by Sharon M. Draper
In Blended, Isabella, or Izzie (as her mom calls her), is a sixth grade girl whose mom is white and dad is black. She isn’t sure about her identity, but is leaning more towards black since her skin isn’t white and her hair isn’t blonde like her mom’s. Not only is she a “blend” of colors/races, but her parents are divorced and each have a new family, so she is part of a blended family. Isabella is put in the middle of her parents’ custody disagreement when they start to fight in front of her, and Isabella can’t take it anymore. To top it all off, someone at school has played a racist prank on one of her best friends, and Isabella is sick of fending off comments about her identity as a mixed race girl. A major event causes her family members to look deeper at their relationship with Isabella and with each other.
What I liked about this book was that it addresses the issue of being mixed race in today’s climate, which you don’t see much in literature these days, especially children’s literature. It also addresses the bitterness that can come from divorce, and putting children in the middle of it. I can already think of at least 3 students in my class who will be able to relate to that aspect of the story, although really, it’s the parents who need to read this book.
What I didn’t like about this book was that the issue of rude comments wasn’t really addressed with one of Isabella’s friends. I am white, but my children are mixed race, and I am not sure if they will have to address these questions. I’m not sure they’d be offended by them, but that is my white privilege, not knowing and not fully understanding that perspective.
Front Desk (hardcover)
by Kelly Yang
Front Desk is about a girl named Mia who is a Chinese immigrant. Her parents left in search of the American Dream, but they find themselves practically destitute and living well below the poverty line. Mia gets made fun of for her clothing and the way she speaks, and her dream is to become a writer, but her teacher just marks her papers in red ink. Mia’s mother even tells her you cannot beat a car when you are a bicycle, which leaves her feeling hopeless. Mia and her parents end up running a motel in Anaheim, California on Coast Boulevard (aka Beach, I think) for a horrible, cheap, owner, who treats them terribly and expects way too much from them. Mia also faces a lot of racism not only against her as a Chinese immigrant, but racism against black people, and she finds this especially intolerable. Mia takes it upon herself to start writing letters to make situations better for herself and those she cares about.
What I liked about this book is that I wasn’t expecting the level of care when it came to telling the stories of Chinese immigrants. I read a lot about immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries and even middle eastern countries, but rarely about immigrants from China. I appreciated that I was able to learn something I didn’t already know, as well as see basically no sterotyping. I also liked how Mia was able to make use of her skills to change the injustices that she saw.
What I didn’t like about the book was the frustrations that Mia had with the adults in her life, especially her teacher. We as teachers are supposed to be better than that. I have many students who need to work on their grammar and spelling, but never in my life would I mark a paper up in red pen with exclamation points emphasizing how horrible it is. She had a responsibility to be supportive and watch out for Mia, but she failed miserably.
Book 77 of 40
(Book 43 of 2018)
All American Boys (audiobook)
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
All American Boys is a book that needs to be in the hands of everyone. I really appreciate Jason Reynolds as an author, and I thought this one was really well co-written. Both voices come out loud and strong. It is about a boy named Rashad who is picking up some chips and soda, and is mistakenly accused of stealing by a cop. The cop then beats the crap out of him, putting him into the hospital. Quinn, in the mean time, witnessed what happened, but the cop is a family friend who is like a big brother to him. Quinn can’t get past the fact that what the cop did was wrong, and he has to decide whether to push aside his loyalty to do what is right. Rashad deals with his own feelings, being accused of doing something wrong just because he is black.
What I liked about this book was that it was told from two perspectives (and read by two different people on the audiobook). Rashad is a black teen, and Quinn is white. Jason Reynolds is a black author and Brendan Kiely white. I liked that it was written and told from a black and white perspective. I will never ever understand what it is like to be an African American living in America, facing discrimination and racism. What stood out to me was the list of rules Rashad had to learn that were not part of my education as a white teenager. These are the kinds of things that help us understand what is going on in today’s society (although I wouldn’t limit it to today- it seems like a lot hasn’t changed from 70 years ago).
What I didn’t like about this book (although I understand) is the cussing, only because I want to share this with my students. Unfortunately, while many of my students hear (and use) the kinds of words, I am not about to respond to angry parent complaints. It has a message that NEEDS to be heard, but it’s definitely a YA book.
Book 12 of summer 2017!
The Hate U Give (ebook)
by Angie Thomas
Starr is a 16-year old girl. She is black but attends a predominantly white (private) school, and lives in Garden Heights, a poor neighborhood with gangs, drugs, poverty, and a tight community. Starr’s father is a former gang member who wants better for his children, but one night, Starr attends a party and she and her friend are pulled over by a white cop on their way home. Her friend, Khalil, is shot and she is the witness. Starr struggles with both internal and external conflicts as she makes the decision to testify against the cop. This book brings to mind the recent (and not so recent) shootings and examples of police brutality that have been in the news. It is a fictional story with fictional characters, but it is reality for many, many people.
What I liked about this book was Starr’s character. I felt like she was well-written, and I appreciate that this topic was written in a manner in which others will learn and be educated without it being shoved down their throats. I am assuming people of all races and belief systems will be reading it, not just those represented in its pages. I am a 30-something year old white lady. I’m not friends with any gang members (other than former students’ parents) and I don’t live in a particularly dangerous neighborhood, so I can appreciate that I was able to see this problem through Starr’s eyes. I think bringing awareness is one reason to read diverse literature.
What I didn’t like about this book was the way I was constantly questioning myself and what I do. I don’t think anyone says, “Yeah, I’m racist,” including myself, but reading this book made me wonder if I stereotype or would think the things Starr’s classmates thought, like seeing a person as a gang member and not a friend, brother, son, etc. I’m sure I generalize, and it was a good reminder to judge people and situations for what they are individually. My children are mixed-race, and I don’t want them to see one race differently than the other. It also made me feel old, because Starr’s parents were listening to music that I listened to, and she kept calling them old.
Book 57 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)
The Cay (hardcover)
by Theodore Taylor
AR Level 6.7, 5 points
The Cay is our necessary reading for sixth grade, the only book we are mandated to read. I was a bit cynical, despite the feedback I’d been given by previous sixth grade teachers. The book was published in 1969, making it a full 10 years older than me, and my students generally don’t read books older than themselves (with a few exceptions). I am happy to say that it didn’t disappoint.
Philip is an American boy growing up on a Dutch island in the Caribbean during World War II. His mother decides that due to the dangers of the German U-boats, she and Philip would return to Virginia while his father remained on the island. Their boat is hit by a torpedo and Philip finds himself on a raft with an old black man, Timothy. Timothy is from the West Indies and calls Philip “young bahs” (young boss) since Philip is white. Philip assumes his role as a white man and treats Timothy disrespectfully, as he was taught that the black men were beneath the white men. He quickly has to change his attitude, since he is at the mercy of Timothy. Timothy takes care of Philip and we see a change in attitude, Philip learning the hard way that Timothy deserves to be treated with respect and courtesy. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is definitely worth the read.
What I liked about this book was that it demonstrated the ability of a person to change. Philip had been taught that he was superior to the black men on the island (and maybe in general?), and Timothy proved himself to be worthy of respect. Philip showed him the dignity he deserved after realizing this.
What I didn’t like about this book was the blatant racism that was shown. I wanted to hold Philip’s head under water. But I realize that it was good character development- if he didn’t behave so abominably early on, we wouldn’t have seen such a dramatic change in character. It is also good for students to see this so they can realize how wrong it is.
Book 4 of 40 (year 2)