I know that is a groundbreaking title there. Anyway, this post is a personal illustration of connecting with book characters because they are like me. Before anyone else can point it out – yes, I am a white guy. Yes, I am a white, heterosexual male. Yes, there are many books about people like me. This post is not about me wanting more books about me. I’ve always agreed that we need more diverse books. I can’t imagine why anyone would disagree with this. Kids need to be able to read a book about a person who reflects their personal experience. Intellectually, I always knew this. My last two books have been a good illustration of how a connection to the characters improves the reader’s experience.
I read The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (also available in ebook and eaudiobook from OverDrive/Libby). It takes place in rural Tennessee, and in the author’s words from the book jacket:
I grew up in a place that could be considered forgotten and unglamorous. A small town where many kids dream of escaping to a bigger and brighter world. A small town where some days it seems like your dreams will die. I felt completely connected to the characters and could see a little bit of myself in them. Because of this, the book meant more to me and I was more emotionally invested in the story.
Immediately after Serpent King, I read Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. I like the book, but I don’t feel the same connection to the character because I am not a Mexican-American girl living in California. A Mexican-American girl will feel that connection here, but not necessarily in The Serpent King. It’s important for books like Gabi to exist for that girl. She does not have the plethora of books about people like her that I’ve benefited from my entire life.
I didn’t realize how lucky I was growing up a reader and finding myself in all of the books I read (like the creepy clown in It, for example), and even though I realized it as an adult, it didn’t really stand out to me until I read these two books back to back.
I do think it is important for me to read books about people different from me, but sometimes it is really nice to read a book that feels like home. Everyone should have that opportunity.
For more information about where to find diverse books, please visit the We Need Diverse Books website. They have an excellent resource page of current, active sites that offer recommendations for diverse titles, as well as a great blog to help you discover new authors.
Alan has worked for HCLS for just under 25 years, currently at the Savage Branch. He enjoys reading, television, and most sports.
Mark your calendars on October 12th! Beginning this year, Howard County will celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. On WJZ-13 CBS, County Executive Calvin Ball released a statement on the decision. “Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day does not absolve us from our history, but we hope that it sets a tone and opens up discussions on the importance of restorative practices throughout our government and our community.”
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an exciting opportunity to explore the incredible history and culture of Indigenous communities that have often been underrepresented in our celebrations. Of course, what better way to observe this holiday than to curl up with a new book? I know I will! Here are ten books for you and your family to read and learn about Indigenous culture by authors of Indigenous descent:
Do you know what fry bread is? This colorful and touching picture book by Maillard answers this question and provides a kinship to the Native tradition of communal food preparation. In addition, Maillard provides a personal background to the narrative as he is an enrolled citizen of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Coupled with the illuminating illustrations by Martinez-Neal, children and adults will enjoy reading Fry Bread together.
“Water is the first medicine, It affects and connects us all…” Earth is made up of 71% of water and it provides its inhabitants with nourishment and hydration. What would you do to protect it? Inspired by the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, We Are Water Protectors is an incredibly accessible picture book for children to learn more about water and its importance to the health of the Earth. Lindstrom provides readers with a piece of her culture, as she is Anishinabe/Metis and is tribally enrolled with the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe. She also calls Maryland her home!
With her debut middle grade novel, Day tells the semi-autobiographical story of a 12-year-old girl’s search for her true identity. Adopted at a young age by a white couple, Edie has always been curious about her Native American heritage. When she and her friends find a box of letters and photos of a woman who shares her name, Edie begins to question her parents and the secrets they kept from her. Powerful and important, Day weaves a storyline together that draws from her own Native heritage as an enrolled citizen of the Upper Skagit tribe. I am very excited about this novel and will be adding it to my reading list.
Straight from our 2020 Summer Reading list, Indian No More tells the heartbreaking story of 8-year-old Regina and the erasure of her Native American identity. It’s 1954 and her family is told all tribes in their state of Oregon no longer exist. Much like the other selections on the list so far, this novel is based on McManus’s own experiences when her tribe, the Umpqua, was terminated in 1954. Sadly, McManus passed away in 2018, unable to complete the revisions to her novel. Her friend and fellow author, Traci Sorell, completed the revisions as she wished.
Told from the perspective of young Native American/Indigenous women, #NotYourPrincess weaves together a traditional narrative with artwork, poetry, photography, and interviews to present a well-rounded depiction of issues affect Indigenous communities. While parts of the stories can be tough to read, this anthology is a great conversation starter for teens, especially young women, who could relate to the issues depicted in these stories.
Imagine a dystopian world where a majority of the world’s inhabitants have lost the ability to dream. Set in the future, The Marrow Thieves tells of a world such as this and how the lack of dreams has caused intense madness among society. The only people still able to dream are North America’s Indigenous communities. Their bone marrow is the cure for all mankind for the world to return to prosperity, but this means the certain death of the marrow holders. This sets the stage for Frenchie – a 15-year-old Indigenous teen, trying his best to survive, protect his companions, and flee from “recruiters” who hope to steal his marrow. Written by Canadian writer Cherie Dimaline, who is a member of the Georgian Bay Metis Community, The Marrow Thieves is an action-packed novel for fans of dystopian societies. It also packs a moral punch as to how we, as a society, view Indigenous communities and resources.
As if to speak entirely from its title, Surviving the City is based in an urban environment in Canada, where readers are introduced to Miikwan and Dez. Miikwan is Anishinaabe; Dez is Inniew. They are best friends trying their best to navigate the normal struggles that come with being teens as well as being faced with the challenges of being a part of a small, Indigenous minority in an urban landscape. When Dez’s grandmother falls ill and is unable to take care of Dez anymore, Dez is faced with the possibility of going into a group home. Unable to deal with that solution, Dez leaves home and disappears. Will Dez’s community find her before it’s too late? Tasha Spillett’s debut graphic novel series at first seems simple in telling Dez’s mysterious disappearance, but it also sets the tone for providing information about murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
A Girl Called Echoby Katherena Vermette, Illustrations by Scott B. Henderson, colored by Donovan Yaciuk
Time travel fans will enjoy the story of Echo Desjardins, a 13-year-old Metis girl adjusting to a new home and school, separated from her mother. During one of her first lectures with a new teacher, Echo transports to the past in several different environments: a fur-trade route, the Pemmican Wars, and a bison hunt, to name a few. Selected for our 2020 Summer Reading list, teens and adults alike will enjoy this refreshing take on Indigenous history, written by Katherena Vermette, a Metis Canadian author.
An instant hit upon its release, Cheyenne and Arapaho author Tommy Orange provides readers with an intense narrative of the urban Native American. This novel follows the journeys of 12 characters from Native communities, all en route to the Big Oakland Powwow. Each character has endured their own unique struggles, and the interwoven narratives provide a larger, deeper story of the contemporary Native American struggle while grappling with a painful history. A very popular book club choice, There There will definitely provide some complex conversation and will pique your interest in Indigenous history.
I thought I would end with a recent release from this year. Highly acclaimed author Louise Erdrich writes a fictionalized version of her grandfather’s life as a night watchman in the 1950’s. Set on her family’s home reservation (in what is now North Dakota), night watchman Thomas Wazhashk is a Chippewa Council member who is grappling with the new “emancipation” bill proposed by U.S. Congress. Despite “emancipation” as a synonym for freedom in previous events, this bill presents the term more like a “termination” of Native American culture, land, and identity. His story is coupled with that of Patrice Paranteau, a young adult who makes jewel barrings at the plant and is saving to search for her sister, Vera. Poverty, violence, exploitation: Louise Erdrich combines these intense themes and crafts a novel based on her Ojibwe roots and current Anishinaabe membership. I am definitely adding The Night Watchman to my to-read list.
No matter what age, we can all celebrate Indigenous voices this year and for many years to come on Indigenous Peoples Day. I hope there are some selections you will explore this fall, and all are available at HCLS! Add these books to your holds queue and enjoy these amazing stories.
Claudia J. is an instructor and research specialist and has worked for Howard County Library System for a little over four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.
Ahhhh, back to school, it’s that time of the year, folks – yes, it will be a different kind of school compared to last fall, but we can still read some great books as school starts. I’ve got a selection here of my latest faves for your enjoyment and education:
Amazons, Abolitionists and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight For Their Rights by Mikki Kendall An excellent and diverse addition to your history section, this nonfiction graphic novel reads like a fast-paced movie. It’s full color and far-reaching, and it will keep readers interested (full disclosure: this is my second time reading it, because it’s just that good!). Teen and adult readers alike are guaranteed to meet many new faces from the past and learn their interesting and important stories.
Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes (also available as an ebook) How does it feel to go to school where you are one of the only Black boys, and you have a light-skinned brother there who, for some reason, doesn’t seem to face the same problems that you do? This novel tackles the hard questions as Donte learns about colorism, privilege, and racism in schools, as well as how to fight for justice, how powerful family support can be, and a new sport he was skeptical of at first and bullied into bypassing, but now loves — fencing!
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (also available in ebook and eaudiobook) Two sisters, one in the Dominican Republic and one in New York, unknowingly share the same father and live vastly different lives until those lives are shattered by a tragic accident. Now Yahaira and Camino have to untangle their father’s secrets in an achingly raw and emotional novel written in verse that tackles grief, anger, forgiveness, and family.
Filled with mythology, monsters, and magic, this collection of 21 cautionary tales and fables from various Asian countries entertains and intrigues. Recommended for manga and anime fans as well.
Related, I just handed my teen The Dragon King Chronicles by Ellen Oh, and he devoured them — if anyone is looking for fast-paced and epic fantasy adventures, battles fought for honor, brave warrior outcasts, and a ton of Korean mythology and monsters, look no further! (The first book in the trilogy is called Prophecy and is also available as an ebook). Cats of the Louvre by Taiyo Matsumoto (manga)
A bizarre but fascinating story, this book is written manga style, so read back to front (which I might have forgotten for the first six pages). This hefty novel is full of incredibly detailed and well-developed, yet still mysterious, characters (half of them being magical cat people), and is set against the backdrop of one of the world’s most famous art museums.
An inspirational mini-memoir by the author of Akata Witch and Binti(check those out, too) about how she was temporarily paralyzed as a young adult. A botched spinal surgery and subsequent painful journey of recovery and self-discovery led to the birth of her creative writing style and development of her amazing sci-fi/fantasy talent. Also of note: she discusses a handful of great artists and writers through history who also grappled with severe hardships and how it challenged them and brought them to new heights. The slim volume offers solid lessons for turning limitations/struggles into strengths/power.
SCARY but I couldn’t put it down, this dystopian quest takes a group of young people with “illegal” powers deep down underground in a desperate bid to find a fabled king banished hundreds of years ago for his dangerous and incredible power. Along the way, they encounter many horrific cave beasts and various violent deaths, but also solve the mystery of why they were selected by the queen to make this doomed journey, and the origins of their powers. Above ground, their world is falling apart; can they survive the deep and deadly mission and rescue it in time?
This graphic adaptation blew me away, and if you have not read anything by this author (possibly one of the greatest sci-fi writers EVER) then do so immediately. Her many books usually contain themes of harsh survival in dystopian worlds and feature strong, fierce African-American female main characters. Read the print versions or the graphic novels, either way, just read her work!
A truly adorable “meet-cute” and more, this realistic fiction novel follows Arthur and Ben as they collide in NYC and fall head over heels into love at first sight…but what happens after that magic moment? Opposites might attract at first, but what happens when real life interferes? And how many times will they lose each other and find each other, including awkward repeat date do-overs?
Jude is a seventh-grade Muslim girl who flees Syria with her mother, leaving behind her father and older brother. They move in with an uncle in Cincinnati and try to begin a new life, and Jude navigates new customs, culture, and language while missing her family and friends. She is smart, hopeful, and brave but also sometimes fearful and confused, a very relatable character. The story is well-written and in verse, also age-appropriate (honest but gentle) when it touches on war, stereotypes, and prejudices – with inclusive perspectives and world views.
Disclaimer: As one of your teen librarians, I’m talking to ages 13-18 and their parents with my recommendations, but as always, everyone is free to read whatever they like.
Sarah C. is the teen instructor at HCLS Savage Branch and she always has time to talk and listen: about books, comics, school or whatever you need to talk about.
Frank Li is a senior in high school, growing up in Southern California. He is a first generation Korean American, trying to find his identity in this world. Is he considered Korean, even though he does not speak the language and has never visited that country? Is he fully American and does the world consider him so? He has grown up accompanying his immigrant parents to their monthly gatherings with other Korean families and hanging out with other first-generation Korean children, who, like Frank, are struggling to find where they belong. They call themselves Limbo. Some of the Korean children have embraced the country where they were born, while others retain the culture and language of the country from which their parents emigrated. There is a big divide even between the first- generation Korean Americans. Frank is very aware of his parents’ blatant racism and knows he is doomed if he dates any girl outside his ethnicity. As luck would have it, he falls in love with Brit Means. Brit is beautiful, smart, kind – and she is white. Frank has to conspire with fellow Limbo, Joy Sung, who is in the same predicament. They decide to pretend-date each other to make their parents happy while continuing to see their respective partners of choice. But how long can this ruse last?
The protagonist of the book is an eighteen year old, and the book primarily explores his self identity and where he belongs,. However, I feel this book provides valuable insight, for adult readers along with teens, into the immigrant community in this country (or anywhere) where the immigrants struggle to find the balance between holding on to the culture of their birth country while trying to assimilate in their adopted country. The struggle becomes extremely poignant for first generation Americans, as is highlighted in this novel.
David Yoon does a tremendous job of exploring the issues of race and identity in this novel while keeping the narrative light. The voice of the narrator, a somewhat confused, sometimes lovelorn, and mostly empathetic senior in high school, is authentic. While we live Frank Li’s life vicariously and shudder at the blatantly racist comments that his parents utter, we also examine our own biases regarding race and racial identity. Told in a partly eloquent, partly colloquial voice, this book really satisfies the need for a light yet thought provoking read.