book review: Peas and Carrots

title: Peas and Carrots
author: Tanita S. Davis
date: Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; February 2016
main characters: Hope Carter and Odessa (Dess) Matthews
young adult realistic fiction

Hope is used to her family taking in foster children, but she’s not used to having a foster sister so close to her own age. Her parents are already caring for Jamaira, an infant whose brain is calcifying, and Austin but when Austin’s older sister needs a placement, it’s a no brainer to place her in the home with her younger brother. The Carters are an upper middle class African American family who feel they have blessings to share. Odessa is a young white teen who has been bounced around enough to have a few edges. In the Carter home, there is one rule and that’s kindness. “Speak with kindness or choose not to speak.” This simply seemingly hokey rule brings with it the assumption that all people deserve kindness regardless their degree of privilege. Kindness proves to be disabling and it proves to be a timely message in these political times.

While the story is told in two voices, only Dess is empowered through the use of first person. She internally acknowledges that her foster family is black, as I suspect any white teen would do in such a situation, and but her issues are not with the family or their ethnicity. Rather, they are with Hope (aka ‘Hopeless’), the person with whom she spend most if not all her time. Dess’ other conflicts are internal and the peace Davis creates within this family gives Dess the room to wrestle her demons. Hope too, has an internal wrestling match, mostly about how she’s met her and her family’s expectations.

Hope is a short, plump brown skin girl whose physical features could be ripe for attack except her physical features aren’t an area of weakness for Hope. Unfortunately, this Hope isn’t represented on the cover. Rather, we’re given a tall, think light skin girl. We’re also given a brunette Dess when the character is blond. These flaws can be annoying to readers.

Throw in everyone’s favorite uncle, Aunt Henry, and colorful and generous grandmother and we get a typical American family. In what I hope is a growing trend of YA, parents maintain a solid role in the story. While the girls are left alone to work through their issues, parents are not isolated from the action.

Without giving anything away, I’ll say that yes, I did like the ending.

I also have to say that I am a true fan of Tanita Davis’ works. She brings the diverse realities of life to her writing, working her characters through complex and unique situations that fully engage her readers. Tanita did send me a copy of this book to review and I truly did love it. If I hadn’t, this review would look very different.

Tanita S. Davis is an award winning author whose  other books include Mare’s War, Happy Families  and A La Carte. 

Edited 29 March 2016

We Are Seeds

Wikipedia defines intentionality as “the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for things, properties and states of affairs” and should not be confused with intention. I think it’s only when beliefs are a part of us that that give us a power of mind. I think about my own intentionality and how well my professed ideas match the life I live, and how often this same concept holds true for authors and the words they write.

I wish I’d taken better notes yesterday when I attended Paul Fleischman’s author talk. I started to Tweet it, but when you get caught under a storyteller’s spell, it’s easy to forget Outside_portrai-330-expabout Twitter. Fleischman’s visit was part of the Bayh College of Education’s diversity initiative. The college decided to sponsor a one book, one read and at the suggestion of Dr. Mary Howard Hamilton, Seedfolks was chosen as the book. As the library’s liaison to the BCOE, I was invited to join a group and to read and discuss with a members of the college. We met over the summer while the community garden to which I belong was in full bloom and there were several other gardeners in the group as well. We were able to springboard from discussing the book and our garden experiences to sharing bits of our individual lives, getting to know each other in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise. I regret that the members of my group and the seeds that we planted (literally. We planted marigold seeds after our last meeting.) are over in another building and I don’t get to see them very often. Gardens and good books are just good ways to bring people together.

As a highlight to the reading experience, the college, along with the office of Academic FC9780064472074Affairs, brought the book’s author, Paul Fleischman to campus. He was able to visit our community garden and pre-service teachers, but not local schools because they are engaged in standardized testing.

Fleischman talked about how he developed Seedfolks into a book and how he next went on to write The Matchbox Diary. Actually, he began by talking about his father’s Russian ancestry, spinning stories about his dad throughout his presentation.

I enjoy hearing authors talk about their writing process, about the idea that sparked a book or the way they selected a title for a book, but when authors speak about diversity and FC9780763646011inclusion, my heart perks up. Diversity is not the only thing I hear, but for me these days it’s the important thing I hear.

Fleischman never mentioned the ‘d’ word. He never talked about inclusion, justice or equality. Well, not directly. Fleischman give witness to a life that is diverse, is inclusive and seeks justice and equality. He mentioned that student who ambles across the street as you, the driver sits and waits for them to journey from here to there. I’ve experienced that student and I’ve wanted to Tweet about that slow moving student. But, Fleischman has a wisdom I don’t. He made us aware of how FC9780064460934disconnected this self-indulgent student must be from their community and, he went on to talk about how we can enfold young people into our communities. He talked about inviting community members, those who fought for civil rights or those who own local businesses into the classrooms. His examples were diverse and inclusive, reflecting his own experiences. He spoke of his teacher’s move from the west coast to the South by recanting his wife’s experience on the bus. She sat down in a seat only to experience the Black women near her get up and move further to the rear of the bus. Speaking these stories out loud validates them and the people in the story. He equated gardening with diversity when he stated “diversity makes for a strong ecosystem the same way it makes for a resilient community.”

I spoke briefly with Fleischman afterwards and thanked him for advocating for diversity in such an authentic way. He annihilated that train of thought about how to help white writers to write diversity. LIVE. IT. He was actually seemed shocked that I found the diversity in his presentation, in his life because it’s just who he is. Fleischman isn’t a #DiversityJedi, that’s not his intention. But, his honest, intentional message is one that we need. His text is inclusive, not locked into a subtext of Whiteness. We spoke about the importance of diverse books and the need for all people to be able to tell their stories.

Seedfolks has been developed for stage and will be performed as a one woman show in Chicago from 5-22 May. It is a wonderful story, a slight, easy to read novel that is filled with messages, symbols and memorable characters. Fleischmann did give us the name of his forthcoming book, but I wasn’t taking notes. Whether you’re trying to figure out how to write more diversely or want to read books that reflect the world around you, do read something by Paul Fleischman. I’m not sure what’s next on the BCOE’s agenda but I think the experience with Seedfolks will be tough to follow.

book review: Freedom in Congo Square

IMG_1359title: Freedom in Congo Square
author: Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrator: R. Gregory Christie
date: Little Bee Books/Bonnier Publishing, 2016
picture book


Freedom in Congo Square is all about Sunday.

From Monday through Saturday, life without work is rare. The enslaved men and women labor in straight lines.

Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie tell of the work, the fear and the underlying thought of one day in freedom in Congo Square. Here, the enslavement transcend into free movements, curvaceous, rhythmical movements.


“It was a market and a gathering ground where African Music could resound.”

Freddi Williams Evans, historian and Congo Square expert has written a forward to the book that squarely explains and sets the stage for the book. Readers know Congo Square is a real place with a long history that began when enslaved Africans gathered there on Sunday, the holy day, to attend church, sell food, dance and listen to music. Here, where enslaved people could gather with family and friends on this one day they owned. yes indeed, slaves smiled.

They knew from where they came.


The simple telling, the undercurrent of hope, message of resistance and the bold, imaginative artwork give way to a narrative that is quite appropriate for any age child

book review: My Name is Henry Bibb

FC9781553378136title: My Name is Henry Bibb: A story of slavery and freedom
by: Afua Cooper
date: Kids Can Press, 2009
main character: Henry Bibb
middle grade biography



The light hurt my eyes so I kept them closed. I was drowsy, lulled by my mother’s cooing and the warmth of her body. Then I heard her say, “Listen, little one I have a story to tell you.” I suddenly grew alert. “You are as beautiful as the sun.” Then she began, in a sad but sweet voice.”

My Name is Henry Bibb is a biography of Henry Bibb, a black man who escaped slavery in Kentucky and found freedom in Canada. By devoting his live to the freedom of others, he has a become a significant figure in Afro Canadian history. Bibb authored his autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave in 1849.

Afua Cooper’s biography begins with Bibb’s birth and takes us up to his escape to Canada. Her epilogue describes Bibb’s later years but nowhere does she cite her sources. Bibbs was the subject of her dissertation. Cooper is recognized for her poetry and her skill to say more with fewer words is made evident in this book.

Cooper never relates that Bibb is the son of Kentucky state senator James Bibb, she lets this be Henry’s story. His mother planted the seed of freedom early when she spoke of Africans walking on water, telling Henry that so much more was within him. Through the character Shadrach, readers find that escape can be mental or physical. Henry performed many acts of resistance but he could not continue to survive under the conditions imposed upon him.

By not straying from the daily beatings and struggles  that Henry faced, Cooper leads the reader to understand that running away from his enslavement was the only option for him. Only freedom will bring him the peace he needs.

Cooper’s writing allows readers to begin to understand the complexities of enslavement and how black men and women, particularly Henry Bibb, fought against it.


My week began at a campus wide workshop on social justice. I looked forward to hearing something new and different on this topic, but not to the intense level of personal sharing, not on a Monday morning and not with a crowd somewhat unaware of entitlements. The presenters, Kathy Obear and Vernon Wall, were excellent and I believe appropriately met people where they were. I can’t let my own ‘just tell me what I need to know’ attitude ignore the power of a workshop that pushed people to engage and discuss about personal experiences with entitlement. It’s the personal experience that makes all the difference when you don’t really know people who live outside your ethnic, gender or ability experience. Books can provide these experiences, too.

Obear and Wall kept referring to research that documents the importance of diversity in the workplace and my thoughts kept wandering to information industries (entertainment, technology and publishing) that lack diversity.

I’ve so far traced the diversity movement, the call for better representation of African American children back to the 1930s. While I’m sure it can go back further and deeper by looking at Latinos, Native Americans, Asians and those who are LGBTQIA fighting separate and similar fights, when you look at these years and years of knocking on the door, don’t you have to wonder how much longer we’ll keep knocking, and why? I often wonder why more haven’t followed Lee & Low or Just Us books to create publishing companies for marginalized people. I know there are many such as Zetta Elliott, Kwame Alexander, Myles Johnson, Kwame Nyong’o and Innosanto Nagara who have done their own publisher and I know libraries are doing more and more to support local, independent writers. Will this movement continue to grow? There is no more work in marketing for beginning writings whether they are self-published or with a traditional publisher, so why not?

Today’s NY Times features an article by Molly McCardle that moves us beyond counting books and workers, beyond breaking down 100 years worth of reasoning for better representation and puts the next move squarely with publishers. She tells them essentially to get with the 21st century. Because, as noted above, authors do not need publishers to be able to deliver their stories to readers.

I went on a tirade on Twitter the other day just tired of “what will you say to white writers who want to write diverse stories”? I’m tired of de-centering the need for diversity, of moving away from the fact that marginalized stories need to tell their own stories. I would ask those white writers what are they willing to do to get more authors of color to press? I would ask if they realize there are publishers who will look at two books, both with African American characters, one written by a white author and one by a black author and they will choose print the book by the white author. I would ask those white authors how often they purchase and promote books by queer authors. I’d say if you’re going to write diversity, live it. And, I’d say understand that there are unseen forces at work. A book can be written by a white author with not a single marginalized character but can still work to promote social justice and equity, can still exist sans Whiteness and can do this unintentionally by one who lives social justice and equity.

Believe it or not, I haven’t been dwelling on diversity this week!  The weather is nice and I’m walking more. I’ve planted garlic and pulled out the seed catalogs. I’ve gotten a couple of coloring books themed on ‘harmony’ and I’m still watching ‘Gilmore Girls’. It’s an amazing life when your passion becomes your work, but it’s really important to have outlets that clear your mind and de-stress your being. There’s so much I do to promote diversity that I enjoy! I think I’ve mentioned that we’re about to finalize the We the People Summer Reading List?

I’ve been working on the Digital Public Library’s Open eBooks, a new initiative and e-reader app that will make thousands of popular, top-selling eBooks available to children in need for free. The project worked hard to identify books that represented marginalized children and reacted to how few there really are. I love that this project incorporates technology, building on other literacies for young people. Yes, this is a double edge sword that cuts away those with no Internet in their homes, but thank goodness for libraries who do provide this access. The initiative was announced by Michelle Obama.

Open eBooks is not a federal program; it was created by a breakthrough coalition of literacy, library, publishing, and technology organizations who worked together over the past year to make the initiative possible. This team – Digital Public Library of America, First Book, and The New York Public Library with content support from digital books distributor Baker & Taylor – created the app, curated the eBook collection, and developed a system for distribution and use. They received support for development of technology critical to the app from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and content contributions from ten major publishers — including today’s big announcement that National Geographic will include all its age-appropriate content in the app.

For more information, or to sign up, visit Please share this link with parents and teachers so that we can get and keep our children reading.

And that’s what it’s all about: getting and keeping our children reading.

This week, I’ll be reviewing Tanita Davis’ new book, visiting my dentist and going to see a local production of Nathan Louis Jackson’s “Broke-ology”.

Here’s to a week filled with doing our best. I really like this quote from Vernon Wall, “May the work I’ve done speak for me.”







Guest Post: Enslavement of Native Peoples

The following post is contributed to my series on enslavement from Debbie Reese. Debbie is  tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico. She is an advocate for diversity in children’s literate and has been blogging for almost ten years at American Indians in Children’s Literature. Here, she discusses the earliest enslavement in the United States.

reeseI’m pleased to contribute this blog post to Edi Campbell. For the month of February, she focused her blog posts on books about slavery. My contribution is a look at the enslavement of Native peoples.

My guess is that a good many of you read “enslavement of Native peoples” and did a double take. You did that with good reason. The enslavement of Native peoples is a part of history that is not taught in school. Some of you might be squinting your eyes and thinking back to something you read… You might then say “Oh, yeah, Squanto! Wasn’t there something about him being kidnapped and sold into slavery?”

The answer to that question is yes. That is why he knew English and could talk to the pilgrims in 1620 when the Mayflower landed. Four years earlier, he was one of over 20 men who were kidnapped by Thomas Hunt (he was captain of one of the ships in John Smith’s expedition) and taken to Malaga, Spain where they were sold.  He managed to get back, but the reason he knew English is usually not included in children’s books about him or about the First Thanksgiving. He was one of thousands of Native peoples who were enslaved.

In recent years, there’s been an increase in attention to Indigenous enslavement. Here’s a few examples.

Allan Gallay, in his 2003 book, The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South 1620-1717, wrote that from 1670 to 1720, more Indigenous people were shipped out of Charleston South Carolina, than Africans who were imported to be enslaved.

In 2014, Jace Weaver’s The Red Atlantic: American Indigenes and the Making of the Modern World, 1000-1927, was published. In it, he writes that 600,000 Native people were taken aboard ships to Europe, to be sold into slavery.

In her 2015 book, Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and Slavery, Margaret Ellen Newell writes about the absence of this history, saying that we know more about the relatively few Euro-American captives among the Indians than we do about the thousands of Native Americans who served European masters in New England. She’s talking about white women like Miriam Willard in Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare, and Mary Jemison in Lois Lenski’s Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison.

Let’s hope that people who write for children and young adults are reading about the enslavement of Native peoples, and that we’ll see books for children that bring this dark history out of the shadows. Let’s also hope that people who write stories about that “First Thanksgiving” give us more information about Squanto, too.

Follow Debbie on Twitter @debreese

February Book Deals



Tomo Explores the World by author-illustrator Trevor Lai, the founder of UP Studios, a leading animation studio in China, has a three-book deal. The picture book series is about a young inventor who, with the help of his best friend and dog, sets out to complete the unfinished tasks in his great grandfather’s Adventure Journal. Publication is slated for October 2016.

 The Seekers, a picture book by Hari & Deepti, using cut-paper illustrations, about members of a village that set out an adventure when their water dries up, and a second untitled picture book. Publication is scheduled for spring 2018.

They Both Die at the End a second untitled YA novel by Adam Silvera. Set in a near-future New York City where a service alerts people on the day they will die, the novel follows teens Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio, who meet using the Last Friend app and are faced with the challenge of living a lifetime on their End Day. Publication is slated for fall 2017.

My Grandpa’s Chair by debut author-illustrator Jiyeon Pak. It the story of a girl’s efforts to help her grandfather find a new chair, and help him overcome grief at the same time. Publication is planned for fall 2017.

Along the Indigo by Elise Chapman. In the story, a young woman is under pressure to start working at a brothel; desperate for a way out, she forges a connection with a boy whose tragic past is more connected with her own than either of them realizes. Publication is planned for fall 2017.

Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea, a memoir that portrays contemporary North Korea to a young audience, written by Sungju Lee and Susan Elizabeth McClelland. The memoir chronicles Lee’s adolescence, after he was forced at age 12 to live on the streets and fend for himself, surviving by thieving, fighting, begging, and stealing rides on cargo trains. Publication is scheduled for September 2016.

Pilu of the Woods, written and illustrated by Mai Nguyen. The book centers on the friendship between a girl with anger issues, Willow, and a tree spirit, Pilu. Publication is slated for 2018. Oni Press

by YA debut author Ibi Zoboi’s. Infused with magical realism and the author’s own experiences, this coming-of-age story follows a Haitian immigrant girl thrust into the world of Detroit’s west side; as Fabiola struggles to get her mother out of a U.S. detention center she’s forced to confront the true meaning of family and home, even as she falls in love. Publication is slated for winter 2017. Alloy Entertainment

 Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor, written by Patricia Valdez and illustrated by Felicita Sala, a picture book biography of the pioneering female scientist in the early 1900s who loved reptiles as a child and grew up to design the Reptile House at the London Zoo. Publication is slated for spring 2018. Knopf

Want by author Cindy Pon. A near-future thriller set in Taipei, the novel follows a group of teens living on the fringes of a highly divided society that only works for the elite. They risk everything when they decide to take matters into their own hands and save a pollution-choked Taiwan. Publication is planned for summer 2017. Simon Pulse

Warcross by Marie Lu about two teen bounty hunters hired by a young billionaire to catch a hacker in the world’s most popular virtual reality video game. Publication is scheduled for 2017. Putnam

Langston Hughes’s That Is My Dream!, to be illustrated by Daniel Miyares, a picture book version of Hughes’s poem “Dream Variation.” Publication is scheduled for fall 2017. Random House/Schwartz & Wade

The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand  by Karuna Riazi toZareen Jaffery.  Victoria Marini at Cake Literary (the outfit founded by Tiny Pretty Things authors Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton) brokered the deal. The novel, dubbed by the agent as a “Middle Eastern magical Jumanji,” tells the story of a Bangladeshi-American girl and her two friends, who must defeat a diabolical board game or be trapped in it forever. The book will appear on Salaam Reads’s inaugural list in 2017.

Shadow Life written by Hiromi Goto and illustrated by Celine Loup. Sally Hardingat the Cooke Agency handled the deal for Goto, while Loup was represented by Meredith Kaffel Simonoff at DeFiore & Company. The publisher said the book follows a woman named Kumiko who escapes her senior living facility while being followed by “Death.” The book is set for 2018. First Second Books