Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

A roundup of books on activism, social justice, and histories of protest

Hello from Minnesota. My friends, I don’t know what to say. But I DO know some things to do. We have been donating to many local and national groups (Hennepin County Library, Pimento Relief Fund, Unicorn Riot, Communities United Against Police Brutality, Reclaim the Block, Migizi, and Black Visions Collective). I have been gathering resources for friends and colleagues. I have been continuing to educate myself and do the work of continuing to listen, learn, unlearn, and grow. I have been continuing to have conversations with my white teen son about racism, activism, and being anti-racist. As it’s so often said: it’s a privilege to have to learn about racism and not to have to experience it.

White friends, particularly those of us raising white boys: Talk about racism. Talk about systemic oppression. Talk about police violence. Talk about institutionalized racism. Talk about white privilege. Talk about toxic masculinity. Talk about white supremacy. Talk about intervening. Talk about speaking up. Hold people accountable, including yourself. Call them out. Call them in. Educate yourself. Interrogate your own prejudices. Actively work to be anti-racist. Stand in solidarity. Be outraged. Don’t be silent. Don’t be complicit. Reflect. Create change. Really dig into what is happening—not just the moments, but the movements. Interrogate the idea that “the system is broken” and look at what it means to instead acknowledge that the system is functioning exactly as it was built to function, and what does that mean and how do we change that. Care about people and movements and justice not just in moments of tragedy but all the time. Don’t wonder when we will go back to “normal” and don’t be complicit in allowing what many of us have come to accept as normal to remain how things are. Figure out how to dismantle racism and help dismantle other systems that depend on oppression and white supremacy. As Jason Reynolds said just the other day during the #KidLit4BlackLives rally, “Crawl toward judgement; sprint toward understanding.”

Black lives matter. George Floyd matters. Structural and institutional and cultural change matters.

Below are a handful of books I’ve reviewed in the recent past that address activism, protest, and social justice. It’s important that young readers see the strong and powerful history our country has of assembly, free speech, and activism. The books represent many issues—LGBTQAIP+ history, environmental justice, gun control, voting rights—and show how young people have always been not just involved in but at the forefront of social movements and cultural and political change.

I also link to my presentation on Social Justice and Activism in YA Lit from last year at Teen Lit Con. Please be sure to scroll to the very end for two wonderful books that feature Minnesota teens. Search this blog for many other resources on these topics including reading lists and book reviews. You can find an extensive list of posts at TLT that address social justice from our 2017 year-long project on Social Justice in YA Literature (#SJYALIT). If you missed last week’s posts at TLT, check out Because Black Lives Matter, a Collection of Resources, Because Black Lives Matter, Read Black Authors, and Because Black Lives Matter, a Collection of Anti-Racist Reading Lists, as well as yesterday’s post Because Black Lives Matter: A Collection of Intersectional Resources.

There are so many wonderful resources out there for people of all ages, but especially for children and teens. Do the work. Research, read up, ask your white friends what resources they are finding and using to hold these conversations. Don’t ask your BIPOC friends to educate you. It’s 2020. Get googling. Check Twitter. Hit up your local library and put things on hold. Learn, unlearn, listen, grow.

As those of us in Minnesota are still fond of saying, in the words of Paul Wellstone, “We all do better when we all do better.”

(Descriptions of books with post-it note reviews are from the publisher.)

Gr 6–9—A thorough if somewhat disjointed examination of the events before, during, and in the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots gives young readers an overview of the LGBTQ+ activism of the 1950s and 1960s. Pitman traces meeting places, social clubs, and the rise of organizations and activist groups as well as the many police raids of gay establishments, focusing on the June 28, 1969, raid on the mob-owned Stonewall Inn. Due to a lack of documented accounts, use of pseudonyms, and conflicting reports, controversies remain over the actuality of events at Stonewall. Post-Stonewall, readers learn about the increase in radical groups and visibility that challenged negative attitudes and discrimination. Pitman occasionally expands the narrative focus to examine what was happening in various places around the country and to consider other issues and movements of the time, including weaknesses and missteps in the movement for LGBTQ+ rights. The unique approach of using various objects (matchbooks, leaflets, buttons, arrest records, photographs, and more, with many reproductions too small or low resolution to read) to guide, inform, and reconstruct the story of the riots prevents a smooth narrative flow and makes the text feel repetitive as it moves back and forth in time. Back matter includes a time line, notes, bibliography, and an index. 

VERDICT An important look at a major moment in American history. Readers will come to understand why the iconic Stonewall Inn is now on the National Register of Historic Places, a National Historic Landmark, and a National Monument.

ISBN-13: 9781419737206
Publisher: ABRAMS
Publication date: 05/14/2019

Into the Streets: A Young Person’s Visual History of Protest in the United States by Marke Bieschke (August 4, 2020)

This lively book guides readers through the art and history of significant protests, sit-ins, and collective acts of resistance throughout US history. Photos, artwork, signs, and other visual elements highlight the history of social action, from American Indian resistance to colonists through Black Lives Matter and Women’s Marches.

Into the Streets introduces the personalities and issues that drove these protests, as well as their varied aims and accomplishments, from spontaneous hashtag uprisings to highly planned strategies of civil disobedience. Perfect for young adult audiences, this book highlights how teens are frequently the ones protesting and creating the art of the resistance.

(POST-IT SAYS: Visually engaging with just enough info to educate without overwhelming. Represents a wide array of protests, both peaceful and violent, showing the long history of people exercising this right. Eye-opening. Ages 13-18)

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World by Todd Hasak-Lowy

A stirring look at nonviolent activism, from American suffragists to Civil Rights to the Climate Change Movement

We Are Power brings to light the incredible individuals who have used nonviolent activism to change the world. The book explores questions such as what is nonviolent resistance and how does it work? In an age when armies are stronger than ever before, when guns seem to be everywhere, how can people confront their adversaries without resorting to violence themselves? Through key international movements as well as people such as Gandhi, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Václav Havel, this book discusses the components of nonviolent resistance. It answers the question “Why nonviolence?” by showing how nonviolent movements have succeeded again and again in a variety of ways, in all sorts of places, and always in the face of overwhelming odds. The book includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

(POST-IT SAYS: My only complaint is that the format is unappealingly dense-appearing and lacking in pictures/color. Content is thorough and inspiring with an eye to the future and youth activism. A useful look at power, conflict, and social changes. Ages 10-14)

This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell, Aurelia Durand (Illustrator)

Who are you? What is racism? Where does it come from? Why does it exist? What can you do to disrupt it? Learn about social identities, the history of racism and resistance against it, and how you can use your anti-racist lens and voice to move the world toward equity and liberation.

“In a racist society, it’s not enough to be non-racist—we must be ANTI-RACIST.” —Angela Davis

Gain a deeper understanding of your anti-racist self as you progress through 20 chapters that spark introspection, reveal the origins of racism that we are still experiencing, and give you the courage and power to undo it. Each chapter builds on the previous one as you learn more about yourself and racial oppression. Exercise prompts get you thinking and help you grow with the knowledge.

Author Tiffany Jewell, an anti-bias, anti-racist educator and activist, builds solidarity beginning with the language she chooses—using gender neutral words to honor everyone who reads the book. Illustrator Aurélia Durand brings the stories and characters to life with kaleidoscopic vibrancy.

After examining the concepts of social identity, race, ethnicity, and racism, learn about some of the ways people of different races have been oppressed, from indigenous Americans and Australians being sent to boarding school to be “civilized” to a generation of Caribbean immigrants once welcomed to the UK being threatened with deportation by strict immigration laws.

Find hope in stories of strength, love, joy, and revolution that are part of our history, too, with such figures as the former slave Toussaint Louverture, who led a rebellion against white planters that eventually led to Haiti’s independence, and Yuri Kochiyama, who, after spending time in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during WWII, dedicated her life to supporting political prisoners and advocating reparations for those wrongfully interned.

This book is written for EVERYONE who lives in this racialized society—including the young person who doesn’t know how to speak up to the racist adults in their life, the kid who has lost themself at times trying to fit into the dominant culture, the children who have been harmed (physically and emotionally) because no one stood up for them or they couldn’t stand up for themselves, and also for their families, teachers, and administrators.

With this book, be empowered to actively defy racism to create a community (large and small) that truly honors everyone.

(POST-IT SAYS: Phenomenal resource. I truly wish everyone would read this. Drives home the point that diversity and inclusion are not enough—you have to be actively anti-racist. Empowering and educational. Ages 12-18)

You Call This Democracy?: How to Fix Our Government and Deliver Power to the People by Elizabeth Rusch (3/31/2020)

All of the challenges facing our democracy today… problems with the electoral college, gerrymandering, voter suppression, lack of representation, voter disinterest, citizens who cannot vote, lobbying, money…lead to two questions: why doesn’t every vote really count? And what are we going to do about it?

Author Elizabeth Rusch examines some of the more problematic aspects of our government but, more importantly, offers ways for young people to fix them.

(POST-IT SAYS: Packed full of information, contemporary examples, and appealing visuals. Educates as well as inspires participation and action. For many, this comprehensive book will be an eye-opening look at the abuses and failures of government. Ages 13-18)

IntersectionAllies: We Make Room for All by Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council, Carolyn Choi, Ashley Seil Smith

The brainchild of three women-of-color sociologists, IntersectionAllies is a smooth, gleeful entry into intersectional feminism. The nine interconnected characters proudly describe themselves and their backgrounds, involving topics that range from a physical disability to language brokering, offering an opportunity to take pride in a personal story and connect to collective struggle for justice.

The group bond grounds the message of allyship and equality. When things get hard, the kids support each other for who they are: Parker defends Kate, a genderfluid character who eschews skirts for a superhero cape; Heejung welcomes Yuri, a refugee escaping war, into their community; and Alejandra’s family cares for Parker after school while her mother works. Advocating respect and inclusion, IntersectionAllies is a necessary tool for learning to embrace, rather than shy away from, difference.

Featuring gorgeous illustrations on every page by Ashley Seil Smith, as well as powerful introductions by activist and law professor Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term “intersectionality,” and Dr. Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro, author of Intersectionality: An Intellectual History.

(POST-IT SAYS: A lovely little book advocating acceptance, inclusion, and community. Extensive back matter defines concepts further and provides a lengthy discussion guide. Ages 5-9)

Enough Is Enough: How Students Can Join the Fight for Gun Safety by Michelle Roehm McCann, Shannon Watts (Foreword by) (ISBN-13: 9781582707013 Publisher: Simon Pulse/Beyond Words Publication date: 10/08/2019)

From award-winning author Michelle Roehm McCann comes a young activist’s handbook to joining the fight against gun violence—both in your community and on a national level—to make schools safer for everyone.

Young people are suffering the most from the epidemic of gun violence—as early as kindergarten students are crouching behind locked doors during active shooter drills. Teens are galvanizing to speak up and fight for their right to be safe. They don’t just want to get involved, they want to change the world. Enough Is Enough is a call to action for teens ready to lend their voices to the gun violence prevention movement. This handbook deftly explains America’s gun violence issues—myths and facts, causes and perpetrators, solutions and change-makers—and provides a road map for effective activism.

Told in three parts, Enough Is Enough also explores how America got to this point and the obstacles we must overcome, including historical information about the Second Amendment, the history of guns in America, and an overview of the NRA. Informative chapters include interviews with teens who have survived gun violence and student activists who are launching their own movements across the country. Additionally, the book includes a Q&A with gun owners who support increased gun safety laws.

(POST-IT SAYS: A powerful and exhaustive resource that would be especially useful for a research project or debate. Looks at the problems, solutions, history, and actions that can be taken. Lots of illustrations, graphics, and personal stories will help sustain readers’ interest.)

One Person, No Vote (YA edition): How Not All Voters Are Treated Equally by Carol Anderson, Tonya Bolden (ISBN-13: 9781547601073 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 09/17/2019)

From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of White Rage, a young readers’ edition of a startling—and timely—history of voter suppression in America.

In her New York Times bestseller White Rage, Carol Anderson laid bare an insidious history of policies that have systematically impeded black progress in America, from 1865 to our combustible present. With One Person, No Vote, she chronicles a related history: the rollbacks to African American participation in the vote since the 2013 Supreme Court decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Known as the Shelby ruling, this decision effectively allowed districts with a demonstrated history of racial discrimination to change voting requirements without approval from the Department of Justice.

Focusing on the aftermath of Shelby, Anderson follows the astonishing story of government-dictated racial discrimination unfolding before our very eyes as more and more states adopt voter suppression laws. In gripping, enlightening detail she explains how voter suppression works, from photo ID requirements to gerrymandering to poll closures. And with vivid characters, she explores the resistance: the organizing, activism, and court battles to restore the basic right to vote to all Americans as the nation gears up for the 2020 presidential election season.

(POST-IT SAYS: I’ve been on a nonfiction kick. Anderson’s book will educate and enrage. The history will be illuminating, but it’s the stats and stories of modern times that may really surprise readers and spur them to action.)

Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation by Candy J. Cooper, Marc Aronson

Based on original reporting by a Pulitzer Prize finalist and an industry veteran, the first book for young adults about the Flint water crisis

In 2014, Flint, Michigan, was a cash-strapped city that had been built up, then abandoned by General Motors. As part of a plan to save money, government officials decided that Flint would temporarily switch its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Within months, many residents broke out in rashes. Then it got worse: children stopped growing. Some people were hospitalized with mysterious illnesses; others died. Citizens of Flint protested that the water was dangerous. Despite what seemed so apparent from the murky, foul-smelling liquid pouring from the city’s faucets, officials refused to listen. They treated the people of Flint as the problem, not the water, which was actually poisoning thousands.

Through interviews with residents and intensive research into legal records and news accounts, journalist Candy J. Cooper, assisted by writer-editor Marc Aronson, reveals the true story of Flint. Poisoned Water shows not just how the crisis unfolded in 2014, but also the history of racism and segregation that led up to it, the beliefs and attitudes that fueled it, and how the people of Flint fought-and are still fighting-for clean water and healthy lives.

(POST-IT SAYS: Really thorough look at the crisis. Examines the history of Flint to put the tragedy in context. Full of quotes and pictures, and many voices of young people, readers will leave this book understanding more about environmental racism and justice. Be ready to be infuriated. Ages 13-18)

I’ve said it before, but: Almost always, I read books in order of publication date. It’s really the only way I can keep track of everything I want to review and juggle the rest of life. These little books have sat on my shelf for months and I’ve been so looking forward to getting to them. They did not disappoint.

You know who these would be great for? All the great kids you know who are graduating right now. I love giving books as gifts (she preached to the choir) and these are perfect to hand to young readers. And old readers! These books read like really impassioned TED talks, interspersing personal histories and details with factual information and calls to action.

In Beyond the Gender Binary, Vaid-Menon explores the many ways the false idea of a binary hurts everyone and how harmful the disconnect between what people see (and comment on) and who you are can be. They discuss how an emphasis on a binary involves power, control, shame, repression, harassment, discrimination, and more. They look at the laws against people who don’t conform to the gender binary, the access denied, the targeted legislation, and point out how so much of this is all about gender non-conforming people but rarely actually engages with them.

Vaid-Menon shares their own story from growing up, full of shame, fear, and bullying. They also detail common arguments against gender non-conforming people and refutes them. They emphasize the importance for the narrative around nonbinary people to be one of reclamation, acceptance, peace, and celebration in this powerful look at the toxic notion of a binary and the harmony and creativity of embracing a spectrum of gender identities.

In The New Queer Conscience, Eli focuses on providing a hopeful, uplifting message of support and solidarity as he calls for a unified queer community. Drawing parallels to the support and collective sympathy, outrage, and action he finds within his Jewish community, he urges queer people anywhere to feel responsible for queer people everywhere. He writes about being young and feeling confused and uncomfortable and desperately needing the validation, assurance, and support of a community. He addresses the common feeling of being alone that so many queer kids may feel, a feeling that could be alleviated by a stronger and more active community. Eli explores the changes necessary for this kind of community and transformation, including policies of kindness and understanding, acknowledging uneven playing fields and issues of privilege, and the need for there to be solidarity with all oppressed people. A great reminder that there’s a huge, welcoming community that values you and that together it can be stronger and more effective.

In Imaginary Borders, Martinez examines the climate change movement. His message is that we build the world together, especially when we understand that we are part of a larger system, that we need to claim space in the movements, and explores the need for a cultural shift. He details the ways climate change reaches across real and imagined borders and looks as the cascading effects of climate change, environmental racism, and social justice. Martinez focuses on the fact that there are many paths to activism, and that to inspire connection and action, we need to bring our imagination and creativity to the movement as well as diverse tactics.

In This Is What I Know About Art, Drew looks at art, activism, protest, and inclusion through the lens of her own path to a life in the art world. Emphasizing curiosity, engagement, and learning, she pushes for a collective voice and a shared community. Detailing her exploration of art in college and in internships and jobs, she encourages us to ask who is not in the room and how can we get them there.

Illuminating and inspiring, all four books encourage more thoughtful conversations around these topics. Really well done.

Review copies (ARC) courtesy of the publisher.

Last year at Teen Lit Con, I presented on Social Justice and Activism. You can see a post about this presentation here—reading lists are included and downloadable.

And finally….

I wanted to give some extra attention to two books I’ve loved in the past few years, both of which focus on teens in the Minneapolis area.

Dream Country by Shannon Gibney

Dream Country

Publisher’s description

The 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

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

Publisher’s description

Told in two distinct and irresistible voices, Junauda Petrus’s bold and lyrical debut is the story of two black girls from very different backgrounds finding love and happiness in a world that seems determined to deny them both.

Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.

Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels—about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner. 

Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.

Junauda Petrus’s debut brilliantly captures the distinctly lush and lyrical voices of Mabel and Audre as they conjure a love that is stronger than hatred, prison, and death and as vast as the blackness between the stars.

Amanda’s thoughts

That summary up there is thorough. I just read it again, when I pasted it in, to see if it’s too thorough—after all, it really hits every major plot point. But while it gives you the broad strokes of the plot, it doesn’t do much to capture how powerful the story is, how beautiful the writing is, or how achingly lovely and profound the connection is between Agnes and Mabel. To be entirely honest, the book started a little slow for me, but once Agnes and Mabel are put in the same space, the story really took off and I became completely immersed in their world, their families, their big thoughts and feelings, and their love.

There is so much to love about this story. Yes, Agnes is sent away when her mother catches her with her girlfriend. She’s shamed and told she’s “nasty” by her mother. But she finds love, support, and acceptance from everyone else in her life. Mabel finds kissing her boyfriend kind of boring, but even just being near her friend Jada makes her all tingly. She’s working out what all this means, but it’s not angst-filled or painful or met with any hate. In Minneapolis, they are surrounded by supportive family and friends, many of whom are queer. And for Agnes, she has Queenie, her grandma, back home in Trinidad, who has always been her closest and most loving person. Queenie fully accepts Agnes for who she is—she always has—and fills with her love, always reminding her of her self-worth and that she’s perfect as she is.

While the story alternates between Mabel and Agnes, we also get some unexpected perspectives. There are chapters about Queenie’s younger life as well as chapters from a memoir Mabel is reading. Written by Afua Mahmoud while incarcerated, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them (his memoir) provides surprising points of connection for Mabel, who feels less alone as she reads his thoughts on life while dealing with her new diagnosis of a terminal illness. All of these voices and experiences speak of hope, connection, loneliness, love, isolation, and freedom. After they become pen pals, Afua tells Mabel that, despite his circumstances, his life is still his own, and so is hers.

Through the lenses of freedom and love, the characters ruminate on the past, the present, and an eternal future found through cosmic connections. They learn to be uncontained, to love without fear or boundaries, to give themselves the space to figure out who they are. The voices from this stunning debut will stay with readers long after the unpredictable ending. Full of love, healing, strength, and spirituality, this is a story that hasn’t been told before—not like this. Be ready to lose a day once you start reading; Mabel and Agnes will draw you into their worlds and not release their grip on you even after the last page. A lovely story that is sad and hopeful all at once.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525555483
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/17/2019

National School Climate Survey results about LGBTQ students’ experiences in school

2017 surveyGLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, released its biennial National School Climate Survey, which documents the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in schools from across the country, in the fall 2018. The 2015 survey results showed slight improvements for LGBTQ kids in schools. This newest report shows that progress in schools has slowed and transgender and gender-nonconforming students face more hostile environments than before.

196 page report (which is available as a PDF) looks at discrimination, harassment, assault, biased language, school resources and support, and more, and examines how these factors affect educational performance, safety, and mental health of LGBTQ teens. The report is filled with statistics, charts, and graphs that drive home the point that LGBTQ students face a lot of opposition at school and frequently don’t feel safe or supported.  Being knowledgeable of the potential struggles and understanding where they (and you!) can go to find useful resources (books, websites, helplines, etc) is a major step in the right direction.

As GLSEN reports, “The survey has consistently indicated that specific school-based supports are related to a safer and more inclusive school climate, including: supportive educators, LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, inclusive and supportive policies, and supportive student clubs, such as Gay-Straight Alliances or Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs).).” For the first time, “This installment of GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey also includes insights on LGBTQ-inclusive sex education, student activism, parent advocacy, experiences of LGBTQ students with disabilities, and experiences of LGBTQ immigrant students.” (See here for the media release, where this quote came from, for more quick facts.) 

GLSEN2

This report should be required reading for anyone who works with students of all ages. 

“This report should serve as an alarm bell for advocates and a call to action for anyone who cares about students’ wellbeing,” said Eliza Byard, GLSEN Executive Director.

The following data is taken from the survey results. Though the report in quite long, it’s important reading. The report does offer summaries of survey points. All infographics are from GLSEN and available to download and share.  They also have posters you can download for your classroom or library, too. The summary points from this report includes offensive slurs. 

Findings of the 2017 National School Climate Survey include: 

GLSEN1

Anti-LGBTQ Remarks at School

• Almost all  LGBTQ students (98.5%) heard the word “gay” used in a negative way often or frequently at school.

• 95.3% of LGBTQ students heard homophobic slurs such as “fag” or “dyke” at school.

• 94% of LGBTQ students heard negative remarks about gender expression at school.

• 87.4% of LGBTQ students heard negative remarks specifically about transgender people (e.g., “tranny” or “he/she”)

• 56.6% of students reported hearing homophobic remarks from their teachers or other school staff, and 71.0% of students reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression from teachers or other school staff.

School Safety, Harassment, and Assault at School

• Close to 9 in 10 (87.3%) LGBTQ students were harassed or assaulted at school.

• Sexual orientation and gender expression were the most common reasons LGBTQ students were harassed or assaulted at school.

• Nearly three quarters of students reported being verbally harassed at school because of their sexual orientation (70.1% ); more than half (59.1%) were verbally harassed because of their gender expression.

• Over a quarter of students (28.9%) reported being physically harassed at school because of their sexual orientation; 24.4% were physically harassed because of their gender expression.

• 12.4% of students reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, 11.2% because of gender expression, and 10% because of gender.

• 48.7% of students reported experiencing some form of electronic harassment (“cyberbullying”) in the past year.

• Over half of students (57.3%) were sexually harassed at school in past year.

The high incidence of harassment and assault is exacerbated by school staff who rarely intervene on behalf of LGBT students.

55.3% of students who were harassed or assaulted at school did not report these incidents to school staff.

• The most common reasons that LGBTQ students did not report incidents of victimization to school staff were doubts that effective intervention would occur, and fears that reporting would make the situation worse.

• 60.4% of students who had reported incidents of victimization to school staff said that staff did nothing or told them to ignore it. 

GLSEN5

School Climate by Personal Demographics

• Pansexual students experienced a more hostile school climate than students of other sexual orientations.

Transgender students experienced a more hostile school climate than all other students. Genderqueer students and those with other nonbinary gender identities experienced a more hostile school climate than cisgender LGBQ students.

• Cisgender students whose gender expression did not align to traditional gender norms had worse school experiences than LGBQ cisgender students with more “traditional” gender expression.

• Native American/American Indian/Alaska Native students were more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to experience anti-LGBTQ victimization and discrimination.

• White students were less likely than all other racial/ethnic groups to feel unsafe or experience victimization because of their racial/ethnic identity.

The report goes on to discuss: 

*absenteeism (“LGBTQ students were more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable if they had experienced LGBTQ-related discrimination in their school.”)

*academic achievement (“Over half of LGBTQ students (59.8%) explicitly reported a hostile school climate as being factor in their decision or doubts about finishing high school. In particular, students noted issues with harassment, unsupportive peers or educators, and gendered school policies/practices, such as restrictions on which bathroom they are allowed to use”)

*psychological well-being (“Previous research has shown that being harassed or assaulted at school may have a negative impact on students’ mental health and self-esteem. Given that LGBTQ students face an increased likelihood for experiencing harassment and assault in school, it is especially important to examine how these experiences relate to their well-being.”)

Additionally, it looks at discriminatory policies, discriminatory discipline, restrictions, and prohibitions regarding public displays of affection, attending dances, forming a GSA, writing about LGBTQ topics, etc. It breaks the data down by race, ethnicity, school type, location, region, and more.

GLSEN offers many recommendations for turning these statistics around, such as giving students more access to LGBTQ-related information (literature, history, etc), forming GSA groups, providing professional development to increase the number of supportive teachers and staff, ensuring school policies are not discriminatory, having anti-bullying and harassment policies that make it clear that they provide safety for LGBTQ students, and teaching an inclusive curriculum.

GLSEN3

LGBTQ students experienced a safer, more positive school environment when:

– Their school had a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) or similar student club.

– They were taught positive representations of LGBT people, history, and events through their school curriculum.

– They had supportive school staff who frequently intervened in biased remarks and effectively responded to reports of harassment and assault

– Their school had an anti-bullying/harassment policy that specifically included protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

– Transgender/gender nonconforming students in schools with official policies or guidelines to support trans/GNC students had more positive school experience, including less discrimination and more positive school belonging.

GLSEN6

Previously at TLT:

Many posts for collection development and ways to support and affirm LGBTQIA+ students can be found by searching the tag LGBTQIA+ on the blog.

Also check out:

The Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools Project, which “is one of the few LGBT and gender-inclusive programs in the country that has a K-5 focus with resources to help elementary schools and educators address bias-based bullying—including anti-LGBT slurs and gender put-downs.”

Unfamiliar with GLSEN?

From their site: GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe and affirming schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN’s research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.

@GLSEN on Twitter

#ReadForChange: Get Really Real with Lilliam Rivera’s The Education of Margot Sanchez, a guest post by Marie Marquardt

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 Lilliam Rivera join us for a conversation about gentrification, taking action, writing a novel that is just one voice of the many unheard voices in the publishing industry, and her excellent book The Education of Margot Sanchez. 

 

 

Take care not to listen to anyone who tells you what you can and can’t be in life.

– Meg Medina

 

Taking up space in the South Bronx

 

educationofThe Education of Margot Sanchez is a perfect summer read. It’s at times fun and funny, at other times heartrending and poignant. Much like Meg Medina’s fabulous Burn Baby Burn, this novel drops the reader deep inside summer at a very specific time on a very unique collection of New York City blocks. It’s crafted so well that we can feel the humidity in the air and the heat rising from the asphalt.

 

Most of Margot Sanchez’ summer “education” happens in and around the Sanchez & Sons supermarket – once a “welcoming oasis in a sea of concrete buildings” in the South Bronx, the supermarket, owned by Margot’s dad, has seen better days. As Margot explains: “the blue paint is peeling, the posters are the same from five years ago, and there’s some funky odor that I can’t place.”

 

While the supermarket stayed the same, Margot went through some big transformations. The most important: she got into the prestigious Somerset Prep, and she finally made friends with Serena and Camille, the coolest girls in school. Reading how Margot had to change to fit in with the cool girls will, for almost anyone who has been through middle school and early high school, evoke poignant reminders of painful times. Because Margot’s experience is so relatable, and because her decision to go to Somerset was shaped more by her parents’ aspirations than her own, we feel sympathy for Margot, even though she has done some incredibly stupid stuff.

 

Case in point: Margot used her parents’ credit card to charge six-hundred-dollars-worth of clothes, since hanging out with Serena and Camille transformed her style from thrift store bo-ho chic to designer Taylor-Swift-inspired. (Like I said: cringe-worthy). Margot’s adventures in shopping landed her at Sanchez & Sons for the summer, instead of in the Hamptons with all of her Somerset friends.

 

At first utterly disdainful of her work and most of the people she encounters there, Margot eventually discovers and embraces her unique identity (even while wearing a hairnet and serving up sliced meats to the neighborhood church ladies!). Her transformation is aided by Moises, an anti-gentrification activist with a bad reputation, and Elizabeth, her former best friend who chose art school over Somerset.

 

While drawing us into this unique South Bronx neighborhood and the fabulous characters that inhabit it, The Education of Margot Sanchez also pulls readers into some complicated questions about family, ethnicity, social class, identity, and the impact of gentrification on particular communities. The story also playfully sifts through an enormous heap of gendered expectations. (Note, for example, that “Sanchez & Sons is owned by a man with only one son, who goes by the nickname ‘Junior’. The other child is Margot, whom everyone calls ‘Princesa’.)

 

Margot is a list-maker. Her final list of the summer is the “Get Really Real List.” This is the perfect way to end a novel that’s so real, so honest, and so deeply embedded in a particular place. I enthusiastically recommend The Education of Margot Sanchez to anyone who’s looking for a summer read that’s both super funny and incredibly thought-provoking.

 

“The Audacity to Believe that I Deserved Some Shelf Space”: A Chat with Lilliam Rivera

downloadMARIE: 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.

LILLIAM: The moment I knew The Education of Margot Sanchez had to be written was back in 2013. I kept thinking of the many young adult novels I read as a teenager. The Judy Blumes. The S.E. Hintons. I devoured those books and so many more at my local library. Because of the abundance of those books, I had the audacity to believe that I deserved some shelf space. That perhaps a Latina coming-of-age story set in the South Bronx, New York can be just one voice of the many unheard voices in the publishing industry that takes up some space.

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

LILLIAM: This is an interesting question. I grew up in a household where we were taught to navigate spaces that were not meant for people with my last name. My family is very active politically and that has fed down to my own writing. I believe I can create works of art that speaks on my own struggles —colonization, racism, and class. Even when I am writing in a contemporary setting or near future, these are the things that I write towards. How does this work with creating the life I want to live? I try to bring this to the many students I speak to across the states and to my own kids. I love speaking to young people and letting them know that their voices are so desperately needed. To be heard and to be seen, it’s really what most people want.

MARIE: For readers who want to take action, themselves, what ideas can you share?

LILLIAM: The amazing part about being young right now is the many different social media accounts out there. Communicating with someone with the exact same interests as you is so much easier. Young people can control the narrative, away from propaganda. They don’t have to settle to hearing what is happening in the world through only a few outlets. It’s an amazing period to be active, to take action. You can find like-minded people online and that can spur you into having uncomfortable conversations and to be part of social movements.

 

Let’s Get Reading!: Gentrification, from A to Z

 

Margot RFCLucky for us, Lilliam recently posted a great article on Teen Librarian Toolbox about one of the most significant themes in this novel: gentrification. She’s got several great recommendations there for people who want to learn more and read more. So, head on over to that article for all the details. You can find it here.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, inspired by Margot, I will give you the short list:

 

Lilliam’s Really Real Gentrification List

“Gentrification and the Criminlazation of Neighborhoods” – The Atlantic

“Health Effects of Gentrification” – Centers for Disease Control

How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the fight for the Neighborhood by Peter Moskowitz

The Color of Law: A forgotten History of How Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

 Lilliam's Gentrification List

Let’s Get Loud!
“It’s an amazing period to be active, to take action!”

Ready to take action?  Here are a few recommendations that Lilliam Rivera says are “doing the work”.

Black Youth Project
(BYP100)
A national organization of 18-35 year-old Black organizers and activists, dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people. Using a Black queer feminist lens, BYP100 “envisions a world where all black people have economic, social, political, and educational freedom.”

Immigrant Youth Coalition
An organization led by undocumented youth that works to empower immigrant youth in California to stand up to injustice and criminalization of immigrants.

 

 

United We Dream
This fabulous immigrant youth-led organization is making a second appearance on our list, and for good reason: “At United We Dream, we transform fear into finding your voice. We empower people to develop their leadership, their organizing skills, and to develop our own campaigns to fight for justice and dignity for immigrants and all people.”

Million Hoodies Movement for Justice
A human rights organization with chapters around the country that is “building next generation human rights leaders to end anti-Black racism and systemic violence”

 

 

 

¡ Pa’lante!
This summer, let’s get really real and #ReadForChange

If you’re hoping to start your summer with a free signed copy of The Education of Margot Sanchez, here’s a link to the giveaway. We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt June 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 (available 2/20/18). 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.

 

#SJYALit: Walk A Mile In Their Shoes, a guest post by Christina June

sjyalitWhen I was in grad school, a required course for my degree was Multicultural Counseling.  An assignment in that class was to do something outside “your box” so you could experience what it feels like to be uncomfortable, maybe even upset, at what was happening around you.  It could be something as small as watching a movie or going to a restaurant.  My professor, an African-American woman, even offered to take any of us who wanted to go to her Baptist church.  One of my peers, a young white Morman guy, took her up on it.  She told us whatever experience we chose was to help us learn empathy for those who were different from us.  So we would be able to put our own biases aside when helping clients or students who came from different backgrounds.

 

At 22, I took that message with me not only during that assignment, but for every assignment, every client session, every interaction, then and now.  Though I’d been lucky to grow up in a fairly diverse area of the country, I’m aware that not everyone has the opportunity to interact regularly with people who are different from them.

 

With the chaotic political climate of the US, it’s hard not to see the cracks that have always been present widening into canyons.  The differences in philosophies on life are staggering and frankly, for me, confusing.  I think back to that class in grad school all the time and wish more people could get out of their boxes.  They way I see it, it all boils down to this:

 

  1. Some people are selfish.
  2. Some people are not selfish.

 

Sounds harsh, I know, but hear me out.  When I say selfish, I don’t mean a little kid who doesn’t want to share his toys.  I mean someone who puts their personal interests first, before the needs of the masses.  Someone who lacks empathy and compassion.  Someone who is unable to put themselves in the mind and body of someone else for a little while.  I’ll admit there are times when acting on one’s own behalf is important, but most of the time, when we think about the greater good, everyone wins.  Seems pretty simple, yeah?

 

But what if you’re not there yet?  This is where books can make a huge difference.

 

Books magically allow a reader to put themselves in the head of a narrator for several hours and feel what they feel.  They allow a reader to experience different ways of life—try them on for a little while—which can lead to greater understanding of others.  And once we realize that experiences are universal, it’s easy to see we’re more alike than not.

 

hate-uHave you lost a friend to tragedy?  Pick up THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas.

 

Is your romantic relationship complicated by your family dynamics?  Try IT’S NOT LIKE IT’S A SECRET by Misa Suguira or GIRL MANS UP by M-E Girard.

 

Feel like you’re the only one hiding something?  Check out THE THING WITH FEATHERS by McCall Hoyle.

 

 

It’s much easier to fight for your friends than strangers, right?  If you know someone, what they’ve been through, the specifics of their life and their struggles, you’re more likely to go to bat for them.  You’d probably think that fight was worth your time.  Books can help kids make new friends that’ll stick with them for their whole life and inform which battles they’re willing to walk into.  And the earlier they learn these lessons, the better off all of us will be.

 

Teachers, librarians, booksellers, mentors—they are all magicians.  They have the unique and tremendously important ability to put books in the hands of kids who need something.  Maybe they need that new friend.  Any book has the potential to change—or even save—a life.  Books can have a ripple effect for years and years and it is my sincere hope that the amazing books that are being written right now will make long-lasting impressions on young readers.

 

I don’t expect—or want—all my neighbors to look like me, love like me, or believe like me.  Many agree with me, but many do not.  However, I’m optimistic that the more we learn about others, the more we will consider them in our decisions.

 

Make new friends.  We’re all in this together.  There’s no I in Team.  Walk a mile in their shoes.  Together we stand, divided we fall.

 

We’re better when we lose the selfish and work to make sure everyone feels supported.  Books are a great starting point.

 

Meet Christina June

View More: http://hannahbjorndalphotography.pass.us/authorchristinajuneChristina June writes young adult contemporary fiction when she’s not writing college recommendation letters during her day job as a school counselor.  She loves the little moments in life that help someone discover who they’re meant to become – whether it’s her students or her characters.  Christina is a voracious reader, loves to travel, eats too many cupcakes, and hopes to one day be bicoastal – the east coast of the US and the east coast of Scotland.  She lives in Virginia with her husband and daughter.  Her debut novel, IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE, was released in May 2017, and a companion, EVERYWHERE YOU WANT TO BE, will be available in 2018.

 

About IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE by Christina June

goodbyeSixteen-year-old Tatum Elsea is bracing for the worst summer of her life. After being falsely accused of a crime, she’s stuck under stepmother-imposed house arrest and her BFF’s gone ghost. Tatum fills her newfound free time with community service by day and working at her covert graphic design business at night, which includes trading emails with a cute cello-playing client. If Tatum is reading his emails right, her virtual Prince Charming is funny, smart, and talented—and he seems to think the same about her. Too bad he’s spending his summer across the ocean in Ireland…not that Tatum would be allowed to go on a date anyway.

But over the course of the summer, Tatum will learn that sometimes going after what you want means breaking all the rules. And when Tatum discovers she’s not the only one in the house keeping secrets, she finds she has the chance to make amends with her family and friends. Equipped with a new perspective, and assisted by her feisty step-abuela-slash-fairy-godmother, Tatum is ready to start fresh and maybe even get her happy ending along the way. A modern play on the Cinderella story arc, Christina June’s IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE will appeal to fans of Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins, and Jennifer E. Smith.

 

#SJYALit: Time For Confrontation: Moving Forward in the Diversity Conversation, a guest post by S. K. Ali

sjyalitThe first time I saw myself, I got scared. I was twelve and I’d brought my plate of lentils and rice into the living room in order to sit beside my dad as he watched the news. And there she was: a girl like me. On television.

The girl had on a blue hijab exactly like the one I wore to school. But this girl wasn’t going to school. She was getting bombed — by “our” side.

I remember the scene vividly; remember how my chewing slowed and how my father shook his head and how I felt a profound sense of disruption, of dissonance.

I mean I’d never seen people who looked like me on TV before. And this first time wasn’t fun TV like my favorite show, The Facts of Life.

This was my earliest memory — a searing one — of seeing myself represented, or rather, myself presented to me. I wish I could say that things got better but of course they didn’t. Due to the subsequent Gulf Wars and the North American media coverage of them, as well as books and films set abroad featuring the Sad Plight of Muslim Girls, I only saw Muslim women who were either to be hated or pitied.

Growing up, looking in the mirror meant seeing the negativity surrounding my Muslim identity reflected back, almost web-like over my real self.

Viewing yourself as others have misconstrued you either silences you or enrages you. Both these outcomes are detrimental — at the individual as well as societal level.

And here, I pause to present my privilege. I hope when you’re reading it, you think of those without this privilege and the depth of internalized pain carried around as a result.

When I think of the girl sitting beside her father, eating lentils and rice, watching the news, I also see the bookshelves lining the walls behind her.

I was fortunate to live in a home housing knowledge that challenged this negative view of myself — my father’s library had hundreds of books on Islam and Muslims that told another story — and so I was able to see through the web disfiguring me.

Yet still, the knowledge of self that I gleaned from my family, our home library, the mosque, and Muslim events stayed on a parallel course, a far one, from the “knowledge” about Muslims served daily on the news and at school by teachers who talked about “them” while one of “them” was sitting right there in her hijab.

The two streams of knowledge never met because to merge them would mean confrontation and I hated confrontation.

But then one more frustrating, negative news story about people like me led me to a decision at seventeen: I would tear at the web strands that disguised who I truly was. If it meant challenging things publicly – in classrooms, on the streets, writing to newspapers, so be it. If it meant confrontation, so be it.

Much of my University years were spent fighting Islamophobia, including undertaking a yearlong research paper surveying the depiction of Muslim women in popular culture.

This thesis, written over twenty years ago, documented the negativity surrounding Muslim identity, in particular female Muslim identity. It pains me to say that so very little has changed.

With one exciting exception.

The exception is a result of an intersection of sorts, a confrontational intersection.

The point at which real, dynamic change occurs. Where real stories, real characters, real art emerges.

The intersection happens when the authentic knowledge we hold about ourselves as we truly are, as members of marginalized communities, confronts the knowledge about us that has been in circulation for years, or, in many cases, centuries.

To have these streams of knowledge run parallel to each other, never meeting, has proven to be dangerous. The increase in hate crimes and policies affecting certain communities disproportionally provides that proof.

Old, untrue narratives hurt, internally and externally. They’re also same-old, same-old boring.

But now, we’re seeing an increase in stories arising that challenge the old. The exciting exception.

Ali - Saints and MisfitsOver the past few years, the invaluable work of diversity advocates like WNDB brought the important task of changing the publishing landscape to the fore. The #ownvoices movement sharpened the focus and asked us to consider the important question: who gets to tell “diverse” stories?

Earlier this year, #MuslimShelfSpace asked readers to reflect on whether they were making space for Muslim-authored content in the face of increased Islamophobia.

Who gets to tell stories featuring Muslims? I say it’s the children who grew up — who are growing up still — unable to see themselves clearly when they look in the mirror.

They’re the ones with the stories you’ve probably never heard. They’re the ones who’ll confront the same-old.

They’re the ones with Art to share.

Meet S.K. Ali

SKAliPicPrintS.K. Ali is the author of Saints and Misfits. She has written on Muslim culture and life for various media.

 

 

 

About SAINTS AND MISFITS by S.K. Ali

Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

There are three kinds of people in my world:

1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.

2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.

Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.

But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?

3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.

Like the monster at my mosque.

People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.

Except me.

#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.

 

 

 

#SJYALit: The X-Men and the social justice of diverse brains (Or, Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not a hero), a guest post by Rachel Gold

sjyalitWhen I was twelve and in my fifth year of getting bullied at school, I discovered a place where people could go to learn to use their powers for good, to band together against prejudice, and to save the world: Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

I had to spend part of my days in a world that increasingly hated me for being impulsive, smart, unruly, genderfluid and queer. But the rest of the time I had superpowered allies who struggled like I did and still managed to save the world.

In Marvel’s universe, many superpowers come from mutations in the human genome. And humanity is not sure how it feels about mutants — there’s a lot of envy, fear, and hatred.

Kitty Pryde’s acceptance to the School for Gifted Youngster’s wasn’t the easiest, but she learned early on that mutants have to help each other out! From Uncanny X-Men #129, published in Jan. 1980.

Kitty Pryde’s acceptance to the School for Gifted Youngster’s wasn’t the easiest, but she learned early on that mutants have to help each other out! From Uncanny X-Men #129, published in Jan. 1980.

The mutant superhero mindset remains one of the best I’ve found for talking about neurodiverse brains, queerness and gender diversity. The concept of neurodiversity comes from the movement to see brains on the autism spectrum (ASD) as a diverse way of thinking rather than a disorder. In addition to ASD, neurodiversity has been applied to ADD/ADHD and other diverse brain styles.

Too often the conversations around ADHD and ASD seem to be about brokenness and to push people to focus on what they can’t do. Sadly this is also still the case about queer/trans kids in too many parts of the world.

About twenty years ago, I learned that I have an ADHD brain and suddenly a lot of my early years made much more sense. I’ve been lucky to spend a lot more time in the superhero mindset than the broken/disorder mindset. My brain is more creative than 99% of the brains around me. And yes, maxing a brain for that kind of creativity has downsides too. Just like superpowers.

A powerful mindset

In the broken/disorder model, I spend way too much time trying to fix my weaknesses. I push myself to do things I’m bad at. But in the superhero model, I find allies to help with my weak spots and I train hard at what I’m best at. The world doesn’t need me to become adequate at doing paperwork — the world needs me to write books and solve problems is new ways.

The same is true of you. You don’t need to be good at 95% of the things you currently suck at. (As an adult, I have never needed to know how to make a bed. How to make appropriate eye contact, yes, that’s useful.) But the world needs you to excel with your particular gifts.

The superhero mindset doesn’t make life easy, but it makes it hopeful and gives us a clear path to success. It gives us the courage and impetus to keep going. It shows us that some powers are hard to control and we have work to do. In the X-Men, Cyclops can shoot lasers out of his eyes, but he can’t stop doing this and has to wear a special visor that controls his powers. Rogue can steal powers and memories with a touch and has to keep most of her skin covered all the time. The younger team, the New Mutants, all struggled with learning to control their powers.

Our mindset about our differences can empower us or cut us down. One of the key elements of social justice is human dignity. It’s much easier to connect to your dignity, and demand others treat you with dignity, if you see yourself as heroic rather than broken.

I spent a lot of time these days answering variations of the question, “Am I broken?” with: “No, you’re a superhero.” And seeing how many other people will real-life roleplay being superheroes with me. Not only do lots of them say yes, but they tend to get joyful about it. So, what are your superpowers?

Welcome to the School for Gifted Youngsters (and Adults). Here’s your homework:

  • Find stories that make you feel powerful.
  • Make and tell stories.
  • Find one person who gets your story.
  • Play SuperBetter, an online game that you play as the hero of your own life (www.superbetter.com).
  • If you’re new to comics, consider starting with: Ms. Marvel and Young Avengers.
  • Think about heroes, what makes a person heroic, how you are heroic.
  • Remember that heroes need downtime, rest and many allies.

About Rachel Gold

Rachel Gold_author photo_vert_mediumRachel Gold is the award-winning author of multiple queer and trans young adult novels—including Being Emily, the first young adult novel to tell the story of a trans girl from her perspective. Her latest novel, Nico & Tucker, is about love, nonbinary lives, healing and knowing who you really are. Rachel has an MFA in Writing and a day job in marketing, but is better known as an all around geek and avid gamer. For more information visit: www.rachelgold.com.

Book Review: Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali

Publisher’s description

ra6Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

There are three kinds of people in my world:

1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.

2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.

Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.

But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?

3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.

Like the monster at my mosque.

People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.

Except me.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Ali - Saints and MisfitsThis excellent book manages to be both about BIG things (faith, family, sexual assault) and about very everyday things (friendship, tests at school, crushes). Ali does a great job of weaving the big and little things together as we watch sophomore Janna Yusuf learn, grow, and find her voice.

 

We first meet Janna, wearing a burkini, while she’s in Florida with her dad and his family. She’d rather not be hanging out with them, but after her friend’s cousin sexually assaults her at a gathering, she needs to get out of town. Farooq, who Janna mostly just refers to as “the monster,” is well-respected in their community, a sort of golden boy at their mosque, who has memorized the entire Qur’an (but doesn’t appear to actually understand any of it). Janna keeps the assault to herself for much of the story, busy navigating the many parts of her life, but the monster is always around and Janna is fearful and angry. Janna’s brother, Muhammad, has recently moved home, taking a year off from college, and is courting Sarah, a study circle leader at their mosque, who Janna feels is, annoying, “the most perfect Muslim girl.” Janna spends time with Mr. Ram, her elderly Hindu neighbor, tries to figure out what to do about her crush on white, non-Muslim Jeremy, and hangs out with friends. She takes part in an Islamic Quiz Bowl team, too, getting to know more about people like Nuah, a nice dude who is friends with the monster, and Sausun, a niqab-wearing girl who becomes a surprising ally for Janna.

 

As Janna finds her voice, she struggles with how to fit in (both with her Muslim friends and her non-Muslim friends, as well as within her divided family), with what is important to her, and with how to make real connections with the people in her life. This is a thoughtful and engaging look at identity and finding your footing in your own life. As with the other books from Salaam Reads, this should be in all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481499248

Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 06/13/2017

Introducing Asexuality, a guest post by Laura Perenic

sjyalitSometimes being Asexual feels like something I’m not instead something I am.  I am not heterosexual.  I am not homosexual.  I am not gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual.  I am the A at the end of LGBTQIA that many interpret to mean ally; the A for Asexual that sometimes gets left off. It is confusing and frustrating to be just 1% of the population.  I don’t know anyone beyond the internet who is Asexual. I’ve joined online groups and  read anything I can find.  Pages like AVEN – The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network gave me a lot of great information. But I still don’t feel connected to the community.  I do not speak for fellow Aces, our identifier of choice. Being Ace feels a bit anticlimactic.  I’ve never seen an Ace pride parade.  I didn’t have a big coming out.  When I reveal my status to people they tell me on some level they always knew.  If I was being so obvious it’s interesting that it took me so long to realize it for myself.

A great resource is The Asexuality Archive. They establish a definition of Asexual as “Asexuality is a sexual orientation, like heterosexuality or homosexuality, etc., but instead of being sexually attracted to men or women, asexual people are sexually attracted to no one.  This doesn’t mean we all hate sex or avoid it, it just means we don’t find people sexually attractive.”  The challenge of this definition is while encompassing the basics it still doesn’t include all the facets of being Ace.  Sexuality has a spectrum often represented with the terms in LGBTA.  Ace has its own spectrum and includes Grey-sexual and Demi-sexual.

Grey-sexual: An umbrella term for a person who falls between sexual and asexual on the spectrum. A demisexual person only rarely experiences sexual attraction or only under specific circumstances.

Demisexual: A person who only experiences sexual attraction to someone once they have formed a strong emotional bond to that person.

In school to say that I had no interest in dating would be an understatement.  Not only did I not want to date but I couldn’t understand people who did. The entire process seemed confusing and also something I wanted no part of.  Sure I dabbled, went to prom and played spin the bottle but the results were the same.  Or the lack of results. It can be difficult to click with people without sexual chemistry. Even if you don’t desire someone, you have a connection with people who date or marry because its something you yourself have done.  Unless you haven’t and things start to feel like a game where everyone else knows the rules.  Many years into being an adult I still had a lot of questions about why my interaction with people were so different.   I don’t know where I first learned the term Asexual. It felt more correct than anything I used to label myself.  When I began to reveal to people that I was Ace I was mostly happy with the response.  Many people told me that could tell that I was different but never really could explain it; choosing Ace seemed accurate to them as well.  Interestingly a lot of people still don’t know I am Ace.  This article will be a bit of an unmasking of for me. While I haven’t experienced a lot of overtly negative responses to being Ace the hardest part as with many things is just the lack of understanding.  I find that talking about it with people seems to make them profoundly uncomfortable.  They will change the conversation to nearly anything else rather than hear about my orientation.

I remember being at a Teen Think Tank training.  It’s a twice yearly conference in Ohio with lots of libraries who serve teens.  A speaker was reviewing new books to appeal to LGBTQIA teens.  When she got to A, when she actually shared books about being asexual I never felt so simultaneously visible and hidden.  I was thrilled that she found books with characters like myself. But I was still uncomfortable sharing that I was Ace.  I couldn’t bring myself to state my identity because then and now I still have this fear.  I still think of myself as what I am not.  How in this sex saturated society do I explain that I don’t want to have sex?  That I don’t feel sexually attracted to anyone regardless of gender? That I see beauty in a great variety of people.  That I don’t have a type.  I fear being called prude or frigid. I fear people trying to convert me.  I don’t always understand me but not being understood by others feels achingly daunting.

I admit when I read teen fiction I struggle to understand the motivations of the hormonally driven characters.  While teens at work are a constant source of puzzlement, the teens in books I read are even more of a conundrum.  For me books with Ace characters make such a strong impression. I recently read Haters by Jesse Andrews.  As Ash recounts that she neither likes boys or girls I really focused in on her character.  I thought to myself “yes, she is ace,” and I instantly understood her so much more.  With so few Aces to connect with in real life I am always alert for Asexual characters in Teen Fiction.  There are more options in Adult Fiction and even in film or on tv.  I was delighted to learn, as a lover of anime and manga, that many characters from Hayao Miyazaki’s films are thought to be Asexual. Most notably Nausicaä, from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’s lead, Nausicaä. (Asexuality in Fiction). Check out the YALSA book list on Asexuality in Young Adult Fiction for more titles to explore. Another good source for general information is the Asexual Awareness Week site. 

ace flagAces identify each other with the black, white and purple Ace flag or similarly striped triangle.  The color scheme is common for clothing as well as our websites. Since asexual people prefer the term Ace you will see the use of the Ace symbol found on playing cards.  Within the Ace community we have some jewelry aspects we considering telling and some common references that help identity us within the group.  (I’m conflicted about saying more because I don’t want to out others as Ace. I think signs are for other Asexuals to find each other).

In media, social media and in my own life I would love to see more representations of the Asexual orientation.  It is far too easy to find references, comics and other content that treat my sexuality as of more a biological conundrum than a facet of humanity.  Being Asexual doesn’t make us all virgins, single or religiously pious.  I don’t want to speak for the whole Ace community.  There is a lot of variety in our 1% that includes Asexuals who do have sex, marry and have children.  I want Asexuality to be a legitimate part of the spectrum.

lauraMeet Laura Perenic

Laura Perenic lives in Ohio where she works as a youth services librarian. She enjoys spoiling her dog and getting up very early in the morning to run.

 

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