Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes

dyamonde-daniel“Dyamonde liked even numbers. In fact, Dyamonde liked numbers, period.  Math made sense to her…Math was something you could always count on.  Well, mostly.

For a long time after her mom and dad got divorced, Dyamonde hated math because all she could see was subtraction.  Mom’s voice minus Dad’s.  Two for breakfast instead of three.  Monday night TV minus the football.  It just didn’t feel right, at first.  But things were a little better now.  Dyamonde plus her mom equaled two, and two was a nice even number and even numbers rule.”

Y’all, you are going to love Dyamonde Daniel.  She’s new in town, living in a different neighborhood than she did before her parents divorced, but she’s settling in lickety-split. She knows everybody in the neighborhood already!  Her big concern is Free, the new kid.  Why is he so grumpy?  Why does he say he can’t read when she knows very well that he can-in fact, she saw him reading on the playground?

Dyamonde’s determined to figure out Free.  She knows the little kids are scared of him, ’cause he seems so crabby, but she suspects that he’s not as grumpy as he looks.  They might even be friends!

Nikki Grimes has done it again-given us loveable, relatable, real-feeling characters with positive solutions to troubles they encounter.  Fans of Clementine, Junie B. Jones, and Babymouse should find a friend in Dyamonde.

If you liked this, why not try:

The Magnificent Mya Tibbs series by Crystal Allen

Ruby and the Booker Boys by Derrick Barnes

Sunny Holiday by Coleen Murtagh Paratore

Nikki and Deja by Karen English

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Wonder by R.J. Palacio

wonder“If I found a magic lamp and I could have one wish, I would wish that I had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all.  I would wish that I could walk down the street without people seeing me and doing that look-away thing.  Here’s what I think: the only reason I’m not ordinary is that one one else sees me that way.”

August Pullman has been homeschooled all his life, safe from the stares and questions of others.  See, he was born with a craniofacial anomaly-his face doesn’t look like most other faces.  He and his family are used to it, but most other people aren’t.  Auggie knows they don’t mean to be rude, or hurt his feelings, but it happens anyway.

He’s afraid it might get a lot worse, too:  August Pullman is about to start middle school.  MIDDLE SCHOOL!  It’s notorious for being horrible for even the most normal of kids. Nevertheless, Auggie bravely goes out into the world-and what he finds will surprise him.  The book is told from many different perspectives: Auggie’s, his sister, his friends, even his bully, and it reminds us that there is always more than one side to a story.  This book humanizes everyone, even those who bully.  It’s the most realistic, most compassionate work on the subject that I’ve ever encountered.

Friends, this book will make you cry.  It will make you think about how we relate to others who are different from us (and, after all, isn’t everyone?).  It will fill your heart with joy.  It’s a great one for parents to read with kids-as a read-aloud, it could work for ones as young as fourth grade, all the way up to grown-ups. It’s a sensitive portrayal of differences, bullying, and the underworld of middle school.  Reading this book will make you a better human, I promise.  Read it with someone dear to you, friends.

Happy reading!

If you liked this one, you’ll love Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco, and you’ll definitely need to check out Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going.

The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales

tequilaworm“I wanted to play soccer on those beautiful playing fields. I wanted to get better at kicking with my head so I could go to college. I could get a good job and make enough money to buy a nice house for my parents and Lucy.

But to go and live at a school? Without my family?”

Sofia’s family loves stories: telling and re-telling them, inventing new ones, and sharing old ones.  Stories are what keeps them together, and keeps their Mexican heritage alive.  There are stories of the Easter cascarones, the stories of loved ones for Dia de los Muertos, and stories of quinceanera preparations and festivities.  Sofia knows that part of becoming a grown-up is being able to share these stories with others.  However, her own story is about to change drastically.

When Sofia is offered a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school over three hundred miles from her home, she is torn: should she stay at home, with everyone she loves, with everything she is familiar with?  Or should she pack up and move to a school where everyone is wealthier, whiter, and more privileged than she?  School may be difficult, but Sofia’s determined to go away, learn, and then come back and help her family.

Sofia’s sense of humor permeates this sensitive story:  from the play-by-play of eating the tequila worm (to prevent homesickness) to the descriptions of her mother’s endless stream of knitted doorstops and pencil toppers, this book will keep you laughing.  Her humorous stories have a deeper meaning, though: through them, Sofia can feel the love of her family and community.  By sharing them, she takes her place as an almost-grown-up in her family.

This is another Pura Belpré winner, named for the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library! I’m reviewing as many of the Pura winners as I can; I hope you like this one. Would you like to read along with me? Here’s a list of past winners!

Author’s website: http://violacanales.blogspot.com/

Happy Reading!

Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa

cuba15They all looked at me: Mom, perturbed; Abuela, skeptical; Abuelo, curious; and Dad, still upset…Must I invite these people to my party? I thought, trying to hold firm. ‘Being the one turning fifteen and all,’ I said to my audience, ‘I just want to say that I would rather have gone on a trip to Spain.  But I was not given that choice.’

Abuela opened her mouth. ‘However,’ I continued, silencing her, ‘since my dear grandmother has offered to throw me a quince party, I have gratefully accepted the idea.’ If only to find out why, I thought.”

Violeta Paz has just turned fifteen years old, and her Cuban grandmother insists that she must have a quinceañera, a traditional coming-of-age celebration for young women.  The party is supposed to mark her transition into young womanhood, but Violeta just isn’t sure if all the tulle and dancing is for her.  Attendants?  A gigantic, fluffy dress?  Not for Violeta.  Couldn’t she just go to Spain, like her aunt got to do?  Besides, she’s not even all Cuban! Her mom is Polish, and who ever heard of a Polish-Cuban quince?

Violeta reaches a compromise with her family:  she gets to design her own party, within reason. (After all, she is definitely NOT the boss when it comes to money.) There will be tradición, si, but also new elements to her party.  And in the process of learning all about what this rite-of-passage business actually means(thanks to her guidebook: Quinceañera for the Gringo Dummy), Violeta learns  who she really is, and to love and appreciate her heritage.  Sure, her family may be irritating, obnoxious, and her dad’s devotion to his bowling-shoes-and-shorts combo is not the classiest, but they’re just perfect for her.

This book is written in first person, as though we’re listening to Violeta’s thoughts-and you’ll want to do that, because she’s super funny! Readers will enjoy her running commentary, sprinkled with sarcasm and a hefty dose of puns.  High school through her eyes is pretty hilarious, actually.  So, if you’re looking for a humorous, well-written book with awesome bicultural elements, this is a great place to start. Oh, and notice that shiny award on the cover?  It’s a Pura Belpre honor-an award that goes to work celebrating the Latino/a experience.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring lots of Belpre winners, so stay tuned!

Author’s website

Happy Reading!

Want more quince stories, or more books about the Latino/Latina experience?  You might like these:

¡Scandalosa! Evie’s sixteenera might not ever happen, if she can’t keep her grades up.

Estrella’s Quinceañera Estrella’s mom has been waiting to throw her daughter a traditional quince for years now, but mariachi bands and puffy dresses give Estrella hives.

Um…is it too late for me to get my own quince?!  So much fun!

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

parablesowerpg“The child in each of us
Knows paradise.
Paradise is home.
Home as it was
Or home as it should have been.

Paradise is one’s own place,
One’s own people,
One’s own world,
Knowing and known,
Perhaps even
Loving and loved.

 

Yet every child
Is cast from paradise-
Into growth and new community,
Into vast, ongoing
Change.”

Here’s the story:  the world is falling to bits, wracked with economic and environmental crises. People are starving in the streets.  A new drug creates an underworld of fire-starting addicts; watching things burn is said to feel better than sex, on the drug.  Money is nearly worthless, and communities that cannot afford to erect a razor-wire-covered wall are helpless to protect themselves against theft and fire.  Eighteen-year-old Lauren is one of the lucky ones, even though she suffers from a rare condition called hyperempathy, where she physically feels the pain of others-a side effect of the drugs her mother took before she has born.  While her condition is disabling, dangerous, and painful, Lauren is safer than most.   She has a home, a wall, and an education. While she doesn’t share the faith of her minister father, she is far from faithless.  In fact, she has been developing her own religion, in response to the chaos and uncertainty of the world she lives in.  She calls it Earthseed.

When Lauren loses her home and family, she must set out on the treacherous journey north, in search of food and shelter.  The trip is immensely difficult: she and her companions must fight off fire-crazed addicts and potential thieves, carefully preserve what little food and water they have, and be constantly vigilant.  It’s not easy, but they don’t have a choice.

Now, this might sound like the plot of a lot of dystopias out there, right?  Disaster + Must Flee Home = Dystopic Adventure.  The special thing, though, is the way this is written.  It is a compelling, breathtaking adventure story, yes.  However, it’s also a treatise on race and economy, community and compassion.  Butler points an incriminating finger at exploitative corporations and indifferent governments; at the same time, she explores the intersections of gender, race, and social status. It’s a phenomenal story with a built-in social commentary, and it is definitely going on my favorites list.

Author’s website: http://octaviabutler.org/

If you liked this book, you might want to read on! Octavia Butler’s second Earthseed book is called Parable of the Talents.

Happy Reading!

 

No Castles Here by A.C.E. Bauer

No Castles HereWhat I need, Augie thought, is a fairy godmother. She’d wave her magic wand, and poof, all my problems would disappear.

But nothing seemed to make his tormentors disappear.  Although Augie’s body was healing and his glasses were fixed, Dwaine, Sergio, and FoX Tooth dogged him wherever he went. His only refuge during the day was their classroom.  The class didn’t mess with Mr. Franklin.”

Augie is a scrawny kid from Camden, New Jersey.  He knows what to do: keep quiet, keep out of the way of the thugs and dealers, and try not to draw attention to himself.  It’s not fun, but it’s his life and he’s pretty good at managing.

However, it’s changing. One day he stumbles into a bookstore and accidentally (really! It was an accident!) steals a strange, perpetually-changing book of fairy tales.  Then his mom signs him up for a Big Brother-not only is he WAY too old for one, his Big Brother is gay.  Now, he likes Walter and all that, but he’s so afraid of what the bullies at school will do to him if they find out he reads fairy tales and is hanging out with a gay Big Brother.

If that wasn’t bad enough, a storm damages his school and the district makes plans to close it permanently and move all the students to other schools.  Then it would become just one more decrepit, abandoned building out of hundreds in their neighborhood.  But Augie’s tired of it-he doesn’t want to leave school and start over.  The bullies were just starting to leave him alone, and the school choir was sounding great and making everyone feel like a community.   What can be done?  He’s just a kid, but in this thoughtful debut novel, he demonstrates the power of working together.

This is a special book, friends, one with many layers and lots of things to think about after you’ve finished.  Augie’s story is interspersed with fairy tale chapters from the accidentally-stolen book, and many of his life experiences parallel those in the fairy tale.  As he reads, he begins to think about how fair is it really for him to be afraid to be seen with Walter, just because Walter is gay.  Augie feels differently, now-he sees how damaging the prejudices of others can be.  At the same time, he develops his own voice-he’s no longer the scared young man running from bullies.  Instead, Augie pulls together a plan to save his school, speaking up to the school board, and working together with the students who used to bully him.  And Walter?  Well, he likes having Walter around.  You see, things are different now.

Part fairy tale, part school drama, part coming-of-age story, this novel is one of the rare young adult stories to appeal equally to guys and girls.  I love Bauer’s treatment of Walter and his partner, and the natural way Augie’s feelings about it grew and changed.  This is one of the ALA’s Rainbow List books, specially recognized for its excellent treatment of GLBT subject matter.

Happy Reading!

Bauer, A.C.E. No Castles Here. New York: Random House, 2007. 270 pp.  Ages 11 and up.

If you liked this one, you’ll love these:

Boy 21 (one of my favorites!)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Time for Andrew

Hero (this book is seriously double-awesome, so even if it isn’t strictly related to No Castles Here, I still think you’ll love it!)

Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos

holeinmylife

“The prisoner in the photograph is me.  The ID number is mine.  The photo was taken in 1972 at the medium-security Federal Correctional Institution in Ashland, Kentucky.  I was twenty-one years old and had been locked up for a year already-and I had more time ahead of me.”

Growing up, Jack Gantos wanted to be a writer, not a drug smuggler and a prisoner. His dad could always point out those who had done time before, and warned him repeatedly not to get into trouble.  However, when young Jack finds himself in a terrible job and needing money for college tuition, he decides to take a risk.  He agrees to smuggle a boatload of drugs out of the Virgin Islands with someone he just met.  Not only was the trip itself a disaster, as neither seemed to know much about sailing or smuggling, it was only a matter of time before the two were caught and convicted.

Jack describes his time behind bars as terrifying, stressful, and ultimately transformative.  It was behind bars that he began writing, the first step toward his life as an author.  He crammed his daily entries between the lines of a novel, as prisoners were not allowed to keep diaries.  Upon his release, he vowed never to return, and became the celebrated author of the Rotten Ralph picture books (do you know them??  Give them a try-they’re hilarious) and the Joey Pigza series.  He’s been awarded the Printz honor award and the Robert F. Sibert honor for his memoir, and I can see why.  His short account of the worst year of his life is presented without self-pity or glorification, which is a tricky balance for memoir writers.  This great, quick read should appeal to reluctant readers, aspiring writers, and anyone looking for a harrowing adventure, with a side of “Don’t do this, guys-it was horrible.”

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.jackgantos.com/

Gantos, Jack. Hole in My Life.  Squarefish: New York, 2002. 200 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, you might check out these memoirs:

Bad Boy: A Memoir by Walter Dean Myers

King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography by Chris Crutcher

Good Behavior by Nathan L. Henry

Of Beetles and Angels: A Boy’s Journey from a Refugee Camp to Harvard by Mawi Asgedom

The Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner

 

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

hunger“Lisabeth Lewis didn’t mean to become Famine. She had a love affair with food, and she’d never liked horses (never mind the time she asked for a pony when she was eight; that was just a girl thing).  If she’d been asked which Horseman of the Apocalypse she would most likely be, she would have probably replied, “War.”  And if you’d heard her and her boyfriend, James, fighting, you would have agreed.  Lisa wasn’t a Famine person, despite the eating disorder.”

This is the story of how an anorexic seventeen-year-old became one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, along with Death (bearing a strong resemblance to Kurt Cobain) and their companions Pestilence and War.  One day-actually, the same day of her attempted suicide- the delivery man shows up, bearing a set of scales.  She accepts the scales, and finds herself newly employed as Famine, complete with menacing horse waiting for her in the garden.  (Ok, well, he’s not so menacing-he prefers eating pralines to shedding blood, but Lisa’s not your typical Famine, either).

Lisa’s new job takes her far away from her troubles at home: a concerned boyfriend, a self-destructive friend, her constant struggle with food.  As Famine, she sees firsthand the devastation of hunger, and learns about her terrifying new powers.  Famine, it seems, not only has the power to kill and destroy, but also heal and nourish.  Is it possible that Lisa’s job as Famine will give her the strength to recover from her eating disorder?

Friends, I’ve read a lot of books about eating disorders.  Most of them follow the same girl gets sick-girl denies sickness-girl forced into treatment-girl gets better arc; it’s not necessarily a bad plot, but the focus on disordered eating behaviors and calorie counts and weights can be triggering and counterproductive.  This is absolutely not one of those books, though-it is definitely shortlisted for Shanna’s “Great Books about Eating Disorders that Won’t Make You Nuts with Incessant Calorie Counts” Prize.  Kessler infuses the novel with gallows humor, witty dialogue, and great twists.  What I loved most was the underlying message, delivered in the least preachy way possible: Lisa finds that she must care for herself so that she can care for others.  This short, clever novel is one that will appeal to reluctant readers, fans of fantasy, and anyone who’s struggled with similar issues.

Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://www.jackiemorsekessler.com/

Kessler, Jackie Morse.  Hunger. Houghton Mifflin: New York, 2010. 177 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, she’s got two more in the Riders of the Apocalypse series:

Rage

Loss

and another one coming soon!

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby

wondershow“Something began to move in Portia’s memory, reluctant as a rusted wheel-the old story she had made for herself, in which Max had run off with the circus.  How many circuses were there?  Fewer, Portia knew, than there had been before. Movie theaters and dancehalls cropped up like pretty weeds, common and alluring, and without the strange elements that came with traveling shows.  Mister had frequently lectured her on the topic of such distasteful forms of entertainment.

But Max loved a good time.  And a circus was certainly that.  Even if he wasn’t still with this circus, someone might have seen him, known him, heard about his beloved daughter.

Only a few miles away, Portia thought.”

All Portia has left of her family are the stories her father used to tell her, and even the stories have grown worn and thin from constant repetition.  Her dad left, long ago; now Portia is the reluctant resident of McGreavey’s Home for Wayward Girls, her days filled with drudgery and brightened only by plans of escape.  When she learns of a traveling circus passing nearby, Portia takes her chance and makes her home as a Normal among the performers in the sideshow.  Here, she puts her storytelling skills to work, running the bally at the freak show.  All the while, she watches the faces in the audience, searching for one she recognizes.

What can I say?  I’m a sucker for stories about carnivals and the circus; there’s no way I could pass this up.  I think you’ll really like this eerie, clever debut novel from Hannah Barnaby.  It’s set during the Great Depression, and is a quirky take on the orphan story, featuring repurposed fairy tale elements and a host of fantastic sideshow performers.  Not only is their a sinister mystery (what happened to all those girls whose tombstones populate McGreavey’s cemetary?), it’s a story about nontraditional families and the importance of promises.  Added bonus:  many of the sideshow characters are based on real-life historical figures!   You can read about them in the Author’s Note at the end.  Let’s hope for more of these stories from this stellar new author.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://hannahbarnaby.com/

Barnaby, Hannah. Wonder Show.  Houghton Mifflin: New York, 2012. 266 pp.  Ages 11-14.

These books have a lot in common with Wonder Show!  I think you’ll love them!

The Final Confession of Mabel Stark

Beholding Bee

The Magician’s Elephant

 

 

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Jasper-Jones“‘It’s through here,’ he says.

‘What? What is?’

‘You’ll see it, Charlie.  Shit.  You’ll’ve wished you dint, but you’ll see it.  it’s not too late but.  Are you sure you’re gonna help me?’

‘Can’t you just tell me? What is it? What’s through there?’

‘I can’t.  I can’t, mate. But I can trust you, Charlie.  I reckon I can trust you.’

It isn’t a question, but it seems like one.

And I believe if I were anyone else, I would choose to step back and turn away right now…I would never look past Jasper Jones to reveal  his secret.”

Jasper Jones is Corrigan’s Troubled Boy: alternately beaten and neglected by his alcoholic father, notorious for petty theft and truancy.  Charlie is bright, uncoordinated, and not-so-popular; he and Jasper occupy opposite ends of the social universe. So when Jasper shows up at Charlie’s window in the middle of the night, Charlie is stunned enough to follow him into the woods without question.  Jasper needs Charlie’s help, and what he shows him  in the forest will change everything. In that hot summer, right in the middle of the Vietnam War, Jasper’s secret becomes Charlie’s secret.Jasper Jones

 As the summer progresses, the two try to conceal what they know as the town reels in shock.  The tragedy exposes Corrigan’s ugly underbelly; racial tension reaches a fever pitch and paranoia reigns.  Charlie tries to quell his rising panic, avoid angering his volatile mother, and awkwardly manage his first love.  It’s a summer of change, of lies exposed, and painful truths realized.

This Australian novel is a riveting combination of mystery, excellent writing, and Big Questions; it’s no wonder it was a 2012 Printz honor book.  The Vietnam War setting offers the perfect backdrop to explore matters of race and prejudice, and the tragedy exposes a multitude of ugly secrets in a town where everything looks nice on the surface.  Jasper’s philosophizing on human nature, evil, and fear is well-crafted and sticks with you long after you finish the story.  This is one of those rare books that pulls you in with a thriller and leaves you thinking about life and death.  Also, enjoy the literary references and sentence-crafting; Silvey’s masterful writing makes this so much more than just a plot-driven mystery novel.

Happy Reading!

Silvey, Craig. Jasper Jones. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 2009. 312 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, you might like these:

Everybody Sees the Ants

Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4

Nothing (this is one of my favorites!)

Paper Covers Rock