Summer Reading for High School

Back in May, the #weneeddiversebooks campaign lit a fire to fulfill the desperate need for diverse books in children’s literature. Behind the Book has always championed efforts to find diverse authors and protagonists that will appeal to students since we serve communities of color. For the Summer, we’ve created an epic list of diverse books to reflect the diversity in our city; here’s our list for high school students!

(Click the following links to be directed to the Kindergarten, (early) Elementary and Middle School lists)

americanah-jacketAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A powerful, tender story of race and identity by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun.

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

drownDrown by Junot Diaz

This stunning collection of stories offers an unsentimental glimpse of life among the immigrants from the Dominican Republic–and other front-line reports on the ambivalent promise of the American dream–by an eloquent and original writer who describes more than physical dislocation in conveying the price that is paid for leaving culture and homeland behind.

kindredKindred by Octavia E. Butler

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

part time indianThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he thought he was destined to live.

the chaosThe Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson

Sixteen-year-old Scotch struggles to fit in—at home she’s the perfect daughter, at school she’s provocatively sassy, and thanks to her mixed heritage, she doesn’t feel she belongs with the Caribbeans, whites, or blacks. And even more troubling, lately her skin is becoming covered in a sticky black substance that can’t be removed. While trying to cope with this creepiness, she goes out with her brother—and he disappears. A mysterious bubble of light just swallows him up, and Scotch has no idea how to find him. Soon, the Chaos that has claimed her brother affects the city at large, until it seems like everyone is turning into crazy creatures. Scotch needs to get to the bottom of this supernatural situation ASAP before the Chaos consumes everything she’s ever known—and she knows that the black shadowy entity that’s begun trailing her every move is probably not going to help.

A blend of fantasy and Caribbean folklore, at its heart this tale is about identity and self acceptance—because only by acknowledging her imperfections can Scotch hope to save her brother.

akatawitchAkata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing-she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?

the livingThe Living by Matt De La Peña, a Behind the Book author

Shy took the summer job to make some money. In a few months on a luxury cruise liner, he’ll rake in the tips and be able to help his mom and sister out with the bills. And how bad can it be? Bikinis, free food, maybe even a girl or two—every cruise has different passengers, after all.

But everything changes when the Big One hits. Shy’s only weeks out at sea when an earthquake more massive than ever before recorded hits California, and his life is forever changed.

The earthquake is only the first disaster. Suddenly it’s a fight to survive for those left living.

Jemisin_Hundred-Thousand-Kingdoms-TPThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.

unknown americansThe Book of Unknown Americans: a Novel by Cristina Henríquez

Arturo and Alma Rivera have lived their whole lives in Mexico. One day, their beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter, Maribel, sustains a terrible injury, one that casts doubt on whether she’ll ever be the same. And so, leaving all they have behind, the Riveras come to America with a single dream: that in this country of great opportunity and resources, Maribel can get better.

When Mayor Toro, whose family is from Panama, sees Maribel in a Dollar Tree store, it is love at first sight. It’s also the beginning of a friendship between the Rivera and Toro families, whose web of guilt and love and responsibility is at this novel’s core.

Woven into their stories are the testimonials of men and women who have come to the United States from all over Latin America. Their journeys and their voices will inspire you, surprise you, and break your heart.

pearlThe Pearl that Broke Its Shell: a Novel by Nadia Hashimi

In Kabul, 2007, with a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school, go to the market, and chaperone her older sisters.

But Rahima is not the first in her family to adopt this unusual custom. A century earlier, her great-great grandmother, Shekiba, left orphaned by an epidemic, saved herself and built a new life the same way.

Crisscrossing in time, The Pearl the Broke Its Shell interweaves the tales of these two women separated by a century who share similar destinies. But what will happen once Rahima is of marriageable age? Will Shekiba always live as a man? And if Rahima cannot adapt to life as a bride, how will she survive?

mareswarMare’s War by Tanita S. Davis

Octavia and Tali are dreading the road trip their parents are forcing them to take with their grandmother over the summer. After all, Mare isn’t your typical grandmother. She drives a red sports car, wears stiletto shoes, flippy wigs, and push-up bras, and insists that she’s too young to be called Grandma. But somewhere on the road, Octavia and Tali discover there’s more to Mare than what you see. She was once a willful teenager who escaped her less-than-perfect life in the deep South and lied about her age to join the African American battalion of the Women’s Army Corps during World War II.

teaspoon of earthA Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri

Growing up in a small rice-farming village in 1980s Iran, eleven-year-old Saba Hafezi and her twin sister, Mahtab, are captivated by America. They keep lists of English words and collect illegal Life magazines, television shows, and rock music. So when her mother and sister disappear, leaving Saba and her father alone in Iran, Saba is certain that they have moved to America without her. But her parents have taught her that “all fate is written in the blood,” and that twins will live the same life, even if separated by land and sea. As she grows up in the warmth and community of her local village, falls in and out of love, and struggles with the limited possibilities in post-revolutionary Iran, Saba envisions that there is another way for her story to unfold. Somewhere, it must be that her sister is living the Western version of this life. And where Saba’s world has all the grit and brutality of real life under the new Islamic regime, her sister’s experience gives her a freedom and control that Saba can only dream of.

a long wayA Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this hell and survived.

In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.

This is a rare and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.

silverSilver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle

One hundred years ago, the world celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, which connected the world’s two largest oceans and signaled America’s emergence as a global superpower. It was a miracle, this path of water where a mountain had stood—and creating a miracle is no easy thing. Thousands lost their lives, and those who survived worked under the harshest conditions for only a few silver coins a day.

naughts and crossesNaughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Callum is a naught, a second-class citizen in a society run by the ruling Crosses. Sephy is a Cross, and daughter of the man slated to become prime minister. In their world, white naughts and black Crosses simply don’t mix — and they certainly don’t fall in love. But that’s exactly what they’ve done.
When they were younger, they played together. Now Callum and Sephy meet in secret and make excuses. But excuses no longer cut it when Sephy and her mother are nearly caught in a terrorist bombing planned by the Liberation Militia, with which Callum’s family is linked. Callum’s father is the prime suspect…and Sephy’s father will stop at nothing to see him hanged. The blood hunt that ensues will threaten not only Callum and Sephy’s love for each other, but their very lives.

the icarus girlThe Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

Jessamy “Jess” Harrison, age eight, is the child of an English father and a Nigerian mother. Possessed of an extraordinary imagination, she has a hard time fitting in at school. It is only when she visits Nigeria for the first time that she makes a friend who understands her: a ragged little girl named TillyTilly. But soon TillyTilly’s visits become more disturbing, until Jess realizes she doesn’t actually know who her friend is at all. Drawing on Nigerian mythology, Helen Oyeyemi presents a striking variation on the classic literary theme of doubles — both real and spiritual — in this lyrical and bold debut.

We’re always on the lookout for authors in the tri-state area. If  you are interested in becoming a Behind the Book author, please contact us at info@behindthebook.org.

You can also browse our shelves on Goodreads.

All book summaries were taken from Amazon, and some have been edited for our lists.

Enjoy!

 

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Summer Reading for (early) Elementary

Back in May, the #weneeddiversebooks campaign lit a fire to fulfill the desperate need for diverse books in children’s literature. Behind the Book has always championed efforts to find diverse authors and protagonists that will appeal to students since we serve communities of color. For the Summer, we’ve created an epic list of diverse books to reflect the diversity in our city; here’s our list for early Elementary school students!

(Click the following links to be directed to the Kindergarten, Middle Grade and High School lists)

where hurricanes happen   A Place Where Hurricanes Happen by Renee Watson, a Behind the Book author

In alternating voices, four friends describe their lives before, during, and after the storm and how, even though the world can change in a heartbeat, people define the character of their community and offer one another comfort and hope even in the darkest hours.

Adrienne, Keesha, Michael, and Tommy have been friends for forever. They live on the same street—a street in New Orleans where everyone knows everybody. They play together all day long, every chance they get. It’s always been that way. But then people start talking about a storm headed straight for New Orleans. The kids must part ways, since each family deals with Hurricane Katrina in a different manner. And suddenly everything that felt like home is gone.

dear-primo-imageDear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin by  Duncan Tonatiuh

From first-time Mexican author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh comes the story of two cousins, one in America and one in Mexico, and how their daily lives are different yet similar. Charlie takes the subway to school; Carlitos rides his bike. Charlie plays in fallen leaves; Carlitos plays among the local cacti. Dear Primo covers the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of two very different childhoods, while also emphasizing how alike Charlie and Carlitos are at heart. Spanish words are scattered among the English text, providing a wonderful way to introduce the language and culture of Mexico to young children.

nshange1Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange

In a reflective tribute to the African-American community of old, noted poet Ntozake Shange recalls her childhood home and the close-knit group of innovators that often gathered there. These men of vision, brought to life in the majestic paintings of artist Kadir Nelson, lived at a time when the color of their skin dictated where they could live, what schools they could attend, and even where they could sit on a bus or in a movie theater.

Yet in the face of this tremendous adversity, these dedicated souls and others like them not only demonstrated the importance of Black culture in America, but also helped issue in a movement that “changed the world.” Their lives and their works inspire us to this day, and serve as a guide to how we approach the challenges of tomorrow.

pitching in for eubiePitching in For Eubie by Jerdine Nolen

Lily knows that nothing is more important than family. She’s so proud when her sister, Eubie, wins a college scholarship. And when her family pulls together to earn the rest of the money Eubie needs, Lily wants to help out too. But she’s too young to do most jobs. What can she do to pitch in for Eubie?

each kindessEach Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, a Behind the Book author

Chloe and her friends won’t play with the new girl, Maya. Every time Maya tries to join Chloe and her friends, they reject her. Eventually Maya stops coming to school. When Chloe’s teacher gives a lesson about how even small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe is stung by the lost opportunity for friendship, and thinks about how much better it could have been if she’d shown a little kindness toward Maya.

ruby and the booker boysRuby and the Booker Boys #1: Brand New School, Brave New Ruby by Derrick Barnes

Eight-year-old Ruby Booker is the baby sis of Marcellus (11), Roosevelt (10), and Tyner (9), the most popular boys on Chill Brook Ave. When Ruby isn’t hanging with her friend, Theresa Petticoat, she’s finding out what kind of mischief her brothers are getting into. She’s sweet and sassy and every bit as tough as her older siblings. She sings like nobody’s business; she has a pet iguana named Lady Love; her favorite color is grape-jelly purple; and when she grows up, she’s going to be the most famous woman animal doctor on the planet. She’s the fabulous, oh-so-spectacular Ruby Marigold Booker!

goblinheartGoblinheart by Brett Axel

A youngster named Julep, who lives in a forest tribe, insists on growing up to be a goblin rather than a fairy. The tribe learns to accept that Julep is a goblin at heart, eventually coming around to support the physical transition that must be made for Julep to live as a goblin.

birdBird by Zetta Elliot

Young Mekhai, better known as Bird, loves to draw. With drawings, he can erase the things that don’t turn out right. In real life, problems aren’t so easily fixed.

As Bird struggles to understand the death of his beloved grandfather and his older brother’s drug addiction, he escapes into his art. Drawing is an outlet for Bird’s emotions and imagination, and provides a path to making sense of his world. In time, with the help of his grandfather’s friend, Bird finds his own special somethin’ and wings to fly.

cora cooks pancitCora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore

Cora loves being in the kitchen, but she always gets stuck doing the kid jobs like licking the spoon. One day, however, when her older sisters and brother head out, Cora finally gets the chance to be Mama’s assistant chef. And of all the delicious Filipino dishes that dance through Cora’s head, she and Mama decide to make pancit, her favorite noodle dish. With Mama’s help, Cora does the grown-up jobs like shredding the chicken and soaking the noodles (perhaps Mama won’t notice if she takes a nibble of chicken or sloshes a little water on the floor). Cora even gets to stir the noodles in the pot carefully– while Mama supervises. When dinner is finally served, her siblings find out that Cora did all their grown-up tasks, and Cora waits anxiously to see what everyone thinks of her cooking. Dorina Lazo Gilmore’s text delightfully captures the warmth between mother and daughter as they share a piece of their Filipino heritage. With bright and charming illustrations by Kristi Valiant, Cora’s family comes alive as Cora herself becomes the family’s newest little chef.

BiblioburroWaiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown

Ana loves stories. She often makes them up to help her little brother fall asleep. But in her small village there are only a few books and she has read them all. One morning, Ana wakes up to the clip-clop of hooves, and there before her, is the most wonderful sight: a traveling library resting on the backs of two burros‑all the books a little girl could dream of, with enough stories to encourage her to create one of her own.

Inspired by the heroic efforts of real-life librarian Luis Soriano, award-winning picture book creators Monica Brown and John Parra introduce readers to the mobile library that journeys over mountains and through valleys to bring literacy and culture to rural Colombia, and to the children who wait for the BiblioBurro.

soccerstarcoverSoccer Star by Mina Javaherbin

When Paulo Marcelo Feliciano becomes a soccer star, crowds will cheer his famous name! Then his mother won’t have to work long hours, and he won’t have to work all day on a fishing boat. For now, Paulo takes care of his little sister Maria (she teaches him reading, he teaches her soccer moves) and walks her to school, stopping to give his teammates cheese buns as they set out to shine people’s shoes or perform for the tourist crowd. At day’s end, it’s time to plan the game, where Givo will bounce, Carlos will kick, and Jose will fly! But when Jose falls on his wrist, will the team finally break the rules and let a girl show her stuff? Set in a country whose resilient soccer stars are often shaped by poverty, this uplifting tale of transcending the expected scores a big win for all.

crossing bok chittoCrossing Bok Chitto by Tim Tingle

When it was first published, Crossing Bok Chitto took readers by surprise. This moving and original story about the intersection of Native and African Americans received starred reviews and many awards, including being named an ALA Notable Children’s Book and a Jane Addams Honor Book. Jeanne Rorex Bridges’ illustrations mesmerized readers—Publishers Weekly noted that her “strong, solid figures gaze squarely out of the frame, beseeching readers to listen, empathize and wonder.”

josephine-coverJosephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby
Powell

In exuberant verse and stirring pictures, Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson create an extraordinary portrait for young people of the passionate performer and civil rights advocate Josephine Baker, the woman who worked her way from the slums of St. Louis to the grandest stages in the world. Meticulously researched by both author and artist, Josephine’s powerful story of struggle and triumph is an inspiration and a spectacle, just like the legend herself.

We’re always on the lookout for authors in the tri-state area. If  you are interested in becoming a Behind the Book author, please contact us at info@behindthebook.org.

You can also browse our shelves on Goodreads.

All book summaries were taken from Amazon, and some have been edited for our lists.

Enjoy!

Summer Reading for Kindergarten

Back in May, a group of diverse authors made a public call to action in order to directly address the absence of diversity in children’s literature and the lack of action to fix the issue. They created the #weneeddiversebooks campaign. On May 1st, they asked people to post photos of themselves holding signs about how diverse books have enriched their lives and how the lack of diversity has affected them, on May 2nd they asked people to share their thoughts about diverse books via a twitter chat, and on May 3rd, they asked people to make the effort to diversify their shelves. The movement became a sensation, and has inspired even more people to make an effort to invest in diverse content that accurately reflects our population.

Behind the Book is elated that this movement exists.  We’ve always championed the need for diverse books since we serve communities that are predominantly of color. Studies show that for kids, the lack of diversity in books is detrimental to their development, but seeing themselves reflected in protagonists raises their self-esteem and solidifies their sense of self in society. We also think it’s empowering for kids to see authors and illustrators that look like them as they’re responsible for creating the content the students love. This shows them that they too can become the authors of their own stories.

Summer is the perfect time to diversify your reading material if you haven’t already. Whether you’re going on a plane to visit relatives, stuck on the train going to Coney Island, or bored at home, get lost in these fabulous stories of courage, love and family. Here’s our epic list of books that reflect the diversity of our wonderful city.

Harlem's Little BlackbirdHarlem’s Little Black Bird by Renee Watson, a Behind the Book author

Zora and Langston. Billie and Bessie. Eubie and Duke. If the Harlem Renaissance had a court, they were its kings and queens. But there were other, lesser known individuals whose contributions were just as impactful, such as Florence Mills. Born to parents who were former-slaves Florence knew early on that she loved to sing. And that people really responded to her sweet, bird-like voice. Her dancing and singing catapulted her all the way to the stages of 1920s Broadway where she inspired songs and even entire plays! Yet with all this success, she knew firsthand how bigotry shaped her world. And when she was offered the role of a lifetime from Ziegfeld himself, she chose to support all-black musicals instead.

the-name-jar1The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey.

Anna HibiscusAnna Hibiscus by Atinuke

Anna Hibiscus lives in amazing Africa with her mother, her father, her baby twin brothers, and lots and lots of her family. Join her as she splashes in the sea, prepares for a party, sells oranges, and hopes to see sweet, sweet snow.

Brush of the GodsBrush of the Gods by Lenore Look

Who wants to learn calligraphy when your brush is meant for so much more? Wu Daozi (689-758), known as China’s greatest painter and alive during the T’ang Dynasty, is the subject of this stunning picture book. When an old monk attempts to teach young Daozi about the ancient art of calligraphy, his brush doesn’t want to cooperate. Instead of characters, Daozi’s brush drips dancing peonies and flying Buddhas! Soon others are admiring his unbelievable creations on walls around the city, and one day his art comes to life! Little has been written about Daozi, but Look and So masterfully introduce the artist to children.

NinoWrestlesWorld-297x300Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

Señoras y Señores, put your hands together for the fantastic, spectacular, one of a kind . . . Niño! Fwap! Slish! Bloop! Krunch! He takes down his competition in a single move! No opponent is too big a challenge for the cunning skills of Niño—popsicle eater, toy lover, somersault expert, and world champion lucha libre competitor!

MarisolMarisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown

Marisol McDonald has flaming red hair and nut-brown skin. Polka dots and stripes are her favorite combination. She prefers peanut butter and jelly burritos in her lunch box. And don t even think of asking her to choose one or the other activity at recess—she ll just be a soccer playing pirate princess, thank you very much. To Marisol McDonald, these seemingly mismatched things make perfect sense together.

SpikeLeeGiant Steps to Change the World by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee

Academy Award nominated director Spike Lee, and his talented wife Tonya Lewis Lee offer up an inspirational picture book about activism and taking the big steps to set things right set to beautiful illustrations by the award-winning Sean Qualls. Using examples of people throughout history who have taken “giant steps”, this book urges kids to follow in their footsteps and not be hindered by fear or a sense that you are not good enough. Despite the challenges, even the smallest step can change the world. So, what’s your next step going to be?

61g0qdoVgoLOne Love by Cedella Marley

Adapted from one of Bob Marley’s most beloved songs, One Love brings the joyful spirit and unforgettable lyrics of his music to life for a new generation. Readers will delight in dancing to the beat and feeling the positive groove of change when one girl enlists her community to help transform her neighborhood for the better. Adapted by Cedella Marley, Bob Marley’s first child, and gorgeously illustrated by Vanessa Newton, this heartwarming picture book offers an upbeat testament to the amazing things that can happen when we all get together with one love in our hearts.

Jazz-man-786x1024This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt

In this toe-tapping jazz tribute, the traditional “This Old Man” gets a swinging makeover, and some of the era’s best musicians take center stage. The tuneful text and vibrant illustrations bop, slide, and shimmy across the page as Satchmo plays one, Bojangles plays two . . . right on down the line to Charles Mingus, who plays nine, plucking strings that sound “divine.” Easy on the ear and the eye, this playful introduction to nine jazz giants will teach children to count–and will give them every reason to get up and dance!

978-1-55498-343-8_lBravo, Chico Canta! Bravo! by Pat Mora

Chico Canta, the youngest of 12, is a tiny, mischievous, fearless mouse who lives with his family in an old theater. They love to go upstairs to see the plays and echo the audience shouting, “Bravo, bravo!” as the curtain falls. Mrs. Canta speaks many languages — not only English, Spanish, and Italian, but Spider, Cricket, and Moth as well. And she encourages her children to develop their own language skills. “Bilingual, bravo!” she is always telling them. One evening, after a wonderful performance of The Three Little Pigs, the mouse family narrowly escapes Little Gato-Gato. But, undaunted and inspired by the production, they decide to mount their own version of the play. On opening night, however, it is tiny Chico who is the star of the show when he spots Little Gato-Gato in the shadows and uses his own special gift for languages to avert disaster.

Bessie-Smith-and-the-Night-Riders-Stauffacher-Sue-9780399242373Bessie Smith and the Night Riders by Sue Stauffacher

Even though she can’t afford a ticket to see the great blues singer Bessie Smith perform, Emmarene listens outside Bessie’s tent—that is, until she bursts into the show to warn the crowd:The Night Riders have come! Bessie marches right outside and confronts the Night Riders by giving one of her famous low moans that says, “I may be down and out, but I ain’t gonna take it no more.” But will that be enough to scare them off ?

Based on a true incident, Bessie Smith and the Night Riders is a powerful story of facing down danger and standing up for what’s right.

Red LollipopBig Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan

Rubina has been invited to her first birthday party, and her mother, Ami, insists that she bring her little sister along. Rubina is mortified, but she can’t convince Ami that you just don’t bring your younger sister to your friend’s party. So both girls go, and not only does Sana demand to win every game, but after the party she steals Rubina’s prized party favor, a red lollipop. What’s a fed-up big sister to do?

duck-for-turkey-dayDuck for Turkey Day by Jacqueline Jules

It’s almost Thanksgiving, and Tuyet is excited about the holiday and the vacation from school. There’s just one problem: her Vietnamese American family is having duck for Thanksgiving dinner – not turkey! Nobody has duck for Thanksgiving – what will her teacher and the other kids think? To her surprise, Tuyet enjoys her yummy thanksgiving dinner anyhow – and an even bigger surprise is waiting for her at school on Monday. Dinners from roast beef to lamb to enchiladas adorned the Thanksgiving tables of her classmates, but they all had something in common – family! Kids from families with different traditions will enjoy this warm story about “the right way” to celebrate an American holiday.

We’re always on the lookout for authors in the tri-state area. If  you are interested in becoming a Behind the Book author, please contact us at info@behindthebook.org.

You can also browse our shelves on Goodreads.

All book summaries were taken from Amazon, and some have been edited for our lists.

Enjoy!

(Click the following links to be directed to the (early) Elementary, Middle Grade and High School lists)

It’s Officially Summer!

And with that comes summer reading lists. Even though that might seem to be a daunting task, we’d like to make it a bit easier for you and give you some ideas for where to get started.

Elementary School

Mama Does the Mambo  by Katherine Leiner

Following the death of her Papa, Sophia fears that her Mama will never find another dancing partner for Carnival. This book is sure to make you smile in spite of its sad parts, and by the end it’s sure to get you dancing on your own feet!

Love to Langston by Tony Medina

Fourteen poems offer young readers an exciting glimpse into the life of Langston Hughes, one of America’s most beloved poets. Each poem explores important themes in Hughes’s life — his lonely childhood, his love of language and travel, and his dream of writing poetry. Color illustrations throughout and extensive notes at the back of the book expand upon the poems, giving a broader picture of Hughes’s life and the time in which he lived. It’s a really fun read, and it’s written by one of our favorite authors!

My Feet Are Laughing by Lissette Norman

Sadie likes living in her grandmother’s brownstone, where she has her own bedroom and a backyard to play in. She’s full of thoughts and has lots to say about her family and friends, her home, her hair, and her laughing feet that can’t keep still. And when she grows up, she plans on being a poet.
This collection of sixteen exuberant poems in the voice of a young Dominican-American girl and energetic, bright paintings celebrates Sadie’s family and the city around her.
Old Penn Station by William Low
Old Penn Station follows a very specific piece of New York City history, but it’s not just a New York book.  The author’s research carefully addresses the whole history of the building, from construction to destruction, ending with an acknowledgment of its lasting legacy in terms of historical preservation. Spaces can be powerful, and Old Penn Station honors one particular powerful space which is sure to engender discussion about other historical buildings and monuments all across the nation.

Middle School

Howard Thurman’s Great Hope by Kai Jackson Issa

Born in segregated Daytona, Florida, in 1899, Howard Thurman grew up dreaming of a better life a life where his mother and grandmother would not have to cook and clean for other people; a life where he could become a college man, honoring his late father’s wishes and his own dreams. Through hard work, perseverance, and the support of friends and family, young Howard transcends the limits on Negro education in Daytona and earns a scholarship to an out-of-town high school. A moving testament to the bonds of community and the power of faith, Howard Thurman’s Great Hope illuminates the early life of the man who became a seminal civil rights leader and an inspiration to the nation.

Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott

When Dmitri, an 11-year-old bird watcher and math whiz, loses his mother to breast cancer, he is taken in by Mrs. Martin, an elderly white woman. Unaccustomed to the company of kids his own age, D struggles at school and feels like an outcast until a series of unexpected events changes the course of his life. This book is gripping, and will surely hold your interest until the end!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery. If you aren’t already captivated by this description, then you surely will be when you open the book and find all kinds of fantastical black-and-white illustrations.

High School

Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam edited by Tony Medina and Louis Reyes Rivera

This is a groundbreaking collection, capturing the best new work from the poets who have brought fresh energy, life, and relevance to American poetry. It is as culturally diverse as the nation from which it comes. If you have a soft spot for slam poetry, this is definitely the book for you. The writing is real and raw, and its authenticity makes it all the more moving.

Efrain’s Secret by Sofia Quintero

Ambitious high school senior Efrain Rodriguez dreams of escaping the South Bronx for an Ivy League college like Harvard or Yale. But how is his family going to afford to pay for a prestigious university when Moms has to work insane hours to put food on the table as it is? And Efrain wouldn’t dare ask that good-for-nothing father of his who has traded his family in for younger models. Left with few options, Efrain chooses to do something he never thought he would. He embarks on a double life—honor student by day, drug peddler at night—convinced that by temporarily capitulating to society’s negative expectations of a boy like him, he can eventually defy them.

200px-Fist-Stick-Knife-Gun-Canada-Geoffrey

Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America by Geoffrey Canada

In his candid and riveting memoir, Geoffrey Canada relives a childhood in which violence stalked every street corner. He was a small boy growing up scared on the mean streets of the South Bronx. His childhood world was one where “sidewalk boys” learned the codes of the block and were ranked through the rituals of fist, stick, and knife. Then the streets changed, and the stakes got even higher.

When Skateboards Will Be Free by Saïd Sayrafiezädeh

Saïd’s Iranian-born father and American Jewish mother had one thing in common: their unshakable conviction that the workers’ revolution was coming. Separated since their son was nine months old, they each pursued a dream of the perfect socialist society. Pinballing with his mother between makeshift Pittsburgh apartments, falling asleep at party meetings, and longing for the luxuries he’s taught to despise, Said waits for the revolution that never, ever arrives. “Soon,” his mother assures him, while his long-absent father quixotically runs as a socialist candidate for president in an Iran about to fall under the ayatollahs. Then comes the hostage crisis. The uproar that follows is the first time Saïd hears the word “Iran” in school. There he is suddenly forced to confront the combustible stew of his identity: as an American, an Iranian, a Jew, a socialist, and a middle-school kid who loves football and video games.

As always, if you’re looking for more help with finding something to read, you can check out our Goodreads page. There, you can find a list of books we’ve read – and loved!

All pictures and descriptions have been taken from their Amazon pages, and have been slightly altered for our purposes.

We’ve been reading a lot of books…

…so we reviewed them on Goodreads! Here are a few of our favorites.

Bird – written by Zetta Elliot and illustrated by Shadra Strickland

Bird is the story of young Mehkai, whose grandfather nicknamed him “Bird.” He is a budding artist, and he works hard at his craft – he draws pictures every day, and tries to get better with each drawing. Throughout the book, we explore the relationships Bird has with his brother, grandfather, and his grandfather’s best friend, whom he refers to as Uncle Son, and we learn a lot about the importance of healthy relationships and the benefits of creative outlets in times of personal struggle. The writing in Bird is simply magnificent, and the pictures are really fun, too!

Ask Me No Questions – written by Marina Budhos

Ask Me No Questions tells the story of Nadira and her family. When they are identified as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and her father is arrested, her family is turned upside down. Things only get worse after 9/11 – and that’s where the real story begins. Ask Me No Questions raises important questions about the way we view undocumented immigrants, and the way that view has changed since 9/11. Nadira and her family also explore what it means to be Muslim in an intolerant society, and how importance it really is to establish an identity. What’s most important, however, is what Nadira learns about growing up when her older sister proves uncharacteristically incapable of carrying her family through this tragedy. Marina Budhos captivates readers with Nadira’s strong voice, and holds on to their attention by making expert use of suspense.

Tyrell – written by Coe Booth

Tyrell is the amazing story of our fifteen-year-old titular character. After his family hits hard times and his mother proves incapable of doing anything to help her children or herself while her husband is in jail, Tyrell realizes that he must step up his game and take matters into his own hands. On top of this, Tyrell meets the challenge of heightened demands from his girlfriend Novisha, and undue pressure from his mother. Coe Booth writes in Tyrell’s own honest and uncouth voice, and this helps build the reality of his situation.

Head on over to our Goodreads page using the link in the sidebar (or this one right here) to see what else we’ve reviewed! Happy reading!

BtB’s Top Titles for High Schoolers

The books just keep coming! Today we’re featuring fiction and nonfiction for high school readers, recommended by the bibliophiles on our staff; each is a profound tribute to the resilience of the human spirit.

Fist Stick Knife Gun Fist Stick Knife Gun by Geoffrey Canada
Long before the avalanche of praise for his work—from Oprah Winfrey, from President Bill Clinton, from President Barack Obama—long before he became known for his talk show appearances, Members Project spots, and documentaries like Waiting for “Superman”, Geoffrey Canada was a small boy growing up scared on the mean streets of the South Bronx. His childhood world was one where “sidewalk boys” learned the codes of the block and were ranked through the rituals of fist, stick, and knife. Then the streets changed, and the stakes got even higher. In his candid and riveting memoir, Canada relives a childhood in which violence stalked every street corner. — Amazon

Never Fall Down, Patricia McCormickNever Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
When soldiers arrive at his hometown in Cambodia, Arn is just a kid, dancing to rock ‘n’ roll, hustling for spare change, and selling ice cream with his brother. But after the soldiers march the entire population into the countryside, his life is changed forever. Arn is separated from his family and assigned to a labor camp: working in the rice paddies under a blazing sun, he sees the other children, weak from hunger, malaria, or sheer exhaustion, dying before his eyes.One day, the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument. Arn’s never played a note in his life, but he volunteers. In order to survive, he must quickly master the strange revolutionary songs the soldiers demand—and steal food to keep the other kids alive. This decision will save his life, but it will pull him into the very center of what we know today as the Killing Fields. — Amazon

Jumped by Rita Williams-GarciaJumped Rita Williams-Garcia
All Leticia wants to do is to mind her own business. She’s too busy stewing about being assigned to early-morning math tutoring to worry about anyone else’s problems. Sure, she’s intrigued when she overhears bad-girl basketball player Dominique threaten to beat up bubbly, self-obsessed Trina for bumping her in the hallway—who wouldn’t be excited to get the inside scoop on juicy gossip like a girl-on-girl fight after school? But she doesn’t feel the need to get involved, even after she realizes that Trina didn’t hear Dominique’s threats and thus has no idea that she’s going to get jumped. Will she follow best friend Bea’s advice and warn Trina of the danger she faces, before a potential tragedy can unfold? — Reed Business Information

Random FamilyRandom Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
In her extraordinary bestseller, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc immerses readers in the intricacies of the ghetto, revealing the true sagas lurking behind the headlines of gangsta glamour, gold-drenched drug dealers, and street-corner society. Focusing on two romances—Jessica’s dizzying infatuation with a hugely successful young heroin dealer, Boy George, and Coco’s first love with Jessica’s little brother, Cesar—Random Family is the story of young people trying to outrun their destinies. Jessica and Boy George ride the wild adventure between riches and ruin, while Coco and Cesar stick closer to the street, all four caught in a precarious dance between survival and death. Friends get murdered; the DEA and FBI investigate Boy George; Cesar becomes a fugitive; Jessica and Coco endure homelessness, betrayal, the heartbreaking separation of prison, and, throughout it all, the insidious damage of poverty. — Amazon

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot DiazThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA. Encapsulating Dominican-American history, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love. — Amazon

In the time of the butterflies Julia AlvarezIn the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
During the last days of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, three young women, members of a conservative, pious Catholic family, who had become committed to the revolutionary overthrow of the regime, were ambushed and assassinated as they drove back from visiting their jailed husbands. Thus martyred, the Mirabal sisters have become mythical figures in their country, where they are known as las mariposas (the butterflies), from their underground code names. Each of the girls–Patria, Minerva and Maria Terese (Mate) Mirabal–speaks in her own voice, beginning in their girlhood in the 1940s; their surviving sister, Dede, frames the narrative with her own tale of suffering and dedication to their memory.  Alvarez captures the terrorized atmosphere of a police state, in which people live under the sword of terrible fear and atrocities cannot be acknowledged. As the sisters’ energetic fervor turns to anguish, Alvarez conveys their courage and their desperation, and the full import of their tragedy. — Reed Business Information

Stay with me, Paul GriffinStay With Me by Paul Griffin
Fifteen-year-olds Cece and Mack didn’t expect to fall in love. She’s a sensitive A student; he’s a high school dropout. But soon they’re spending every moment together, bonding over a rescued dog, telling their secrets, making plans for the future. Everything is perfect. Until. Until. Mack makes a horrible mistake, and in just a few minutes, the future they’d planned becomes impossible. In this stark new reality, both of them must find meaning and hope in the memories of what they had, to survive when the person they love can’t stay. — Amazon

This post is part of a series – don’t forget to check out earlier installations herehere, and here.

BtB’s Top 10 Books for Middle Schoolers!

Recently, we’ve been featuring books for high schoolers by authors we love. Today, we made the picks! Here are BtB’s top 10 books for middle schoolers, as recommended by our outstanding staff:

Before We Were FreeBefore We Were Free by Julia Alvarez:
Anita de la Torre never questioned her freedom living in the Dominican Republic. But by her 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated to the United States, her Tío Toni has disappeared without a trace, and the government’s secret police terrorize her remaining family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo’s dictatorship. Using the strength and courage of her family, Anita must overcome her fears and fly to freedom, leaving all that she once knew behind. From renowned author Julia Alvarez comes an unforgettable story about adolescence, perseverance, and one girl’s struggle to be free. — Amazon

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio:
August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Wonder begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out. —Amazon

Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Peña:Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña:
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. Ninety-five mile per hour fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it. But at his private school they don’t expect much from him. Danny’s half Mexican. And growing up in San Diego means everyone else knows exactly who he is before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes. And that’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. To find himself, he might just have to face the demons he refuses to see right in front of his face. —Amazon

I and I: Bob Marley by Tony Medina:I and I: Bob Marley by Tony Medina:
This lyrical picture-book biography of the reggae icon tells his story in verse, from humble beginnings in a small Jamaican village to his glory days as an influential musician. Told in first person, 17 poems chronologically plot Marley’s life path-combined, the poems (and vibrant acrylics) paint a vivid picture of the poverty and turmoil but also the love, faith and island beauty from which Marley arose. Watson’s (the illustrator) majestic art powerfully evokes the people and places that had the strongest influence on Marley, as well as the power he himself would wield. – Reed Business Information

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes:Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes:
Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. She doesn’t have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya’s visions show a powerful hurricane–Katrina–fast approaching, it’s up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm. Ninth Ward is a deeply emotional story about transformation and a celebration of resilience, friendship, and family–as only love can define it. —Amazon

Chess Rumble by Greg NeriChess Rumble by Greg Neri:
“In my ‘hood, battles is fought every day,” quips Marcus, an angry middle schooler on the brink of big trouble. His words, rife with frustration, tumble across page after page in free-flowing verse as he paints a picture of his quickly fading innocence. In the short time since his sister’s death, memories of eating ice cream and giggling have been replaced by the bleak reality of a persistent bully, fist fights, and an absent dad. After begrudgingly meeting CM, Chess Master, the school’s `bad dude’ chess club adviser, an extended `battle’ metaphor unfolds, concluding as Marcus takes responsibility for his own actions and moves his fighting off the street and onto the chessboard . . . –-School Library Journal

Cut by Patricia McCormickCut by Patricia McCormick:
Callie cuts herself. Never too deep, never enough to die. But enough to feel the pain. Enough to feel the scream inside. Now she’s at Sea Pines, a “residential treatment facility” filled with girls struggling with problems of their own. Callie doesn’t want to have anything to do with them. She doesn’t want to have anything to do with anyone. She won’t even speak. But Callie can only stay silent for so long…. —Amazon

The Battle of Jericho by Sharon DraperThe Battle of Jericho by Sharon Draper:
When an elite club, The Warriors of Distinction, invites Jericho and his cousin Josh to pledge, the teens look forward to wearing the black silk jacket, going to great parties, and receiving the admiring glances of the other students at their Ohio high school. The initiation process begins rather tamely with the new pledges helping with the Christmas toy drive, but as it progresses, Jericho becomes increasingly uncomfortable with what they are asked to do and the way they treat Dana, the first-ever female pledge. The characters are deeply human and the strong plot mirrors the difficult choices that young people must make as they try to reconcile their need for acceptance with their inner values. Mostly, though, this title is a compelling read that drives home important lessons about making choices. — Reed Business Information

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams GarciaOne Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia:
Set during one of the most tumultuous years in recent American history, One Crazy Summer is the heartbreaking, funny tale of three girls who travel to Oakland, California, in 1968 in search of the mother who abandoned them. It’s an unforgettable story told by a distinguished author of books for children and teens, Rita Williams-Garcia. –Amazon

Ship of Souls by Zetta ElliottShip of Souls by Zetta Elliott:
When Dmitri, an 11-year-old bird watcher and math whiz, loses his mother to breast cancer, he is taken in by Mrs. Martin, an elderly white woman. Unaccustomed to the company of kids his own age, D struggles at school and feels like an outcast until a series of unexpected events changes the course of his life. An urban fantasy infused with contemporary issues and historical facts, Ship of Souls will keep teen readers gripped until the very end. —Amazon