Subscribe to SLJ
Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina, Stacey Robinson, and John Jennings

Publisher’s description

alfonsoAlfonso Jones can’t wait to play the role of Hamlet in his school’s hip-hop rendition of the classic Shakespearean play. He also wants to let his best friend, Danetta, know how he really feels about her. But as he is buying his first suit, an off-duty police officer mistakes a clothes hanger for a gun, and he shoots Alfonso.

When Alfonso wakes up in the afterlife, he’s on a ghost train guided by well-known victims of police shootings, who teach him what he needs to know about this subterranean spiritual world. Meanwhile, Alfonso’s family and friends struggle with their grief and seek justice for Alfonso in the streets. As they confront their new realities, both Alfonso and those he loves realize the work that lies ahead in the fight for justice.

In the first graphic novel for young readers to focus on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, as in Hamlet, the dead shall speak—and the living yield even more surprises.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

What a phenomenal graphic novel. I was completely wrapped up in the world of Alfonso and the ancestors for this story, alternately cheering for activism and hope and crying for injustice and discouragement.

Alfonso is feeling pretty good about life. He loves playing his trumpet, acting, attending his arts high school, being a bike messenger, and flirting with Danetta. The best thing in his life, though, is that his father, who has been incarcerated Alfonso’s entire life, is being released, finally exonerated of a crime he did not commit. But while out shopping for a suit to wear to meet his father, Alfonso is shot and killed by a white off-duty cop. Once dead, Alfonso joins a group of ghosts on a train. These ghosts are the ancestors who are seeking justice and rest. Alfonso learns about their lives and the ways they were killed by police while also going to see scenes from his past as well as what he’s missing in the present. Alfonso is able to see how his parents are coping, to follow the white police officer who killed him, and to see how his name lives on in the media, the justice system, and the many large protests that spring up after his death. An Ancestors Wall at the end lists the names of victims of police violence. This look at the prison industrial complex, the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and the various systems of violence and oppression that have always existed in this country is devastating and important. 

 

ISBN-13: 9781620142639
Publisher: Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Publication date: 10/15/2017

#SJYALit: Teens Taking Action in YA Fiction, a guest post by Robin Talley

sjyalitA lot of the teens I know are more passionate about social justice than the adults in their lives.

Which isn’t surprising. Teens are in the process of forming their identities and opinions, and in many cases, they’re learning about social justice issues or deepening their understanding of them for the first time. In the U.S., with our new terrifying-on-all-levels presidential administration and a congressional majority that’s actively trying to harm many of the very people who voted them into office, plenty of people of all ages are more tuned in to politics than ever before ― and more and more are turning their engagement into hands-on activism.

For teens eager to read about political activism in their fiction, too, here are a few of my favorite recent YAs (and one MG) that showcase teens cutting their activist teeth for the first time.

(Note: Since many of these stories focus on the characters’ arcs toward activism, there may be some mild spoilers in the descriptions below.)

hate-uThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017).

One of the biggest (and certainly one of the best) YA novels of this year, this Black Lives Matter-inspired story focuses on a teenage girl who witnesses a friend’s murder and struggles through grief and complicated community dynamics to speak out about police brutality.

 

 

 

 

 

symptomsSymptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (2016).

Riley, the genderfluid teen narrator, becomes an accidental activist thanks to their posts on a Tumblr-like social network and is forced to decide whether to abandon their online anonymity by taking a stand in person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

this side of homeThis Side of Home by Renée Watson (2015).

High school senior Maya and her twin sister Nikki disagree about the effects of gentrification on their Portland neighborhood. As student council president, Maya embraces her role as a community leader but isn’t sure how to reconcile her feelings about the changes happening around her with her longstanding ambitions.

 

 

 

 

 

all americanAll-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2015).

In alternating chapters, this collaborative novel examines the aftermath of a police officer’s assault on an unarmed teenager from the perspectives of the black victim and a white classmate who witnesses the attack, climaxing in a Black Lives Matter-inspired demonstration.

 

 

 

 

 

the summer princeThe Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (2013).

In this alternate-history sci-fi story, protagonist June Costa starts out as an attention-seeking young artist and slowly finds herself using her art to make a statement greater than herself as she joins a team fighting back against the unethical leadership of her isolated, matriarchal community.

 

 

 

 

 

two boysTwo Boys Kissing by David Levithan (2013).

One of the most-challenged books of last year according to ALA, this novel features several loosely connected stories centered on gay characters, including two teenage boys who try to set the record for the world’s longest kiss as a statement in protest of a hate crime committed against a friend.

 

 

 

 

 

differenceThe Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George (2012).

Two girls engaged in a passionate secret romance ― one closeted, one not ― wind up on opposite sides of a community-wide argument about the influence of a Wal-Mart-like corporation on their town, leading one of the girls to initiate a major protest at their school prom.

 

 

 

 

 

onecrazysummerOne Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (2010).

This middle-grade historical novel follows 11-year-old Delphine as she shepherds her two younger sisters through a tense summer living with their estranged mother in Oakland, Calif., where they attend a summer camp led by the Black Panthers and ultimately play a key role in a rally against injustice.

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Robin Talley

Robin Talley - Low ResRobin Talley is the New York Times bestselling author of four novels for teen readers: Our Own Private Universe, As I Descended, What We Left Behind and Lies We Tell Ourselves, all of which focus on LGBTQ characters. Robin lives in Washington, D.C. with her wife and daughter, and she enjoys reading about queer characters, analyzing Disney movies, and chocolate. You can find her at www.robintalley.com.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Publisher’s description

hate-uInspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Angie Thomas’s searing debut about an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty. Soon to be a major motion picture from Fox 2000/Temple Hill Productions.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

hate u

 

If you routinely read my book reviews here, you might be thinking, dang, does she just LOOOOOVE every single book or what? Yes and no. Yes, I generally really like every book I review here. No, I don’t love all books. I’m in the fortunate position to get a ton of books sent to me to consider reviewing for TLT. I am under no obligation to review any title (as opposed to, say, reviewing for SLJ, where I review whatever I’m sent and may not end up liking the book). If I start something and it’s not for me, I ditch it. Unless I really have something to say about a book that I don’t like, I’m not going to waste my time reading it or reviewing it. Because why.

 

All that’s to say, here comes another gushing review.

 

This book is so important. It’s also so good, but it’s SO IMPORTANT. And I’d say it’s timely, but violence against black people—specifically police violence against black people—is not a new thing. So the story feels very “ripped from the headlines,” but the damn headlines never change. The names of black people murdered by police officers pile up and you know that list is only going to get longer. So yeah, this book feels very of right now—but “right now” is actually a pretty long period of time. It’s things like the mentions of Twitter, of increased media attention on protests and victims’ stories, Tumblr, and other very contemporary things that make it feel like it’s happening RIGHT NOW, right this very second. Again, chalk that up to the fact that the date might change, but the story never does. Plenty of 90s references (thanks to Chris and Starr’s love of Fresh Prince and her parents’ interests and influence) help add to the feel of being timely and timeless all at once. This book will age well, and I write that while heaving a big sigh, because, again, in real life, the damn story never changes.

 

You can read the summary up there if you need to see the gist of the story, but I’m guessing you’ve already read or heard about it elsewhere. This book is all over the place, and rightfully so. I am rarely speechless, but this book left me just wrung out. Thomas puts you right there with Starr and does not hold back. The characters absolutely leap off the page, pulling the reader right in to every single person’s piece of the story. There is not a character who doesn’t feel well-developed and vital to this novel. Thomas gives readers a LOT to think about as we follow Starr’s story. What does it mean for Starr to live in Garden Heights, a predominately black neighborhood marked by drugs and gangs, but go to school at nearly all-white Williamson Prep? How does she code switch as she bounces between her two worlds and who does she show her actual self to? What does it mean for her that her boyfriend is white? How does casual racism play a role in her school life? Why would her family choose to stay in Garden Heights so long when they are financially able to leave if they wanted to? Why would someone sell drugs? Or join a gang? How do you leave that life? And on and on. There is so much to consider, so much that makes this more than just some simple look at the fallout from the death of a black boy at the hands of a white cop. 

 

There’s so much more I could tell you about–Starr’s wonderful and supportive family, the complex interactions between gang members (and ex-gang members), the way you will be cheering out loud when Starr finally finds her voice and begins to speak out about what happened–but the bottom line of all of it is this: This book is profound. It is important. It manages to be funny and devastating at the same time. This intense look at systemic racism, police violence/accountability, and the lives of people affected by both needs to be read by everyone. EVERYONE. It’s only February, but I’d go so far as to say that this is probably the most important book of 2017. 

 

Because we at TLT find this book to be so important and want to help it reach more readers, we are giving away five copies when it comes out. Head on over to the Rafflecopter to enter. Contest ends Friday, February 24. Five winners. US ONLY. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062498533

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 02/28/2017

Book Review: The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

Publisher’s description

educationPretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.

Things/People Margot Hates:
Mami, for destroying her social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
The supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Puerto Rican Margot, who can’t escape her childhood nickname of Princesa, is not thrilled to be spending the summer working at her family’s supermarket in the South Bronx. She had hoped to spend the summer in the Hamptons with her prep school classmates, popular Serena and Camille. That plan fell apart when her parents discovered she stole their credit card and charged a bunch of clothes. Margot, a social climber who’s more than just a little arrogant when we meet her, can’t believe Papi expects her to do actual work while at the supermarket. While there, she meets Moises Tirado, a young community activist who helms a table outside of the store working on getting signatures for a petition to stop a housing complex from being torn down and replaced by high-end condos. Though Margot is drawn to Moises, she looks down on him. Her snooty school friends would never approve. Margot isn’t interested in learning about gentrification or any of the other social justice issues Moises is into. She’s appalled by where he lives. He’s working on his GED. Margot’s family is relatively well off (they are “rich adjacent”) and she’s seen as “the great brown hope” for her family, the one who will become a doctor or a lawyer. Her mother warns her that people are judged by the company they keep, but she can’t help but continue to be interested in Moises.

 

But an “inappropriate” crush and a summer stuck working at a grocery store turn out to be the least of Margot’s worries as a whole bunch of family secrets, stress, and denial finally come to the surface and demand to be dealt with. She’s forced to really reckon with the feeling that she just doesn’t fit in anywhere and start to sort out who it is she wants to be. While many of the secondary characters are rather undeveloped, Margot is complicated and flawed. She makes mistakes and is often insufferably self-absorbed. I wish rather than seeing so many subplots, there would’ve been less going on, but had more pieces explored more in-depth (like her friendships, especially with her former best friend, or more about Moises’s activism and past). The vivid setting and many issues make this a fast read about family, identity, and culture that will appeal to many, including reluctant readers. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481472111

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers

Publication date: 02/21/2017

Books for Trying Times: A Resource List compiled by members of KidLit Resists!

aram kim

Art by Aram Kim Available for use here http://ow.ly/d/5Q4v

Today’s list of resources is brought to you by the members of KidLit Resists! We’re a Facebook group for members of the KidLit community (authors, illustrators, editors, youth librarians, booksellers, and others who create and support picture books, MG books, and YA books) who wish to organize against the current administration’s agenda and support those communities targeted by the administration.

 

If you have other resources to suggest, please put them in the comments or tag me on Twitter, where I’m @CiteSomething.

 

 

 

KidLit Resource List – Books for Trying Times
Compiled by members of the KidLit Resists! Facebook page

 

Lists of recommended books

 

Jane Addams Peace Award books (1953 – present) “The Jane Addams Children’s Book Award annually recognizes children’s books of literary and aesthetic excellence that effectively engage children in thinking about peace, social justice, global community, and equity for all people.”

 

35 Picture Books for Young Activists (from All The Wonders)

 

BOOK LIST: PICTURE BOOKS ABOUT MUSLIM OR MIDDLE EASTERN CHARACTERS (from Lee & Low Books)

 

8 Empowering Middle Grade Novels for Kids Interested in Social Justice (from Barnes & Noble)

 

KitaabWorld: South Asian and diverse children’s books

 

The Brown Bookshelf: United in Story

 

AMELIA BLOOMER PROJECT: RECOMMENDED FEMINIST LITERATURE FOR BIRTH THROUGH 18

 

Refugee picture books (on Pinterest)

 

20 BOOKS ABOUT REFUGEE & IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCES (from All The Wonders)

 

EMPATHY: STEAD’S COMMON THREAD (from All The Wonders)

 

STORIES ABOUT REFUGEES: A YA READING LIST (from Stacked)

 

Activist biographies (YA)

 

TEN YOUNG ADULT BOOKS THAT REFLECT THE US IMMIGRATION EXPERIENCE (from Nerdy Book Club)

 

Books That Respect Kids with Unique Abilities (from All The Wonders)

 

Girl-empowering Books (from A Mighty Girl)

 

We Need Diverse Books

 

Penny Candy Books: A Mission Becomes a Moral Directive (from Publishers Weekly)

 

Teaching Tolerance – a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center

 

30 Of The Best Books To Teach Children Empathy (from TeachThought)

 

19 books to help children find hope and strength in stressful times: A librarian’s list (from The Washington Post)

 

13 Books to Teach Children About Protesting and Activism (from GeekMom)

 

Books inspiring activism and tolerance

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land by John Coy, photos by Wing Young Huie

March (trilogy) by John Lewis (Author), Andrew Aydin (Author), Nate Powell (Artist)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I dissent by Debbie Levy

The Seeds of America Trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson

Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton

This Side of Home by Renee Watson

Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

What Does It Mean To Be Kind? by Rana DiOrio

The Hunt (coming in 2/17) by Margaux Othats

A Gift From Greensboro by Quraysh Ali Lansana, illustrated by Skip Hill

Ambassador by William Alexander

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, illustrations by Yutaka Houlette

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle

 

Recommendations for preschool storytime

A Chair For My Mother and sequels by Vera B. Williams

More, More, More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams

A is for Activist and Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara

The Bus for Us by Suzanne Bloom

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub

Jacqueline Woodson’s picture books

Kadir Nelson’s picture books

SPPL