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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Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth

kinda like brothers“I got down the box of oatmeal raisin cookies and took two without asking.  I needed them.”

Jarrett’s mom takes care of foster babies in New York, so Jarrett is used to sharing his home with children he doesn’t know.  It’s not that big of a deal to him, until the day Kevon and Treasure show up at the door.   Treasure’s fine; she’s just a baby.  But Kevon?  He’s TWELVE.  That’s right, a whole year older than Jarrett himself.  It’s not so bad being a temporary big brother to foster babies, but being a temporary little brother is something Jarrett is not at all interested in.  Worse, everyone just assumes that Jarrett and Kevon will be friends with each other!  Jarrett’s not sure at all.  Kevon acts like he’s a good, but Jarrett suspects that he has some secrets he’s been keeping.Jarrett and Kevon navigate an uneasy peace.  After all, they both have bigger concerns than just trying to make friends.  Kevon worries about keeping Treasure safe in the foster system, and Jarrett is worried about trying to get his grades up so he can go on to the sixth grade.

Their daily lives aren’t the only issue. Both boys also face a racist world; when Jarrett sees a worker at the community center being stopped and frisked without cause, he is deeply angry.  A worker in the center explains it this way to Kevon and Jarrett: “I’m going to keep it real with you guys, you black and Latino boys are going to get stopped a lot. And it doesn’t matter what you do, or what you didn’t do. It’s just because of who you are. And in the meantime, I need to teach you what to do when the cops stop you — not if, when.”  In a 2014 interview with NPR, Coe Booth comments on that scene in the book, saying: “I think any parent or anybody who is dealing with young black boys — as is what’s happening at the community center in this book — I think every single community center has had this conversation with their boys. And it’s just so sad that we have to do this, but we do, and I hope that changes. I don’t know if what’s going on in Ferguson will change that, but I do hope it at least continues that conversation, because it’s just exhausting that this is still going on…”  I heartily agree.  I appreciate the nuanced, realistically complex middle school boys dealing with both the difficult situations of middle school and the ugly reality of racism in the world.

This middle-school realistic fiction is a definite winner.  I can’t wait to read more from Coe Booth. Go see her at her website!

If you liked this book, why not try these?

My Cousin’s Keeper by Simon French

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

Boy21 by Matthew Quick

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.

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

chopsticks“Two days ago, the famous concert pianist Gloria ‘Glory’ Fleming disappeared from Golden Hands Rest Facility, an institution for musical prodigies here in the Bronx.

Praised by critics as ‘The Brecht of the Piano,’ Ms. Fleming is known for her modern innovations on classical repertoire.  The young pianist received rave reviews until six months ago, when exhaustion caused an infamous performance at Carnegie Hall.  Fellow patients at Golden Hands recall the seventeen-year-old regularly playing the whimsical children’s waltz ‘Chopsticks,’ an obsession which worsened during her tenure at Golden Hands.

The evening she went missing, Gloria Fleming had apparently played the waltz for over seven hours.”

This book probably has less than two thousand words in it, but it tells a complete story through drawings, photos, screenshots, texted conversations, and musical scores.  It’s the story of a young romance-piano prodigy Gloria and her next-door neighbor Francisco.  The book follows the pair through Francisco’s banishment to boarding school, through Gloria’s breakdown and disappearance, and other events in their lives.

I loved the format of this interesting book! Not only is the story captivating, but it’s just so wonderful to look at.  Francisco is an artist, and the book is peppered with his beautiful drawings and paintings, as well as things like the admittance letter to the rest facility Gloria goes to, ticket stubs, and snapshots.  If you like John Green-type stories, about teenage romances, with a little mystery and philosophy mixed in, this one’s for you.

Happy Reading!

Book’s website:  http://chopsticksnovel.tumblr.com/

If you like this one, you might try:

Why We Broke Up “This novel tells the story of Min Green and how she and Ed Slaterton met at a party, saw a movie, followed an old woman, shared a hotel room, and broke each other’s hearts.” (From the website)

The Fault in Our Stars A tragic, tragic, love story-heavy on the philosophy.  Somehow, it has the same feel as Chopsticks to me.

Looking for Alaska  A boarding school romance-mystery-philosophy book.  I promise. You’ll love it!

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!

The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks

The-Girl-in-the-Park-2 “‘Honey. They found her. In the park.’

They found her in the park.  Playground. Swings. Kids. Good.  So they found her in a nice place, not a motel, which was kind of what I was expecting.

Except…they?  Not her mom?

They found her.  I shake my head, because there’s something weird about found. You find sweaters in the park.  Or lost dogs.  Found is like Wendy’s not a person.  Not a living…

My mom is crying.  That tells me what found means. Why Wendy isn’t a person anymore.  That Wendy is dead.”

Rain and Wendy used to be best friends.  To Rain, Wendy was more than a party girl intent on sleeping with everyone’s boyfriend.  She was the one with the huge heart and offbeat sense of humor, the girl who wasn’t above faking a fainting spell in H&M and who didn’t care what others thought of her.  But when Wendy’s body is found in the park after a wild party, no one seems to remember the good things about her.  Instead, there are nasty rumors about drugs and alcohol.  The sensationalized news reports  are written as though what happened was Wendy’s fault.

Rain knows it wasn’t Wendy’s fault.  In fact, she is pretty sure she knows what happened that night to her friend, and who did it.  Will she gather the courage to speak up, even if the results are devastating?

This is a solid mystery for teenagers, especially budding fans of psychological thrillers.  Rain is a believable, sympathetic character, and the plot keeps readers guessing, without feeling contrived. I finished the book in a night! The author sensitively and realistically portrays issues of predatory teachers, underage alcohol and drug use.  A great pick for teens looking to be gripped with a good thriller.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://mariahfredericks.wordpress.com/

Fredericks, Mariah. The Girl in the Park. Schwartz & Wade: New York,  2012. 217 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this, try:

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Mr. Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn

Shine by Lauren Myracle

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah

tenthingsihateaboutme“How can I be three identities in one?  It doesn’t work.  They’re always at war with one another.  If I want to go clubbing, the Muslim in me says it’s wrong and the Lebanese in me panics about bumping into somebody who knows somebody who knows my dad.  If I want to go to a Lebanese wedding as the four hundredth guest, the Aussie in me will laugh and wonder why we’re not having civilized cocktails in a function room that seats a maximum of fifty people.  If I want to fast during Ramadan, the Aussie in me will think I’m a masochist.

I can’t win.”

Jamilah lives a double life: at home, she’s Jamilah, the girl who plays an instrument in an Arabic band and tries to convince her super-strict father to lighten up once in a while.  However, at school, she’s Jamie, with bleached hair, contacts, and endless excuses for why she can never socialize after school.  She just doesn’t want people to see her as a stereotype; she’s afraid they’ll hear Muslim and think extremist.  However, the strain of constantly hiding who she truly is wears on her, and her friends are wondering why she’s never around.  She can’t keep it up much longer-but what will happen if everyone knows the truth about her?

This is Randa Abdel-Fattah’s second novel about Muslim teenagers struggling to find a place within a larger culture that doesn’t always understand or welcome them.  Her characters are complex, from the hijab-wearing activist Shereen, to a father struggling with the task of raising three children alone-he doesn’t want to create strife between him and his children, but he also feels compelled to raise them in line with his core values.  While Jamilah often feels like an outsider because of her cultural identity, she gets great joy out of sharing meals, playing traditional instruments, and speaking Arabic.

Abdel-Fattah takes pains to differentiate between ethnicity, culture, and religion, and explore the different ways they can be expressed in her characters. It may not always be easy to have a hyphenated identity, but Randa Abdel-Fattah opens an important dialog about faith, fear, and the self in her thoughtful, timely novels.

Happy Reading!

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

Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Ten Things I Hate About Me. Orchard Books: New York, 2006. 297 pp. Ages 15 and up.

Boy vs. Girl by Na’ima B. Robert

boyvsgirl“Farhana’s  hijab felt heavy now, heavier than it had ever been.  Heaver than when her mum questioned her about it, making her feel as if she had done the wrong thing, that she was on her way to becoming an ‘extremist’.  Heaver than when she found that she was no longer the centre of attention at school.  Heaver than when, after the initial honeymoon period when her wearing the hijab was a novelty and a number of the girls had admired her brave decision, the hype moved elsewhere.”

Farhana and her twin brother Faraz are struggling with life-changing decisions this Ramadan season.  Farhana is trying to decide whether she wants to wear the hijab full-time, even if it probably means losing the attentions a handsome classmate.  Faraz is conflicted, as well:  he’s so bullied at school, for being sensitive and artistic, that he can’t stand it anymore.  Does he pursue his art, or join the gang that promises protection?  During the holiday month, the two struggle with their feelings about religion, freedom, and doing what’s right for themselves.  For Farhana, this means going against her parents’ wishes for her, and for Faraz, it means something far more dangerous.  Ramadan bring change and self-awareness to both twins.

This novel is reminiscent of The Outsiders, with its devoted siblings, clear (to the point of preachiness) distinction between right and wrong, and hey-I’ll say it- the street gangs.   The central conflict is one of identity: what role does faith and religion play in the lives of the twins?  What role would they like it to play?  Farhana’s mother is firmly against her covering herself-she doesn’t want her daughter to lose opportunities or be discriminated against.  Farhana must decide whether she wishes to defy her parents and wear the hijab, or if she’d rather not make such a public declaration of her beliefs.  Faraz knows what Allah says he should do, but it’s so hard to resist the brotherhood and protection of the neighborhood gang.  When a tragedy threatens Farhana’s life, Faraz understands what he must do, even if it feels impossible.

The exploration of identity, religion, and the social universe of the high schoolers makes for fascinating, if not entirely original, reading.  Na’ima Robert brings us a traditional coming-of-age story, but viewed through a different cultural lens.  While the story occasionally veers into a cautionary tale-style narrative, the exploration of deep belief is worth reading.  Robert portrays Farhana’s religious self-searching skillfully and sensitively.  I’d like to know what you think of this one!  It’s a relatively recent book with a very fifties’ feel to it, that’s for sure.

Happy Reading!

Robert, Na’ima. Boy vs. Girl. Francis Lincoln Books: London, 2010.

If you’re interested in reading more books like this one, you might like:

Does My Head Look Big in This? 

The Garden of My Imaan

Bestest. Ramadan. Ever.

I’d like to invite you to read a blog post on this book written by someone who was displeased with this book, as she felt it didn’t realistically address teenagers’ problems, while at the same time it was upholding a “pure” Islam.  Hop on over and see what Sara Yasin at Muslim Media Watch has to say about Boy vs. Girl.

Hold Fast by Blue Balliet

HOLDFAST“What happened at 4:44 on that grim January day was wrong. Wrong was the perfect sound for what the word meant: It was heavy, achingly slow, clearly impossible to erase. Wrong…

Where was Dash?  How could he have vanished into that icy, freezing moment?

No one could add up the facts; they just didn’t fit.”

The Pearl family doesn’t have much but each other and their dreams of a better future. Dash and Summer do their best-Dash works as a page at the downtown library, and Summer makes sure that everyone has enough to eat, and that their tiny apartment is kept clean.  Together, they read stories and dream of having their own house, with flowers out front and curtains in the window.  Dash keeps saying to hold fast to their dreams, that someday things will be better.

But then he disappears, and with him, their hopes.

Summer and Jubie and Early have to move to a shelter, where it is loud and crowded and Jubie gets sick. Early is afraid something terrible has happened-their dad would never leave them like this!  All she has is his notebook of clues-but she’s determined to get to the bottom of things.

Blue Balliet brings us another gem: a riveting mystery, with clues just tricky enough to be engaging, and enough real-life troubles to keep our hearts soft.  You’ll love the Pearl family, and will be moved by their devotion to each other.  You’ll also love the Langston Hughes poetry peppered throughout, and the fantastically interesting and exciting mystery that Dash Pearl has accidentally been tangled in.   Ms. Balliet has the knack for gently raising our awareness of important social issues, like homelessness, while at the same time teaching us about important historical figures (like Vermeer, Frank Lloyd Wright,   and Langston Hughes).  But how, you might ask, how does she do this without boring our pants off?  Friends, I tell you: because she is awesome.  You’ll love it, I promise.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website

Now, if you loved this one, you’ve gotta check out her others:

The Danger Box (this one is the most like Hold Fast)

Chasing Vermeer

The Wright 3

The Calder Game

When You Reach Me (Now, this book isn’t by Blue Balliet, but it feels so similar-I think you’ll really like it!)

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

this-world-we-live-in“I thought about the earth then, really thought about it, the tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanoes, all the horrors I haven’t witnessed but have changed my life, the lives of everyone I know, all the people I’ll never know.  I thought about life without the sun, the moon, stars, without flowers and warm days in May.  I thought about a year ago and all the good things I’d taken for granted and all the unbearable things that had replaced those simple blessings. And even though I hated the thought of crying in front of Syl, tears streamed down my face.”

It’s been a year since the asteroid hit the moon, and Miranda and her family are still struggling to survive in the ruins of their small Pennsylvania town.  When Miranda’s father, his wife, their baby, and Alex and Julie Morales (from The Dead and the Gone) show up at the door, the group must make plans for the future. They know the governmental food deliveries won’t continue forever, and with ten people, there’s no way their stored food will last long.  However, finding a safe place to go is a challenge.  There are rumors of safe cities, for governmental officials and other important people, but no one is sure how or where to find them.  As they search for a workable solution, the weather grows increasingly violent; they don’t have much time.  Will they make it to safety?

The final book in the Last Survivors trilogy connects the stories of Alex and Julie, from the second book, with Miranda and her family’s.  There are no good answers to the climate change and food shortages, but the book manages to strike a balance between bleak hopelessness and unrealistic solutions.  In short, Susan Beth Pfeffer continues the tone of the previous two books, giving us a chillingly accurate-feeling story about the end of the world.  If you don’t like the zombie apocalypse stories because you don’t think it would ever happen, this trilogy will give you the end-of-the-world creepiness that feels realer than real.  It’s scarier than some books for adults, even.  I couldn’t put it down, and I bet you won’t be able to, either.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website

Pfeffer, Susan Beth. This World We Live In. Harcourt: Boston, 2010. 239 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

Looking for more on the end of the world?  After you finish this trilogy, starting with Life as We Knew It and The Dead and the Goneyou might want to try these:

The Age of Miracles

Shipbreaker

How I Live Now

How I Live Now