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Book Review: The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

Publisher’s description

the unwantedIn the tradition of Don Brown’s critically acclaimed, full-color nonfiction graphic novels The Great American Dust Bowl and Sibert Honor winning Drowned CityThe Unwanted is an important, timely, and eye-opening exploration of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, exposing the harsh realities of living in, and trying to escape, a war zone. 

 

Starting in 2011, refugees flood out of war-torn Syria in Exodus-like proportions. The surprising flood of victims overwhelms neighboring countries, and chaos follows. Resentment in host nations heightens as disruption and the cost of aid grows. By 2017, many want to turn their backs on the victims. The refugees are the unwanted.

 

Don Brown depicts moments of both heartbreaking horror and hope in the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. Shining a light on the stories of the survivors, The Unwanted is a testament to the courage and resilience of the refugees and a call to action for all those who read.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m a huge fan of all of Don Brown’s graphic nonfiction. If you are unfamiliar with them, I hope you will check into them and add them to your collections, particularly his stunningly moving book on Hurricane Katrina, Drowned City. This slim volume packs a real punch, filled with information and first-person accounts of Syria’s refugee crisis.

 

Brown provides a very brief overview of the Arab Spring, starting this story with teenage boys writing graffiti (“Down with the regime”) on a wall in Dara’a, in southern Syria, then the arrest and torture of those boys, which sparks a protest for their freedom. Of course, this is just one of many inciting incidents, as the anger is far deeper and more widespread, with Syrians unhappy with Assad’s rule and the corrupt government. The government retaliates against the protesters, with the growth of the protest and violence leading to civil war. Syrians flee to Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, living in tent cities, with friends and family, or in communities in the hills. Violence intensifies when jihadists, including ISIS, join the fight. Brown followers various refugees’ journeys as they escape any way they can. We see people fleeing on foot, on boats, with smugglers, some of them successfully escaping, but many thousands and thousands dying in the process.

 

Brown gives readers a closer look at life both inside and outside of refugee camps. He also shares statistics that help inform the stories he is telling, such as numbers of registered refugees, applications for asylum, and numbers of the dead and missing. He goes on to show the tolls on the countries accepting refugees and the lengths many countries went to to keep refugees out. As sympathies wane, many begin to fear and hate the influx of refugees, whom they see as a threat and drain on resources. As more borders close, more and more people find themselves stranded. One refugees asks the heartbreaking question, “Who cares about us?” Brown takes readers back to Syria, looking at the continued war there, with the eventual exodus of so many who had hoped to be able to wait out the violence and unrest. Brown ends with a family making it to California and speaking about the future. He then includes extensive back matter explaining why he focused this story so closely on the refugee experience without going into the complicated roles that religion, politics, and cultured played in the story. Included are journal summaries from his May 2017 visit to a refugee camp in Greece, lengthy source notes, and a bibliography.

 

It was no surprise to me that Brown so adeptly captures the emotions and weight of this experience. Though, as noted, this book is slight, it is a thorough and affecting look at the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly for younger readers who may just be looking for a quick and basic understanding of what has been going on. The full-color illustrations are dynamic and powerful, whether showing crowded boats, near-empty deserts, or the anguish on the refugees’ faces. This somber, poignant, and deeply sympathetic look at Syrian refugees is as moving as it is informative. A solid addition for all collections. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
ISBN-13: 9781328810151
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/18/2018

Book Review: Dream Country by Shannon Gibney

Publisher’s description

dream countryThe heartbreaking story of five generations of young people from a single African-and-American family pursuing an elusive dream of freedom.

Dream Country begins in suburban Minneapolis at the moment when seventeen-year-old Kollie Flomo begins to crack under the strain of his life as a Liberian refugee. He’s exhausted by being at once too black and not black enough for his African American peers and worn down by the expectations of his own Liberian family and community. When his frustration finally spills into violence and his parents send him back to Monrovia to reform school, the story shifts. Like Kollie, readers travel back to Liberia, but also back in time, to the early twentieth century and the point of view of Togar Somah, an eighteen-year-old indigenous Liberian on the run from government militias that would force him to work the plantations of the Congo people, descendants of the African American slaves who colonized Liberia almost a century earlier. When Togar’s section draws to a shocking close, the novel jumps again, back to America in 1827, to the children of Yasmine Wright, who leave a Virginia plantation with their mother for Liberia, where they’re promised freedom and a chance at self-determination by the American Colonization Society. The Wrights begin their section by fleeing the whip and by its close, they are then the ones who wield it. With each new section, the novel uncovers fresh hope and resonating heartbreak, all based on historical fact.

In Dream Country, Shannon Gibney spins a riveting tale of the nightmarish spiral of death and exile connecting America and Africa, and of how one determined young dreamer tries to break free and gain control of her destiny.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Confession: I have been staring at the blank screen now for 18 minutes. I’ve been writing book reviews for 16 years, since I was in graduate school at Simmons. How many reviews have I written in those years—many hundreds, maybe more than a thousand? And yet here I sit, trying to put together even just one useful, coherent sentence that might begin to sum up how powerful, unique, and phenomenal this book is. I’m frowning as I type, because those words don’t even begin to do this novel justice.

 

The first thing you should know is that this novel will challenge readers, and I mean that in the best possible way. We move around in time and in place, and though there are parts of a family tree shown, I had to draw my own to start to make the connections clearer. You know who is up for challenging reads? Teenagers. They’ll be fine.

 

We’re first introduced to Kollie, a 16-year-old Liberian boy living in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota (just outside of Minneapolis) in 2008. His family fled Liberia during the Second Civil War and lived for three years in a refugee camp in Ghana. Many of his friends and classmates are Liberian, and there’s a lot of tension between the African immigrant kids and the black American kids. Kollie and his friends are regularly called slurs, called “jungle animals.” Things are not easy for Kollie, but he’s getting by. His parents have high hopes for him, that he can help be a positive influence in the community. His mother warns him that America may be the land of opportunity, “but if you want to destroy yourself, they will give you that opportunity too.” She says the world will do its best to convince black boys that they should destroy themselves, but she’s proud he’s working to better himself. Of course, this speech is before Kollie is involved in a violent incident at school, suspended, and working for William, a neighborhood “degenerate.” Devastated and ashamed, his parents send him away.

 

From here, we weave back and forth in time and location, meeting some of Kollie’s ancestors and following their struggles, losses, and achievements as they try to make their way through a world that doesn’t seem to want them to succeed or even to exist. Readers meet Togar, in 1926, in Grand Bassa County, Liberia, fleeing from Congo soldiers. We follow the story of Yasmine, who we meet in 1827 on a plantation near Norfolk, Virginia. The American Colonization Society’s new idea is to send “the coloreds” back to Africa’s Gold Coast to share their knowledge, experience, and salvation with the people there. Though this opportunity seems rife with potential, another woman there warns Yasmine that their new town is a hell and to stay away from hope. Yasmine and her family quickly realize that their new life is one filled with tension and fighting, and that the white men who came up with this idea weren’t looking to better anyone, but rather to ship people away to eliminate them. We also spend time with Evelyn and Ujay, in 1980, in Monrovia, Liberia, where we see Ujay’s work as an activist with the Progressive Alliance of Liberia and the hope for indigenous, not Congo, rule. We flash forward to 1994 with Ujay, now in a refugee camp near Ghana. And finally, we hear from Angel, Kollie’s sister, in 2018, ten years after Kollie was sent away from their family.

 

The stories are loosely tied together (in the sense that we’re following the line of one family and returning to the same place over and over), but read like short stories, complete on their own. It feels especially profound, then, when we reach Angel’s portion of the narrative and understand that it is she who has been telling all of these stories as a way to help make sense of her lineage, history, and ancestors. Through her revelations about her writing, readers see the choices she made in telling these stories, her search for explaining people and their actions, her desire for wholeness, for neat intertwining, for being able to know what these experiences were like. The title, Dream Country, takes on new significance through Angel’s eyes, and with Angel’s own story. This powerful and well-written story examines deep human emotions, the desire and fight for freedom, power, and immigrant experiences. Perhaps shamefully, I managed to make it to 40 without knowing much of anything at all about Liberia, but this book has changed that. Gibney’s complex look at one family, told through a wide scope, is moving and unlike anything I have ever read before in YA. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Don’t miss it. 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780735231672
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/11/2018

 

On World Refugee Day 2018, #ReadForChange with Alan Gratz’ Refugee

ReadForChange copyTeen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and Alan Gratz join us for a conversation about immigrants, refugees, taking action, and his middle grade novel, Refugee.

 

 

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

Warsan Shire, “Home”

 

Three Children, Three Boats, Three Courageous Journeys to Find a New Home

 

refugeeToday, June 20, 2018, is World Refugee Day. I can think of no more timely, more meaningful, or more compelling book to recommend on this day than Alan Gratz’ Middle-Grade novel, Refugee.

 

The first time I met Alan, he gave me his card. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the tagline under his name: “Putting fictional kids in danger since 2006.” Alan certainly lives up to this promise in Refugee. The novel deftly weaves together the harrowing stories of three young teens who set off with their families in search of safety: Josef, fleeing Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel, escaping a crumbling Cuba in 1994, and Mahmoud, leaving war-torn Aleppo in 2015. Readers travel with brave young teenagers across oceans and seas, through ship wrecks, shark attacks, robberies and extortion. We also experience, with the story’s protagonists, moments of extraordinary beauty, as people reach out to help one-another through times of unthinkable distress.

 

As someone who works with immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers in the United States, I think perhaps the most compelling aspect of this story’s construction is how well it de-centers the contemporary narrative, depicting a global flow of real human beings who seek safety across space and through time. Joseph’s family journeys from Germany to Cuba, Isabel’s from Cuba to the United States, and Mahmoud’s from Syria to Germany. Their stories remind us that people from all regions of the world, of all ethnicities, religions, and social classes, find themselves in the impossible situation of having no alternative but to leave behind everything they know and seek safety among strangers.

 

In other words: these refugees could be you or me.

 

World-Refugee-Day-1 (1)Refugee is carefully-researched, historically accurate, and nothing short of brilliant, for many more reasons than I can explain here (you’ll just have to read it for yourselves!). Alan Gratz manages to weave together these three families’ stories in ways that unflinchingly portray the evil effects of de-humanizing entire communities, while also reminding us of the enormous capacity we humans have to endure suffering, to act out of love, and to do what is right and good. Be forewarned: If you are human (and I’m assuming you are), you will shed tears. Some will be tears of joy.

 

One of the themes that Refugee explores invisibility and visibility. Mahmoud, in particular, reflects often on his journey: “Mahmoud’s first instinct was to disappear below decks, to be invisible. Being invisible in Syria had kept him alive. But now Mahmoud began to wonder if being invisible in Europe might be the death of him and his family. If no one saw them, no one could help them. And maybe the world needed to see what was happening here.”

 

In honor of Mahmoud, Isabel, Josef and all the real people on whom their story is based, let us all open our eyes and see! And then let us take courageous action to build refuge together, in these tempestuous times.

 

“Changing the Hearts and Minds of my Readers”: A Conversation with Alan Gratz

 

Photo by Wes Stitt

Photo by Wes Stitt

MARIE: Tell us about the moment when you knew that this story had to be written, and that you needed to be the one to write it.

 

ALAN: The story of Refugee began with the MS St. Louis, a real ship that set sail from Nazi Germany in early 1939 with nine hundred and thirty-seven passengers on board, almost all of them Jewish refugees bound for Cuba.

I was still looking for a way into the story of the MS St. Louis for young readers when my wife and daughter and I took a family vacation to the Florida Keys in early 2015. One morning we got up to walk along the small patch of beach in front of our resort, and we ran right into a homemade boat someone had used to come to America. There was room on the wooden benches for thirteen people, and abandoned clothing and plastic water bottles still littered the floor. The back end had an old rusty engine that had been yanked out of a car or a tractor and was attached to a propeller shaft. There were plastic paint buckets to bail it out along the way, and the whole bottom of the boat and all the seams were covered with Great Stuff—that foam insulation that comes from a spray can. That and the painted plywood walls were all that kept the seawater out.

One day the boat wasn’t there, and the next day it was. Whoever had been aboard had arrived in the night while we were sleeping, just a few hundred yards away from our room. The day before, while my daughter had been swimming in the pool and my wife and I had been reading books in hammocks in the shade, whoever had been on board this boat had been steering north, avoiding oil tankers and sharks and the American Coast Guard in a desperate, dangerous attempt to find refuge in America.

That boat was a wake-up call for me. I knew that immigrants and refugees were trying to reach America every day, by land, air, and sea, through channels official and unofficial, but because I didn’t live at the front lines of that struggle I didn’t see it every day. And out of sight was definitely out of mind. I wanted to do something about that. That’s when I knew this was a book I had to write. I wanted to write a book about the MS St. Louis, but I wanted to write a book about Cuban refugees too.

And then, every day, doing their part to make sure none of us forgot, newspapers and news channels and the Internet were showing us devastating image after devastating image of the refugee crisis caused by the Syrian Civil War. The Syrian Civil War began in 2011, and is still going on. More than two million Syrians have been killed or injured, and seven plus years of war have left around eleven million Syrians—half their entire population—homeless. I wanted to write a book about the MS St. Louis, and I wanted to write a book about Cuban refugees, and now I wanted to write a book about the Syrian refugee crisis too.

And then I realized, I could write a book about all three. I would tell the story of Josef, a Jewish boy trying to escape Nazi Germany for Cuba with his family on board the MS St. Louis in 1939, of Isabel, a Cuban girl trying to escape communist Cuba with her family for America on board a raft in 1994, and of Mahmoud, a Syrian boy trying to escape the Syrian Civil War for Germany with his family in the present day.

My sincere hope for young readers who pick up Refugee is that it, like that homemade raft I stumbled across in Florida, makes the invisible visible again.

 

 

MARIE: What are some of the things you’re doing to create the world that you want to live in?

 

ALAN: My family and I sat down recently to talk about all the causes we wanted to support, and how much we could afford to give, and now we make regular contributions to a variety of social, environmental, and political groups. Beyond that, I figured that what I do best is write, so I would use my talents to help bring awareness to the issues and causes I support. And that’s been paying off. Kids across the country (and around the world!) are reading Refugee and advocating and working for change. Kids are working with their local refugee aid groups in their communities, they are raising money for UNICEF, they are calling their congresspeople and championing refugees. The book hasn’t even been out for a year yet, and the response from young readers has been amazing. I hope, in some small way, that I’m helping make the world one I want to live in by changing the hearts and minds of my readers!

 

 

MARIE: For readers who are moved to take action themselves, what’s your advice?

 

ALAN: Start local. Almost every community has a local refugee aid or resettlement organization, and they can use things larger world-wide organizations like UNICEF can’t–they need things kids can help collect, like socks, coats, blankets, and canned food. If they want to look more globally, organizations like UNICEF and Save the Children work on behalf of young refugees around the world, providing necessities and education. But the simplest thing kids can do is to become a friend to refugees. If there are any refugees at their schools, or in their churches or neighborhoods, just saying hello and getting to know them and being a friend is a tremendous thing to someone who has been displaced against their will and is starting all over again.

 

MARIE: Thanks so much, Alan. This theme of working in our local communities is one that I’ve heard from so many of our featured authors, from Jodi Lynn Anderson, talking about combating climate change, to Lilliam Rivera on gentrification. I love this idea of getting to know our neighbors and working with them to build a better world – from the ground up!

 

 

“Out of sight… out of mind. I wanted to do something about that.”

 

Ready to learn more? First, be sure to read Alan’s very informative Author’s Note, at the end of Refugee. Then, dive into one of these four non-fiction books – all excellent, and all appropriate for young readers:

 

519PzgQWh-L._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees by Mary Beth Leatherdale is an illustrated book presenting five true stories of young people who survived the harrowing experience of setting off in boats in search of asylum.

 

How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana and Abigail Pesta is the memoir of a girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who survived a massacre, immigrated to the United States, and struggled to overcome her trauma through art and activism.

 

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ismael Beah offers a first-hand account of a young man’s recruitment as a child soldier, release, and eventual rehabilitation at a UNICEF center.

 

Outcasts United: An American Town, A Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference

By Warren St. John is an excellent and engaging story of a refugee youth soccer team in a small southern town turned upside down by the process of refugee resettlement. (Note that there is a young adult version of the book).

 

And now, two documentaries:

 

Human Flow was shot over the course of one year in 23 countries. It shares stories of the more than 65 million people who have been forced from their homes since World War II

 

Fire at Sea explores life in Lampedusa, Italy, an island has become a landing spot for boats filled with refugees fleeing Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

download (1)

 

“The simplest thing: Become a friend to refugees.”

Ready to take action? Let’s follow Alan’s advice and start local!

 

There are many agencies that work officially to resettle refugees nationwide. Contacting one of the agencies working in your community is a good place to start. To find out who’s working in your area, check out this UNHCR website and then click on the link toward the bottom:

 

While these local resettlement agencies always can use supplies and material support, the best way to get involved is to build relationships and friendships.  Many local communities have innovative non-profits and community groups that foster this work.  Make sure to ask your local refugee resettlement agencies about these sorts of groups and opportunities in your area. Here are some examples in my community of metro-Atlanta:

 

Friends of Refugees

 

Global Village Project

 

Clarkston Community Center

 

Of course, if we start to open our eyes, as Alan Gratz is urging us to do, we will realize that refugees are our neighbors and our classmates. Refugees worship with us, shop in the same stores as us, and play sports on the same fields. The best thing we can do is make new friends. It’s that easy!

 

“A desperate, dangerous attempt to find refuge in America” A Call to Action NOW.

 

One final note, because this weighs so heavy on my heart…

 

Even though this book is entitled Refugee, all of the stories Alan tells are, technically, those of asylum seekers. (If you’d like to better understand the difference, listen to this recent NPR interview with a U.S. Asylum Officer). Asylum seekers with similar stories to those we read about in Refugee are in the news headlines these days for reasons that are simply unthinkable. Last month, the United States Department of Homeland Security instituted a new practice that routinely separates child asylum seekers from their parents and holds them in child detention centers. One, recently opened in El Paso, is quite literally a tent city.

 

Families_3_twitterWhile I don’t generally climb up on a soapbox in these newsletters, I’m gonna do it now. I believe there is a moral imperative for every single one of us to resist this action by the U.S. government.  It simply contradicts basic human decency, and it’s heartbreaking.

 

If you want to learn more about this and take action, follow #KeepFamiliesTogether and #FamiliesBelongTogether. You also can check out the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights to stay informed about proposed legislation and actions in your community, and go to Families Belong Together (a movement sponsored by the National Domestic Workers Alliance) to sign a petition and find other actions.

 

Thank you.

 

#ReadForChange with Refugee!

 

If you can’t wait to get your hands on REFUGEE, here’s your chance!  Follow this link to the giveaway, which runs until the end of June. We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt July 1!)

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of UsDream Things True, and Flight Season. A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.

Book Review: The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Publisher’s description

night diaryIn the vein of Inside Out and Back Again and The War That Saved My Life comes a poignant, personal, and hopeful tale of India’s partition, and of one girl’s journey to find a new home in a divided country

It’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.

Told through Nisha’s letters to her mother, The Night Diary is a heartfelt story of one girl’s search for home, for her own identity…and for a hopeful future.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This was another of those rare books that I read in one sitting, ignoring all of the other things I was supposed to do, allowing myself to be sucked into this book and its world.

Nisha, an introvert who rarely speaks to people outside of her family, begins keeping a diary in July 1947, after Kazi, the family chef, gives her a blank book for her 12th birthday. She narrates her life and the events unfolding around her in letters to her Muslim mother, who died while giving birth to Nisha and Amil, her twin brother. Nisha’s father is Hindu (as are Nisha and Amil), and Kazi is Muslim. Nisha is used to being friends with Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, but that all changes when Partition happens. Nisha struggles to understand how India will soon be free from British rule, but will be divided up into two countries, one for Muslims and one for Hindus and Sikhs. Where they live will now be part of Pakistan, where Muslims will live. Nisha and her family must leave behind Kazi and make the perilous journey to their new home on foot. The trip is long, and they have very little food or water. As they grow more exhausted and dehydrated, Nisha becomes sure that she, Amil, her father, and their grandmother will all die. Their destination, while ultimately the new India, is first making it to Rashid Uncle’s house, halfway to the border. Rashid is their mother’s brother, someone Nisha has never met before. Their time there is precious, with Nisha recognizing so much of herself and her mother in Rashid. Leaving his house, being displaced yet again, is hard for Nisha. The remainder of their trip is horrific and frightening, but they arrive safely in their new home, where an unexpected surprise helps Nisha feel like this is more like home.

 

This intimate look at Partition, families, and identity is beautifully written and especially engaging due to the diary/letters format. A solid read for those looking for historical fiction, books about India’s history and culture, or refugees. 

An author’s note explains that this novel is loosely based on her father’s family’s experience. A glossary is appended.

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780735228511
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/06/2018

Book Review: The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Publisher’s description

lines we crossMichael likes to hang out with his friends and play with the latest graphic design software. His parents drag him to rallies held by their anti-immigrant group, which rails against the tide of refugees flooding the country. And it all makes sense to Michael.

Until Mina, a beautiful girl from the other side of the protest lines, shows up at his school, and turns out to be funny, smart — and a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan. Suddenly, his parents’ politics seem much more complicated.

Mina has had a long and dangerous journey fleeing her besieged home in Afghanistan, and now faces a frigid reception at her new prep school, where she is on scholarship. As tensions rise, lines are drawn. Michael has to decide where he stands. Mina has to protect herself and her family. Both have to choose what they want their world to look like.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I have greatly enjoyed Abdel-Fattha’s other books (Where the Streets Had a Name, Ten Things I Hate About Me, and Does My Head Look Big in This?), but this one took me a while to get into. The characters felt much less dynamic than in her other books, which I think is what made me keep setting this book down. That said, I didn’t want to abandon it, given my history of enjoying her books, and I found the story to be told from a unique perspective.

 

Set in Australia (and originally published there), Afghan refugee Mina and her family move from their friendly, diverse neighborhood in Sydney after Mina receives a scholarship to attend the prestigious Victoria College. Michael, whose parents head Aussie Values, an Islamophobic, anti-refugee group, first spots Mina on the opposite side of a rally he attends. He’s surprised to see her soon after at his school. Though Mina’s grades rival (and exceed) those of her classmates, she feels otherwise out of place at her new school. She worries she’s just a diversity mascot. No longer in her culturally and ethnically diverse old neighborhood and old school, Mina now feels like “an ethnic supporting character.”

 

Michael and Mina have some uncomfortable interactions, but bond over similar taste in music and eventually get put together to work on a class project, where they begin to get to know each other on a deeper level. Michael, who has always rather mindlessly spouted his family’s politics, is forced to truly think for himself what his feelings are about immigrants and about Mina. While Mina is a rather static character, Michael shows a lot of growth over the course of the story. He learns what he thinks (instead of just parroting what his parents think) and how to start speaking up. He, and other characters, have to start to examine their privilege, opportunities, and what they take for granted. Though much of the story is rather didactic, Michael and Mina’s easy banter is clever and natural, giving much needed life to the story. Mina’s new friend, Paula, is another wonderful addition to the story and someone who helps give Mina more depth. Together, they hang out and do regular friend things, like bake, have movie marathons, and go see slam poetry. Mina and her family confront a lot of opposition, anger, and hatred in their new neighborhood (mostly thanks to Aussie Values supporters), but readers also see people standing up to that ignorance and hatred, with things feeling much more hopeful by the end of the book. Despite the slow start, I’m glad I stuck with this one. While at its heart this is an opposites attract story, the political issues make for a deep and compelling read. A good addition to all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338118667

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.

Publication date: 05/09/2017

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

 

Love and Justice: What I’ve learned from those seeking refuge in the U.S., a guest post by author Marie Marquardt

Today we are very honored to be talking with author Marie Marquardt about her work with Latin American immigrant families for the Social Justice in YA Lit Project. Her book, The Radius of Us, is very timely given recent events happening here in the United States. You can find out more about the #SJYALit Project here or by searching the hashtag here at TLT.

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Justice lives in my neck of the woods.

I have the great honor of being a resident of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District, currently represented by the beloved Civil Rights hero and U.S. Congressman John Lewis.

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In Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born, spent much of his life, and was buried, we take our national Civil Rights heroes very seriously. I can barely contain my pride in going to the ballot box to vote for Rep. Lewis.  Every time I tick off his name, which I have done in many elections, it makes me almost giddy. One of our family’s great treasures is a photograph of my family with Rep. Lewis at the Martin Luther King National Memorial. A few years ago, Rep. Lewis showed up unannounced on MLK day to meet those who had come to honor and remember his friend. We were among them.

Like many proud Americans, I often feel betrayed, disgusted and dismayed by our current political climate. When I learned that our new president made disparaging comments about Rep. Lewis and his commitment to my district, I wanted to throw things, hit someone, kick and scream and fight and, well, hate.

But, dang. That would be about the worst possible approach to honoring and carrying forward the example of John Lewis, a consistent advocate for the philosophy of nonviolence.

Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

Nonviolence loves without ceasing – which is at the heart of justice. In the vision of the Beloved Community, which Rep. Lewis works so hard to build, justice is understood as an expression of love. This love is not physical desire, not the affection between friends who share a great deal in common, but the unselfish, unmotivated, spontaneous self-giving love that springs forth from recognizing the spark of the divine, which is present in each one of us.

For the past twenty years I worked with immigrants in Georgia. Most are undocumented, and some are asylum-seekers who have made incredibly difficult journeys to the United States. They all made these journeys because they believed America is a place of refuge, a peaceful nation guided by such enduring values as fairness, equality, and the rule of law. Even in the face of clear injustices – blatant discrimination, inconsistent treatment in the courts – they have astounded me with their steadfast desire to participate in American life, to become American.  In fact, they have taught me to see my own nation through new eyes, to affirm and celebrate our core values.

During this time, not only have I written academic books and articles about these immigrants, I also have advocated alongside them, served them, and – most importantly – developed deep and lasting friendships with them.  These days, I spend a good deal of time visiting immigrants and asylum seekers in detention. This work is difficult and heartbreaking, but it’s some of the most important and life-affirming work that I do. In our visits, and in my work with their families and friends, we build profound connections grounded in love.

I share my stories and they share theirs. We cry together, celebrate together, fear and rage together. We connect across vast, power-laden differences. And by connecting, we do not erase those differences. We gather the courage to face them, to ask questions about them, to understand them.  We learn together that, with love and trust, we can begin to recognize the insidious systems like racism and xenophobia that work to keep us apart. We know that, once we recognize these systems, we can begin the difficult work of exposing them, of tearing them down.

Over many years, I developed love for my friends, and out of that love came a deep desire for justice.  My desire for justice drove me to the podium. I’ve stood in front of audiences, armed with data slides and a microphone, unleashing a torrent of statistics, facts, information. I have struggled mightily to engage the minds of Americans, to share information that will help them to understand how very much we misunderstand about undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers. I believe that this information is crucially important, as the foundation for good decisions, for policies that will bring about a more just and humane society in the United States.

I also have come to believe that good information is not enough.

In our media-saturated world, we are bombarded with information and misinformation (which some call “alternative facts”). We are adrift in them. What we need — what most of us long for — is connection. We long for the opportunity to see that spark in another person, to recognize something of ourselves in the other. We also desperately need to cultivate that profound virtue of empathy. We need the opportunity to dwell for a while in the experience of another person, to dive in deep and swim around in it for a while.

Where might we find the chance to develop that profound empathy, to recognize what we have in common with those very people that we are constantly told are irreconcilably, overwhelmingly different from us? Stories. And, what better stories than love stories, stories that celebrate those deep, intimate connections that bind us together, that surprise us with their intensity, that open our hearts to new ways of knowing.

Justice is the expression of love.

Where we find, experience and nurture love, we begin to know justice.

This is why I write love stories.

About Marie Marquardt and THE RADIUS OF US

Marie Marquardt Photo Credit: Kenzi Tainow

Marie Marquardt
Photo Credit: Kenzi Tainow

Marie Marquardt has spent two decades working with Latin American immigrant families in the South and runs a non-profit called El Refugio that serves immigrants and asylum-seekers in detention. This work inspired both her books. To research The Radius of Us, she traveled to El Salvador and to detention facilities across the U.S., where she met with teenagers fleeing gang violence and seeking asylum.  

Told in alternating first person points of view, The Radius of Us is about a boy from El Salvador, who ran from a city torn-through with violence, looking for a safe place to call home. And it’s about an American girl who no longer feels safe anywhere, except maybe when she’s with him. And most importantly, the novel is about two people working together to overcome trauma and find healing in love.

The Radius of Us is available for purchase now from St. Martin’s Griffin

“…this is a compelling story that delivers profound messages through engaging, accessible prose. Both a page-turning romance and a comprehensive view of a young immigrant’s experience, this novel is sure to encourage empathy and perspective… VERDICT A must-have for all YA collections.” –School Library Journal (Starred Review)

Take 5: A List of YA Lists on Refugees

readmorebooks2Instead of putting together our own list of YA titles that feature refugees here at TLT, I thought I would instead direct you to several other lists that are already out there because this is an important topic and we should all make sure we have some good titles in our collections to represent this important issue.

Nerdy Book Club List of Refugees

Stacked: YA Stories About Refugees

Stacked: 3 On a Theme: Refugees in YA Nonfiction

Scottish Book Trust: 12 Teens Books About Refugees

The Educator’s Room: 5 YA Novels to Understand Refugees

There is also a list of books tagged refugees on Goodreads, but this is a user generated list so you’ll want to investigate the titles a little more.

Goodreads List of Refugee Titles