Book review: Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors get Real about Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America, edited by Amy Reed

Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors get Real about Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America. Ed. by Amy Reed. Simon Pulse, 2018. $18.99. 288p. ISBN 978-1-5344-0899-9. Ages 13+. P7Q8

The non-fiction narratives from these women across the generations—many of them members of ethnic and sexual minorities—related their struggles to survive in a hostile environment, sometimes both within their own homes and within the communities where they lived when they were young. Each one ends with explanations of their survival processes and encouragement for their readers to move forward and fight back against oppression. Because, or perhaps in addition to, their minority status, many also discussed the devastation of the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president and how his position has changed their cultures for the worse. One of the most outstanding statements comes from Aisha Saeed, bullied and persecuted while she was growing up as a Muslim. Her mother-in-law taught her “that I am not defined by what others think of me.” As Saeed pointed out, the lesson is not a panacea against pain but it allows her to move on.

Verdict: Powerful and heartfelt yet diverse, these intersectional essays from authors of books that speak to young people give insight into the ways that youth can change the world. Recommended.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Pasando Páginas: La historia de me vida, by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Lulu Delacre, translated by Teresa Mlawer

Sotomayor, Sonia. Pasando Páginas: La historia de me vida. Illustrated by Lulu Delacre. Translated by Teresa Mlawer. Philomel Books, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9780525515494. Unpaged. Ages 7-10. P9 Q10

In the Spanish version of Turning Pages: My Life Story, Sonia Sotomayor shares the story of her life and all she experiences that leads up to her becoming the first Latina Supreme Court Justice. In the English edition, she explains the meaning of cultural words while in the Spanish version, no explanation is needed. In the English edition, it mentions the Catholic High School she attended while the Spanish edition omits it. The phrases in the Spanish edition create a more positive message, for example, the English edition reads, “Fix and try harder to be better” while the Spanish edition reads, “Put things right and try harder.” The ending differs in the following way, “It is what I am” and “This is my responsibility.” The translator took liberty with sentence structure and wording. While the words are not exactly the same, the same image appears in one’s mind. The idiomatic phrases are unique to each language. The words in the Spanish edition flows better than the English edition, even though the English edition was written first. Having read both the English and Spanish editions, I would prefer the Spanish edition since it comes across as warmer and more familial in Spanish. The illustrations are the same in both editions and work equally well.

Verdict: This book contains a lot of information and may be difficult for some children to read. Children may not gravitate on their own to this book, but they may find it interesting if an adult read it to them. This is an inspirational book on starting out with very little and creating, with hard work, a life that greatly influences others. I recommend this book for elementary school libraries.

September 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The 5 O’clock Band, by Troy Andrew, Illustrated by Bryan Collier

Andrew, Troy. The 5 O’clock Band. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. Abrams Books For Young Readers, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781419728365. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7Q9.

The 5 O’clock Band is an amazing sneak peek into the magical neighborhood of Treme in New Orleans. The reader follows a young boy, Shorty. He is an integral part of a band called, The 5 O’clock Band.  The band would parade throughout the streets of the town playing and ‘living’ the music that they loved, out loud. One day he was late in meeting his band and is thrust on a personal mission as he doubts his ability to be the band leader he longs to be.  On the boy’s journey we meet many influential people who teach the boy about what it takes to be a leader, how to be dedicated, to honor tradition, and to play with heart. Illustrations are a rich blend of water color collage and pen and ink. Treme is brought to life with the vivid color displays from streets to rooftops captured throughout the story.

Verdict: This is a delightful story and would be a great cultural and historical addition to any classroom or library. It can be used to teach theme, perseverance, tradition, culture, community, and dedication.

September 2018 review by Marcy Doyle.

[Editor’s note: The 5 O’Clock Band is a companion to Andrew’s autobiographical picture book, Trombone Shorty, a 2016 Caldecott honor book and winner of the 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award.]

Book review: When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir, by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

Khan-Cullors, Patrisse and Asha Bandele. When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir.  “Advance reader’s edition.” St. Martin’s Press, [released January 16, 2018]. [272 pages]. $24.99. ISBN 9781250171085. Ages 14-up. P8Q8

Activist Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, explores racism in the structure of American society by revisiting her younger life in racially segregated suburban Los Angeles.  Contrasting the treatment of students in schools in a racially segregated  neighborhood with treatment of students in the nearby largely white, upper class school she attended points out the many ways that dominant society structures itself to keep minorities poor and incarcerated.  Stories about police and prison abuse of her schizophrenic brother bring a human side to what is more and more often the stuff of headlines.  Weaving a highly effective analysis of the lack of social justice and the active use of force against minorities with her personal, lived experiences makes this memoir memorable.

Verdict: This memoir comes at a time when structural racism is coming to awareness of all Americans.  Khan-Cullors repeats some of her stories, often to illustrate slightly different aspects of societal problems, and uses her life to humanize what would otherwise be a polemic.  This work not only reflects the life of an articulate black woman, but can also be a window into the effects of structural racism and economic inequality for white students. I hope that future books will talk more about the Black Lives Matter movement and her community building activities. Highly recommended for high school and public libraries.

May 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Lighter Than My Shadow, by Katie Green

Green, Katie. Lighter than My Shadow. Roar Comics/Lion Forge, 2017. $19.99. 516p. ISBN 978-1-9413-0241-5. Ages 14+. P8Q9

Perfectionist Katie Green was a smart, popular girl with a supportive family, but she became obsessed with her body image through controlling her food input. Her anxieties then caused her to fall into an episode of sexual abuse as she seeks alternative counseling during her later teen years. The details of her struggles are shown through both her personal narration and the graphic-style artwork of sepia, gray, and beige backgrounds sometimes covered with black scribble lines of her self-critical feelings. Imagery includes her floating body exposing her organs.

Verdict: Green’s memoir is hard to read but invaluable in describing events, such as comments about bodies and eating habits, that led up to her desperation, both through her anorexia and her search for help. She also explains that the fears never disappear, leaving her in recovery perhaps for her entire life. The importance of the book is that it is highly visual, illustrating the changes in her body and her thoughts instead of trying to use just words for this serious illness.

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Because I Was a Girl: True Stories For Girls of all Ages, edited by Melissa de la Cruz

Because I Was a Girl: True Stories For Girls of all Ages. Edited by Melissa de la Cruz. Henry Holt and Company, 2017. $18.99. ISBN 9781250154460. 241 pages. Ages 12+. P7 Q7

Did you know that Monopoly was invented by Lizzie Magie Philips, originally called Landlord’s game, to critique big business? Describing each decade from the 1920’s to 2010’s, this book is filled with short autobiographical stories of women and the challenges they encountered and overcame. Each chapter is dedicated to a decade in American history and is preceded by a page of women’s history facts for that era. It is fascinating to see how women’s issues progressed from 1920 to 2010. The short chapters make it easy to pick and choose or read all the way through. The lives of these women show incredible strength to overcome obstacles. While the short stories show how the women overcome challenges, it seems like it emphasizes the challenge they have being a woman in direct comparison to the ease men in similar situations have had, rather than focusing on the hard work and resilience of these women. I would have enjoyed it more if the emphasis had been on the latter. A more accurate title would have been, Because I was a girl: How I made a difference in a man’s world. Additionally, while the author did a good job of including women from diverse racial backgrounds, the book would have been improved by including LGBT and disabled women.

Verdict:  I learned more about women in history and women related issues. Middle school and high school, or public libraries would benefit from this book.

February 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review:March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine, by Melba Pattillo Beals, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Beals, Melba Pattillo. March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine. Illus. By Frank Morrison. Houghton, 2018. $16.99. 214p. ISBN 978-1-328-88212-7. Ages 10-13. P7Q8

In 1957, the author was one of the Little Rock Nine, when she participated in the violent integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas when she was 15 years old. Her story of this time begins when she was a small child and learned about how the whites in her town oppressed the blacks in all ways. She was always told that she couldn’t fight back, but her attendance at an almost entirely white school was the beginning of her rebellion. Beals’ family was warm and nurturing, educating her at home because of an illness, but her pain and terror of growing up a second-class citizen is clearly shown in her telling about the KKK hanged a man in her church where she was attending a prayer meeting and later almost raping her at a KKK gathering. On her first day at Central, Beals overheard officials suggesting that they sacrifice one of the students to the mob so that the others could escape. Full-page pencil drawings and small photographs show Beals as a child and young girl.

Verdict: Beals’ openness about her feelings of desperation regarding the racist culture and her courage in overcoming it gives readers a vivid account of hate and discrimination against blacks during the mid-twentieth century that psychologically and physically damaged all those subjected to the prejudice. The details of petty hatred such as being forced to give up a place in line at stores for all white combined with physical fear meld together in an eye-opening graphic view of being black at a time when the law refused to protect minorities. The author’s personal stories of this persecution, i.e., petty acts of forcing blacks to move out of line in a store for whites, combine with her coming-of-age narrative.

January/February 2018 review by Nel Ward.