Counting by 7s
Holly Goldberg Sloan
Unexpected tragedy hits Willow Chance, a 12-year-old genius with a passion for gardening and medical diagnoses, when her adoptive parents are killed in a car crash. She is nearly put into foster care, but through some quick talking, she is allowed to live temporarily with her only friend, Mai, and Mai’s mother, Patty, and brother, Quang-Ha. The only other caring adults in Willow’s life are sad sack school counselor Dell Duke and a cab driver named Jairo who thinks Willow is a miracle sent to save him from cancer. They go to great lengths to help Willow and she, unintentionally, helps each of them to have a new outlook on life, a new home, or a new relationship. A court appearance that will determine Willow’s fate hangs over everyone’s head throughout the book and comes to a touching climax in the end.
The characters in Counting by 7s are really what make the book, and Dell Duke was my favorite. From Miss Honey in Matilda to Mr. Terupt in the series by Rob Buyea, teachers in children’s books are almost always too good to be true; they are savior, angel, substitute parent, or sage. Dell Duke is the opposite of all of these things by nature, making him the most subversively written teacher (ok, technically he is a school counselor) I’ve ever read in a children’s book. He’s a slovenly slacker who faked his resume to get his job. His filing system categorizes the kids he “helps” into judgmental categories. He’s antisocial and terrified of responsibility. Willow naively sees the best in him and after a while he begins to see potential in himself through her care for him. However, he is still himself in the end, just a slightly improved adult for having met Willow Chance.
In 2014 Counting by 7s was optioned for a movie staring Quvenzhane Wallace as Willow, but no more news has come out since then.
Hold Fast by Blue Balliet
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Wonder by R.J. Pallacio
Ella-Little Collins & Sarah Little / Photo via The Boston Landmarks Commission and Boston Magazine
For anyone who has read X, the recent YA biography of Malcolm X, there is some exciting news out of Boston. Boston’s City Archaeology Lab – yes, the city has its own archaeology department – just started an excavation of the Roxbury home of Ella Little-Collins, Malcolm X’s half-sister with whom he lived as a teen. The dig is open to the public March 29-April 8, but if you aren’t in the Boston area, you can see pictures of what they find on the City of Boston Archaeology Program Facebook page. They’ve already posted quite a few finds.
Half the World
Read for The 2016 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge
Alex Award winner
Thorn, a girl training to be a warrior of Gettland, has to work twice as hard in the training ring for half the respect (sound familiar, ladies?). When she is questionably accused of murder, it takes the minister of Gettland, Brother Yarvi, to rescue her from execution and start her down the road to become one of the greatest fighters in the kingdom. Brand grew up training with Thorn, and in defending her against the murder charge, gets his own warrior dreams dashed. Luckily Yarvi sees potential in him as well and recruits Thorn, Brand, and a band of misfits from different kingdoms to accompany him on a diplomatic mission to gain allies that will help the king and queen of Gettland lead an uprising against the High King and his abusive minister Grandmother Wexen. Thorn and Brand each have their moments to be the hero of the journey, but when they return to Gettland a year later and without as much support as they had hoped for, they find things have changed and war is threatening to bear down on Gettland. They must be ready to fight. Strong female characters and a thrilling duel at the end makes Half the World a compelling read that stays true to its high fantasy roots but includes a much more diverse characters, including people of color and some kick-ass women. Books like this move the genre in the right direction.
Half the World is the second book in the Shattered Sea series. I didn’t read the first book and never felt like I missed any information from the first book, Half a King. The next book, Half a War, is already out and is going on my to-read list.
Graceling by Kristen Cashore
Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin
Earlier this year children’s author and illustrator Grace Lin gave a TED Talk about the import role of children’s books in helping a child see both the world and him or herself. In order to do that effectively, we need to offer children books with characters like them, no matter their race, religion, gender, class, or background.
For more resources about diverse children’s books, please visit We Need Diverse Books. You can also look for the “diverse books” tag on my reviews and posts.
If you have ever wondered why we need diverse books, not just for children but for everyone, you need to watch this TED Talk by writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about what happens when people receive a single narrative about an ethnicity, religion, country, etc.
We Should All Be Feminists
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
On the Amelia Bloomer Top Ten list
Writer and all-around shero Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie took a TEDTalk she delivered about feminism and growing up in Nigeria and turned it into this very quick, impassioned read (it took me less than 30 minutes to read). She shares stories about being accused by a friend – a boy – at a very young age of being a feminist and having to look it up in the dictionary. As she grows older, she experiences instances of misogyny, some blatant and others more subtle. Through these examples she examines gender norms for both men and women, starting from when they are boys and girls, and elaborates on how they shape us. I was especially impressed with her examination of men and masculinity and how expectations of masculinity create fragile male egos of which women are expected to be the protectors. I also agreed with her declaration that “emasculation” is perhaps her least favorite word ever. While the topic is timely, her points astute, and the writing engaging, the material is better, for me, when delivered through the oral medium of the TEDTalk. As a book, its brevity on such a huge topic made it ultimately unsatisfying and left me wanting more. Also Adichie is a beautiful speaker, so I would rather listen to her.
Fun fact: At the end of 2015, every 16-year-old in Sweden received a copy of this book in hopes that it would prompt conversations about feminism among the young people, even though Sweden is one of the most gender-equal countries in the world.
Read for The 2016 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge
On the YALSA list of Top Ten Great Graphic Novels & Top Ten Popular Paperbacks
Being a tween is tough, especially when, like Astrid, you start to grow apart from your life-long best friend. The rift between Astrid and her BFF Nicole reaches a breaking point when Nicole decides to go do ballet summer camp with Astrid’s archenemy instead of signing up for roller derby camp. To make matters worse, Astrid can’t even stay upright on her skates, let alone speed around and hip check the older girls, required skills if she is going to make a name for herself (literally, she needs to come up with a catchy, punny roller derby name) among the Rosebuds, the junior roller derby girls in Portland, Oregon. As Astrid tries to make her big break into roller derby, she simultaneously navigates making new friends, maintaining her relationship with her mom (who is apparently single and a also an academic librarian), and exploring her identity, which may or may not include blue hair but definitely doesn’t include pink clothing. In a pitch-perfect display of what it is like to be a totally irrational, emotional, awkward, insecure middle-school girl, Victoria Jamieson creates a character in Astrid that simultaneously makes you want to cheer her on and cringe at her decisions and embarrassments. It will also make you want to strap on some skates over rainbow socks and get out in the rink.
After reading Roller Girl and, of course watching Whip It – that movie with Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore – I’m ready for more roller derby. Portlandia hasn’t parodied it yet, a fact that hasn’t escaped the attention of the Rose City Rollers, the roller derby team that Victoria Jamieson is on IRL!
I think Candace and Toni would put on great war faces.
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Smile by Raina Telgemeier