the children of recent immigrants or immigrants themselves–some documented and some undocumented. Migrant workers followed the power lines next to our house to go work in the chile fields of southern New Mexico. I witnessed firsthand the injustices of our economic system that encouraged migrant labor, did not pay migrants sufficient wages to support their families, and made it necessary for those who did bring their families to live in our country in poverty and without the protection of legal rights despite working back-breaking jobs every day. These were people I knew. These were people I went to school with, young men I had crushes on, girlfriends I shared secrets with.

I’ve been getting a lot of blogging done in the past week, however that trend isn’t going to continue. BFYA makes its final selections at ALA Midwinter in January and I have more books to read than I have days to read them. No, I will not be blogging much at all! I will take a break on 21 January for Cookies and Cocktails with my sister. Hopefully, the weather will be mild enough for me to drive over to spend the day cooking, eating, drinking and making merry!

You may remember that my word this year is ‘courage’.  I have a better understanding of this virtue and I’ve become more aware of times when my courage fails me. I’m more unwilling to let myself be a coward. I’m a bit more likely to speak up, lean in and move forward. Yet, I still struggle with picking up that phone. I don’t know what it is about the phone, but using it takes a special kind of courage for me!

I’ve found several people including writers and publishers who are going to write about courage in a series that will appear here beginning 21 December. It’s definitely something you won’t want to miss!

For now, I have some researching to do!

“From caring comes courage.”Lao Tzu

Filed under: Me Being Me Tagged: Birthday Party Pledgedge, courage, diversity, technology

2 Comments on Monday Meanderings, last added: 12/10/2013
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20. About Courage #1

Courage has been my word for 2013. I can’t remember the signs that told me this would be my word, but I do remember that I didn’t want it. It wasn’t glamorous enough. Probably in thinking I didn’t want the word, I realized I needed to embrace it.

People rarely, if ever, admit to their own courage. I think that’s because they don’t recognize it. I though I’d invite a few people who are much better with words than I am to write about various aspects of courage.

My first post is from author G. Neri. His most recent book is Ghetto Cowboy. Hello, I’m Johnny Cash comes out in September ’14 and his next YA novel, Knockout Games will emerge in August ’14.

This was Greg’s prompt:
In your research of Johnny Cash, where did you find he exemplified courage in his life? Was it as much in his day to 1505273_10151934800502949_1265777852_nday life as it was in the larger ways that helped him maintain his career? How were you able to relate his courage in your writing? On a completely different note, how did you find the courage to write a story that most would not expect you to write?

Courage. Now there’s a word. And when it comes to Johnny Cash, he had more than most. Though I don’t think he would see it that way and I certainly don’t think it took any courage on my part to write about him. It was one of the first things I ever really attempted to write, back in 2003. It just took 10 years to realize his truth and see it come to life. But his story was unforgettable and inspiring to me in deeply profound ways. Not only for his music (particularly, the last decade) but more for the way he wrote about his childhood growing up in cotton country. From the poverty of the Great Depression to the hope of the New Deal, to overcoming the tragic death of his closest brother and the solace he found in music—it was all incredibly intimate as if he was talking straight to me, revealing his innermost secrets.

Courage? He found courage in his family and how they gritted it out when many gave up. He found courage in his brother Jack , who was wise beyond his years and sacrificed (and died) for a few dollars so his siblings could eat. He found courage in a crippled boy who was shunned by most but could play guitar like no other. He found courage in God. He found courage in the songs he listened to and the lonesome tales that they weaved. Then he gathered that courage and spread it far and wide when he gave voice to millions who had no voice: the working poor, veterans, prisoners, native Americans, the disenchanted, the forgotten ones. He gave them courage by telling their stories and letting America know what was going on in the heartland. He did it with grace and humor and plenty of attitude, just in case you weren’t paying attention.

Johnny Cash lived the American Dream because he was American in every way: bigger than life, honest, funny, flawed, devout, a sinner, cavalier, a deep thinker, rich and poor. His life mirrored the complex history of the 20th century and he actually lived many of its most vital moments. What he took away from those times and how he viewed the shifts in the American psyche forged a resilient mind that turned him into a true maverick. To this day, his example inspires the way I approach my own art: from the gut, always walking the line.

His story might seem unexpected in my oeuvre but it fits perfectly from my point of view. All my stories concern outsiders, people who are misunderstood, maligned, cast out, who have to fight back to make their own way through the jungles of life. That is Johnny Cash in a nutshell. That is Yummy and Cole and Marcus and Logan and Erica and all the characters I write about. Johnny’s life may be a million miles from my own but we all share a universal struggle to have our voices heard and our stories told as only we can. Johnny Cash had a voice for the ages and he spoke out and sang to the end. He gave me the courage of conviction.


11408526G. Neri is the Coretta Scott King honor-winning author of Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty and the recipient of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award for his free verse novella, Chess Rumble. His novels include Surf Mules and the Horace Mann Upstander Award-winning Ghetto Cowboy. His work has been honored by the Museum of Tolerance and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Antioch University, the International Reading Association, the American Library Association, the Junior Library Guild and the National Council for Teachers of English. Neri has been a filmmaker, animator, teacher and digital media producer. He currently writes full-time and lives on the Gulf Coast of Florida with his wife and daughter.    source

Filed under: Me Being Me Tagged: courage, g.neri

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21. SundayMorningReads

I’ve been complaining for the past couple of years about the shrinking numbers of books written by authors of color. The CCBC’s number came out not too longer ago, only to validate this complaint. The number of books by African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and American Indians has been steadily decreasing since 2008, while the numbers of children of color in this country steadily increases. Zetta Elliott said it better than I can.

Despite this downward trend, Malinda Lo’s numbers indicates that BFYA continues to grow in its ability to embrace all teen readers.

The Feral Librarian speaks to the number of some of the gatekeepers, specifically librarians. Has anyone seen numbers on diversity in the gatekeepers in publishing?

Cynthia Leitich Smith speaks her mind on “Writing, Tonto & The Wise Cracking Minority Sidekick Who is the First to Die”.

My inspiration for this post was a Jan. 17th article in Indian Country Today, reporting that the real “Lone Ranger” was an African American who lived with the Muscogee Creeks and Seminoles. It made me to think about the Hollywood version of the story, about my own stories for young readers, and, in turn, the body of youth literature more globally…

While writers can (and increasingly do) successfully write beyond our own identity markers, life experience does matter, and voices from underrepresented communities should be nurtured, sought out and held up as models.

Cynthia’s mention of the minority sidekick immediately led my mind in two different directions. First, to Knockout Games by G. Neri where in the pages I just read, the main character, Erica (a white girl, red-head) was schooled by Kalvin (a very tall black male) on the realities of characters of color in movies: they’re expendable and die first.

I also thought about one of the best Twitter convos I’ve ever witnessed: #imnotyourasiansidekick

Librarians try to be more inclusive.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Society of American Archivists (SAA) are now accepting applications for the second cohort of the ARL/SAA Mosaic Program. This program promotes much-needed diversification of the archives and special collections professional workforce by providing financial support, practical work experience, mentoring, career placement assistance, and leadership development to emerging professionals from traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups. An important objective of the program is to attract and retain individuals who demonstrate excellent potential for scholastic and personal achievement and who manifest a commitment both to the archives and special collections profession and to advancing diversity concerns within it. More information at: http://e2.ma/message/5i40f/x4rnfo

Please, don’t miss my review of Yacqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass! at Latin@s in Kidlit! Have you read this multiple award winner yet?

In a listserv reply, Crystal Brunelle reinforced that the forces that change what’s published in YA, that change anything, occur at the micro level. It’s like what I learned as a classroom teacher. Like many, I became a teacher to make a difference. What I soon realized was that to make a difference, I needed to define my corner of the world and make a difference there. The effects will ripple out. I’m glad you’re reading this blog, but please do some real work to make a real difference.

One of the most important events during BFYA occurs on the Saturdays of the ALA conferences when students who have read the books recommended for the list come to share their opinions. There were two striking comments in Philadelphia. While most of the students commented several times during the afternoon, there was one black girl (and there were very few black students at these events) who only commented on one book. It was one of only two books recommended this year with a  black female protagonist. (Neither made the final list.)

I also noted several students who commented on the authenticity in what they’d read. Students remarked how spot on books set in foreign countries, past decades and even in the future were.

Yes, we have a real responsibility in what we make available to young readers.

I’m going out with an article I’ve just begun reading. Leave your thoughts if you get a chance to read it. Maybe we do a little discussing right here!

Filed under: Sunday Reads Tagged: Birthday Party Pledge, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Latin@s in Kidlit, sunday morning reads

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22. Book Review: If I Ever Get Out of Here

+-+447799563_70Title: If I Ever Get Out of Here

Author: Eric Gansworth

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books; 2013

Main character: Lewis Blake

Lewis is a smart kid who tested out of the Indian school on the Tuscarora Reservation and is now attending the nearby all white school. He wants to go to college and to have a better life so, he wants to know how to maneuver a world that is new to him.  As a result, he’s trying to figure  out how to come of age both on the rez and in the white world. Up until now, Lewis has been pretty much a loner; it’s difficult making friends when you live in two worlds. Then, along comes George. A new kid who’s literally been around the world. His father’s military career has taught him how to fit in, how to live by a code and probably how to recognize enduring qualities in others. George reaches out to Lewis and they bond over Beatles music. This bond extends to George’s family who immediately takes to Lewis.

In return, Lewis is embarrassed to bring his friend’s home because his home, indeed his reservation, appears so lacking. These two settings, the home and the reservation are central places in Lewis’ life. While they’re places he wants to get out of, they’re also places he cannot and will not leave behind. Gansworth does an excellent job of creating these spaces in our minds, both their physical presence and their cultural elements. We know these places are central to his identity.  We understand why these places embarrass him on a physical level but we are not embarrassed for him because we knew their greater importance.  Nonetheless, we want him to get out of there. We hope he find some of the wisdom that Uncle Albert has found.

Gansworth’s writing has a rhythm that builds in the nuances of planets, music and friendship and in the way all these elements all blend together. This is a book about being an Indian, a much needed book about being an Indian because most Americans know so little. At the same time, it’s just a very well written book about a kid who wants to be accepted for who he is and isn’t that something we all want out of life?


Filed under: Me Being Me Tagged: American Indian, book review, Eric Gansworth

1 Comments on Book Review: If I Ever Get Out of Here, last added: 2/28/2014
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23. Book Review: Bird

Bird-covertitle: Bird

author: Crystal Chan

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Release Date: January, 2014

main character: Jewell Campbell

12 year old Jewel is growing up in a house where people don’t talk to one another. They probably stopped when her grandfather caused her brother, John, to die. He nicknamed John ‘Bird’ and convinced him that he was in fact a bird. At the age of 5, Bird attempted to fly off a cliff. Grandfather never spoke again and her mother and father seemed to stop speaking about things that mattered.

Jewel was lost in this silence until John appeared. John, skin as dark as midnight, was sitting in her tree. But who was he, really?

Bird is rich in its Iowa setting. Jewel knows the ancient history of the land while John knows about space. Together, they climb trees and find arrowheads.

Bird is a story of mixed raced identity. John was adopted by a white family and struggles to find self-acceptance while Jewel is ½ Jamaican, ¼ White and ¼ Mexican. Her family mixes cultures, stories and magic and does not fit into this Iowa town. They don’t even fit into their own home. Chan writes not only about the superficial ways cultures blend, but she digs into the belief systems that deeply affect the ways people live together.

With identity as an overarching theme, readers want to know who this John really is. The name can’t just be a coincidence, can it? Jewel notices right away that something with John may not be as it seems and she asks on question too many.

The tension in the air suddenly grew so thick we didn’t need tree limbs to sit on anymore, we could have set on one of those words that just crawled out and got huge.

“Want to keep climbing?” I asked, scooching over to the trunk of the tree and standing up. “I can show you this squirrel’s nest.”

He looked at me, and his face shifted. Softened, no longer stone.

Jewel wants a friend. As she unravels her family’s truths, she also unravels John’s.

From Crystal’s bio page:

Crystal Chan grew up as a mixed-race kid in the middle of the Wisconsin cornfields and has been trying to find her place in the world ever since. Over time, she found that her heart lies in public IMG_7240-revised-241x300speaking, performing, and ultimately, writing. She has published articles in several magazines; given talks and workshops across the country; facilitated discussion groups at national conferences; and been a professional storyteller for children and adults alike. In Chicago, where Crystal now lives, you will find her biking along the city streets and talking to her pet turtle.

Filed under: Book Reviews Tagged: Atheneum, book review, Crystal Chan, identity, mixed race

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24. SundayMorningReads

“’They’re so hard to find’ is no longer a valid excuse when you teach.” ~Zetta Elliott.

All over the blogosphere this week, you’re going to find the following action list created by Sarah Hamburg that delivers charges throughout the kidlit industry on what we can do to promote books by and about people of color and to amplify our demand for more books. The list is the result of a month long conversation on CCBC-net. This listserv routinely discusses issues that face the children’s and young adult book community but this past February, decided to focus on the issue of diversity. Highlighting the month were online discussions of When I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle and If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth. Debbie Reese did a wonderful job of framing the entire discussion.

From this discussion, I added material to my resource page.

I’m amending the list to add what has been provided by others that have posted this online. Continue to add to the list, continue to be part of the movement. DO SOMETHING!!

  • Many of the ideas focused on personal activism: actively buying books representing a diverse range of voices; committing to ongoing challenges (Crystal Brunelle mentioned The Birthday Party Pledge, Diversity on the Shelf Challenge, and Latino/as in Kids’ Lit. Challenge); recommending and promoting diverse books to others when and wherever possible; asking for them at bookstores, schools and libraries; using social media in those efforts and to draw attention to issues of representation; writing reviews on Amazon, B&N and Goodreads; and stepping out of personal comfort zones to make connections and advocate on these issues.
  • For writers and illustrators, people also suggested personal activism would include: stepping out of artistic comfort zones; consciously considering questions of representation, audience and perspective in one’s work (including whether the perspectives and voices of people of color tend to be explored/presented in a heavy context); soliciting and listening to feedback from members of the communities one is writing about when going outside one’s own culture; and also considering questions of cultural bias and representation while conducting research and evaluating sources.
  • The same considerations hold true for those publishing, buying and using books with children, promoting books to parents and teachers, creating library and bookstore displays… etc. including whether those books receive the same quality and quantity of promotion, and whether they are somehow held apart from other books.
  • Many came back to the importance of smaller presses in making space for new voices. This included Tim Tingle’s publishers Cinco Puntos Press and RoadRunner Press, and Lee & Low Books. (Would it be helpful to create a list to share here of independent publishers who are actively publishing “multicultural” books?) Lyn Miller-Lachmann talked about visiting smaller presses at conventions to order books and create buzz. Jason Low talked about “liking” Lee & Low on Facebook and using social media to promote them and their titles, and purchasing their books through independent bookstores. Are there other ways people can actively support small presses, or that smaller children’s publishers can perhaps share resources to further cross-promote with one another? (Some consortium, such as an umbrella website?)
  • People also mentioned the importance of writers’ events and conferences, such as the Native American Literature Symposium, VONA Voices, the Lambda Literary Foundation, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, the Muslim Voices Conference, the Comadres and Compadres Writers’ Conference, and the Carl Brandon Society. [I have additional annual events on my Resource Page]
  • Along with such conferences, people talked about the possibility for individual outreach to writers/ artists who are working in other areas, but who seem like they might be suited to the children’s book field (like Debbie Reese introducing Eric Gansworth to Cheryl Klein.)
  • It’s exciting to see new businesses forming, like Cake Literary and the Quill Shift Literary Agency (where you can sign up to be a reader.)
  • People have also started an amazing array of blogs, websites and tumblrs that focus on aspects of diversity in children’s books. These include Diversity in YA, Rich in Color, American Indians in Children’s Literature, The Dark Fantastic, CBC Diversity, Lee & Low’s blog, Cynsations, CrazyQuiltEdi, BookDragon, Latinas for Latino Literature, Latin@s in Kitlit, All Brown All Around, Into the Wardrobe, Shannar Reed Miles-A Blerd Girl Writes, Bad NDNs, Miss Domino, Miss Domino’s FireEscape, Disability in Kidlit, Visibility Fiction, I’m Here I’m Queer What the Hell Do I Read?, The Naughty Book Kitties, Kristi’s Book Blog.  This list in is not all inclusive, but it’s a start. It does not include the multitude of authors of color who blog or allies who don’t devote their entire blog to diversity, but are there for the cause.
  • In addition, people asked that “diversity” be an inclusive idea, and not limited to one group or set of groups.

Uma Krishnaswami has added several thoughtful additions to this list.

I’ll add just one other thing.

This is the season for state library associations to issue their calls for proposals. Getting to the big conferences is expensive. Librarians don’t have the funds nor do authors of color who often can’t get the backing from their publishers. Attending state library conferences is an important and often overlooked way authors can reach readers. Authors can proposal sessions, and librarians can reach out to authors to creative fun, interactive and informational sessions that get bring important resources (i.e., local authors) into local schools and libraries. Simply Bing your state’s library association (eg, Indiana Library Association) and find out what they’re looking for and when it’s due.

Filed under: Sunday Reads Tagged: action list, ccbc, resources

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25. The Virginia Hamilton and Arnold Adoff Creative Outreach Grants for Teachers and Librarians

“Applications are now being accepted for the Annual Virginia Hamilton and Arnold Adoff Creative Outreach Grants for Teachers and Librarians. Two grants up to $1,000 each will be given. One grant will be given to a teacher and another to a librarian for proposals to develop new classroom or library programs that raise awareness of multicultural literature among young people; particularly but not exclusively through the works of Virginia Hamilton. The application deadline is Feb. 28 for that year’s award. Complete instructions and proposal guidelines are available on the Grant Application.”


Filed under: Diversity Issues, Grants, Opportunities Tagged: grant, Virginia Hamilton Conference

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