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Continuing Anti-Racist Work in Publishing in the Wake of the George Floyd Protests, a guest post by Roseanne A. Brown

Being a Black debut is weird right now.

Being Black right now is weird. And being a debut right now is weird. But being both? Being both is a whole new level of weirdness I did not know it was possible to achieve.

My debut novel A Song of Wraiths and Ruin came out on June 2nd, and like most writers with spring/summer releases this year, I spent the months before coming to terms with the reality that the launch I had dreamed of for years would not be possible in the wake of COVID-19. As disappointing as it was, the health and safety of my community mattered more.

But then June 2nd itself arrived. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin came out on a day when the world was gripped in the throes of some of the largest scale protests we’ve seen since MLK was assassinated. The unjust killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police marked a turning point in the conversation on racial injustice, and institutions around the globe are still reckoning with what it means to not only be non-racist, but anti-racist in the face of centuries of subjugation and oppression of Black people.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

In the publishing world, this looked like a push to highlight books by Black authors that might have otherwise gotten lost in the chaos. The people of the publishing community, lead by amazing Black women writers, came together to create a Black Tuesday to ensure that my book, A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow, You Should See Me In a Crown by Leah Johnson, and several other books by Black authors that released on June 2nd were not forgotten. Posts went up, the books went out of stock across multiple retailers, and everyone from authors to booksellers to publishers and beyond reaffirmed their commitments to amplifying Black voices in our industry.

I have zero complaints about the reception ASOWAR has gotten. Seeing readers connect with these characters I’ve loved for years has been a highlight of my career. But I am curious to see how the commitment to amplifying Black voices will continue now that Black Lives Matter is no longer trending and people’s feeds have gone back to normal.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) recently released the 2019 figures for the yearly report they compile on the state of diversity in children’s literature, and the numbers are simply appalling. Out of the 3,716 books that the CCBC received, there were more books about animals than there were books about children of color. Of the measly 11.9% of books that featured Black/African protagonists, less than half were actually written by Black/African authors.

We Need Diverse Books has been a fixture in the industry since 2014, and the movement for more inclusive children’s media has brought hundreds of wonderful books into the world that are going to change young reader’s lives for the better. But the numbers make it clear that the work is far from over, and now—when the world feels like it’s ending and the future is murkier than it has ever been—now is the time to ramp up our efforts instead of pulling back.

Buying books by Black authors is a great start, but the work to elevate and amplify Black voices cannot end there. As a community, we need to be pushing Black voices front and center when there isn’t a national tragedy happening. We need to be listening to these voices even when the truths they are saying are uncomfortable to hear. We need to make sure that Black and other IPOC publishing professionals at all levels have the support and mentorship they need to continue putting out books of anti-racism and radical Black joy.

In the weeks since Black Tuesday, several organizations that committed to doing better by Black writers and employees have proved that their environments are still unsafe for the very people they claim to support. The same Black writers people were clamoring to support a few weeks ago have been silenced and harassed as they continue to speak up about racist practices in the industry.

Being anti-racist is going to take more than a few weeks of hyping certain books and creating aesthetic Instagram posts. It’s going to take a fundamental shifting in the way we all view and interact with the world. It’s going to take interrogating the way each and everyone of us has allowed the structures of this industry to function unjustly for so long.

The work does not and cannot end with buying a copy of a Black author’s book or even blacking out an entire bestseller list, though that is an excellent start. The work will end when Black and other marginalized voices are no longer working in this industry at a structural disadvantage. And it’s going to take every single one of us at every level of the publishing hierarchy to make sure this change stays for good.

We all need to keep showing up for Black voices and Black lives, even when it’s no longer on trend to do so.

Meet Roseanne A. Brown

Photo credit: Ashley Hirasuna

Rosanne A. Brown is an immigrant from the West African nation of Ghana and a graduate of the University of Maryland, where she completed the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House program. Her work has been featured by Voice of America, among other outlets. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is her debut novel.

You can visit her online at 

Website: roseanneabrown.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/rosiesrambles

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rosiesrambles/

Roseanne suggests getting her book from her local indie, Books With a Past.

About A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

The first in a gripping fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction—from debut author Roseanne A. Brown. This New York Times bestseller is perfect for fans of Tomi Adeyemi, Renée Ahdieh, and Sabaa Tahir.

For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts his younger sister, Nadia, as payment to enter the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.

But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.

When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a heart-pounding course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?

ISBN-13: 9780062891495
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/02/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

RevolTeens: Being the Change and Leading the Way by Christine Lively

Often when I sit down to write this column, I have only a vague idea of what teens may have been up to in the last month to shake things up and fight the system. I usually search through articles and posts to see what has been happening and keep reading until a pattern emerges to be woven into a column.

This month is different. Teens are making headlines and are at the forefront.

As I have written before, so much of the major change and revolution of thinking in this country has started with the young – teens and young adults whose passion compels them to take a stand and use their voices to be heard. These teens have thrown aside the low expectations that adults have for their activism and have ignored the rules around who gets to be heard. They’re not waiting for the world to change, they’re charging ahead and demanding that the world change now. These are the RevolTeens, and they’ve been busy, brave, and successful this month.

Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests erupted across the country and they continue today. The passion of the protesters has not faded. The protests against police brutality against Black Americans and against racist policies, monuments, and violence haven’t just happened in big metropolitan areas. These protests have happened in towns large and small and many of them have been not just attended by RevolTeens, but organized and led by them as well.

In Nashville, Tennessee, six teens organized and led the largest protest in the area in recent memory. Jade Fuller, Nya Collins, Zee Thomas, Kennedy Green, Emma Rose Smith and Mikayla Smith who range in age from 14 to 16 all met on Twitter. They realized they had a shared desire to speak out after the murder of George Floyd and decided to form Teens4Equality through a group chat and then on Instagram. Soon after that, they reached out to other organizations to form a coalition and organize a protest. The Black Lives Matter Nashville helped organize the protest, but gave full credit to the RevolTeens who made the protests possible.  As Zee Thomas explained to the Huffington Post, “As teens, we are tired of waking up and seeing another innocent person being slain in broad daylight,” Thomas said in a speech during the event, according to Nashville Scene. “As teens, we are desensitized to death because we see videos of black people being killed in broad daylight circulating on social media platforms. As teens, we feel like we cannot make a difference in this world, but we must.”  These young organizers didn’t let their age hold them back from having their say. “We wanted to show people that no matter how old you are you have a voice and can make a change,” Emma Rose Smith told HuffPost.

Sixteen year old Stefan Perez got off a city bus in Detroit and joined up with a group of protesters who were heading to Police Headquarters. By the end of the night a few nights later, he had emerged as the leader of the protests, raising his fist and calling out for calm and safety as the protesters took a knee with police officers around them. Later, someone handed Perez a phone. When he answered, he found that the Mayor of Detroit Mike Duggan was calling to tell him how amazed he was at Perez’s leadership and that he brought tears to his eyes.

After speaking with the mayor, Perez said: “That was amazing. … I didn’t think I was gonna make it to 16. … The fact that people follow me … and the fact that the mayor just spoke to me, the fact that the Detroit police didn’t shoot. And they could’ve. It’s just amazing. I’m glad I’m not a statistic, because I could be.” The Detroit Free Press reported. Perez didn’t wait for permission, a degree, or any membership in a group. He saw what was happening and turned his passion into action and leadership by revolting against injustice.

Video of Stefan Perez in Detroit

https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2020/06/02/stefan-perez-detroit-protest/5314686002/

Finally, teens are speaking out in writing. The Gothamist  has this to share, “Our photographers have been out documenting the historic moment, which is part of a larger national, youth-driven movement working to defund the police and end systemic racism. With hundreds of photos, we asked New York City teens to choose one that resonated with them, and write about it. Below is a piece from Tevelle Taylor, a 17-year-old from Brooklyn, who attends Benjamin Banneker Academy. You can follow him @tevelletaylor

WHAT I SEE

I Am That Fast-Paced Heartbeat At The Encounter Of Police

I Am That Shock Welcomed Into The Mind Of The Majority When The Black Man Can Pronounce His Words Correctly

I Am That Last Breath Taken By George Floyd

I Am That Anger Aroused At Every Melanated Achievement

I Am That Unopened Pack Of Skittles & Arizona Drink

I AM

I Am Suspicion When Two Or More Black People Are Gathered Together

I Am The Loss Of Gravity That Compels The Arms Of Black Men To Float, In An Effort To Cease Intimidation

I Am That Relief After Hearing The Metal *Click* Of The Handcuffs Cutting Off The Circulation Of Every Innocent Black Man’s Wrist

I Am The Sorrow Felt By The Little Black Boy When His Parents Tell Him That He Can’t Play Cops & Robbers

I AM

I Am The Slowing Down Of Black Body Movement When Being Spoken To By The Men In Blue

I Am The Confusion Awakened After Seeing A Black Man Knowledgeable In His Rights

I Am The Sharp Pain, Inflicted By The Cops, Giving Him A Reason To Shoot A “Resister”

I Am The Gravitational Force That Sinks The Hearts Of Black Mothers When They Hear That Their Son Became A Gun Target

I Am The Unfinished Jog

I Am The “Strange Fruit”

I Am The Antonym Of Privilege

RevolTeens are taking up the charge. They are changing the world, and we are lucky enough to follow them to the future.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively

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

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

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

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

 

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

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

hate u

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062498533

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 02/28/2017

Book Review: Racial Profiling: Everyday Inequality by Alison Marie Behnke

Publisher’s description

racial-profilingIn the United States, racial profiling affects thousands of Americans every day. Both individuals and institutions—such as law enforcement agencies, government bodies, and schools—routinely use race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of an offense. The high-profile deaths of unarmed people of color at the hands of police officers have brought renewed national attention to racial profiling and have inspired grassroots activism from groups such as Black Lives Matter. Combining rigorous research with powerful personal stories, Racial Profiling explores the history, the many manifestations, and the consequences of this form of social injustice.

 

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Every single book that falls under the umbrella of addressing social justice issues and civil rights is always going to be both timely and timeless. They are always relevant. The conversation always needs to be happening. And this book is a great, thorough introduction to thinking critically about racial profiling, a topic that is certainly not new.

 

Told through historical examples, photographs, research, statistics, and personal stories, this book examines the history, manifestations, and consequences of racial profiling. It begins with the 2014 shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, detailing the 911 call, how important information from that call got omitted in the dispatch call, and the eventual grand jury decision that the actions were justified and the officer wouldn’t face criminal charges. The text offers up the ACLU’s definition of racial profiling as well as Amnesty International’s. In the general background information discussion on profiling, Behnke notes that in law enforcement, some policies explicitly permit racial profiling at some level and in some cases. 20 out of 50 states have no laws banning racial profiling by police, and even if it’s prohibited, it still occurs. The focus of the book isn’t just on law enforcement; any institution or person can engage in profiling. The author points out that this is because of the system of racial bias in the US that allows and encourages profiling—a system with a very long history.

 

Topics covered in this book include: the roots of racial profiling; white privilege; arguments for “positive” effects of profiling (from perceived positive effects on safety to the financial gain of police departments); a look back at historical inequality—slavery and its legacy; the propaganda used to institutionalize stereotypes and engender racism; the Civil War; Reconstruction; voting rights; sharecropping; Jim Crow laws; the KKK; lynching; redlining; 19th century immigration; Japanese internment camps; the civil rights movement of the 1950s and on; Loving v. Virginia; the Black Panthers; the war on drugs; Islamophobia; profiling in schools; employment obstacles; income and housing inequality; microaggressions; environmental racism; health care; the school-to-prison pipeline; stop and frisk; traffic stops; police brutality; jailhouse deaths; hate crimes; incarceration; sentencing; watch lists; bans on immigrants; proposed reforms; racial profiling laws by state; speaking out; protest; organizations; media coverage; social media; Black Lives Matter; white allies; and ways individuals can contribute to the conversation about profiling and inequality, examine biases, and other suggestions for action.

 

Voices of Experience sections share thoughts on racial matters from people such as Sonia Sotomayor and James Baldwin to college students. Terms are defined in the text, with some getting longer explanations separately. Case studies delve deeper into important historical events. Some of the people in these case studies include Emmett Till, Rodney King, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, and Eric Garner. A glossary, source notes, bibliography, further information, and index are appended.

 

A very thorough and powerful look at an important topic. Get this on display in your libraries and make sure US history teachers know about this title, as it would be an incredibly useful book to supplement curriculum. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781512402681

Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books 

Publication date: 01/28/2017