Book Review – THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste

A dear writer friend of mine, Gwendolyn Hooks, asked if I would like to read this ARC as her own work load had recently increased dramatically. I would do just about anything for Gwen, so I didn’t even hesitate to say ‘yes’. Gwen’s a well published children’s author in her own right with over 20 children’s books under her belt. (If you count the ones I can’t tell you about, yet. And oh, I wish I could! She’s got some fantastic projects coming out soon.) Meanwhile, you can find her on her website above and she also contributes over at The Brown Bookshelf.

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Photo credit: Latifah Abdur

I was delighted to receive this first Middle Grade book from Tracey Baptiste, THE JUMBIES. After reading about Tracey’s background, it was easy to see how much Grimm’s fairy tales influenced her life and why as a writer she wanted to see fairy tales that reflected her own background. She grew up in Trinidad and had always heard fantastic tales about creatures called soucouyants (soo-coo-YAHs) that could shed their skin at night, and the douens (dwens) with their backwards feet that lured children away into the forest. And of course, the jumbies (JUM-bees) the name for every bad-thinking, sneaky, trick-loving creature that came out at night to cause trouble. I fell in love with Tracey’s story. Her take on a classic Haitian folktale called “The Magic Orange Tree” is beautifully written. Her fantastic cast of characters and lush, vibrant setting make you feel immersed in her Caribbean island. Be forewarned! This tale isn’t some cozy, tropical vacation and it’s not for the weak at heart, oh, no! If you like spooky tales, this is the book for you.   The JumbiesTHE JUMBIES written by Tracey Baptiste Published by: Algonquin Young Readers Release Date: April 28, 2015 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy Plot Summary:

A spine-tingling tale rooted in Caribbean folklore that will have readers holding their breath as they fly through its pages.

Corinne La Mer isn’t afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. They’re just tricksters parents make up to frighten their children. Then one night Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest. Those shining yellow eyes that followed her to the edge of the trees, they couldn’t belong to a jumbie. Or could they?

When Corinne spots a beautiful stranger speaking to the town witch at the market the next day, she knows something unexpected is about to happen. And when this same beauty, called Severine, turns up at Corinne’s house, cooking dinner for Corinne’s father, Corinne is sure that danger is in the air. She soon finds out that bewitching her father, Pierre, is only the first step in Severine’s plan to claim the entire island for the jumbies. Corinne must call on her courage and her friends and learn to use ancient magic she didn’t know she possessed to stop Severine and save her island home.

With its able and gutsy heroine, lyrical narration, and inventive twist on the classic Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree,” The Jumbies will be a favorite of fans of Breadcrumbs, A Tale Dark and Grimm, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. (Plot summary from publisher website.)

Corinne is a beautifully written, strong female character and I loved her story from beginning to end. As someone who grew up with a single dad, I could completely relate Corinne’s special bond with her father and understand how she’d do anything to try to save him. As Corinne struggles to save him and eventually finds her inner strength, it is a beautiful thing to behold. The secondary characters were just as wonderful and complex. The two orphan boys, Bouki and Malik, who cause Corrine such grief in the beginning, become her fiercest allies. Having lived on their own for so long, they understand how the world works and how to fight for a friend. And Dru, the smallest and youngest of seven children, befriends Corinne in the marketplace where she sells her oranges. Once Corinne is in trouble, Dru leaves the safety of her mother to do something big to help save her friend. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the story:

“I’m not going to hurt you,” she said in her calmest voice. She eased closer. “I just need that thing on your leg. You’ll be able to run much faster without it, and I won’t be chasing you…so…” She moved with care toward the ‘gouti and gently untied the silk cord. The animal’s coarse fur shivered and its pulse beat as fast as her own. Corinne closed her fist firmly around the stone pendant and crawled back out of the bush.

She rubbed the stone with her thumb. Over years of constant handling, she had worn a smooth groove that fit her finger perfectly. The pendant had been her mama’s, and when she put her thumb into the little hollow, she imagined her mama’s hand around her own. Corinne breathed a sigh of relief now that it was back in her possession, but her relief did not last long.

She didn’t know this part of the forest. And it was darker here. The branches of the mahogany trees were so thick that barely any light came through. It even smelled different, of wood and wet earth, while Corinne was used to the smell of the sea. She had no idea which way was out.

Somewhere between the leaves, Corinne thought she saw a pair of lights shining. They were close together, like eyes. Her skin prickled, but then the lights disappeared and Corinne tried to shake off her fear. The little bit of light must have been reflecting on something. Don’t be silly, she scolded herself. “I’m going to kill those boys,” she muttered into the heavy air.

A pair of yellow-bellied birds alighted on a branch overhead, and called out, kis-ka-dee kis-ka-dee! Something small scratched through the undergrowth. A cold lump formed in Corrine’s stomach and began to spread. She had heard grown-ups tell stories about terrible things that lived in hidden pockets of the island, like this forest filled with ancient mahogany trees. They talked about creatures with backward feet, and women who could shed their skin, and women with hooves for feet. Even though her papa told her these stories were not true, there must have been a reason no one ever came this far into the forest.

This is just the beginning of the goosebumps. Tracey’s rich storytelling kept me completely engrossed (and may have encouraged me to sleep with the light on a few times after some late-night reading sessions). Corinne’s story is truly a welcome and refreshing edition to the world of fairytales. I highly recommend this book. You won’t be able to put it down once you start.

Learn more about Tracey Baptiste here.

Follow Tracey on Facebook here.

Follow Tracey on Twitter here.

You can preorder a copy of this wonderful book for yourself here:

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Robin Talley – Author Interview

As I mentioned last week, a series of fortunate events led to me receiving a copy of Robin Talley’s debut novel LIES WE TELL OURSELVES. I posted a review over on The Great Noveling Adventure blog and promised an interview with the author herself this week. And here it is!

(Stay tuned after the interview for your chance to win a copy of this outstanding book.)

First, an introduction.

The Book

LIES WE TELL OURSELVES written by Robin TalleyLWTO-200x300

Published by: Harlequin Teen

Release Date: September 30, 2014

Genres: Historical Fiction, YA, LGBT

Plot Summary:

In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another. (Summary from author’s website.)

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this project?

photo by Courtney Rae Rawls via author website
photo by Courtney Rae Rawls via author website

Robin Talley: The idea for Lies We Tell Ourselves started with my parents. They were both teenagers when their schools were integrated in the 1960s. They used to tell me stories about that time when I was growing up, but I never really understood what a big deal it was until I was older and knew a little more about the Civil Rights Movement.

It struck me as a good potential setting for a novel, but I was still conscious of the fact that I didn’t know much about what school desegregation had actually been like for the black students who were on the front lines of that battle. I wanted to explore their experiences. I immersed myself in research, and not long after that, a 17-year-old closeted lesbian named Sarah Dunbar entered my mind as my protagonist for a fictional story about the integration experience.

VL: Starting with your parents’ history, what a great idea. And I love how Sarah emerged from all of the elements coming together.

I’ve always been fascinated with the Civil Rights Era and thought I understood it, but reading about school integration from a teen’s POV was so enlightening, so terrifying. I’d never really thought about their day-to-day lives. Your book did a fantastic job showing the opposing views of the times and how turbulent, yet delicate this step in the struggle really was, and how the children bore the weight of it.

Tell us about your experience writing this story from the two different perspectives, from Sarah and Linda’s POV.

RT: Both Sarah and Linda’s POVs were incredibly difficult to write. I’ve never experienced anything like what these characters go through, so I had to do a lot of deep POV exercises to try to imagine what the world looked like from their perspectives. There are also a lot of discarded drafts of Lies We Tell Ourselves from when I was learning to work with these characters and get into their heads.

Linda was much harder to write than Sarah. Sarah is very different from me, but at least her view of the world was based on rational facts. Linda has a warped view based on a dangerous, elaborate fantasy created by generations of people who spent a lifetime brainwashing her, basically. So to try to contort my brain into being able to talk in Linda’s voice ― well, let’s just say I didn’t realize exactly how big a task I was taking on when I first had the idea to make her a POV character.

 

VL: Writing a character like Linda had to be quite daunting, and yet, you nailed her voice. She wasn’t a caricature. Those POV exercises really worked! I, for one, am glad you took on that big task.

You did a massive amount of research for this book – reading memoirs, newspaper articles, watching recordings of oral histories, 50s film clips, etc. What surprised you the most about what you discovered?

RT: I can’t believe I didn’t know this before I started researching this book ― I can’t believe it isn’t taught in every school everywhere ― but there’s a public school system in Prince Edward County, Virginia, that shut down completely for five years to prevent integration. So if you were, say, ten when the schools closed, you missed out on getting a public education from age ten to age fifteen.

Kids in that time had to either go to private school somehow ― of course, this was relatively easy for the white students, since the county opened up an all-white private school paid for with taxpayer money, so it was cheap or free to attend ― or move to another school district (at their own expense), or just try to do the best they could by reading books at home or gathering together with friends to study. This period is a horrific stain on the history of my state and my entire country, and I think everyone needs to know about it.

VL: That is so crazy! The lengths the segregationists went to  – wow! I thought the school being shut down for a semester in the book was insane.

I absolutely love the complexity added to your story with Sarah and Linda’s relationship. It brought the struggle of the past – so raw and angry – right up to the present and reminded us that we are still fighting this fight of discrimination, today.

Did you have that lofty goal in mind when you started out or did this evolve throughout your writing process?

 

RT: I didn’t really have any lofty goals during the writing itself. I just thought it would be an interesting story to explore. From the initial kernel of the idea, I wondered what it would be like to be on the front lines of a very public social justice battle like school integration, while also dealing with a much more private struggle ― because in 1959, sexual orientation was not discussed out in the open. So I wanted to take on that conflict and explore what it would’ve been like for a teenager dealing with a very normal teenage issue ― sexuality ― while also dealing with something that’s much bigger than any one person, the Civil Rights Movement.

VL: You wrote such a phenomenal debut book, do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

 

RT: Read everything you can get your hands on, both fiction and nonfiction. Read books that are in the genre you want to write in, for sure, but also read newspapers and magazines, read memoirs and essay collections, read Wikipedia articles about people you know nothing about and places you’ve never imagined living. You’ve got two goals here ― to learn how other people write, and to step outside your comfort zone and learn about lives that aren’t like yours. Both are essential to writing!

VL: Totally agree! I get on my soapbox about reading all the time. I like that additional part – “learn about lives that aren’t like yours”. I haven’t heard that before. Great advice.

What was the worst job you ever had while going to school?

RT: I worked at Kmart one summer in college, in the sporting goods section. I sold guns and hunting licenses. No one ever believes me when I tell them this.

VL: Ha! That sounds dreadful. I’d have died of boredom. 

What are you currently working on?

RT: I’m editing my next book, Unbreakable (though the title may change). It’s coming out in fall 2015 from Harlequin Teen and it’s a contemporary realistic story about two college freshmen ― a so-committed-they’re-practically-married high school couple who are determined to make their relationship work despite the distance. Gretchen is starting at NYU, and she identifies as a lesbian; Toni, who’s starting at Harvard, identifies as genderqueer.

VL: Oh, wonderful! A new book!

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

 

RT: Oh, there are so many! Can I cheat and talk about a book that’s coming out next year? The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore is a truly astonishing magical realism romance. It’s a Romeo and Juliet story about the son and daughter of two rival families of traveling performers, and the writing and the complex characters will take your breath away. It’s so rich with description and depth ― it’s basically an oil painting in the form of a YA novel. Look for it in 2015!

 

VL: “…it’s basically an oil painting in the form of a YA novel.” I love that description. Sold. And now, my anticipated TBR can grow some more. Will definitely keep an eye out for that one.

What would be your dream assignment/what would you most like to write about?

 

RT: I’d love to write about two teenage girls who are highly competitive athletes (think Olympic level) and are trying to balance their careers with a romance. I don’t think I could do it, though ― I’m not athletic at all so the physical stuff would just be too hard to describe accurately. I hope someone else writes that story, though!

VL: Sounds intriguing. Maybe someone out there will be inspired to write it for us.

Robin, thank you so much for joining us! Your book is amazing and I look forward to the next one, UNBREAKABLE, coming out next year.

Learn more about Robin Talley here.

Follow Robin on Twitter here.

Follow Robin on Facebook here.

Follow Robin on Tumblr here.

You can order your own copy of Robin Talley’s book LIES WE TELL OURSELVES here:

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The Giveaway

You can enter for a chance to win a hardback copy of LIES WE TELL OURSELVES by either visiting The Great Noveling Adventure blog post where I reviewed Robin’s book or by clicking directly on the Rafflecopter link below. Entry to the contest is open to until November 30th. Good luck!

Win hardback copy of Lies We Tell Ourselves
Enter to win hardback copy of Lies We Tell Ourselves

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Robin Talley Rafflecopter giveaway

CONGRATULATIONS TO RHONDA LOMAZOW!

She won the hardback copy of LIES WE TELL OURSELVES.

Jennifer Latham – Author Interview

SCBWI OK Logo

Continuing our celebration of phenomenal local talent plucked from the branches of our SCBWI Oklahoma family tree comes debut author Jennifer Latham. Her first novel, SCARLETT UNDERCOVER, comes out this spring on May 19, 2015, and I for one am thrilled. I met Jen a few years ago at a local Tulsa schmooze and immediately took to her. I’ve had the privilege of getting a sneak peek at some of her manuscripts for critique sessions and I love the way she writes fully developed characters and scenes that evoke a mood. I’m so glad she was able to take time out of her hectic schedule and stop by to answer some probing questions.

First, a little bit about her upcoming novel.

The BookScarlett Undercover

SCARLETT UNDERCOVER by Jennifer Latham

Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release Date: May 19, 2015

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery

When 15-year-old Muslim-American detective Scarlett agrees to investigate a local teen’s suicide, she figures she’s in for an easy case and a quick buck. But it doesn’t take long for that suicide to start looking a lot like murder, and for cults, ancient artifacts, and a very private billionaire to figure into things. To save the scared little girl who hires her, Scarlett has to face her family’s brave past, her own future, and maybe even a jinni or two. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

So many things to love about that! I am a sucker for a great detective novel. And throw in a great female character and I’m pushing people out of the way to grab it off the shelf. (Well, maybe, kindly nudging them, and at the same time pointing out what fab book I’m reaching for.)

Let’s hear some details about how this creation came into being, shall we?

Jen LathamFBThe Interview

Valerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this book?

Jennifer Latham: Honestly, I’m not sure there was any one particular inspiration – it’s more like my brain spent a long time gathering bits and pieces and then, when I started playing around with actual words on a page, they collided and made a book. Some of those bits and pieces were: a little girl playing in a giant sandbox at the state fair with her biker-dude grandfather (they became Scarlett and Manny); my obsession with hardboiled detective stories; my disappointment over all the vitriol aimed at Muslim-Americans; the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy; and the sudden rash of jinn sightings across the country.

 Well, OK…I made that last one up.

VL: Ha! you had me worried for a moment. It sounds like Scarlett was a great conglomeration that came together at just the right time, with just the right ingredients.

I love the idea of a young female detective and Scarlett sound like my kind of sassy; tell us more about her.

JL: This seemed like such an easy question when I first saw it. Then I realized it is so not. Because, corny as this may sounds, talking about Scarlett is like talking about my kids. I mean, to me, she’s amazing. Brave. Imperfect. Generous. Stubborn. Kind. Short-tempered. Strong. And entirely capable of being a complete pain in the ass. But I have no clue how other people are going to see her. My one great hope is that she’ll be more to readers than just a smart aleck, or a black, or a Muslim. I want them to see her for what she is: a complex teenage girl

 

VL: In essence, she’s feels very real to you. I’m sure this will translate to your readers. 

How much research did you have to do to create an authentic character of such a diverse background?

JL: A lot. I’ve worked really hard to be accurate and respectful when it comes to Islam, Middle Eastern folklore, and religious texts. I even hired a Muslim PhD student in English Lit to consult on the manuscript. There were some tricky issues to navigate; as I mentioned, Scarlett is complex. She’s not a “perfect” Muslim. But when she’s doing things that a more devout Muslim wouldn’t, I’ve done my best to point the discrepancy out.

VL: Fantastic! Extensive research for something like this is so vital. I’m thrilled that this book will add to the much-needed diversity landscape H2cWxknS_400x400in our literary world. I also love that although her Muslim heritage and her struggle with it is part of her, and it does come into play, but it’s not the main focus of the story. The mystery is the focus.

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned during this process to get your first book to publication?

JL: How long everything in traditional publishing takes. And that there is nothing – nothing — you can do to change it.

VL: Amen to that!

Thinking back to your childhood heroes /role models when you were a kid, who were they? What drew you to them? What powers/abilities did they have that you wished you could have? Do you still feel that way about them now?

JL: True confession: most of my heroes were authors. Their power was that they could tell stories that people wanted to read. And I feel even more like that now. My favorite writers are rock stars.

VL: Mine, too! I’d stand out in the rain to see an author I love, probably not for my favorite bands – priorities!

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

JL: I always knew, I was just afraid to really try. So I worked a lot of strange jobs after college. Then went to grad school (I’m half a dissertation short of being a PhD in Psychology) Then had babies. But when my older daughter turned three and it still felt like she was brand new, I realized how fast babies grow up. That was ten years ago. And it’s when I started drafting my first (still unsold) manuscript.

VL: Tell me about your most memorable adventure you had with your friends outside of school.

JL: Hmm…there was the time Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which used the tesseract to transport me across space. And the time that mean girl at school dumped a bucket of pig blood on me at prom…
Oh wait. That’s right. I didn’t actually have a lot of friends. My best adventures were the ones I lived through books.

 

VL: Ha! That sounds eerily familiar.

What was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid?

JL: I don’t think anything was really scary. Hard, yes. But not scary. The really bad stuff has happened to me as a grown-up.

VL: My teen-aged daughter would agree that becoming an adult IS the scariest thing.

Tell me about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?

 

JL: So here’s where I’ve lived: NYC; San Francisco: West Point, NY; Augusta, Georgia; Buffalo, NY, Philadelphia; Madrid; Rhode Island (4 different towns); and Tulsa, OK. Honestly, Tulsa wins. Maybe its because I’ve been here longer than anywhere else. Or maybe it’s because this place refuses to be defined, and manages to both frustrate and surprise me (in good ways) every day. Someone once told me, “It’s a great place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit.” And that kind of fits.

VL: That is some serious globe-trotting. I’ve never thought of Tulsa like that before, and yet, I totally see it.

In your bio, you mentioned that you’ve had some really weird jobs, tell us about the worst job you ever had while going to school?

 

JL: This is a tie. Both jobs came after I’d graduated from college. The first was cleaning up in a virology lab at Brown University. It wasn’t so much the work (though autoclaving test tubes is a joy, let me tell you) as the nasty woman I worked for. I thought the job would give me an inside track if I decided to apply to the med school there. It didn’t. And I didn’t apply, either.

The second was working for this nutball guy who ran an interior decorating business. I literally spent days peeling stickers off the backs of carpet samples and gluing new ones on. See, he didn’t want customers to be able to find the same carpet at other stores, so he changed the product info. Again, it wasn’t so much the actual work as it was the way he treated me. No matter how menial the job, people who work hard deserve respect. And neither of those two crazy bosses gave me that.

VL: Bored to tears and no respect? Sounds like my idea of hell on Earth!

What are you currently working on?

JL: Well, I’ve been fiddling around with a second Scarlett mystery, and a historical fiction story set in Tulsa. I’ve also finished about 1/3 of a noir mystery for older young adults that’s kind of The Black Dahlia meets Oklahoma!

VL: What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

JL: I loved GOING BOVINE, by Libba Bray. And MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTLEPIECE by Annabel Pitcher. But those are just the first two that popped into my head. There are so many amazing books out there. It blows me away.

VL: GOING BOVINE was fantastic! (Of course, I love anything Libba Bray writes.) I will have to add the other to my must check out list. Always looking for interesting titles.

What would be your dream assignment/what would you most like to write about?

JL: Not a clue. I guess I’ll just keep writing until I figure that out.  🙂

VL: Jennifer, thank you for so much for joining us and sharing your story with us, today. I wish you well with your debut of SCARLETT UNDERCOVER and look forward to its release date this spring.

Learn more about Jennifer Latham here.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter here.

Follow Jennifer on Facebook here.

Follow Jennifer on Tumblr here.

You can preorder SCARLETT UNDERCOVER here:

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A Discussion About Diversity – What Comes Next After the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign?

H2cWxknS_400x400There’s been a lot of discussion about diversity in children’s literature brought on by the wonderful campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks. In the beginning of May, there was an onslaught on all forms of social media where people came together and proclaimed the need for diverse books.

BRIEF HISTORY:

Just in case you missed what #WeNeedDiverseBooks is all about, this campaign began after a group of writers reacted to the announcement that BEA’s BookCon would consist of exactly zero diversity with 30 white writers as guests. The dam broke and the internet exploded in outrage. The campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks was launched. Of course, this lack of cultural diversity, lack of sexual diversity, lack of diversity of any kind in the publishing industry on the whole has been going on for years, and many have voiced their concern at different times, but nothing has ever sparked quite the inferno of action like this movement. As of this week, the BEA decided to respond to the voice of the people and add a panel on diversity to their line up entitled: “The World Agrees: #WeNeedDiverseBooks”. The panel will include five key people from the WNDB campaign – Ellen Oh, Aisha Saeed, Marieke Nijkamp, Lamar Giles, and Mike Jung – and three best-selling authors well-known for tackling diversity head-in in their own writing – Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, and Grace Lin.

It’s so fantastic that the conversation finally caught on in a big way. The idea now is to keep the momentum going.

How can we do this?

SUPPORT:

We can put our money where our mouth is and BUY these kind of books. Also consider supporting the small publishing houses that already publish diverse books, like Lee & Low , Just Us Books, Arte Público with its Piñata Books for Children, and Cinco Puntos Press, just to name a few.

The world isn’t made up of one kind of people. And I personally don’t like reading only about people that are just like me. I want to learn about new and different cultures, different lands, different planets, and have new experiences by meeting a wide range of characters when I read.  I know I am not alone in this.

RECOMMEND:

We can talk about great books dealing with diverse characters and/or written by diverse writers. Review them, recommend them; get them into the hands of hungry readers. Let others know what’s out there. Here are just a few of the fabulous books I’ve read recently that I think are worth the read:

Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña

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Danny’s tall and skinny.

Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. A 95 mph fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.

But at private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blonde hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged.

Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico. And that’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he might just have to face the demons he refuses to see right in front oh his face. And open up to a friendship he never saw coming. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

Girl lying on sand, reaching up to the sun

Astrid Jones copes with her small town’s gossip and narrow-mindedness by sending her love to the passengers in the airplanes flying overhead. Maybe they’ll know what to do with it. Maybe it’ll make them happy. Maybe they’ll need it.

Her mother doesn’t want it, her father’s always stoned, her perfect sister’s too busy trying to fit in, and the people in her small town would never allow her to love the person she really wants to–another girl named Dee. There’s no one Astrid feels she can talk to about this deep secret or the profound questions that she’s trying to answer. But little does she know just how much sending her love–and asking the right questions–will affect the passengers’ lives, and her own, for the better.

In this unmistakably original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s boxes and definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything–and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking and sharing real love. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about A.S. King here.

Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go

As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed – even comforted – by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.

A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance – and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Follow Kazuo on Facebook.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7sCounting By 7s is the story of Willow Chance, a twelve-year old girl who has been identified at an early age as ‘gifted’. Willow lives in Bakersfield, California and comes home from school one day to the news that her parents have been killed in a traffic accident.

What follows is Willow’s search to find a place where she belongs.

In equal parts an exploration of the pain of loss and of the triumph of moving forward, the novel looks at how one person can change the lives of many, often without even trying.

Learn more about Holly Goldberg Sloan here.

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CREATE:

As a writer, how can you help? Think about your own novels. How diverse are they?

Do you feel uneasy writing outside your own comfort zone? Are you worried that writing about a person from a different culture other than your own will be frowned upon?  If so, here’s a fantastic blog post by Lisa Yee you should consider entitled A Rambling Rant on Race and Writing. She starts out discussing how she herself has written outside her race multiple times. She states that she is a writer who is Asian, not an Asian writer. And that there is a difference. I beg you to read this post. It is fantastic.

A PARTING THOUGHT:

I know a little something about diversity. My son has autism. He’s 19 years-old, but many ways he’s still very much younger. He has make-believe friends that live on Sesame Street and in Disney movies and he has conversations with them all the time. I’m free to join in at my leisure. I see how people react to my son’s “diversity” every time we go out in public. People know he’s different as soon as they interact with him or see him make strange hand gestures. For my son’s part, he doesn’t notice that other people are different. He’s very friendly and likes to say “Hello, sir” or “Hello, ma’am” or “Hello, officer” (be it security guard or police officer) to everyone we see. He will repeat this, sometimes, until he gets an answer. On those occasions, I answer. Sometimes as the people, sometimes as an imaginary friend. My son doesn’t grasp the concept of people being rude.

With my son’s sensory issues and problems communicating, these trips aren’t always easy. Sometimes they are beyond stressful and embarrassing, but we don’t give up or retreat into self-proclaimed exile. We’ve learned that the more we go out, the more our neighbors get to know our son and the more they begin to include him as part of their community. And the better quality of life he leads. In fact, there are some places, where people greet my son by name the minute we walk in the door. If I go in alone, I don’t get the same star treatment. They are still friendly, but not as enthusiastic as when my son lights up the place.

I love that there are books with characters that are essentially doing this same hard work. Showing the humanity of these kids while telling a great story. Taking the stigma out of a confusing disorder and allowing their “neuro-typical” peers a way to experience what life is like for them. This is the road to understanding. Knowledge. Sharing. This is why we need diverse books.