By: Tasslyn Magnusson
So - here's a little trip to review the books I purchased last semester. Like many of you probably, we don't have an endless book budget. I've got to make choices. You'll find my choices fall into essentially three categories - Your book has something I want to learn more about, I met you and want to know more about your writing, I was drawn to your book because of a line or the cover.
Justina Ireland - Promise of Shadows
My first purchase in my book commitment. Which was also my first contribution to the Renegades of Diversity Blog. I knew Justina and was fascinated by gods/goddesses as a kid and wanted to explore. Who wouldn't be drawn in - Zephyr Mourning is a Harpy - a story from the perspective of a Harpy - sign me up. Adventure from a new perspective.
Kwame Alexander - The Crossover
The opening page of this book taught me so much about the power of the visual when writing poetry. The narrator is playing basketball and moving down the court as he moves through his thoughts - all rapid fire. It’s a beautiful poem - and a beautiful page. Look at it.
Helen Frost - Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War and Keesha's House
Ann E. Burg - Serafina's Promise
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
I purchased these books because I was starting my own novel in verse. Keesha's House was moving - and in terms of technical expertise, written entirely in poetic forms. But here's the important thing these books made me wrestle with - being white, writing about people of color. Being of the dominant culture - writing about a culture that is not your own.
Seraphina's Promise by Ann E. Burg - is about a Haitian girl after the earthquake. Keesha's House is about a group of teenagers connected through a place of safety in their community. Salt is written from the perspective of a young white settler and a Native American with the War of 1812 providing their backdrop. Ezra Jack Keats was a huge proponent of diverse characters in books - he said he wanted to no child to feel like they were an outsider. Yet each were white, writing about diverse characters in communities other than their own.
Do these count for my commitment? What am I considering a diverse read? And then - how well did each write in a community that was not her own? What were their sources and process? Did these authors see this as a question for them - whose story is it to tell? I'm raising them here - because these are the kind of questions we need to ask - and I need to continue to ask of myself.
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste.
I purchased this book because I had just started to work with Tracey on some fundraising for the We Need Diverse Books organization. I tend to try to purchase - or at least read - books of folks I know or work with in order to get a sense of them as a writer. When this book arrived, I had planned to read it with the kids. Immediately both - age 12 and 9 - vetoed it because they were terrified of the cover and its two glowing eyes. More reading fun for me - it was a fabulous adventure.
John Steptoe - Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters
I actually found this book at the used bookstore while killing time with the kids. Dangerous place, by the way. I didn't know it was on our MFAC list until I got home, read it and was frantically counting annotated bibs before my packet and saw this one was a possibility. I was immediately drawn in the bookstore to the beautiful girl on the front cover - and wanted to know more about the story.
Langston Hughes - The Dream Keeper and Other Poems
I purchased this book because I was shocked to find that nowhere in my books was a Langston Hughes collection. Here I was, interesting in poetry and writing poetry growing exponentially by the day, and I didn't have Langston Hughes anywhere. This was on our list - and I fell in love with a poem about a person missing their friend. Everyone should read Langston Hughes for the elegance and leanness of his language and beauty of the poetic rhythm.
Thanhha Lai - Inside Out and Back Again
One of the ways I look for books to explore is through blogs and lists that are everywhere - sometimes it is hard to know which list to start with - we're planning to add some of our favorite blogs/lists to our Renegades of Diversity website over the coming months - so be sure to check it out. But, back to this beautiful book. I saw this on a best novel in verse books blog by author Sarah Tregay. http://sarahtregay.com/novelsinverse.html
I started this book thinking like a poet - about the language, white space, line breaks. But then two things happened. The pictures of the little boy who died trying to cross the Mediterranean appeared - I began to read those stories and seek out resources to learn more about the refugee crisis in Europe. And my reading of Inside Out and Back Again morphed into a passionate need to follow Ha's journey from the fall of Saigon to her first year living in America (Alabama). I wanted to live her experience with her - to understand.
Jacqueline Woodson - Brown Girl Dreaming
When this book arrived, I tossed it in my purse because we were headed to the Minneapolis Art Institute. My daughter is terrified of the Greek/Roman statues so immediately wanted to go to the playroom they have. Uncharacteristically, I volunteered to go with her while my husband and son roamed the museum. Why? I had read the first poem. I needed to read more. Badly. I sat, cross-legged until my feet were numb on the floor in the playroom while the daughter happily played. Brown Girl Dreaming transfixed me.