I asked Doret from The Nappy Happy Bookseller to recommend a few great titles in time for the upcoming 24-Hour Read-a-thon. Instead Doret did more than that, she sent me a huge list of books that sounds really good and perfect for the event. I know I’m adding a few books to my TBR pile for the read-a-thon!
When Vasilly asked me to do a guest post of titles featuring kids of color for the upcoming read-a-thon. I was like of course. Since this is for a read-a-thon, I’ve broken this up into two parts. Great books less than 210 pages and books over 210 pages that are hard to put down. Hopefully you will find a few titles of interest.
Great Books less than 210 pages
The Way a Door Closes. 52 pages. Or Keeping the Night Watch. 80 pages. by Hope Anita Smith. Both novels are written in verse. Perfect for April. In the first on CJ must deal with his father leaving. In the follow up, CJ’s father returns. Smith writing is beautiful and its easy to lose yourself in her words.
After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson. 176 pages. There are many Woodson novel I could’ve suggested but I went this Newbery Honor title. One summer three girls are connected through Tupac lyrics. Woodson is very skilled at creating characters and moments readers will remember.
I Wanna Be Your Shoebox by Cristina Gracia. 208 pages. I love this novel so much. Yumi Ruiz Hirsch is Cuban, Jewish and Japanese. She’s also surfer/skaterboarder, classical clarinetist, who loves good rock (Ramones), and she plays a decent bass guitar. Garcia refused to limit who Yumi was and who she could become. The summer is over, Yumi is returning from Surfer’s camp, she’ll be entering the 8th grade. Yumi’s lives with her mother. Her parents have been divorced since she was one. Yumi is very close to Saul her Jewish grandfather. Saul is 92 and dying of cancer. Yumi ask Saul to tell his story and he does.
Bobby vs Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee. 160 pages. Bobby Ellis Chan is looking forward to starting fourth grade. His best friend is Holly Harper. Though they’re at that awkward age when boys and girls don’t mix so its a secret. I loved Bobby and his family. I really appreciated the author going against gender norms. Bobby’s dad is a former professional football player, turned stay at home dad. He’s trying to defeat static cling but has taken to the new job. Bobby’s older sister is the QB on her high school football team. After Bobby’s pet fish dies, he cries. It very rear to see a boy cry in the open. I thought Yee did a wonderful job with this scene and the set up for it. Bobby starts telling his secrets to Rover. A child who has lost a pet will understand Bobby’s tears and won’t think he shouldn’t be crying because he’s a boy.
Bird by Zetta Elliott. 58 pages. Mehkai goes by the name Bird, this is his journal. Each entry is a poem. A lot is going on in Bird’s life. His grandfather recently passed. His older brother Marcus has become addicted to drugs. Birds writings and drawings give him the opportunity to heal. Bird remembers the good times he shared with his grandfather. He writes about his brother’s artistic talent. Through Bird’s words you can feel how much he loves his family and looked up to his older brother. Its not all happy, there is some anger and sadness. I loved Elliott’s writing, the simplicity made it that much better. As I continued to read Bird and his family became more real. Marcus is not painted as a villain. He’s lost but still loves his younger brother. Strickland’s illustrations enhance the story. The illustrations allow the reader to enjoy Bird’s words that much more. Many families are affected by addiction. Elliott has written a book that will enable the youngest family members to talk about their feelings. Young readers will easily relate to Bird’s words.
Chess Rumble by G. Neri. 64 pages. There was much to love about Chess Rumble. This is Marcus’s story told in verse. Marcus is filled with anger, after his sister’s death and his dad leaving the family. He wants to fight everyone from his little brothers to his classmates. Latrell used to be Marcus’s best friend, now they hate each other. Marcus is a big kid, so to get under his skin Latrell calls him names like Fat Albert. Marcus gets into a lot of trouble at school and his teacher, Ms. Tate is frustrated. Finally instead of the regular punishment, Ms Tate tries something new, introducing Marcus to CM. CM teaches young men to play chess, so they can fight it out on the board. This wasn’t a quick fix, it still took time for Marcus to come around. It’s one of the things I loved about Chess Rumble, its seems more realistic that Marcus would be hesitant to trying chess. Neri has created a very believable character in Marcus. Young readers will be able to relate to Marcus, everyone understands anger. Neri’s writing is great, he does not waste a word.
Alvin Ho Allegric To School, Girls And Other Scary Things by Lenore Look. 176pgs. Alvin is going into the second grade, and is afraid of pretty much everything. Alvin does a lot of talking at home but at school he can’t say a word. I loved this book, from the opening page Alvin Ho is a character you’ll want to know. The story begins with Alvin listing six things we should know about him. He also introduces his older brother, Calvin and younger sister Anibelly. Alvin’s voice is real, fun and thoughtful, young readers will love it. He’s shares his anxiety about school and making friends. I know I am making this book sound serious, and it is partly but the authors does it with a fun light touch.
The White Bread Competition by Jo Ann Yolanda Hernandez. 208 pages. It’s the 90’s in San Antonio, Texas and Luz will be the first Latina to represent her state in the national spelling bee. White Bread Competition is made up of 10 interlinked stories that lead up to the big event. One of my favorite stories was Mixing the Ingredients. Luz’s grandmother Aura, tells her something bad will happen if she enters the spelling bee. Rosaura confronts her mother for telling Luz such hurtful things. This story reads like a song, the movement is beautiful. Hernandez brings the reader closer to mother and daughter. The author does an excellent job of drawing all the characters, making the reader care.
Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez. 208 pages. I really enjoyed this story. From the beginning Lina’s voice is strong, honest with a hint of humor. Lina’s best friend Vanessa lives right across the street. The two friends are dealing with parents who are not at their best. Lina’ mother died recently, and her dad doesn’t know how to connect with her. Vanessa’s father left her mother, now she hates men and won’t stop watching Lifetime movies. Lina and Vanessa look out for each other. Their friendship along with Lina herself, are the heart of this story.
Any book from Angela Johnson’s Heaven Trilogy. 131 pages. Heaven, First Part Last or Sweet Hereafter. In First Part Last Bobby’s girlfriend Nia tells him she is pregnant on his 16th birthday. The novel looks at teenage pregnancy from the boy’s point of view. Many things contributed to the beauty of this story, one is Johnson’s less is more approach. Only 131 pages and it hits as hard as a book twice its size, maybe more so – there is a reason and a need for every word. And oh my the ending. I was not prepared. No one told me there would be tears. By I time I figured out was going on it was too late, Johnson had already captured my heart.
Pemba’s Song by Marilyn Nelson and Tonya Hegamin. 107 pages. Song is a slim book and beautifully done. The size of the book doesn’t allow for excess which is a plus for me. I enjoy staccato style , where author must hit each word right and hard. The book opens with 14 yr old Pemba writing in her journal. Pemba and her mother moving from Brookyln, NY to Colchester, CT. Pemba is not happy about the move, but luckliy she has her journal to comfort her. The first person they befriend in Colchester is Abraham, an older gentleman who researches the towns slave history. In the house they move into Phyllys, a dead girl reaches out to Pemba. Pemba and her mother are the first black people to live in the house. Phyllys lived and died as a slave there, and waited a long time to tell her story.
M+O 4Ever by Tonya Hegamin 176pgs. Opal and Marianne were best friends before their first steps. Somewhere along the way Opal fell in love with Marianne. Before Opal could save Marianne, she commits sucide. Opal uses her memories and family to come to terms with her loss. Hegamin doesn’t use the loss of the main character as a crutch. She makes the reader feel not with a loss but rather their words.
The Fold by An Na (192 pgs) I really enjoyed The Fold. Joyce goes back and forth about having the surgery that will make her eyes look bigger and give her a more American look. The Fold will have a reader laughing, while considering what beauty is and what they’re willing to change for it. Joyce is a very likeable and real character. An Na surrounds her with a wonderful caring family and a great best friend in Gina.
Books over 210 pages that are hard to put down.
The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees – I loved this book. This is the story of 16 yr old Frankie Thomas. The younger brother who must work at his families restaurant while his older brother, Steve gets a soccer scholarship, the girls and a car. Voorhees created a character in Frankie Thomas that many people can get behind and relate to. He’s in his older siblings shadow, he’s a sophomore trying to psych himself up to ask a girl to homecoming. Frankie must also decide what type of man he wants to be. This is a very well told with a strong beginning that will capture many reluctant readers. Voorhees doesn’t try to do too much with The Brothers Torres, simply tells Frankie’s story- thats one of the things that makes this novel so good. The Torres family lives in New Mexico. Frankie’s tells us a lot about their small town Borges, its history and the people who live there.
A La Carte by Tanita Davis – Many of you might be familiar with Davis most recent novel Mare’s War. So I thought I’d point out her first YA novel. 17 yr old Elaine (Lainey) lives in the Bay Area with her mother who is co owner of La Salle Rouge restaurant. Lainey is pretty good in the kitchen as well and dreams of having her own vegetarian cooking show. A la Carte is about much more then a girl who wants to be a chef. Its also about a teenage girl who falls for the wrong guy. I loved this book because Lainey refused to let a boy use her.
Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves – This story is beautifully strange. I loved it. It beings with 16 yr old Hanna arriving in her mom’s home town of Portero, Texas for the first time. The two have never meet. After an incident with her aunt Hanna needs a new place to call home. She has her mind set on Portero. Hanna’s mother, Rosalee does her best to discourage her daughter, it doesn’t work. Hanna quickly learns Portero is a far from normal town. Students are turned into statues, and monsters can take people right off the streets. She fits right in.
Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Saenz.I loved this one hard. Sammy Santos is one of the best three dimensional young adult male protagonist I’ve read in a long time or ever. Sammy’s Hollywood is his barrio in New Mexico, circa 1969. Juliana is his friend, the girl he loves and the girl he wants to save. Though this book is so much more, we meet Sammy and his friends there junior year of high school. This is about their life in Hollywood. Every single character in well thought out and well crafted. The author allows the reader to feel and taste Sammy & Julina’s world. Its always easy to spot an author who is a poet. Sure enough I got that feeling, so I flipped to the front , the author has published poetry as well. Saenz, finds words for moments that I thought had no words. He catches the lines between the lines.
Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim. 15 year-old Nina Khan is a Pakistani Muslim girl who wants to obey her parents and have a little fun. Some YA second generation Americans books fall into a cliche trap, where the main character must excel in academics and have strict parents they hate plus a one dimensional story line. In this debut novel Karim finds a beautiful balance avoiding the predictable. I also love that the author took the time to fully develop Nina’s best friends Bridget and Helena with distinguishable personalities. Through their friendship we learn more about Nina, who is fun, smart and hairy. When puberty hits Nina goes into over drive.
Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins. Set in India 1970’s. After Asha’s father has lost his job, he heads to NYC in search of new opportunities. Asha, her older sister Reet and mother will go live with their father’s brother and his family in Calcutta. Asha is the athlete, Reet is the beautiful one. Asha is continually being put down for being too dark. The sisters don’t let how others see them effect their relationship. The Calcutta house is filled with family. Asha finds privacy on the the roof to write in her journal. Perkins has written a wonderful novel with three dimensional characters that readers will love.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia. It’s 1968 and three sisters, 11-year-old Delphine, 9-year-old Vonetta and 7-year-old Fern, will be spending the summer with their mother in Oakland, CA. The sisters attend the Black Panther summer program. I smiled my way though this book. It’s filled with an honesty I love to see in middle grade fiction. The sisters are simply beautiful. There isn’t much middle grade historical fiction featuring Black characters that at some parts warm your heart making you laugh out loud, then just as quickly teaches something. I wish this book was around when I was younger, I would’ve swallowed it whole.
Leaving Glorytown by Edurado F. Calcines. Eduardo’s family lived in the city of Cienfuegos, settled in a barrio know as Glorytown. By the time the Calcines family boards the plane for America you feel their loss, hope and excitement. This book fills an important void since there aren’t many books about Castro and Cuba for young readers. Eduardo was only three when Castro came into power in 1959. He lived with his parents and younger sister and surrounded by extended family. Eduardo is very close to his family especially his grandparents. Besides the family relationships, I loved Eduardo’s friendship with his cousin Luis and brothers Rolando and Tito. The fact that the brother’s father was a communist matter not. The four were very close all dreaming of there own kind of freedom. Eduardo talks of the changes that came to Cuba when Castro came into power. The long lines and food rations. People being unjustly arrested. The loudspeakers installed around the city, so The Voice could speak for hours. How families throughout Cuba were torn apart.
Shine Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger. 17 year-old Samar (Sam) lives with her mother in New Jersey. Sam’s mother felt too restricted by her Indian parents, cutting all family ties. Sam knows many things but she is clueless about her Indian heritage. Her mother made it a point to stress their sameness, so the two have fully assimilated into Western culture. Everything changes when Uncle Sandeep knocks on their door, seeking out this lost family branch after the attacks of 9/11. Sam doesn’t know what to make of this turban-wearing man at her door but she quickly deems him a nice guy. With Uncle Sandeep entering Sam’s life again she wants to know more about what it means to be an Indian Sikh. I really enjoyed Shine Coconut Moon. Meminger’s writes with wonderful ease.
Hot Girl by Dream Jordan. This is a must read for fans of Coe Booth. Kate has spent all of her 14 years in the foster care system. She’s book smart, street smart, funny, quick and observant. Her life is finally starting to turn around, she’s left her gang, stopped hanging with the wrong crowd, started controlling her temper and is getting A’s in school. She befriends Naleejah, a hot girl, who makes over her tomboy image. Kate’s quick wit had me laughing out loud. She doesn’t let being in foster care keep her from dreaming and setting goals. I loved watching this character stay true to herself.
Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon. IMO this is a classic. Buckhanon proved urban fiction for teens can be written with style and beauty and still capture reluctant readers. A young couple must keep in touch via letters, when the boy is sent to prison for killing his father. Though the truth eventually comes out. At the end the author allows the reader to see the young couple as adults, still I wanted more, the writing is just that good.
8th Grade SuperZero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. In the author’s bio we learn that Rhuday-Perkovich studied with Paula Danziger and Madeleine L’Engle. I believe this fact shows itself early on in this well layered debut novel.. After an incident on the first day of 8th grade, Reggie is called Pukey. Reggie is doing is best to lay low. His best friends are Ruthie a young revolutionary and Joe C, an artist. There aren’t enough contemporary middle grade novels with a main character of color that’s male. I love Reggie for many reasons. One of the biggest is that he’s Jamaican. The author doesn’t make this an issue of it nor does she ignore it.
I know even after the read-a-thon, I’m still going to come back to this list for recommendations. So what about you? Are you participating in the upcoming read-a-thon? Are you still getting your pile of books ready?