By: Beth Spencewood
Don’t miss it.
By: Beth Spencewood
I read this year’s 2015 Newberry winner, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, which is told entirely through verse from the perspective of 12-year-old basketball player, Josh Bell. I wasn’t sure that I would like this novel since I’m not particularly interested in sports and haven’t read much in verse, but was pleasantly surprised. I was immediately drawn into both the story and the game of basketball through Alexander’s high-energy, stylized verse, such as this segment from the very first poem:
Josh, and his twin brother, JB, are co-stars on their high school basketball team. After hours they practice with their former basketball superstar father, who teaches them life lessons through the lens of the game:
We follow Josh as he copes with his twin brother’s infatuation with his new girlfriend, the consequences of breaking the rules, and growing concerns about his father’s health. Alexander beautifully conveys universal feelings of jealousy, anger and loss through Josh’s experiences. This is all done while changing the style of verse to fit the mood of each point in the story and staying true to a 12-year-old point of view. It’s a story about fathers and sons, being a twin, and heartbreak that that is both touching and fun to read.
Don’t miss it.
By: Lily LaMotte
Kristy Dempsey, the author of the picture book A Dance Like Starlight, won this year's Golden Kite Award given by SCBWI. Her speech at this summer's SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles wowed me with its lyricism and use of language. So when I opened A Dance Like Starlight, I had very high expectations. I was not disappointed.
With the very first spread of A Dance Like Starlight, Kristy Dempsey tells the story of a young ballerina's dream of dancing onstage in the Harlem of the 1950's with beautiful language, rhythm, and metaphor. The lamp heads of streetlights become "pin-top faces". She then brings the reader into the young girl's life by invoking a universal emotion. The young girl searches the smoky city sky for a star to wish upon. What reader, whether child or adult, has not wished for some dream to come true? We are ready to root for her dreams.
Kristy Dempsey then sets up conflict immediately with the third spread. Mama doesn't believe in wishing on stars. Mama believes in hope although she warns that hope is hard work. While that may be true, it is the girl's own dreaming that moves her to imitate the students at the ballet school where she waits for her Mama to finish the sewing and mending work. It is a combination of dreaming and working that gets her noticed by the ballet master. After that, it is hope that makes her "...try harder to stand taller, to leap higher, to dance better."
And yet, despite hoping and dreaming and working hard, could a colored girl ever become a prima ballerina in the 1950's--a time when ballerinas were excluded from dance troupes because of the color of their skin? Her hopes are buoyed when Miss Janet Collins becomes the first colored prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1951, four years before Marian Anderson's Metropolitan Opera debut.
Mama takes the young girl to the opera even though the ticket is costly. Once they are outside the opera house, the young girl feels small against the huge building and the fancy people but when she sees Janet Collins dance onstage, she feels as if she were the one leaping and gliding. Her hope "wells up and spills over, dripping all my dreams onto my Sunday dress." She no longer needs to wish upon a star because she has hope.
Floyd Cooper's mixed media paintings beautifully and sensitively evokes the young girl's emotions with it's muted color palette and soft edges.
A Dance Like Starlight is a book that every young dreamer should read.
Images used under Creative Commons from Amazon.com, Boxykitten.com. and Thesoulpitt.com.
By Regina McMenamin Lloyd
In Stoner & Spaz, Ron Koertge gives voice to an "other" I had never heard from. Admittedly, I have tried to be a person who thinks about others. As a tween, I remember shying away from anyone with a disability. We don't admit that. We like to pretend we were born empathetic and self-actualized. But I distinctly remember, not looking. You know what I mean, that hole you put in your own field of vision for the person who is different. Parents tell their kids not to stare and kids learn somehow not to see. I shouldn't admit that it took me years to get passed a place of fear-- to seeing a human, an equal. What if I had read Stoner & Spaz when I was young? What different choices would I have personally made?
Right from the title, Koertge is setting the reader up for a story that defies popular notions and cliches. There is something innately feminine about the term 'spaz.' We picture a drama filled girl who freaks out over everything. Admittedly, my sisters would have pictured the teen me. I fell down the steps daily, got myself looped up in 'he said, she said,' and more than once locked myself in my room blasting Everybody Hurts by R.E.M., because it was that kind of day. When I hear stoner, I think of a long haired, pimply-faced, wearing-a-band-shirt-and-jean- in- summer, kind of boy. What Koertge gives us is a self-deprecating, smart and sensitive boy, paired with a mouthy, drug addict, hot, girl.
I loved the story, but even more importantly, as a writer, I felt like the succinct story showed me how I should be writing. I believe well written diverse books not only depict a different narrative than the one we are used to hearing, they can lead us to challenge the narrative we have created for those we see as 'others.' Koertge is able to show us, while Ben is a bit of a self-hater. Colleen who is gorgeous is also a self-hater. And in the end, the humanity of both of those characters links to the part of all of us, that fear we are not good enough.
By Judi Marcin
Tim Tingle’s How I Became a Ghost: A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story
Exploring Big Ideas With Young Readers
Middle grade is my home. I would rather write and read middle grade than anything else. It is that beautiful age that accepts everything and anything as possible. Middle grade stories from marginalized authors are especially important because of the open-mindedness this age of readers embodies. Reading these authors’ stories during this critical developmental time is a powerful way to expose kids to inclusive experiences and to incorporate empathy into their existence.
One of my favorite podcasts, Narrative Breakdown featured a discussion by Joseph Bruchac, an Abenaki storyteller, and Eric Gansworth, a writer and visual artist and member of the Onondaga nation. (As a side note, I highly recommend the Narrative Breakdown podcast collection. It is hosted by Cheryl Klein, children’s/YA editor, and James Monohan, screenwriter. The podcast addresses topics on the craft of creative writing and screen writing with a heavy focus on writing for children and young adults)
[Episode 45 “Authors Eric Gansworth and Joseph Bruchac and their editors, Cheryl Klein and Stacy Whitman, discuss the particular pleasures and challenges of writing, editing, and publishing Native American young adult literature.”]
Image of From One Dance Creation used under Creative Commons all rights owned by Eric Gainsworth.
Tingle identifies as an Oklahoma Choctaw and storyteller and used a horrific historical event as the backdrop to this first book in a series of three. In 1835 Tingle’s great-great grandfather, John Carnes, was forced to walk the Trail of Tears. Tingle took inspiration from tribal elders, gathered their stories and traced the Choctaw journey from Mississippi to Oklahoma. This story may be a ghost story but it is also much more than that. It is ultimately a story about the best parts of humanity coexisting when the worst parts are in control.
The author uses historical events to address universal conflicts. What happens when evil has power? What happens when those in power show no dignity or decency towards other human beings? How does the human spirit survive and go on to flourish under such conditions?
This book is also full of great craft elements. In literature we often talk about great openings to books. For me, Tingle’s opening in, How I Became a Ghost, is one of the best:
But now comes the important part. It is no longer my job to tell you about this book. The details and the unfolding of the story are critical to the essence of the story itself. It is now your job to read it. We should always be challenged to read beyond our experience. If you have not read this book—go do it. While you find this book, add some other Native American writers and storytellers to your list as well. For more ideas check out the blog by Debbie Reese American Indians in Children’s Literature Best Books
By buying and reading and requesting these stories we are allies supporting other writers, creating space for everyone.
Blog is a compilation- Authors individually listed