Book Review: If I Ever Get Out of Here

+-+447799563_70Title: If I Ever Get Out of Here

Author: Eric Gansworth

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books; 2013

Main character: Lewis Blake

Lewis is a smart kid who tested out of the Indian school on the Tuscarora Reservation and is now attending the nearby all white school. He wants to go to college and to have a better life so, he wants to know how to maneuver a world that is new to him.  As a result, he’s trying to figure  out how to come of age both on the rez and in the white world. Up until now, Lewis has been pretty much a loner; it’s difficult making friends when you live in two worlds. Then, along comes George. A new kid who’s literally been around the world. His father’s military career has taught him how to fit in, how to live by a code and probably how to recognize enduring qualities in others. George reaches out to Lewis and they bond over Beatles music. This bond extends to George’s family who immediately takes to Lewis.

In return, Lewis is embarrassed to bring his friend’s home because his home, indeed his reservation, appears so lacking. These two settings, the home and the reservation are central places in Lewis’ life. While they’re places he wants to get out of, they’re also places he cannot and will not leave behind. Gansworth does an excellent job of creating these spaces in our minds, both their physical presence and their cultural elements. We know these places are central to his identity.  We understand why these places embarrass him on a physical level but we are not embarrassed for him because we knew their greater importance.  Nonetheless, we want him to get out of there. We hope he find some of the wisdom that Uncle Albert has found.

Gansworth’s writing has a rhythm that builds in the nuances of planets, music and friendship and in the way all these elements all blend together. This is a book about being an Indian, a much needed book about being an Indian because most Americans know so little. At the same time, it’s just a very well written book about a kid who wants to be accepted for who he is and isn’t that something we all want out of life?



I’ve been complaining for the past couple of years about the shrinking numbers of books written by authors of color. The CCBC’s number came out not too longer ago, only to validate this complaint. The number of books by African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and American Indians has been steadily decreasing since 2008, while the numbers of children of color in this country steadily increases. Zetta Elliott said it better than I can.

Despite this downward trend, Malinda Lo’s numbers indicates that BFYA continues to grow in its ability to embrace all teen readers.

The Feral Librarian speaks to the number of some of the gatekeepers, specifically librarians. Has anyone seen numbers on diversity in the gatekeepers in publishing?

Cynthia Leitich Smith speaks her mind on “Writing, Tonto & The Wise Cracking Minority Sidekick Who is the First to Die”.

My inspiration for this post was a Jan. 17th article in Indian Country Today, reporting that the real “Lone Ranger” was an African American who lived with the Muscogee Creeks and Seminoles. It made me to think about the Hollywood version of the story, about my own stories for young readers, and, in turn, the body of youth literature more globally…

While writers can (and increasingly do) successfully write beyond our own identity markers, life experience does matter, and voices from underrepresented communities should be nurtured, sought out and held up as models.

Cynthia’s mention of the minority sidekick immediately led my mind in two different directions. First, to Knockout Games by G. Neri where in the pages I just read, the main character, Erica (a white girl, red-head) was schooled by Kalvin (a very tall black male) on the realities of characters of color in movies: they’re expendable and die first.

I also thought about one of the best Twitter convos I’ve ever witnessed: #imnotyourasiansidekick

Librarians try to be more inclusive.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Society of American Archivists (SAA) are now accepting applications for the second cohort of the ARL/SAA Mosaic Program. This program promotes much-needed diversification of the archives and special collections professional workforce by providing financial support, practical work experience, mentoring, career placement assistance, and leadership development to emerging professionals from traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups. An important objective of the program is to attract and retain individuals who demonstrate excellent potential for scholastic and personal achievement and who manifest a commitment both to the archives and special collections profession and to advancing diversity concerns within it. More information at:

Please, don’t miss my review of Yacqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass! at Latin@s in Kidlit! Have you read this multiple award winner yet?

In a listserv reply, Crystal Brunelle reinforced that the forces that change what’s published in YA, that change anything, occur at the micro level. It’s like what I learned as a classroom teacher. Like many, I became a teacher to make a difference. What I soon realized was that to make a difference, I needed to define my corner of the world and make a difference there. The effects will ripple out. I’m glad you’re reading this blog, but please do some real work to make a real difference.

One of the most important events during BFYA occurs on the Saturdays of the ALA conferences when students who have read the books recommended for the list come to share their opinions. There were two striking comments in Philadelphia. While most of the students commented several times during the afternoon, there was one black girl (and there were very few black students at these events) who only commented on one book. It was one of only two books recommended this year with a  black female protagonist. (Neither made the final list.)

I also noted several students who commented on the authenticity in what they’d read. Students remarked how spot on books set in foreign countries, past decades and even in the future were.

Yes, we have a real responsibility in what we make available to young readers.

I’m going out with an article I’ve just begun reading. Leave your thoughts if you get a chance to read it. Maybe we do a little discussing right here!

Book Review: Bird

Bird-covertitle: Bird

author: Crystal Chan

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Release Date: January, 2014

main character: Jewell Campbell

12 year old Jewel is growing up in a house where people don’t talk to one another. They probably stopped when her grandfather caused her brother, John, to die. He nicknamed John ‘Bird’ and convinced him that he was in fact a bird. At the age of 5, Bird attempted to fly off a cliff. Grandfather never spoke again and her mother and father seemed to stop speaking about things that mattered.

Jewel was lost in this silence until John appeared. John, skin as dark as midnight, was sitting in her tree. But who was he, really?

Bird is rich in its Iowa setting. Jewel knows the ancient history of the land while John knows about space. Together, they climb trees and find arrowheads.

Bird is a story of mixed raced identity. John was adopted by a white family and struggles to find self-acceptance while Jewel is ½ Jamaican, ¼ White and ¼ Mexican. Her family mixes cultures, stories and magic and does not fit into this Iowa town. They don’t even fit into their own home. Chan writes not only about the superficial ways cultures blend, but she digs into the belief systems that deeply affect the ways people live together.

With identity as an overarching theme, readers want to know who this John really is. The name can’t just be a coincidence, can it? Jewel notices right away that something with John may not be as it seems and she asks on question too many.

The tension in the air suddenly grew so thick we didn’t need tree limbs to sit on anymore, we could have set on one of those words that just crawled out and got huge.

“Want to keep climbing?” I asked, scooching over to the trunk of the tree and standing up. “I can show you this squirrel’s nest.”

He looked at me, and his face shifted. Softened, no longer stone.

Jewel wants a friend. As she unravels her family’s truths, she also unravels John’s.

From Crystal’s bio page:

Crystal Chan grew up as a mixed-race kid in the middle of the Wisconsin cornfields and has been trying to find her place in the world ever since. Over time, she found that her heart lies in public IMG_7240-revised-241x300speaking, performing, and ultimately, writing. She has published articles in several magazines; given talks and workshops across the country; facilitated discussion groups at national conferences; and been a professional storyteller for children and adults alike. In Chicago, where Crystal now lives, you will find her biking along the city streets and talking to her pet turtle.

New YA Author: Valerie Day-Sanchez

I really enjoy networking on Twitter because I’m able to meet people like author Valerie Day-Sanchez. She recently interviewed me on her blog and, isn’t turnabout fair play?

I thought I’d try out my 2014 word [SHINE] and ask  Valerie What makes you shine? What do you do that makes you feel vital and gives you energy?What delights you?

When are you able to get in the flow and have your writing (or other talents) flourish?

Shine…what makes me light up, feel inspired, makes me rejoice or simply get out of bed in the morning? Aside from my awesome husband and my gorgeous boys there is one thing that motivates and drives me. One thing that gives me the inspiration to write, gives me the energy to chase my kids, and teach and that is possibility.
The idea that really anything is possible, the realization that there is a world of opportunities that are available to me. That way of thinking really makes me flourish and it acts as a conduit during my creative process.
The fact that I have my Masters degree is something that has granted me the freedom to live my life the way that I choose, without very much compromise.
Growing up my parents always stressed the value of an education, and as a woman, a person of color, a “minority,” education is freedom, knowledge truly is power, and that’s the best lesson they could have instilled in me.
When you’re a teenager you can’t wait to get your drivers license so that you can go where you want when you want, if you’re like me you long for that freedom. But what’s better than a drivers license or even a plane ticket? To me, that’s education. A degree can put miles between you and your past, and bring you closer to becoming the person that you want to be.
When you have an education you get to decide, there aren’t people telling you what you have to do. Acquiring a degree definitely opens up a lot of doors, not just professionally but also personally.
Literally what makes me get out of bed everyday, are my sons giggling and the fact that I am able to get up and make them breakfast and then we decide our day from there is the best thing I could have asked for.
That makes me shine, that I have choices, and can write, teach, and parent the way that I want.
Even though school is difficult and time consuming and expensive it’s all worth it.
Shine on 🙂
You can catch Valerie’s shine in the following places

Saturday Trailer: Lamar Giles

Today’s video isn’t really a book trailer, rather it’s an interview with debut author Lamar Giles produced by his local TV station.

lrgiles_fake_id_headshot_color_medon Facebook 51qBzBFEtPL._SX228_BO1,204,203,200_

on Twitter

on the BrownBookshelfFake-ID-by-Lamar-Giles-150x150





Debut author Lamar Giles takes readers on a wild and dark ride in this contemporary Witness Protection thriller. Fake ID is a compelling story full of twists and turns—sure to appeal to fans of James Patterson, Harlan Coben, and John Grisham.

Nick Pearson is hiding in plain sight. In fact, his name isn’t really Nick Pearson. He shouldn’t tell you his real name, his real hometown, or why his family just moved to Stepton, Virginia. And he definitely shouldn’t tell you about his friend Eli Cruz and the major conspiracy Eli was uncovering when he died. About how Nick had to choose between solving Eli’s murder with his hot sister, Reya, and “staying low-key” like the Program said to do.

But he’s going to tell you—unless he gets caught first. . .




BFYA: Done. Done and Done!

I spent much of the day yesterday cleaning my office. I hadn’t planned to do it, but realized it was a necessary to take me from the end of one project to the beginning of another. BFYA is done!

That could have easily been a two year commitment but I just couldn’t do it for another year because I simply didn’t have the time. In the past year, each of the 15 members of the committee read 200+ books. We read some books we didn’t care for and still had to report on them to the committee and we read others that we did like and recommended them, thus requiring that the entire committee had to read them.

For the past few months, I was home reading most evenings and every weekend. I was so relieved this past weekend with not having to read another book that by time Sunday rolled around, it felt like I was having a three day weekend.

I enjoyed talking literature with committee members. I wish we had more online discussions but when we met at ALA and ALA midwinter, our exchanges were productive. Most of the committee’s work is quite transparent, our meetings are open to the public, but we were asked not to review books under consideration during the year. I’ve stated that my interest in being on the committee stemmed from wanting to see a more diverse representation on the list but I do have to say that I am not the only committee member who recommended books by authors of color and not all the books I recommended were written by authors of color. Did I recommend your book? I’ll never tell!

I like seeing lists of best books for teens that are diverse in every sense of the word if it is truly going to be the best.

I learned a lot being on this committee. I think I’ve admitted here before that my background is not in literature and this gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about YA lit! I can’t tell you how impressed I was with the women on the committee. We were a committee of 15 females and I was the only person of color. We came with such different backgrounds and interests that we couldn’t help but create a diverse list.

I keep learning more and more about what stalls the flow of books by people of color. There are so many things that seem specific to publishing, but really they’re not. They’re replicated throughout our society. Still in 2014, they’re pervasive enough to drive a crazy girl sane. We just can’t give up and we can’t burrow in.

So how diverse is this list?

The list totaled 98 books.

31 were written by or with male authors.

23 were placed outside the US and/or written by non US authors.

14 were written by a person of color or had a person of color as a main character.

10 featured characters who are either gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

10 are clearly historical fiction.

8 featured characters who were differently-abled.

2 feature music.

1 features sports.

I considered counting the number that are speculative fiction, but there are so many that blur the line! There are books that are mystical, magical, mysterious, monstrous and those that are so painful that they will bring you to tears.

So, my office is clean. BYFA books are on their way to high school libraries in Indiana. And, I’m digging into writing for tenure.

Miscellaneous Tuesday with New Releases

I’m working a a post about BFYA but it the meantime, I have a post to kick off February.

BrownBook Shelf always kicks it off with their 28 Days Later Campaign. The featured author today is Jason Reynolds, {WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST; Atheneum Books for Young Readers; 2014).

I’m going back to only linking to my Pinterest Boards for new releases. I do also still maintain my annual list of releases as well. My lists go back to 2006 when I first started blogging.

February Releases

I learned about the Etisalat Prize for Literature in a recent email which contained the following information.

The Etisalat Prize for Literature is the first ever pan-African prize celebrating first-time writers of published fiction books. It is unique in that it also aims to promote the publishing industry at large and will therefore purchase 1000 copies of all shortlisted books which will be donated to various schools, book clubs and libraries across the African continent.

As one of the publishers who has a title on the shortlist, Colleen Higgs of Madjai Books is assisting Ebi Atawodi, the prize administrator, to identify libraries, book-clubs and similar organisations in Africa that might like to receive a set of each of the short-listed titles.

Please can you help identify library recipients of these books. If you can, please contact Colleen Higgs at <>.

Information about the shortlisted titles appears below, with links at the end. Full information is at <>

In yet another email, I received the following information from the Library of Congress Center for the Book.

The Library of Congress Center for the Book is pleased to announce that
the 2014 Library of Congress Literacy Awards Program is now accepting
applications. Through the generosity of David M. Rubenstein, the
Literacy Awards honor organizations that have made outstanding
contributions to increasing literacy in the United States and abroad.
The three winners will be announced at the National Book Festival on
August 30, 2014. This will be followed in October by an awards ceremony
and formal presentations by the winners at the Library of Congress.
The program is accepting applications from now until the March 31, 2014,
deadline. Visit> to download the
application and find further instructions.