2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Ending Out the Year

I know, I know! It’s been a while. Please know that I have no intentions of walking away from this blog. I think promoting literacy for teens of color as well as promoting authors of color and their works is too important. Life sometimes just gets in the way. This is going to be a quick post and it will be my last until well into January. I will post new releases for that month and hope to mention debut authors of color. It would be great if you help me out by taking the time to mention some of them in the comments. I’ve got several authors to interview and even more book reviews to put to paper. I’d like to follow up on some of 2014 debut authors and look at some of the ways YAs are creating and connecting with books. And, I’d like to commit more to self published authors.

January will have me judging the final rounds of young adult non-fiction for the CYBILS. The finalists will be announced soon. I need to update another list on the Birthday Party Pledge. Have you taken the pledge? The pledge is a simple way to act on your commitment to diversity in children’s literature: you simple deciding to give books written by an author of color for children’s birthday presents.

I’ve acted upon my commitment to diversity and social justice by adopting a local classroom. I’m simply donate books to the 3rd grade’s classroom library. In Indiana this is a critical year because 3rd graders are given a crucial literacy test that year. Getting books close to those children will be very important!

Late January will find me in Chicago for ALA Midwinter. In addition to attending sessions and picking up ARCs in the exhibit hall, I’ll be attending and ALSC diversity event and Unknownpresenting during the Ignite Session. My session is “The Kids Are Not All White” and will be presented that Sunday of the conference.

Hmm January is sounding kind of busy! I don’t have any other conferences planned for 2015, so it will all be a surprise to me at this point. 2015 will be the year I buy my domain (no!! I’m not going anywhere!) and get serious with my production of instructional videos. Maybe I’ll even go back to doing book review videos of which there was that one.

The Twinjas are holding it down this month with their second annual Diversity Month celebration. The month is almost over and gives a great opportunity to read back over posts from Maya Gonzales, Hannah Gomez, Zetta Elliott, Justina Ireland, Joseph Bruchac and many, many more.

A special shout out to librarian Amy Cheney who took the time to chase down Fame of Thrones by Amir Abrams (K-Teen). It’s actually the same book as Lights, Love and Lip Gloss and means there was only one book released by an author of color this month. One book.

2014 was a year for me to ‘shine’. As with other Words of the Year that I’ve chose, ‘shine’ gave me new ways to grow and to perceive the world around me. 2015 will challenge me with diligence. While ‘diligence’ can be seen simply as remaining productively faithful to something or someone, it is a seen as a virtue in three of the world’s major religions. In 2015 I will be diligent and I will travel! Whatever 2015 brings your way, I hope it fills you with, peace, love and good books!

book review: Bad Luck Girl

9780375869402title: Bad Luck Girl

author Sarah Zettel

date: May, 2104

main character: Calliope Margaret LeRoux de Minuit (Callie)

reading level: 5.0


Bad Luck Girl is the third book in the American Fairy Trilogy. Zettel quickly provides background information, making it easy to enjoy this installment without having read the others in the series. (I happened to have picked up this book along the way and really hope I get a chance to pick up the others as well!)

Callie was raised in Kansas by her White, human mother and hadn’t spent time with her Black, fairy father until this book. Consequently, she knew little of her fairy powers including the fact that she had special powers that allowed her to open and close gates between the fairy and human world. In the previous book, Callie accidentally killed a Seelie princess, causing a war. Callie and her family had to find someplace safe to go. Papa is trying to teach Callie how to use her magic, how to read the world around her and where her responsibilities lie, but these prove to be difficult lessons to a 12 year old who doesn’t forsee the consequences for her irresponsibility. Callie, her parents, and Jack (Callie’s friend) try to travel across country to New York City where there are places that they can be safe and along the way they meet situations that prove to be trials for Callie. How will her family escape the Seelies and what will it take to restore order in the fairlyworld? And, who can she trust along the way? Such provocative dilemmas!!

Zettel layers fairy lore upon the life of a mixed race young girl in Depression Era America. Each of these elements adds a richness to the story without weighing it down. Readers will consider what it felt like for Callie and her family to travel together on a train in Chicago as well as they’ll consider the whether the relationship between humans and fairies is ever one of mutual benefit. It’s difficult to critique a third book in a series for character development because much of it probably happens in previous books. Papa was new to the series in the book and he proved to be an exceptionally complex individual. Callie continues to learn about herself (and her powers) throughout this book. She’s a complex, atypical 12/13 year old girl (she has a birthday in the book) and a blast of fun to get to know!

Sarah Zettel is the author of adult and young adult books which include speculative fiction, mysteries and historical books. Her YA books include the Palace of Spies series. Dust Girl and Golden Girl are part of the American Fairy Trilogy.

Golden-Girl-cover1-220x336 Dust-Girl-mmpb1-220x328

book review: The Crossover

title: The CrossoverFC9780544107717

author: Kwame Alexander

date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2014

Main Character: Josh “Filthy McNasty” Bell

reading level 4-3

Kwame Alexander tells the story of Josh Bell in verse. Josh is 13, has a twin brother Jordan, and by his own account is star of the school’s basketball team. His mom is his school’s assistant principal and his dad is not currently employed. Dad was once a basketball phenom himself and only through his sons’ snooping do we find out what happened to his career.

The short verses employed to tell the story make it appear to be a rather simple story, however Alexander weaves several layers of problems into what is a rather complex tale. There is the issue of the father’s health (he may have high blood pressure but won’t take care of himself), Jordan’s new girlfriend (Josh feels left out and perhaps even jealous) and the state basketball tournament (they’re contenders!). And of course school remains a concern as Josh worries about his academic success. He hopes to use his basketball skills to get into Duke. To illustrate Josh’s scholarly achievements, Alexander strategically plants vocabulary terms throughout the book. I’ve always found this off-putting and can’t say Alexander does better with this strategy than anyone else.

I’m not always a fan of tales told in verse. Too often those lines should be paragraphs and there’s a lack of anything poetic in the writing. However, I think Alexander gets it and flows quite well in this style of writing. While the sparseness of words may attract young readers, they will not get a simple story!

There were a few things I questioned in the story. Toward the end, I really didn’t understand why the boys were at the game rather than with their dad. I also thought Jordan and a teammate named Vondie could have been better developed, but I don’t know that this would matter to a middle schooler reading the book. I think they’d recognize the friction that develops between the boys when one of them gets a girlfriend as well as the love that exuded between the boys and their parents. Which is why I think the boys would have showed up for their dad.

All in all, an enjoyable read!

Book Reviews: The Alternative Series

book review: The Alternatives by Patrick Jones

Darby Creek/Lerner Books 2014






Based upon information on his website, I can tell you that Patrick Jones is a white male, a former teen librarian turned author who is extremely passionate about reluctant teen readers, for whom he’s written over 20 books. He’s received lifetime achievement awards from both the Catholic Library Association, and the American Library Association. He released the Alternatives series mid 2014. Each book features a different teen who transfers to Rondo Alternative High School. Outburst feels like the first book in the series because it does the most to introduce the school and its staff, but the books really can be read in any order. Characters flow in and out of the separate books, bringing readers a sense of familiarity to the story.

FC9781467744843Outburst features Jada, an African American female who has anger issues. She punched her mother after she told Jada that she (Jada) never changes. To stay out of the court system, Jada has to change her habits, her friends and her thoughts.

Rachel provides the narrative voice in Controlled. She’s an upper middle class white female on the track to college and suddenly, in the middle of her senior year, her cousin shows up on her family’s doorstep. They take

Misty in, FC9781467744836and all the turmoil that comes with her. Misty attends Rondo.

Bridge is the story of José, an undocumented immigrant who works two jobs and does all the translating for his family. (I’m just realizing I didn’t read this one!)

Frankie belongs to the Dakota Nation and just moved from the Riverwood
FC9781467744829Reservation to Minneapolis. His cousins, members of the First Nation Mafia, find Frankie as quickly as trouble finds him at school. He transfers to Rondo and his story is Target.

Jessica is a biracial teen with social anxiety disorder. The staff at Rondo can help her special needs better than other schools. Jessica transfers so that she can develop skills necessary to communicate with others. Barrier is her book.

FC9781467744850These books average just over 100 pages in length and are fairly quick, smooth reads. They have just enough grit to appeal to teens with challenging lives, yet the stories are pat and perfect. Teens from lower income families leave their homes and go to Rondo, listen to the cast of sage adults and their lives are made better. Yes, it is necessary to give teens hope, and adults will often have answers, simple answers to help teens live easier lives. But the adults providing the answers here fit just one

FC9781467744812more stereotype that abound in these books: the noble sage.

Jessica’s story is a unique to YA lit: a biracial teen with an emotional disorder. Yet, the crux of her biracial identity hinges upon her “nightmare” hair (and we don’t see out of control hair on the cover!). Frankie, Indian name Brave Eagle, is struggling to live a good life but he’s continually confronted by both his cousins and his father to give into the gang life. When it gets particularly tough, he goes home to his wise old grandfather where he visits sweat lodges while local women pray to Ojibwan ancestors to guide their children. Why didn’t other teens go to their faith for strength?

Of course Jada is an angry black female. Here, she’s sizing up the girls at her school.

Jada buried her smile. She’d wanted to hit somebody up for a phone since she had started at Rondo, but she couldn’t get a read on most people. Like at all schools, there were cliques, and none of them seemed open to her. The Hispanic girls went their own way. The other black girls talked too much and too loud for Jada’s taste, but the queen bee, Yvette, was the worst. Every morning at breakfast, she jumped to the front of the line. Today Jada had pushed back – and pushed herself out of any chance of joining up with Yvette’s group. Some of the white girls seems okay, but Jada could tell most were troubled – and trouble- except maybe Jessica. No doubt she was troubled too, but it seemed like she meant no harm to anyone else. Like me, Jada thought. (Outburst, p. 38)

Jones explains his research process in most of the books. He admits Outburst is not meant to be a single story of African American females teens and that he had three African American female teens proofread his manuscript. He conducted his own research for Target (I’m not sure what that means) and talked with Brent Chartier with whom he has previously co-authored books. Chartier’s expertise on Native American ceremonies comes from his “time working at an American Indian health clinic in Michigan.” (Target, p.118)

Jones delivered cohesive stories, but failed in their cultural delivery. They failed to honor from where these young people came both in terms or race, nationality and class. If he’d gotten that right, these could have been very powerful books.




Gay. Black. YA.

During a presentation I made in early November, I was asked about YA books for working class, gay African American males. That was a tough one! I thought about Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd but that doesn’t really fit the bill (It’s upper class, New Adult) so I asked Craig Laurance Gidney and Malindo Lo for some help with this one.  Some have a gay Black male teen as the main character and in others, he’s a supporting character in these stories that cut across genres. These are the titles we came up with. Know of others? Please tell! I believe some very obvious titles are missing.

A Visitation of Spirits by Randal Keenan Sixteen-year old Horace Cross is plagued by issues that hover in his impressionable spirit and take shape in his mind as loathsome demons, culminating in one night of horrible and tragic transformation. In the face of Horace’s fate, his cousin Reverend James “Jimmy” Green questions the values of a community that nourishes a boy, places their hopes for salvation on him, only to deny him his destiny. Told in a montage of voices and memories, A Visitation of the Spirits just how richly populated a family’s present is with the spirits of the past and the future. (Grove Press, 1989)

Putting MakeUp on the Fat Boy by Bil Wright Carlos Duarte knows that he’s fabulous. He’s got a better sense of style than half the fashionistas in New York City, and he can definitely apply makeup like nobody’s business. He may only be in high school, but when he lands the job of his dreams–makeup artist at the FeatureFace counter in Macy’s–he’s sure that he’s finally on his way to great things. But the makeup artist world is competitive and cutthroat, and for Carlos to reach his dreams, he’ll have to believe in himself more than ever. (Simon and Schuster, 2011)

Sunday You Learn to Box by Bil Wright Fourteen-year-old Louis Bowman lives in a boxing ring—a housing project circa 1968—and is fighting “just to get to the end of the round.” Sharing the ring is his mother, Jeanette Stamps, a ferociously stubborn woman battling for her own dreams to be realized; his stepfather, Ben Stamps, the would-be savior, who becomes the sparring partner to them both; and the enigmatic Ray Anthony Robinson, the neighborhood “hoodlum” in purple polyester pants, who sets young Louis’s heart spinning with the first stirrings of sexual longing. (Simon and Schuster, 2000)

Bereft by Craig Laurance Gidney Rafael Fannen is a 14-year old boy who has won a minority scholarship to Our Lady of the Woods, an all male Catholic college preparatory school.  Winning the scholarship quickly turns into a nightmare, as Rafe has to deal with the racism of his fellow students. Things quickly spin out of control when he is targeted by a vicious bully. (2013, Tiny Satchel Press)

When Rafe decides to fight back and take control of his life, the lives of everyone around him will change. But none more than his own.

Dramarama by E. Lockhart

Two theater-mad, self-invented

fabulositon Ohio teenagers.

One boy, one girl.

One gay, one straight.

One black, one white.


It’s a season of hormones,

gold lame,

hissy fits,

jazz hands,

song and dance,

true love,

and unitards

that will determine their future

–and test their friendship. (Hyperions, 2008)

Proxy by Alex London Knox was born into one of the City’s wealthiest families. A Patron, he has everything a boy could possibly want—the latest tech, the coolest clothes, and a Proxy to take all his punishments. When Knox breaks a vase, Syd is beaten. When Knox plays a practical joke, Syd is forced to haul rocks. And when Knox crashes a car, killing one of his friends, Syd is branded and sentenced to death.Syd is a Proxy. His life is not his own.

Then again, neither is Knox’s. Knox and Syd have more in common than either would guess. So when Knox and Syd realize that the only way to beat the system is to save each other, they flee. Yet Knox’s father is no ordinary Patron, and Syd is no ordinary Proxy. The ensuing cross-country chase will uncover a secret society of rebels, test both boys’ resolve, and shine a blinding light onto a world of those who owe and those who pay. Some debts, it turns out, cannot be repaid.

A fast-paced, thrill-ride of novel full of non-stop action, heart-hammering suspense and true friendship—just as moving as it is exhilarating. Fans of Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series, James Dashner’s Maze Runner, Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series, and Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy will be swept away by this story. (Philomel, 2014)

Zero Fade by Chris Terry

Zero Fade” chronicles eight days in the life of inner-city Richmond, Virginia, teen Kevin Phifer as he deals with wack haircuts, bullies, last year’s fly gear, his uncle Paul coming out as gay, and being grounded. (Curbside Splendor, 2013)

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson The lush city of Palmares Tres shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist. Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Tres. will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die. (Arthur A. Levine, 2013)

Five Miles to Empty by Harold Imes When Franklin Dell lived in Denver Colorado he and his group of friends sold candy in their middle school, fought gang violence and enjoyed a nearly peaceful seventh grade year. Franklin has always bragged about Winston-Salem, North Carolina was his dream home. He enjoyed the predominantly African American city and wants nothing more than to leave the thuggish, ruggish gangster ways of Denver behind. Upon arriving in Winston-Salem, he finds that the city is nothing how he imagined it being from his summer visits from Denver. He can’t get a long with anyone at Hanes Middle School except for Mike Lane, a fourteen year old bad ass who happens to be gay. As Franklin and Mike grow up, they find that friendship is important and help each other face discrimination, sexual trials, fatherhood and off to college they go. But when something happens to potentially end one of their lives and their friendship, will these young men be able to face their challenges together? (Abednego’s Free, 2007)

Finlander by Shawn Stewart Ruff In this acclaimed debut — winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Debut Fiction 2008, and finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction — the course of growing up in just-this-side-of-segregation 1970s Cincinnati, Ohio, seems predictable if uninspiring for Cliffy Douglas. That is, until the deadbeat father of this gifted 13-year-old black kid from the Findlater Gardens Projects appears out of nowhere. The real fun and trouble begin when Noah, a Jewish boy he meets in junior high school, takes him on a joyride to love and first lust. (Quote Editions, 2008)

Descriptions from amazon.com




book review: Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood

title: Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood

9780807563632author: Varsha Bajaj

date: March 2014

main character: Abby Spencer


When Abby has a traumatic reaction to coconut, her mom realizes that it’s time to bring Abby’s dad into the picture. What else might Abby have inherited from him? Of course, Abby has always wanted to know her dad and she’s always daydreamed about him. Reality turns out to be larger than what she ever imagined because her dad is a huge Bollywood star. Her father is a person with an incredible career but he’s also quite human so, his first reaction is to invite his daughter to come to Mumbai to visit him and his mother so that Abby can get to know her family.

Bajaj takes a story that has a glamorous appeal and manages to be believable. Rather than giving us an exotic India, she exposes young readers to the Bollywood scene and blends in harsh realities of the country in a meaningful but light-handed way. Abby’s dad is the most popular star in India, but he lives in a home with his mother and he employs people he trusts to manage his home and tend to his daughter when he’s working. There were a few glitches in the advanced copy that I read, but nothing to distract from this highly entertaining book. I’m sure it will appeal to young teens who enjoy to daydream, wonder and fantasize about their lives.

This is Varsha Bajaj’s debut novel. She was born in Mumbai, India and came to the US in the early 1980s.