Wednesday, April 30, 2014

We Need Diverse Books

There's been a lot of talk for years about lack of diversity in children's and teen publishing. Lately, as mainstream media picks it up, it seems to have reached a critical head. As part of this groundswell, there is the We Need Diverse Books Campaign. It's supposed to start on Thursday, but the hashtag is already all over Twitter.

A lot of people are sharing stories and feelings about not being able to see themselves in the books they read. Or talking about the youth they work with who can't see themselves. I used to work in an area where the vast majority of my users were African or African American. I was always told they wanted a book about kids "like them" (read: black) that "wasn't old, or sad" (read: not historical fiction about slavery or civil rights). And I had books to give them! But not enough to get them through a school year, even if they could/would read every age/reading level. And they need diverse books.

But you know what? White kids do, too. And not just in a feel good "diversity is good for everyone" way (even though I firmly believe that.)

I grew up in NorthEast Wisconsin. When I was growing up, the largest group of non-white people were Hmong immigrants (or, at my age level, children of Hmong immigrants.) Name a book with Hmong people.

There's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, which came out in 1998 (the year I graduated from high school) with is nonfiction and for adults.

There's Pa Lia's First Day: A Jackson Friends Book. There are 4 books in the Jackson Friends series. I read the last one first--Stinky Stern Forever: A Jackson Friends Book, so I didn't know Pa Lia's name from the title, but she appears on the first page.

Pa Lia. I read it and stopped. Really? I read it again. And again. Pa Lia? REALLY?! It couldn't really be... no... PA LIA? And I read on and there were other cultural clues and OMFG YES THERE WAS A HMONG KID IN THIS CLASSROOM.

Finally, there was a book with a classroom that looked like mine looked for 12 years. I didn't realize how much that was lacking, and how much I needed a classroom to look like mine, until I saw that name in that book. I literally cried with relief. I was in my late 20s, crying with relief and joy that an early chapter book had a classroom that looked like my classroom.

If I need a Hmong character in books so badly, because I need my world reflected, even as an adult, how the hell did my Hmong classmates feel, never seeing themselves anywhere? What kind of disservice have we done to children, when the page denies their very existence? The 3 books I mention here, plus the other 2 in the Jackson Friends series are the ONLY books I know of with Hmong characters. So, 1 series. 1 adult nonfiction. That's it.

Seriously. All I want are books that reflect the world I live in. I'm a white girl with a middle class background. The books we have on our shelves are supposed to be reflecting me, but their all-white pages aren't even doing that. My experiences are more than me. They are the people around me. I'm white, but my world isn't. Why are my books?

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Thursday, April 03, 2014


You Charles Benoit

You're a largely misunderstood kid that everyone thinks is a troublemaker. You know better but they don't, so sometimes you just go with it. It's what they expect of you anyway. It starts with the blood, something gone horribly wrong. It ends there, too. The in-between is the girl you like. The in-between is the new kid who likes you for some reason. You like him too, until it's all gone wrong. So very wrong.

Overall, it's an enjoyable read. The quick pace of the plot and the second-person narration help drive the reader to turn the pages quickly and draw you in. I liked it but didn't think it was anything special. And then someone pointed out that's a retelling of Othello and my mind exploded. Because it totally is. It's a Shakespeare retelling that will appeal to struggling and reluctant readers-- a fun read with some source material that's really subtly woven in (and then once it's pointed out to you, all you can do is shout OMG DUH and feel stupid for missing it.)

Book Provided by... my local library

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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

State of the Onion

State of the Onion Julie Hyzy

Last month, the library had an edible books contest. For prizes, I gave away books about food and asked Twitter what were the best food-based cozies out there. A lot of people voted by Hyzy's "White House Chef Mystery" series, so I picked up the first one as a prize. I was intrigued enough by the title that I couldn't resist reading it, too.

Olivia Paras is an assistant White House chef. The Executive Chef is about to retire, and Olivia is one of the final candidates for his job. Her main competition is a TV celebrity chef that Olivia's worked with before-- and does not want to work with again. If she gets the job, Olivia knows she'll be leaving the White House. But the drama and pressure is soon pushed to the side when Olivia is walking back to work and sees a guy fleeing from the Secret Service and clocks him with her frying pan. Suddenly, she's trying to figure out a massive conspiracy that may end up in someone assassinating the President. Before she can solve it, she gets a glimpse of the world's most feared assassin and then she's no longer trying to save the President's life, but her own.

This was a fun one. I liked the behind-the-scenes look at the White House staff and the kitchen-- the differences in preparing a simple lunch for the first family versus a major state dinner and all the planning that happens. I liked the tension between Olivia and the new head of Culture-and-Faith-based Etiquette Affairs (he's such a jerk!!!)

I also liked her secret Secret Service boyfriend and the tension between them as Olivia got herself more involved with the case that he kept trying to push her off of. Overall it was very enjoyable and I didn't guess the ending. The bad guy was on my list of possible bad guys, but there was enough in there that I kept guessing on my choices. It was also often funny-- I especially liked when we finally meet the celebrity chef that Olivia is competing with. I think this is a series I'll continue reading.

Also-- do you have any good cozy recs? Mysteries, especially cozies are HUGE with the adults at my library, and now that I'm the adult librarian, I need to up my reader's advisory game. Leave 'em in the comments if you've got 'em.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Two Boys Kissing

Two Boys Kissing David Levithan

After Tariq is beaten for being gay, Craig comes up with an idea, and his ex-boyfriend Harry is the only one who can help. Craig wants them to break the world record for kissing.

Tariq is filming and live-streaming it from multiple angles, so no one can question it. They’re doing it in public-- on the lawn of the high school.

We also have other stories woven through-- Peter and Neil, who live a few towns over and have been dating for over a year, Avery and Ryan, who meet at a gay prom the night before the kiss begins, and Cooper, who is closeted and struggling when his parents find out.

The kiss itself is the central plot-point, but what I found most powerful about the book is the narrator-- a generalized “we” of the gay men who died of AIDS in the 70s/80s. It was devastating and made me unexpectedly sob. I wonder if teens will find it as moving as I did, as they leave a lot unexplained. They mention how no one cared until a movie star and teenage hemophiliac died. When talking about the hate and violence, they mention the 19-year-old strung up along the highway. These are small, passing references to things I know and remember. Ok, I don’t remember Rock Hudson dying and he never meant much to me, but I do remember Ryan White. I remember his advocacy and his death. I most definitely remember Matthew Shepard's murder. I know what a huge effing dealPhiladelphia was when it came out. Do teens? And this isn’t to say they won’t “get” the book, or enjoy it, but just that the emotional impact readers of a certain age are getting won’t transfer over.

I love love love love that there’s a trans character. I love that while it creates fear and uncertainty in his life (well, I don’t love that bit, but it’s realistic) it’s not a big deal for the narrators. They never question that Avery is a boy, that he’s a gay boy. They just feel for him that much more because he’s carrying around that much more. Handled so well.

And, let’s just talk about the cover, shall we?

Two boys kissing. You know what this means.

For us, it was a secret gesture. Secret because we were afraid. Secret because we were ashamed. Secret because it was story that nobody was telling.

But what power it had. Whether we cloaked it in the guise of You be the boy and I’ll be the girl, or whether we defiantly called it by its name, when we kissed, we know how powerful it was. Our kisses were seismic. When seen by the wrong person, they could destroy us. When shared with the right person, they had the power of confirmation, the force of destiny.

If you put enough closets together, you have enough space for a room. If you put enough rooms together, you have space for a house. If you put enough houses together, you have space for a town, then a city, then a nation, then a world.

We knew the private power of our kisses. Then came the first time we were witnesses, the first time we saw it happen out in the open. For some of us, it was before we ourselves had ever been kissed. We fled our towns, came to the city, and there on the streets we saw two boys kissing for the first time. And the power now what the power of possibility. Over time, it wasn’t just on the street or in the clubs or at the parties we threw. It was in the newspaper. On television. In movies. Every time we saw two boys kissing like that, the power grew…

Every time two boys kiss, it opens up the world a little more. Your world. The world we left. The world we left you.

And now there are two boys kissing on the cover of a major release book aimed at teens.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.