Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming

title: Brown 9780399252518Girl Dreaming

author: Jacqueline Woodson

Date: Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin; August 2014

Main Character: Jacqueline Woodson

MIddle Grade Fiction

There are rules to children’s books you know, and Jacqueline Woodson just broke one.

Brown Girl Dreaming is the author’s poetic telling of her childhood and retrospective visits to childhood are supposed to be adult books. Somewhere along when Jackie learned to embrace words and the power they contain, she became entitled to a Poetic License that let this book be produced as a children’s book. Thank goodness!

For me, a Black woman of the same generation who grew up in Ohio with a mother from Mississippi, I quite often found myself pausing and connecting to the story while I daydreamed about my own life. But, this book wasn’t written for me. Will teens relate? Will they find themselves in the spaces Woodson creates when she talks about teeth, not being as smart as, about grandpa’s love and forever friends? I think that they will not only find themselves in these nuances, but they’ll also see how they fit into the larger stories of their family, community and history itself.

In creating a fictional autobiography, Woodson leaves huge spaces that all readers can dive into and find their own meaning. Woodson looks back as adult, but tells the story through the eyes of a child. Her family is her haven whether they’re in New York or South Carolina and even when it looks like things might be going wrong, Jacqueline’s family is perfect in the young girl’s eyes. This girl has a dream to fulfill and we’re going to find out where she gets her strength!

Young Jacqueline is disenchanted with the inaccuracies of memory and the confusion between storytelling and lying.

Keep making up stories, my uncle says.

You’re lying my mother says.

 

Maybe the truth is somewhere between

all that I’m told

and memory.

So, Jacqueline decides to give us her own truths in this story of self empowerment.

I’m so glad Woodson broke the rule!

I reviewed an ARC and am looking forward to adding a final copy to my collection as it will also contain photos.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Jacqueline Woodson grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from college with a B.A. in English. She now writes full-time and has recently received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. Her other awards include a Newbery Honor, two Coretta Scott King awards, two National Book Award finalists, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. source

From the Heartland: Elsa Marston

Considering authors who write about African American, Latino, Arab or Muslim Americans, Native Americans in my state of Indiana has uncovered a true wealth of authors. It’s a bit funny to see such richness in this state when Indiana in YA is usually seen as the last place on earth. But, to those teens who live here, Indiana is the center of the universe. 

Elsa Marston is an Indiana writer who expands the universe of all young readers. She’s very active in the wThe-Compassionate-Warrior-330orld of YA lit, whether she’s hosting a listserv chat, speaking at a local conference or
 writing another book that focuses on the people and cultures of the Middle East. Elsa has written over 20 children’s and young adult books including Santa
Claus in Bahgdad And Other Stories About Teens In the Arab World and Figs
 and Fate: Stories About Growing Up In the Arab World Today.  Her most recent book, The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria has won the following awards. 

  • Co-winner of the 2013 Middle East Book Award for best “Youth Nonfiction”
  • Finalist for 2013 Midwest Books Award in the categories “History” and “Young Adult Non-Fiction”
  • Finalist for 2013 Foreword Review “Book of the Year” Award in the category “Young Adult Nonfiction”
  • 2014 Eric Hoffer Award, First runner-up in the “Culture” category
Later this year, she’ll release The Olive Tree. 
A story for all ages, about how an old olive tree in Lebanon caused conflict–and inspired reconciliation. Based on the author’s award-winning and much reprinted short story. With illustrations by Claire Ewart.
Let’s meet Elsa!

Where did you grow up?

I’m a New Englander from way, way back;  I grew up in Newton Centre, Massachusetts; and then my parents moved to a small town on the Massachusetts Dscf0689bw_web-330coast, Duxbury, just north of Plymouth.  It’s a beautiful place, with beaches, marshes, pine woods, and fascinating houses from the 17th-19th centuries.  I still feel steeped in the culture and history of  New England.  One of my current works-in- progress is set on the coast of Maine at the start of the American Revolution.

How did you end up in Indiana?

So I’m not a Hoosier at heart.  But Bloomington has been a great place to live!   I came here with my husband, Iliya Harik, who was Lebanese (I met him when we were students at the American University of Beirut).  He taught Middle East government at Indiana University for his entire career, with occasional leaves overseas. That made it possible for our family to live in such places as Cairo, Beirut, and Tunisia . . . wonderful inspiration for my writing.  But it was always nice to come home to Indiana.  (I have three sons: Ramsay, a secondary-school teacher of religious studies in Austin, Texas—and my first-line reader!  Amahl, proprietor of a fitness-training studio in Providence;  and Raif, a computer guy in Austin.  And grandchildren Savannah, starting health-care studies, and Kahlil, a 2-year-old ball of sunshine.)

What were some of the first books you found as a child that turned you into a reader?

I grew up in a book-filled home—my dad was a professor of English at Northeastern University in Boston—so becoming a reader was as natural for me as loving to climb trees. From my very young childhood I remember Barbar the Elephant, and in grade school I loved the E. Nesbit books and Mary Poppins—delightful blendings of fantasy and realism.

What three things would you like to add to a list of world treasures?

Oh my,  I’ll probably have some brilliant ideas tomorrow—but here’s what I’m thinking today.

The coast of Northern California, for the sheer beauty of its long, wide beaches, golden grass-covered slopes, redwood forests…..

Two or three piano concertos by Mozart—although I dare say he’s already on the list.

The translucent alabaster sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I, every inch covered with tiny hieroglyphs painted  a heavenly blue—for the beauty and sheer amazingness of the thing. (It’s in the Soanes Museum in London.)

What book(s) are you currently reading?

One I read recently that made a big impression on me was Big Fat Disaster by Beth Fehlbaum (Merit Press, 2014).  It’s about a girl in Texas, a compulsive eater, whose dad—a rising politician—has just been hit by scandal;  he abandons the family and they have to move, virtually penniless, to another small town.  So Colby has a lot to feel bad about, and she handles it by gobbling sugar.  What I especially liked  is that Colby is not particularly likable: she’s irritable, irrational.  But we always care about her and hope that eventually she’ll find the strength to become the confident, sympathetic person that’s hiding inside all that baggage. 

When did you realize that you are a writer?

My dad was a writer and a storyteller, who made up bedtime stories for my sister and me.  I think that gave me the idea that I could tell stories, too.   At the age of eight or nine, I started to write two “novels,”  one of them set in ancient Egypt.  Naturally neither got beyond the second page, but I enjoyed them while they lasted.  And discovered, many years later, that my novel The Ugly Goddess, set in a  fascinating period of ancient Egyptian history, was the realization of that very early dream! It may take 40 or 50 years to realize your dreams—but it can happen! 

What stories do you most enjoy telling?

I like to tell stories about young people who face challenges or troubles and somehow manage to end up in a better place.  When I started writing, wanting to use the unusual places I’d had a chance to spend time in (Cairo, Carthage, Greek Islands), I wrote rather complicated mystery/adventure stories about young Americans in those settings.  But at a conference the well-known author Avi once told me:  “I think you should write stories that move people.”  I now feel  that the stories in my collection Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories About Teens in the Arab World best express what I want to do and perhaps can do best.  They still have an “exotic” element, being set in a variety of contemporary Arab societies, but my main concern is to depict young people trying to deal with the lives they were given, and make the best of it.

How did you decide to write about the Middle East and North Africa for young adults?

Since early childhood I’ve been intrigued by “other times, other places,” so I always had an international bent.   A Rotary Foundation fellowship took me to the American University of Beirut, and my marriage to the young man I met there—and the combination of his work and my own lifelong interests—led naturally to specializing in that part of the world.

But there’s another reason.  The Arab world is badly misunderstood, rejected, and disparaged in this country—even though Arab-Americans have always been exemplary as an immigrant community.  Since the founding of Israel in the Arab country of Palestine, in 1948, this prejudice has been drastically hardened by political complications, which are harmful not only to Arabs but to the interests of the U.S. and ultimately, I believe, to Israel.  I feel a mission as a writer to counter some of the ignorance and  politically motivated prejudice by presenting the people of the Arab world in ways that Americans can comprehend and relate to sympathetically.

You’ve described the whole Arab/Muslim world as invisible through use of the term “people of of color” and through their lack of representation in children’s literature.  Could you mention a few of the significant events, authors or books in children’s lit relating to books by and featuring Arab/Muslim Americans of which we should be aware?

Until the mid 1990’s there were very, very few books for young people with a positive Arab viewpoint—largely, I firmly believe, because of the prejudice mentioned above.  The door started to open with the publication of two very successful books by an already successful writer, Naomi Shihab Nye:  the novel Habibi and picture book Sitti’s Secrets, both about Palestine.  This showed publishers and writers that it was possible to produce books that give a favorable view of Arabs—without a storm of criticism.  Two other picture books published at about this time, by Florence Parry Heidi and Judith Heidi Gilliland, The Day of Ahmed’s Secret (Egypt) and Sami and the Time of the Troubles (Lebanon), were also important “door openers.” 

Since then, we’ve seen a slow but pretty steady increase in accurate, fair, and sympathetic books about Arabs, by British, American, and Israeli authors.  But very few Arab or Arab-American writers!  Although there are many Arab novelists, poets, and essayists, the idea that literature for children is an important and worthy use of literary talent has been slow to catch on.  Books for kids have been published in Arabic for years in such countries as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Kuwait; but they very rarely attract attention for translation and publication in the U.S.  I keep hoping!

I keep a list of recommended books, mostly fiction, mostly about the Arab world,  which I think is as comprehensive a list as you could find, going back to the 1970s.  I’d be happy to send it electronically to anyone who gets in touch with me  (elsa.marston@gmail.com)   Besides the ones mentioned above, here are some that I especially recommend:

Ibtisam Barakat, Tasting the Sky:  A Palestinian Childhood

Anne Laurel Carter,  The Shepherd’s Granddaughter (Palestine)

Elizabeth Laird, A Little Piece of Ground   (Palestine)

Zeina Abirached, A Game for Swallows  (Lebanon)

Alalou, Elizabeth and Ali, The Butter Man  (Morocco)

Carolyn Marsden,  The White Zone  (Iraq)

Mary Matthews,  Magid Fasts for Ramadan (Egypt)

Jeanette Winter,  The Librarian of Basra  (Iraq)

Randa Abdel-Fattah, Ten Things I Hate About Me;   Does My Head Look Big in This? (Arab-Australians)

Claire Sidhom Matze, The Stars in My Geddoh’s Sky  (Egypt, Egyptian-Americans)

Cathryn Clinton, A Stone in My Hand  (Palestine)

Maha Addasi, The White Nights of Ramadan  (Gulf States)

What does diversity mean to you?

Talking about books, I take diversity to mean inclusion of good books about the Arab/Muslim world!  But of course I would include all cultures and countries—and encouragement of good writing and storytelling, that will hold up well in translation and publication in diverse societies.  I also welcome positive attention to all sorts of human conditions.  It’s wonderful to have books that broaden our understanding and appreciation of different experience—whether social, gender, religious, occupational, or virtually any other walk of life.   

 

Previous Posts From the Heartland

DHARATHULA “DOLLY” HOOD MILLENDER

KEVIN WALTMAN-

REFORMA National Conference

I received the following in an email from REFORMA, The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking.

Are you doing research on the Latino community and its library needs? If so, please consider submitting a proposal to the Fifth REFORMA National Conference. The Call for Proposals is here:

http://www.reformanationalconference.org/#!proposals/c4dl

Program Track A: Collections & Resources would be a great place for studies of YA literature for Latinos.

Program Track F: Technology & Innovation would be great for discussing Latino teens and their use of ICTs and media.

If, on the other hand, you want to learn more about serving the Latino community (53 million strong and counting!), consider attending the conference. You can find general information on attending — including information about our FREE preconference — here:

http://www.reformanationalconference.org/

August Releases

Although somewhat late, I am so glad to deliver this list of MG and YA releases by authors of color for the month of August. It’s been quite a long while since we’ve seen so many releases in one month. If you prefer a more visual presentation, visit the Pinterest Board. And, the 2014 cumulative list can be found here.

I tried cleaning up my cumulative list, I’m not sure what’s going on with WordPress. I copied the entire list to a Word doc to clean up the spacing and the font. The results were even worse! What I’m left with is a page that looks much better, but no hyperlinks. If you need the links, you can access them on a Word doc from the page with the list. All new postings should have hyperlinks but I’m not going back to add them. I just want to get out of WordPress for now. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Descriptions are from IndieBound except where noted.

Bombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier; Push     The long-awaited sequel to Hidier’s groundbreaking “Born Confused”Nan ALA Best Book for Young Adults. Dimple Lala needs a change. She and her boyfriend think they’re heading to Bombay for a family wedding, but really they are plunging into the unexpected, the unmapped, and the uncontrollable.

Knockout Games by Greg Neri; Carolrhoda Books. A disturbing rash of seemingly random attacks occur in St. Louis by a group of teens called the TKO club. Erica is one of a few girls who is down with TKO in part due to her natural skill with a video camera and her ability to make art out of the attacks.

I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached; Graphic Universe     Zeina Abirached, author of the award-winning graphic novel A Game for Swallows, returns with a powerful collection of wartime memories.

Abirached was born in Lebanon in 1981. She grew up in Beirut as fighting between Christians and Muslims divided the city streets. Follow her past cars riddled with bullet holes, into taxi cabs that travel where buses refuse to go, and n outings to collect shrapnel from the sidewalk.

With striking black-and-white artwork, Abirached recalls the details of ordinary life inside a war zone. (Amazon)

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth; Scholastic MG     Jarrett is used to his mom taking in foster babies, but this time a baby girl has an older brother. Kevon is Jarrett’s age, and Jarrett doesn’t like sharing his room, his friends, and his life with a stranger. The more Jarrett tries to get rid of Kevon, the more he learns about Kevon’s life and his historyNwhich leads to an unexpected understanding.

The Turtles of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye MG     This accessible, exquisite novel shines with gentle humor and explores themes of moving, family, nature, and immigration. It tells the story of Aref Al-Amri, who must say good-bye to everything and everyone he loves in his hometown of Muscat, Oman, as his family prepares to move to Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is acclaimed poet and National Book Award Finalist Naomi Shihab Nye’s first novel set in the Middle East since her acclaimed Habibi.

Aref Al-Amri does not want to leave Oman. He does not want to leave his elementary school, his friends, or his beloved grandfather, Siddi. He does not want to live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his parents will go to graduate school. His mother is desperate for him to pack his suitcase, but he refuses. Finally, she calls Siddi for help. But rather than pack, Aref and Siddi go on a series of adventures. They visit the camp of a thousand stars deep in the desert, they sleep on Siddi’s roof, they fish in the Gulf of Oman and dream about going to India, and they travel to the nature reserve to watch the sea turtles. At each stop, Siddi finds a small stone that he later slips into Aref’s suitcase–mementos of home.

Naomi Shihab Nye’s warmth, attention to detail, and belief in the power of empathy and connection shines from every page. Features black-and-white spot art and decorations by Betsy Peterschmidt.

A Blind Spot for Boys by Justina Chen     Shana has always had a blind spot for boys. Can she trust the one who’s right in front of her?
Sixteen-year-old Shana Wilde is officially on a Boy Moratorium. After a devastating breakup, she decides it’s time to end the plague of Mr. Wrong, Wrong, and More Wrong.
Enter Quattro, the undeniably cute lacrosse player who slams into Shana one morning in Seattle. Sparks don’t just fly; they ignite. And so does Shana’s interest. Right as she’s about to rethink her ban on boys, she receives crushing news: Her dad is going blind. Quattro is quickly forgotten, and Shana and her parents vow to make the most of the time her father has left to see. So they travel to Machu Picchu, and as they begin their trek, they run into none other than Quattro himself. But even as the trip unites them, Quattro pulls away mysteriously… Love and loss, humor and heartbreak collide in this new novel from acclaimed author Justina Chen.

A New Beginning: My Journey with Addy by Denise Lewis Patrick, American Girl MG     Readers can enter Addy Walker’s world during the Civil War in this interactive adventure where they can outrun a slave catcher, raise money for soldiers, and search for Addy’s family. Illustrations.

The Problem with being Slightly Heroic by Uma Krishnaswami; Atheneum Books MG     Complications ensue when Bollywood star Dolly Singh premieres her new movie at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC and super fan Dinni and her best friend Maddie present a dance at the grand opening. (OCLC)

The Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrick Henry Bass and Jerry Craft; Scholastic    Fourth-grader Bakari Katari Johnson is having a really bad day. Class bullies Tariq and Keisha are mad at him, his best friend Wardell has nominated him for hall monitor, and a pack of ice zombies from a frozen world are demanding he return the magic ring that Keisha has! Illustrations.

The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco; Sourcebook Fire     The Ring” meets “The Exorcist” in this haunting story set in Japan about an American boy whose last hope for protection lies with a vengeful ghost.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; Nancy Paulsen Books     Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions by Lenore Look; Schwartz and Wade   MG     Here’s the sixth book in the beloved and hilarious Alvin Ho chapter book series, which has been compared to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and is perfect for both beginning and reluctant readers.

Alvin, an Asian American second grader who’s afraid of everything, is taking his fears to a whole new level—or should we say, continent. On a trip to introduce brand-new baby Ho to relatives in China, Alvin’s anxiety is at fever pitch. First there’s the harrowing 16-hour plane ride; then there’s a whole slew of cultural differences to contend with: eating lunch food for breakfast, kung fu lessons, and acupuncture treatment (yikes!). Not to mention the crowds that make it easy for a small boy to get lost.