Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Adult Books by Black Authors

These are a mix of fiction and nonfiction, short story collections and novels, old favorites and new favorites. Have you read any? What would you recommend to me if I loved these books?

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans

The cover of this book hooked me first. I saw it posted all over #bookstagram. The title piqued my curiosity too, but when I actually read it, it blew me away.

I’ve been on a short story kick for the past year, but this collection is the best of the best. The plots are unique and engaging, the characters are too real, and the topics are timely. I keep thinking about these characters and stories and will probably have to re-read the whole collection soon. I can’t recommend this one enough.

The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel

I worked as a library page in high school. One shift I was “reading” the nonfiction section and this title caught my eye. I have to admit, I started reading it right then on the clock and then checked it out and took it home with me.

At the time, I was envious of Nissel. Not because she was broke - I was too! But how she had so much humor about it, and such an engaging writing style. I remember taking the book to school and showing the girls in my math class and they passed it around and laughed at the entries.

I actually bought the exact copy I first found, years later after the library discarded it. It’s been on my shelf since, and I read Mixed too, but The Broke Diaries remained my favorite.

I wanted some humor in my life after all of...this, and I can’t believe that the book still cracks me up so much. Like laughing out loud reading on my front porch, because now it’s in the 60s after last week’s ice and snow. But I digress. This book is hilarious and makes me miss the 2008ish period of blogging because that’s exactly how it reads now, even though it was written way before then. You should read this. Then let’s laugh about it together.

Just to note, if you don’t believe me about Nissel’s humor: she’s been a writer on Scrubs, the Boondocks, and Mixed-ish.

Luster by Raven Leilani

I really really enjoyed this book, but it’s so hard for me to get my thoughts together about it. There’s something that is just so raw yet so guarded, with wonderful language that really sets the pacing. I loved the run-on sentences and how the story was broken into vignettes. I loved how the book made me experience something new, while also feeling understood. It’s a truly unique book that deserves that attention it’s getting.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This book totally lives up to the hype. I absolutely loved the story itself, but Bennett’s writing is so seamless that you get sucked in completely, and then a beautiful, profound line will stop you in your tracks.

The Incredible Shrinking Woman by Athena Dixon

This essay collection is amazing. You can tell Athena Dixon has a background in poetry because the language is so beautiful, while still being so raw and matter-of-fact. So many of these pieces made me feel seen and understood. I know this is a collection I’ll come back to time and time again. The essays are honest and powerful and emotional and poetic, all wrapped up in this gorgeous package. If you haven’t gotten your hands on this one, you need to. Now.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

Deesha Philyaw read part of “Peach Cobbler” at an event I attended years long ago and I was hooked from the first line: “My mother’s peach cobbler was so good, it made God himself cheat on his wife.”

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this collection, and once I got it I was torn between racing to finish it and wanting to drag it out so I’d have longer with these multi-layered characters. I can’t pick a favorite from this collection because they’re all that. damn. good. I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know, and that includes you. It’s the perfect mix of gossip, drama, and breathtaking storytelling you need in your life.

I usually try to not re-read a book until a year after my last reading, but this is one I’ll be coming back to more often than that. I can’t stop thinking about it and I want more.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

How Dinosaurs Went Extinct: A Safety Guide by Ame Dyckman

by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Jennifer Harney

My son doesn't read picture books much anymore; he's too busy devouring a chapter book a week. And since I'm not working as a children's librarian right now (though I'll always be one at heart), I don't really have much reason (or time!) to pick up new picture books.

So when my son saw this book in the Scholastic Book Fair catalog, he circled it and said it was one he wanted to read. We found it in the library system and checked it out immediately. He thought it was funny but only read it once before he was ready to return it.

Of course, I read it too. We've read so many of Dyckman's books over the years, and they're always funny and enjoyable.

However, this one started off a little iffy to me.

I rolled my eyes at the typical dad mansplaining, then figured I was being too sensitive. After all, it's a picture book. And maybe Dyckman was trying to make a statement? But I wish he hadn't interrupted the mother, who was actually trying to teach her child a lesson. The dad speaks up and uses the rest of the book to share stupid reasons dinosaurs went extinct. They're funny, yes. But I could imagine this happening to me, and I would prefer the child learn the truth while in the museum since there's so much to explore there. On the drive home, the dad can be as silly as he wants with the rest of the reasons. 

That said, I know I'm projecting based on my own personal experiences. I still wish this page wasn't there. What if it was just the dad and kid at the museum that day and he was offering silly explanations? Why does he have to interrupt the woman?

The reasons are pretty funny, though, because they're things kids do, like picking boogers, running with scissors, and tipping backward in a chair. And you can probably imagine how Gasosaurus went extinct.

So I can admit that I might be taking this book a little deeper than intended, but I'll still argue that this plot point could have easily been rewritten to not have a man interrupting a woman just to share a lot of nonsense, since that's already so prevalent in everyday society. I've shown the page to two friends (females, one librarian, one writer) and they felt the same way, so it's possibly an issue beyond my personal bubble.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Favorite Picture Books by Black Authors

YA books are my sweet spot, but I also wanted to highlight some picture books by Black authors as well.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

I thought I was obsessed with Vashti Harrison's artwork in Little Leaders, but then I went to her IG page and WOW. This is an amazing book to read to kids to get them interested in Black history and a great jumping off point for further research. If you don’t have a kid to read it to, you should still check it out for the gorgeous artwork.

“Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders book first started off during a social media challenge to create art throughout Black History Month. Eventually, these drawings became the beginning of Harrison’s first bestselling book. Harrison created images of black girls dressing up as different female role models from history and turned them into a book in which she tells these women’s stories. She says she wrote these books with her younger self in mind, imagining the types of people she would have wanted to read about, the people who would inspire her to keep dreaming.”

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes

My son and I loved Crown and the King of Kindergarten, and hearing Derrick Barnes speak was especially inspiring. I was really looking forward to I Am Every Good Thing, especially after the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. I watched footage of local protests on the news, and my son wanted to go "walk with everyone." It only seemed natural that the conversations that inspired would also have a powerful book to really hit the point home.

The Black boy that tells this story is showing us every unique thing that makes him who he is - something that is often overlooked when it comes to news stories and biases. The book is dedicated to Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, EJ Bradford, Jordan Edwards, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, and Julian Mallory, all Black boys who were senselessly killed, often by police officers.

Kirkus called this book “a much-needed book for Black children when society demonstrates otherwise,” and I agree, while also finding it important for white children (AND adults) to read so they can develop empathy and understand that Black children are just as important as they are, especially with the current racial climate and ignorance some people have about basic human rights.

The Power of Her Pen by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Ethel L. Payne was born in 1911. She went to school with white people, even though she was harassed and beaten for it. The school paper wouldn’t let her work for them because she was black, but they published her first story. Payne went to college and studied writing. She went to Japan and wrote about how Black American soldiers were treated.

When she returned to the United States, Payne worked for the Chicago Defender, one of two Black daily newspapers at the time. After 3 years of covering politics, Payne became one of three Black journalists to be given a White House press pass. She was outspoken and became known as the “First Lady of the Black Press.” Payne died in 1991 and has since been honored on a US stamp - one of only four female journalists to be featured.

The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard

I can’t believe I didn’t know about Mary Walker, but I’m glad I learned about her in this book. She was born into slavery in 1848. After being freed at 15, someone gave her a Bible. She wanted to read it, but had never learned. She couldn’t write, so she just made marks in the front to note her sons’ birth dates. She outlived her entire family and finally decided to learn to read. She was scared she was too old to learn, but she worked hard and never gave up. At 116, she could read! She lived to be 121.

Mora’s illustrations are amazing, showing the reader the way Walker sees scribbles all around her, then words after she learns to read. The endpapers include real photos of Mary Walker.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Happy International Book Giving Day!

And Happy Valentine's Day, sure. But who doesn't LOVE getting a book as a gift?

This year, I gave my son My Golden Ticket, a personalized Willy Wonka book from Wonderbly. I actually bought this book back in 2017 when I first saw it, since I'm a huge Roald Dahl reader. I was just waiting for him to also fall in love with the author. A few months ago, he read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and saw the play, so I figured the time was right! He loves how this book makes him feel like part of the story he already knows so well.

For previous International Book Giving Days, I've combined the holiday with Valentine's Day and given (and received!) heart notebooks. The Pete the Cat bookmark was one of the Valentines my son gave him class one year, as was the bee paper and bee with a heart. The bee paper is seed paper, so his friends could plant their Valentine and watch it grow instead of simply recycling it after the holiday passed.

And, of course, there were the good ol' days of my kid being so little that he wanted to have me read countless picture books to him. These were just a few of our favorites. Check out a few others we loved, along with some books and a craft I shared with adults with disabilities.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Scott Smith Books: A Simple Plan and The Ruins

I read The Ruins when it first came out back in 2006. I was a writing student in college and it blew me away. It stuck with me over the years and I thought of it often. I figured it was time for a re-read and I was so happy that it stood up to the test of time. I didn’t remember all of the details, nor the ending, so it was almost as good as reading it for the first time. I can’t recommend this enough. It sticks out as having such a unique concept and writing style.

I mentioned it to a friend in passing and he mentioned Smith's first book, A Simple Plan, saying it was just as good. I don't know how I'd managed to read just one book by an author and then skip the other, but I was glad to have a new one to read now!

I re-read The Ruins first, just because. As I mentioned, I remembered just enough to have the basic concept of the story, but the specifics and the writing style felt like new in the best way.

In A Simple Plan, I could definitely tell that Smith has a set writing style and it works so well for the stories he tells. I love how it feels so natural as it builds up. It's a great example of how one small moment can truly change the course of your life. And with his signature writing style, there’s no time to pause and think, “There’s no way this would happen in real life” because it’s totally realistic. Even as the characters make their choices, you’re not trying to steer them in a different direction because it seems like there IS no other direction. I recommend this just as highly as I do The Ruins.

Have you read one or both of these books? What did you think?

If I loved these books, do you have any similar titles in mind you'd recommend?

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Young Adult Books by Black Writers for Black History Month

I wanted to kick-off Black History month by spotlighting some of my favorite young adult books by Black authors.

The Track Series by Jason Reynolds:

GhostPatina, SunnyLu

    Since I am not the sportiest person, I wasn’t sure what I’d get out of a book about a kid joining a track team, but I should have known that Jason Reynolds would always win me over with his words. I don’t think he can write a bad book, and if you’re not reading him, you gotta pick some up.
    After Ghost, I was totally hooked by the Track series. Patina is so well-done, with characters going through things you don’t typically see in fiction, but do see in real life. It’s so refreshing to see real struggles represented in fiction.
    I think Sunny has been my favorite of the Track series so far, and that’s saying a lot. Sunny has such a distinct style, and the way everything sounded like music to him is an infectious way of thinking. Since I finished this book, I’ve been hearing beats and rhymes everywhere I go, and it’s just what I need to bring a smile to my face. Can’t wait yet am sad to finish the Track series soon...
    I’m so sad to end the Track series, so it seemed appropriate that I cried through the last few pages. This book was so good, and the whole series is so good. I love how the characters had truly unique voices and situations and experiences. I recommend this to anyone and everyone.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Powerful and emotional. Rashad is absent again today. It's spray painted on the sidewalk in front of the high school after Rashad is beaten up by a cop on a Friday afternoon. Some people take the cop's side and say Rashad was stealing, pointing to his sagging jeans as evidence. Other people take Rashad's side, saying he'd never break the law, pointing to his ROTC uniform as evidence. No matter who's side you take, the proof is in the video footage sweeping the internet: Rashad is restrained while he is being beaten, accused of resisted arrest. But how can you resist if you're already cuffed on the ground? Who knows how the case will turn out once it hits the courts, but before that, Rashad's high school classmates are hitting the streets for a good old fashioned protest, and they hope other citizens will join the cause.

Take the Mic: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance

These short stories of resistance are fiction, but they are incredibly realistic and could happen to anyone. The characters are diverse, in regards to skin color, religion, gender, and more. They all have some adversity in life and react in different ways, whether they quietly stand up for themselves or the underdog, or protest and push for change on a large scale. Because of the scope of the diversity and the reactions, I think all readers will feel empowered to make a difference in their daily lives, however they can. This is definitely a must-read for tweens and teens, but I think adults need to read it, too.

Love Radio by Ebony LaDelle

This book is AMAZING. I love YA books but YA romance is so hit or miss—it’s either over-the-top romantic or very sex-oriented. This book had just passing mentions of sex and the “love” aspect was incredibly realistic. Not to mention Dani and Prince are both fantastically real, wonderful characters. I think I’ll re-read this often, and can’t wait to read more by the author.

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

This book is AMAZING. So powerful, so necessary, and such a unique verse novel. But unfortunately, the story told is not unique - a black teenager imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. I love that YA novels are being written about situations like this so our teens will grow (or hopefully continue) to be empathetic people and anti-racists.

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

This book was so beautiful; I wish it was possible to see Jade’s art because it sounds so exquisite and meaningful. I love how relevant and powerful the story was, and recommend it to everyone. It’s a quick read but it will drag you in and squeeze your heart.

How It Went Down and Light It Up by Kekla Magoon

Loved How It Went Down! Written years before Dear Martin and The Hate U Give but tackling a similar subject of a black teen being killed by a white man. The great part of this book is that it’s so real - no one knows for sure if the teen was armed, if he threatened someone, if he was a thief - we hear from everyone involved with the main character and his city block, and nothing is certain.
    Reread 2020:  I read this book two and a half years ago and thought about it so often that I knew it was time to re-read it. It’s sadly still relevant, telling an all too familiar story of a young black man being killed by a white man who gets off unscathed. The most fascinating thing about this book is how it’s told - so many different characters who saw what happened and/or knew the main players are telling what they saw and what they know. Which, of course, is a whole bunch of conflicting information. I can’t say enough good things about this book, I’m just pushing you to read it yourself. And let’s talk about it.
    I loved How It Went Down for how concise it was in telling the same story from the points of view of a whole neighborhood. The sequel, Light It Up, tells a story about another shooting incident that is too timely - a cop somehow finds a 13yo Black girl a threat and shoots her in the back. This takes place in the same neighborhood as Tariq’s shooting, so the same characters are back. It’s nice to see what they’ve been up to, and I love how this book delves a bit more into their lives.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I love Love LOVED this book! It was really engaging - I was immediately drawn into the story and cared about the characters. No one was all good or all bad, and I really appreciate that because I feel like that can be hard to portray. I think this showed a unique side to senseless shootings - a side that needs to be heard and read and understood. Beautiful book, and I’ve heard the audiobook is amazing as well, so I might actually re-read it as an audiobook. HIGHLY recommended.

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

It took me a minute to get into this one because I couldn’t remember as much of The Hate U Give as I wished I had. When I re-read this, I’ll definitely re-read The Hate U Give to get some perspective. But once I got into the story, it was amazing, as Thomas’s writing always is. I love the world she created and how it meshed with some of Nic Stone’s characters in a very slick way.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

I think I loved this even more than The Hate U Give! Angie Thomas is brilliant at creating realistic characters that draw you into their world, and Bri is no different. I heard her raps in my head and fell in love with how her mind made rhymes from one random word jumping out at her from a train of thought. Can’t recommend this one enough!

Silhouetted by the Blue by Traci L. Jones

As someone who struggles with “blue periods” and has been in relationships with depressed people, this book really hit home. It was very well-done and on point, while keeping its finger on the pulse of the underlying issue.

Odd One Out by Nic Stone

This book is so good! Just enough drama to remind me of the fun times of high school (…now that I’m far away from them!). I like that it was told from three different voices so the reader has the insider’s scoop of what’s going on, and you keep rooting for them in your head, but of course you can’t help them, you gotta let it play out. So so good. Read it if you want a fun escape and some delightful drama.

Jackpot by Nic Stone

Nic Stone is absolutely amazing. I love how the “romance” in this book wasn’t full blown - it helped it seem more realistic, and I think it’s important for teens to know that not every romance needs to be true love or long-lasting or even sexual. But of course that was just a small part of the overall story, which was so well done and suspenseful. I’d kind of like to see the ending go the other way, but who doesn’t like a happy ending?

Dear Martin and Dear Justyce by Nic Stone

Dear Martin was phenomenal. I loved The Hate U Give and this is a great book to read along with it. I felt like this one had a bit more depth and exploration, but that might be because Justyce, the main character, was more immersed in different situations that rounded out his character quite a bit.
    I had to re-read this one so I’d be in the right frame of mind to read Dear Justyce. I think I loved it even more the second time around, though maybe that was due to the current climate? I’ve also been reading more Nic Stone books since I first read this one, and I absolutely LOVE her writing style. Her characters are always so realistic, which makes it a more emotional book than you might be expecting.
    I have to admit I went into Dear Justyce thinking “Ok, another companion novel that won’t be as good as the first.” But DAMN this one blew my mind. I absolutely loved how it was from Quan’s point of view, and the use of flashbacks was so powerful. Nic Stone is an amazing writer and her foreword and afterword absolutely made this book 10x more powerful and emotional than the story was on its own. I can’t recommend both Dear Martin and Dear Justyce enough - for teens, sure, but also I think it should be required reading for adults to (hopefully??) help us change how we see things.

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

I went down an Aaliyah rabbit hole and people were recommending this book for insight. I know it’s fiction, but it definitely rang true, especially since the author twice said in the end that it’s NOT about R. Kelly… then called for a boycott against R. Kelly in the last line. Reading Wikipedia gives enough info to clarify. It was a really good book, though I did hate the implication that Enchanted had mental illness because it seemed tacked on and almost like a potential cop-out that the author eventually decided she didn’t need, which is what I disliked about Monday’s Not Coming, the other book I’ve read by her.

Between the Lines by Nikki Grimes

I loved how this book was a mash-up of poetry and narrative. The characters were developed just enough to have dimension without being too involved or hard to keep track of. It was a very moving story that makes me wish I could re-live my high school years in this environment.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Loved this book, how the text moved with the story. Interesting subject matter, and I think it will grab a lot of young boys and reluctant readers. The ending was a little overly sentimental and dramatic, but it was a good book overall.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Interesting book about a young black man who is on trial for participating in a crime. It’s written from his point of view, as if he were writing a movie script based on the circumstances. I love that we never really know his role in the crime.

You Don't Even Know Me by Sharon G. Flake

Poems and short stories from the points of view of several different young African-American boys. Very well-done and interesting.