3 YA Novels To Help Us Remember Our Nigerian Girls

I've been reading The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros, which makes a strong case against the atrocities of gender violence. Yesterday I ran across this troubling article from ThinkProgress explaining how the world quickly stopped caring about the kidnapped Nigerian girls, and this opinion in the Telegraph that hashtag campaigns may fail by giving the perpetrators exactly what they want: global publicity.

There's another way to keep our minds and hearts focused on the true protagonists of this horrible event—through the power of fiction. Here are three great reads that can connect us to the girls themselves as we hope and pray for their release.

 No Laughter Here (Harper) by Rita Williams-Garcia

Even though they were born in different countries, Akilah and Victoria are true best friends. But Victoria has been acting strange ever since she returned from her summer in Nigeria, where she had a special coming-of-age ceremony. Why does proud Victoria, named for a queen, slouch at her desk and answer the teacher's questions in a whisper? And why won't she laugh with Akilah anymore?  Akilah's name means "intelligent," and she is determined to find out what's wrong, no matter how much detective work she has to do. But when she learns the terrible secret Victoria is hiding, she suddenly has even more questions. The only problem is, they might not be the kind that have answers.

"This exquisitely written short novel tackles an enormous and sensitive subject… Unapologetic, fresh and painful." — Kirkus Reviews (Starred review)

"Combines a richly layered story with accurate, culturally specific information ..... [a] skillfully told, powerful story."— ALA Booklist (Starred review)

The Other Side of Truth (HarperTrophy) by Beverly Naidoo, winner of the Carnegie Medal.

A shot. Two shots at the gate in the early morning and a car screeches away down an avenue of palm trees. A tragedy - and a terrible loss for Sade and her younger brother Femi, children of an outspoken Nigerian journalist. Now terror is all around them and they must flee their country. At once. And alone. Plans for their journey have to be hastily arranged. Everything must be done in secret. But once Sade and Femi reach England, they will be safe - won't they?

"Totally gripping, somewhat shaming and entirely believable, this is an engrossing and thought-provoking read for 10-years-olds plus." — Sunday Telegraph

"Narrated with exceptional skill in a bracing, unadorned style…" — The Scotsman

"…an unforgettable novel." — The Times

Purple Hibiscus (Algonquin) by Chimamanda Adichie

Fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja lead a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. They live in a beautiful house, with a caring family, and attend an exclusive missionary school. They're completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, things are less perfect than they appear. Although her Papa is generous and well respected, he is fanatically religious and tyrannical at home—a home that is silent and suffocating.

As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili and Jaja are sent to their aunt, a university professor outside the city, where they discover a life beyond the confines of their father’s authority. Books cram the shelves, curry and nutmeg permeate the air, and their cousins’ laughter rings throughout the house. When they return home, tensions within the family escalate, and Kambili must find the strength to keep her loved ones together.

"Prose as lush as the Nigerian landscape that it powerfully evokes. . . . Adichie's understanding of a young girl's heart is so acute that her story ultimately rises above its setting and makes her little part of Nigeria seem as close and vivid as Eudora Welty's Mississippi." — The Boston Globe

"In a soft, searing voice, Adichie examines the complexities of family, faith and country through the haunted but hopeful eyes of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood. Lush, cadenced and often disconcerting. — Publishers Weekly

Kids Will Love These Five Books "Between Cultures"

Waxing poetic about Thanhha Lai's
Inside, Out, and Back Again at
Mrs. Dalloway's Books in Berkeley, CA.
Anne Whaling, children's book buyer at Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore in Berkeley, asked me and a couple of other visitors (Nina Lindsay, Oakland public librarian and author-illustrator LeUyen Pham) to share a few recommendations of books featuring diverse characters for ages 5-10.

I was delighted to introduce a few of my favorites to an audience of eager readers and their parents. Here are my "quick picks," with annotations provided by Anne and a quick description of why I like the books.

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Williams (Eerdmans). When relief workers bring used clothing to the refugee camp, everyone scrambles to grab whatever they can. Ten-year-old Lina is thrilled when she finds a sandal that fits her foot perfectly, until she sees that another girl has the matching shoe. Soon Lina and Feroza meet, each wearing one coveted sandal. Together they solve the problem of having four feet and two sandals. (What I particularly love in this story: the exploration of power, and the fact that the resolution is brought about by the person with least power.)

Rain School by James Rumford (HMH). It is the first day of school in Chad, Africa. Children are filling the road. "Will they give us a notebook?" Thomas asks. "Will they give us a pencil?" "Will I learn to read?" But when he and the other children arrive at the schoolyard, they find no classroom, no desks. Just a teacher. "We will build our school," she says. "This is our first lesson." Starred review, Booklist. (What I particularly love in this story: the revelation to the North American reader that school is more than just a building—it's actually a community of learners and teachers—and the fact that the children of Chad are the revealers of this truth.)

Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything by Lenore Look (Simon and Schuster). When Ruby's cousin Flying Duck emigrates from China to live with her, Ruby decides the best thing about Flying Duck is that she is a great new friend. BUT the worst thing about Flying Duck is that now, no one speaks English at home. Plus, there's strange food on the table every night and only chopsticks to eat it with. And Flying Duck is deaf, and Ruby doesn't know any Chinese Sign Language. As if that weren't enough, this summer proves to be even more perilous as Ruby faces the dangers of swimming lessons, the joys of summer school, the miracle needed to keep a beautiful stray dog that wanders into her life, and much more. Is it all too much for anyone -- even the Empress of Everything -- to handle? Starred review, SLJ (What I particularly love in this story: the humor and strong characterization make this the perfect book to illuminate Betsy Bird's concept of "casual diversity.")

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (Harper). Inspired by the author's childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child's-eye view of family and immigration. Newbery Honor Book, and a winner of the National Book Award. Starred reviews, Horn Book, Kirkus, PW, SLJ. (What I particularly love in this story: readers will love seeing their own sibling relationships mirrored in the author's depiction of three very different older brothers, plus this is a beautiful "between-cultures" read that is award-winning and accessible.)

The No. 1 Car Spotter by Atinuke (Kane Miller). When a cart breaks down and the villagers can't get their goods to market, Oluwalase Babatunde Benson, otherwise known as the No. 1 Car Spotter in his village, comes up with a brilliant solution. (What I particularly love in this story: it makes me laugh out loud and shatters any "single story" of Africa that might be lurking in the back of the reader's mind.)

Notable Social Studies Trade Books 2014

The books that appear in the slides above were evaluated and selected by a Book Review Committee appointed by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and assembled in cooperation with the Children's Book Council (CBC). They were written for children in grades K-12, published in 2013, and meet the following criteria: 
  • emphasize human relations 
  • represent a diversity of groups 
  • sensitive to a broad range of cultural experiences 
  • present an original theme or a fresh slant on a traditional topic 
  • easily readable
  • high literary quality
  • pleasing format
  • where appropriate, include illustrations that enrich the text 
Happy disclosure: OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (Candlewick) is on the 2014 list (slide #88.)

Hats Off to a Legion of Librarians in Boston and Brooklyn!

I had a marvelous ten days visiting schools in the Boston area and in Brooklyn, as well as teaching a few workshops at the annual New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference and the Muse and the Marketplace 2014 conference sponsored by Grub Street.

In case you missed my whirlwind trip via social media, I've gathered a few photo highlights. As you can see below, it took a bundle of librarians to make this trip happen. I returned from my journey even more impressed by these talented cheerleaders of kids and reading. They are truly an American treasure.
I started and ended the trip by presenting with authors David Yoo and Francisco Stork, who both contributed to OPEN MIC. David (pictured above) met with middle schoolers at the Fenn School in Concord, Massachusetts. Meanwhile, Francisco shared with high schoolers and I spoke to upper elementary students.
These days, school librarians must be book experts, tech geniuses, and marketers extraordinaire, like Susan Fisher of the Fenn School.
Chatting with students after my talks is always a joy, especially when school librarians have prepared the kids well for my visit. Students at the Fenn School gathered to chat about the differences between books and movies as story venues and to ask questions about BAMBOO PEOPLE.
Next I headed to Nashoba Brooks Academy to meet with school librarian / diversity champion Sam Kane, who coordinated my presentation to second graders about RICKSHAW GIRL. I had a bit of time so I stopped by the Old Manse in Concord, where Thoreau planted this garden at the Old Manse as a wedding present for the Hawthornes. It's doing fine.
My creative spirit stirred on a raw spring day as I walked the grounds where famous writers used to dwell. But there's little time for writing during an author visit maelstrom. The day after my sessions at the Fenn School and Nashoba Brooks Academy, I visited Zervas and Underwood schools in Newton, Massachusetts, where I was hosted by parents serving on Creative Arts and Sciences committees.
Next stop, Springfield Massachusetts for the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference, where I taught workshops on dialogue and virtual book launches. I enjoyed this reflection of the Campanile from my  hotel room.
Seeing writing buddies galore (Lisa Papademetriou and Ammi-Joan Paquette are pictured above) is one of the best reasons to go to this marvelous conference.
Tara Sullivan shows off the forthcoming paperback issue of GOLDEN BOY, her award-winning novel about Habo, a Tanzanian boy with albinism.
Trend spotted: cute agents with bangs. (Kaylee Davis on the left and Lauren Macleod on the right.)
After a quick session on crafting place in fiction at the Muse and the Marketplace conference in Boston, I headed to Brooklyn for an assembly at Packer Collegiate School, where Lois Lowry studied as a girl.
The grounds and building reeked of tradition, and the auditorium looked like an old chapel. The students were receptive and engaged, thanks mostly to school librarian Kristyn Dorfman, who welcomed and hosted me.
Next I taught kids at P.S. 230 in Brooklyn how to draw alpanas. Since many of them are Bangladeshi, they're naturals, and the art was amazing. Thanks for this visit goes to Susan Brill, a superb teacher who cares deeply about reading global books in her multicultural classroom.
I knew RICKSHAW GIRL was a "mirror" book for the kids of P.S. 230 when I saw this poster on the gate.
That afternoon I strolled across the Brooklyn Bridge and back.
Stopped to watch handball on one of the playgrounds and was tempted to get in line for a game.
Next stop was Brooklyn Friends School, where I led writing workshops for 8th graders and presented a session for the 5th grade.
Middle School Librarian Angie Ungaro took excellent care of me at Brooklyn Friends. Again, note the superb signage.
Back in the Boston area, I visited Derby Academy in Hingham, established in 1784. Tuition used to be an armful of firewood. I think it might be a bit steeper now. Librarian Barbara Zinkovich arranged my visit impeccably.
I've gotten good at multitasking during presentations. Here I'm teaching one kid to bargain for bananas in an imaginary Bangladeshi marketplace while I wrap a saree around a second volunteer.
After full-day gigs at the two middle schools in Reading, Massachusetts, where school librarians Christine Steinhauser and Robyn Ferrazzani took care of me, public school librarians celebrated OPEN MIC with Thai food. (From L to R: Young Adult Librarian Susan Beauregard, author Francisco Stork, Adult Services Librarian Andrea Fiorillo, author David Yoo, and Young Adult Librarian Renee Smith.)
Reading Librarian Andrea Fiorillo, David Yoo, Francisco Stork, and a lovely bookseller from Andover Bookstore after our Big Read panel on growing up between cultures.

In Which I Chat About Privilege, Authenticity, Apps, Books, Tech, and So On With 3 School Librarians

After 10 days on the road, I'm home again. I presented 26 times in 11 schools and 2 conferences in Boston and Brooklyn, where I got to chat with three brilliant New York independent school librarians (Angie Ungaro, Sarah Murphy, and Kerry Roeder). They create a podcast for librarians called the "Watchers Podcast," and featured an interview with me on Episode 7. They even provide a list of resources for every episode. We recorded in my hotel room in Brooklyn, clustering around the microphone, and it was one of the highlights of my trip.

Angie Ungaro, Middle School librarian at Brooklyn Friends School, is on the right.