Diverse Books-What we really need!

There is a big movement within the library community called “We Need Diverse Books.”

If I were leading the movement, I would call it,  “We need more diverse books that children like.”   We have many award winning multicultural books that lack child appeal.

 Award winning books are often what librarians call “shelf sitters.”  They will be purchased by books sellers and librarians but not read much.  They are the brussels sprouts of the library’s book collection. (I remember the first time I enjoyed Brussels sprouts, it was last Thanksgiving at cousin Jane’s.)

 We  need  contemporary books about multicultural children.  Since I find it hardest to find diverse books for our youngest readers, I have chosen four books for preschoolers and primary students:

51007CEiUpL._SX442_BO1,204,203,200_Lola Reads to Leo by Anna McQuinn, begins with Lola, her pregnant mom, and dad sharing a bedtime story. When her new brother is born, Lola picks out a special book for Leo. Dad shows Lola how to hold the baby. Lola delights in being a big sister helping her mom by running errands and attempting to entertain the baby. It ends with the new family gathered on the sofa for a bedtime story. Rosalind Beard’s illustrations are delightful.





Big Red Lollipop by  Rukhsana Khan is a story about Arab  Americans in  Canada.

Rubina is delighted when she is invited to a birthday party. Birthdays aren’s part of her family’s tradition. She sulks when her mother insists she must take her younger sister along. At the party, Rubina is the only one with her little sister in tow. Sana embarrases her when she cries during musical chairs.  She is not invited to another party for a long time.

Several years later when Sana receives a birthday invitation, Her mother insists that she take her youngest sister, Maryam. Rubina steps in and takes Sana’s side winning her younger sister’s admiration. This book is illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators, Sophie Blackall, winner of the Caldecott Award.  I love her signature use of colorful patterns.


In Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, Grace loves stories of all kinds.  When her class begins planning a production of Peter Pan, Grace plans to audition for Peter. A classmate informs her she’s can be Peter because she’s a girl. Another declares that Grace can’t be Peter because she’s black. Grace’s mom and aunt encourage Grace to try out. Her Nana takes her to see a ballerina from Trinidad.  Grace auditions and amazes her classmates when she performs as Peter Pan.

untitled (2)In Splash, Anna Hibiscus, we meet Anna and her extended  family spending a day at an African  beach.

Everyone is busy at the beach but no one wants to get wet.  Her grandparents are reading the newspaper. Mama and the aunties are braiding their hair. Her female cousins are playing in the sand, the boys play soccer. Only Anna Hibiscus wants to go swimming.  In the end, we see a loving extended family enjoying themselves in the waves.

Children of many cultures have enjoyed these delightful stories of childhood.  We need more diverse books like these.



Smile_cover_shadow Let’s face it. Middle School is traumatic!  Middle schoolers think eveyone notices everything they do. Classmates can be cruel. Anything that makes you different from your classmates feels like torture.

Smile by Raina Telemeier is an autobiographical graphic novel chronicling the ups and downs of middle school and high school, a tough season for any adolescent especially if there’s something that sets you apart from your classmates.

At age 12, Raina fell on the pavement resulting in losing her two front teeth. Six year olds with missing front teeth are adorable, twelve years olds not so much. Raina’s life for the next four years includes dental surgeries, trips to specalists and two sets of braces.Most of all, she feels different from her classmates. Her story also navigates crushes, friendships and other teen drama.

Smile encourages the reader to laugh and sympathize with Raina’s recollections. When she spies her crush in the hall, she is so enamored that she walks right into a row of lockers.  When she tries on extensive headgear for her braces, She exclaims, “C’mom Mom, let’s go get me some glasses, a pocket protector and some velcro shoes.”

Raina begins her story with sixth grade and ends in high school. Along the way, she learns to chose her friends more carefully and pursue her talents for drawing and singing. She gradually settles in with a new group of artsy friends that are kinder, more authentic and accepting.

Kids love graphic novels.  Teachers and librarians are increasingly realizing the benefits of this genre.  Smile, however, is an exceptional graphic novel.  It won the Wil Eisner Award for best books for teens.  Telgemeier has published two other graphic novels, Drama and Sisters.  Fans of her books can create their own comic scenes at www.scholastic.com/raina









Encouraging Empathy in Children

Most children and adults are scared of the severely handicapped.  We feel awkward, we don’t know what to say.  We may assume a person is not intelligent because of their appearance.

Out of My  Mind by Sharon Draper is another book that encourages children to empathize with others.  (See Empathy and Reading)  Both Absolutely Almost and Rain Reign are about children with learning problems.  Children like Albie and Rose could be among your child’s classmates.

Melody is severely disabled. She is  unable to walk, talk or feed herself. She has spent most of her time in special education class. Most people have trouble seeing beyond her twisted body and involuntary movements to recognize that she is very intelligent and full of personality.  We see the world through Melody’s eyes.  .

Melody has struggled  with limited communication.  For most of her life, she had many things she wanted to say but no way to say them.    When Melody accidently knocked over the goldfish bowl, she was helpless to let anyone know that her pet is in trouble.


A new computer with  special  features begins to change that.  She is able to store more vocabulary and express herself through the computer’s voice.  She can now have conversations with other students. But it’s  the school quiz bowl that allows her to shine.

There are children who make fun of Melody.  They don’t seem to understand that she understands them completely. Other  classmates, Rose and Connor, are friendly but awkward.  When she goes to a celebration dinner for the quiz bowl team, she still has to be fed by her parents.

Students on the  Quiz Bowl team become envious when a TV News Station focuses its interview on Melody.  She encounters major disappointment when she is not notified of a last minute flight change and gets left behind in the national competition.

This is a powerful book.  Melody deals with each day’s problems, rarely expressing self pity.  She doesn’t compare her life to her classmates.  She experiences sadness and rejection but that never defines her.  She deals with her disappointment with her teammates in ways that earn their respect.

This book is so well written that it is difficult to do it justice in a review.  Sharon Draper, the author, also has a severely handicapped daughter.  She did not base Melody’s character on her daughter, instead she creates a unique individual.

Draper talks more about her novel on her website:   Sharon Draper on “Out of My Mind”








Empathy and Reading

Here’s more good news for children who read.  A Study by the New School for Social Research in New York revealed that reading quality fiction improves empathy. ( Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy.)  This will not surprise avid readers or their parents.

51meGC4gxXL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Your child likely goes to school with someone like Albie.   No matter how hard he studies, he can’t pass the weekly spelling test, or read on grade level.   He never gets picked for sports team and sits alone in the cafeteria.

As Albie shares his story in Absolutely Almost, the reader learns that Albie’s parents are busy people with high expectations for their son.  Mom and Dad feel disappointed that Albie has been asked to leave his private school.  When his  father tells him that his grades are “unacceptable,”  Albie feels baffled because he tries so hard but his work is never good enough.

Albie  knows he is not a “cool kid.” A brief period of “popularity” followed by rejection by the same crowd only leaves him feeling more dejected

His new babysitter, Calista, finds new ways to help him study spelling and math, teaches him how to draw and counsels him on the social dynamics of fifth grade.  As a newcomer to New York City, she insists that Albie show her around. Albie may not be a whiz in the classroom but he  navigates his New York neighborhood.    Unfortunately, Calista often forgets that she is working for Albie’s parents and makes some unwise decisions.

Albie is an appealing character, resourceful and kind. When Calista breaks up with her boyfriend, Albie sneaks downstairs to buy her ice cream. He takes the blame for vandalism in his classroom to keep his friend Betsy out of trouble.

The reader can’t help but root for Albie. There are no simple solutions but his story ends on an optimistic note.   When his grandfather criticizes Albie’s grades, his dad defends his son.  Father and son work on a model airplane together.

Children will both identify and sympathize with Albie.  After seeing the world through Albie’s eyes for 320 pages, they will see some of their classmates with new eyes.  This is a great book for children in 3rd-6th grades.

























Frankie’s Disreputable History

“Secrets are more powerful when people know you’ve got them.” -from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks-E. LockhartLoyal Bassetts


People underestimate Frankie Landau-Banks. Because she is the youngest, her family refers to her as “bunny rabbit.” At Alabaster Boarding School, her new boyfriend, Matthew Livingston, loves having her by his side as long as she doesn’t challenge him intellectually or interfere with his commitments to a secret society.

Frankie loves being with Matthew.  She had a crush on him all freshman year. She also loves being part of his crowd of popular seniors. Matthew and his friends are always being silly, building catacombs out of corn ears, putting four English muffins in their mouths at once and planning mysterious midnight outings.

And then there’s Alpha (known also as Alpha Dog) who has a kind of secret power over Matthew and  friends. When Matthew cancels their date so he can hang out with Alpha and the guys, Frankie becomes a spy.   She learns about The Loyal Order of Bassett Hounds, a secret all male society that has been at Alabaster since 1951.  She even locates the secret handbook-a handbook so secret that the current members are unaware of its existence.

Frankie feels that Matthew and his friends don’t take  her seriously.  “Matthew had called her harmless.  And being with him made Frankie feel squashed into a box-a box where she was expected to be sweet and sensitive (but not oversensitive); a box for young and pretty girls who were not as bright or powerful as their boyfriends.  A box for people who were not forces to be reckoned with…Frankie wanted to be a force.”

Frankie masterminds a scheme for a silent takeover of the Basset Hounds. She creates a false email persona and starts giving orders for major pranks. Suddenly all kinds of strange things start happening on campus:

  • Bras appear on the pictures of the Founding Fathers.
  • The library dome is outfitted with a  large brown parachute.  In the center of the parachute, the dome’s nub had been painted bright pink,
  • A large banner reads, “In the Ladies We Trust.”
  • A statue of a guppy is moved and held for ransom.

And that is only the beginning…

I think high school students need to just enjoy a fun read once in awhile.  Frankie makes a wonderful heroine.  She’s clever and imaginative.  She makes her mark at Alabaster Academy.





































Teen Tales of Adventure and Romance

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan begins with the romance of an unlikely couple and turns into a harrowing survival tale.   Readers will find this suspenseful book hard to put down.  Sometimes Sloan’s plots stretch credibility. But I don’t care.  I love her books anyway!

Emily Bell is your all American girl.  Her parents are loving people who want to make a positive mark on their world. Emily plays second string soccer and excels in school. She is curious about people and notices things that others fail to see.

Sam Border has been raised in the worst possible environment.  His dad, Clarence, is a conman and a criminal. They move often to stay away from the Law. Sam takes care of his younger brother, Riddle. He hasn’t been to school since second grade. He and Riddle have learned to be invisible especially during the day. In the afternoons, they emerge from their low rent house and go dumpster diving.

Clarence Border has no redeeming qualities. He knows how to steal and pawn goods. He finds the boys useful;  people are sympathetic to a single dad with two young boys. He has never paid much attention to them but as the boys grow older, he becomes more resentful of his sons. Both guys refuse to steal or engage in any criminal activity making them useless in his eyes.

A series of random meetings bring Emily and Sam together. Emily is fascinated by Sam. He’s not like any guy she’s ever known. He totally misses pop culture references. He’s quiet and humble, a welcome change from the arrogant Bobby Ellis who has had his eyes on Emily for months.

The Bell family begin to realize that Emily is love so they insist that Sam come over for dinner.  Mr. Bell discovers that Sam is a musical prodigy.  It’s not long before Sam and Riddle become a fixture in the Bell household.

It’s scary for Sam who is beginning to realize how strange his life really is. Riddle, Sam’s brother, stands out even more. He’s five years younger and small for his age. He rarely talks and spends most of his free time creating intricate drawings in old phone books.

Mrs. Bell takes an interest in Riddle and manages to get him some asthma medicine. Riddle, who had felt like there was an elephant sitting on him,  begins feeling better and  talking more. He loves helping Mrs. Bell fix supper every night.

The book takes a sinister turn when Clarence Border finds Emily Bell’s cellphone in his son’s pocket. He knew they had been doing laundry a lot. They were also later and later getting back to the house at night. Clarence is very angry about his sons’ secret lives. He vows to seek revenge.

Meanwhile the Bells are clueless about Sam and Riddle.  They don’t know that they live in a moldy house scheduled for demolition on the worst side of town or that their meals often come from trash cans.  When Mr. Bell’s car is vandalized, Sam realizes that he and Riddle are in trouble.

When Sam and Riddle arrive home, Clarence is throwing everything into the trunk and angrily orders them inside.   They are headed again for an unknown destination.

The Border sons are now caught in a life or death spiral.  Clarence has decided that he will make his sons pay.  From this point,  it’s a wild ride for the brothers who must not only deal with Clarence’s wrath but also navigate a remote wilderness without supplies or assistance.

Just Call My Name, also based on a song by The Jackson Five, is the sequel. The characters are mostly the same.  The plot has a similar structure. This time it is Emily and her friend, Destiny who are kidnapped and must fight for their survival.

I highly recommend these books for middle school and above.   These titles are light reading at its best.











We are All Made of Molecules-YA


Stewart has a high I.Q. At 13, he has always been the youngest in his class and socially clueless. He really misses his mom who died of cancer a year and three months ago; but is happy that his Dad has found someone new and he has always wanted a sister.

Ashley is 14, extremely good looking by her own estimation, has a great sense of style, and is the Queen Bee of her crowd. For 12 ½ years her family was “perfect;” then a year ago, her father announced that he was gay and that his marriage to her mother was over. For financial reasons, he shares an apartment located just behind the house.

Ashley is totally disgusted with her dad for ruining her life. She is not pleased when she learns that her mother’s boyfriend will be moving in “with his egghead, freakazoid of a son.” She finds this totally unacceptable and starts planning for her unconsipation from her family on her sixteenth birthday. (She means emancipation.) Ashely is not known for her intelligence.

This hilarious and satisfying story is told in alternate chapters by Stewart and Ashely. It’s a quick fun read about an all too contemporary family situation. Both unwittingly reveal more about their character than they intend. Ashely is especially heinous. Her top priority is her position on the social ladder. No one can know that her Dad is gay. She lacks loyalty to her friends exposing secrets and putting them down when it seems advantageous to do so.

Stewart is well aware that he is a nerd.   Life is tough initially but he soon joins the Mathletes and becomes Borden High’s new basketball mascot. Since making friends with Phoebe and Violet, he no longer eats lunch under the stairway. He narrowly escapes certain torture by telling Jared, the school bully, that Ashley is his “sister.”

Ashely is a slower learner than Stewart in studies and life. She falls hard for the mysterious Jared with his good looks and charming personality… When Ashley learns that he was recently kicked out of his Catholic school, it only adds to his appeal. It is obvious to the reader that Jared is bad news leading Ashley and others into danger.

I recommend this book for high school students and above due to mature themes like gay parents and alcohol abuse. It is clear that Ashely is deeply hurt by her father’s choices. She wants to think she is not homophobic, but it is different when it comes to her own father and her own reputation.

The real hero of this story is Stewart. He knows that other people think he is weird yet he remains true to himself. He is the one who cares about others and ultimately rescues Ashley from herself. Ashley’s story is a cautionary tale. After escaping near disaster at the hands of Jared, she begins to show some maturity and starts questioning her selfish values and choice of friends.