Tuesday, June 24, 2014

YA Review - Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

I'm finally getting around to writing reviews of some of those incredible books I read during the 48 Hour Book Challenge a few weeks ago! (It takes me a while, sometimes.) Part of the reason is that I needed to process what I read - my goal during this year's challenge was to maximize my reading time, so I pretty much read straight through, with only a few stopovers on social media and other participants' blogs. And so it was one big happy blur of diverse titles, all of which I needed to digest a bit before I sat down and put fingers to keyboard.

But I definitely don't want to forget about these books, so on with the reviews. First up is a teen pick, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina. This one caught my attention when it won the Pura Belpre award last year, and kept my attention when it started being challenged for various reasons. (I kind of secretly love when a great book is challenged, because what is a more sure-fire way to guarantee that teenagers read something, than to tell them not to?). So of course I knew this was going to be a 48 Hour Book Challenge title for me, and I'm so glad I included it with my list.

The story begins when Piddy Sanchez finds out that "Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass," from some other girl she doesn't even know. Piddy doesn't know Yaqui either -- she's new at the school, hardly knows anyone -- and is equally mystified as to why this unknown stranger would want to beat her up. She's sure she doesn't want trouble, though, so she decides to avoid Yaqui at all costs. And for a while that works, as Piddy focuses on her job, school and the mystery of who her father is and why her mother never speaks of him. But then things with Yaqui start to heat up, in a serious fashion, and suddenly Piddy finds herself doing whatever she can to avoid confrontation and to find a little peace - even if that means acting out in ways she's never thought of before. What will Piddy do to cope, and can she stay out of Yaqui's way without hurting her other relationships?

OK, first of all, let's get out of the way the fact that this title has the word "ass" in it.

Yep, a swear.

If that's a stumbling block for you, well, just stop reading now.

Because if it is, I guarantee you won't want to read the honest, soul-baring novel that carries this name. Yaqui Delgado is a tough book at times, not because of language or situations but because of the real human pain that bleeds through on the pages. Piddy is a character that many kids can relate to, and her struggles are so familiar that I'd venture to guess few high schools don't have a host of Piddys walking their halls. So for me, tough as it might be, this is a book that needs to be shared because I believe it can save the lives of kids who are experiencing Piddy's problems right now.

At its core, Yaqui Delgado is a novel about bullying that stands apart from the pack, because it shows how bullying is a problem that can't be easily solved like the movie-of-the-week wants us to think. Medina doesn't shrink from demonstrating how the conflict with Yaqui, undeserved as it turns out to be, changes Piddy's life in ways large and small. That's the real tragedy, that adults in Piddy's life turn out not to recognize the issue or aren't able to help in any meaningful way. The scary thing is all the little cracks that the bullying creates in Piddy's life, causing her to make choices like pulling away from some people and drawing close to others, all in an attempt to make some sense of this relentless, controlling force. I was moved to tears at some points by Piddy's desperation, and haunted by the idea that this conflict is shaping Piddy's life in ways she will forever feel.

Medina is a powerhouse of an author, one who's not afraid to show the hard truth and pose the difficult questions. There's a complexity here that belies the simple characterization of this as a bullying book - which it is, but so much more also. Though Piddy and Yaqui are both female, both Latina, they are very different, and the conflict between them speaks to concepts of race and gender that run deep within our society. This isn't a simple story and it isn't one that wraps up tidily. But it is a truthful one, a provocative one, and a story that teens and adults need to read and share.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina, published by Candlewick
Age 12+
Source: Library
First lines: "'Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.' / A kid named Vanesa tells me this in the morning before school. She springs out with no warning and blocks my way, her textbook held at her chest like a shield. She's tall like me and caramel. I've seen her in the lunchroom, I think. Or maybe just in the halls. It's hard to remember. / Then, just like that, Vanesa disappears into the swell of bodies all around."
Highly recommended

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Picture Book Review - The New Girl...and Me by Jacqui Robbins

We've been thinking a lot about transitions around here lately. For one thing, I'm in the process of transitioning to a new job -- as Collection Development Librarian for the library system I'm currently in. It's absolutely a dream job for me, made even better by the fact that I didn't have to leave the team of folks I already love working with. But as with all new situations it requires a bit of a shift in mindset and workflow, and so I'm between two worlds right at the moment.

Of course, Sprout's about to be in transition himself, as he'll be leaving his beloved preschool behind in the fall when he enters the big time. Kindergarten. I'm in total denial about this, or I was until preschool graduation last night when the director introduced us to the class of 2027. Yeeeeeep. That's a step Mommy's going to have to adjust to gradually -- good things we've got two more months at preschool to get used to the idea.

Transitions are rough for lots of reasons, probably the most significant being that vague fear of the unknown that happens to take hold when you least expect it. I had that in mind when Sprout and I read Jacqui Robbins' The New Girl...and Me, a library pick that we just recently discovered. The story follows a young girl whose class is welcoming a new student. Shakeeta is quiet; all she tells the class by way of introduction is that she has a pet iguana. Our narrator Mia wants to befriend Shakeeta, but she just isn't sure - it can be scary to befriend someone new, after all. Then an incident on the playground leaves both girls on the sidelines, and suddenly Mia works up the courage to reach out. And what she discovers is that sometimes laughter is the best way to bridge the gaps between us.

This is a thoughtful, sensitive story that's as much about being the new child in an already-settled classroom as it is about making friends with a stranger. I love the realness of the story, that there isn't any big dramatic scene but rather a small conflict that kids will really relate to. Being on the sidelines isn't any fun, and of course Shakeeta gets upset, which is what ends up drawing the two girls together. Robbins' skill in telling this story is the way she shoes the quiet strength of friendship, and how relationships can blossom even when there doesn't seem to be much to get them started.

And of course I couldn't talk about this book without mentioning the illustrations by Matt Phelan. At the time this book was done, he was relatively new to the kidlit scene, but of course now he's illustrated books by some of my favorite authors. It's not hard to see why, with his relatable, energetic style that suits the classroom dynamic in this story to a T. There are a few spreads that I find especially poignant: in particular, I love the one-page evolution of the friendship between Mia and Shakeeta, where Phelan shows us the two girls coming together in the space of a walk between playground and school door. It's a great example of the power of words and pictures to work together, the strength of all great picture books.

Making a transition yourself, or anticipating one in the near future? Check out The New Girl...and Me. It's older, so you may need to hit the library, but this is one pitch-perfect picture book that you'll want to read more than once.

The New Girl...And Me by Jacqui Robbins, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Ages 4-6
Source: Library

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What Happens When #DadsRead

One of the first posts I wrote when I started this blog was this one, about the power of a reading dad. In that post, I wrote that "not only do kids need to see us read, they need to hear it and be surrounded by it, in an environment that establishes the importance of reading in everyday life, not just for school or because we have to." After all, we can only tell our kids so much, but when we show them, when we model the behavior for them, our actions say more than our words ever can. 

That's especially critical for fathers of young sons, because of the pervasive idea that reading is somehow a behavior more suited for girls than boys. My husband and I met because of books, and some of the best moments in our marriage have come through the shared love of reading. One of the most important things that Hubs and I can give Sprout, in our estimation, is a love of books - because in doing that, we're giving him the power to satisfy his naturally boundless curiosity. We don't see this as a boy-girl issue, but as an issue of opening up the world to Sprout. And what parent doesn't want to do that for their child?

I wrote, in that original post, of the bonding that took place between Sprout and Daddy during those early months at home. Those were special times, when Hubs rocked Sprout to sleep with a bottle and a stack of picture books. In those often-bumpy first days when our family was first starting out, the familiar rhythm of our own childhood favorites soothed us as parents as much as it did Sprout -- maybe more, if you consider that he didn't know the language yet. It cemented a ritual that we always knew we wanted to establish, even before the first round of adoption paperwork was begun: that of bedtime reading, time to cuddle up with a story and ease into rest and relaxation.

Three years later, I can say that the power of a reading dad has remained undiminished in our household. I absolutely credit my husband's love for literature with the fact that Sprout's enthusiasm for books has only grown. The kiddo is as quick to suggest a family trip to the library on a Saturday afternoon as I am -- while Mommy and Sprout check out the picture books, Daddy's amassing a stack of graphic novels, and we all leave with bookbags bursting. One of Sprout's favorite spots to visit is a local comic shop, where the boys play pinball and arcade games, then check out the racks for the new adventures of Spider-Man or Super Dinosaur. Some nights we read a chapter book at bedtime, other nights Sprout asks for a comic book (and that's usually Daddy's province, since nobody does the Scooby-Doo voice like Daddy!).

I'm so grateful that my husband loves to read and shares that with Sprout. But not all dads are fully aware of the importance of reading, so Zoobean and The Good Men Project have teamed up to promote the culture of reading dads. This is a great initiative and something that's very close to our hearts.

How can you help? Share your stories of what happens when dads read to and with their kids. Share your photos too - post them on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, and be sure to tag them #dadsread. And tonight, when your kiddos are putting on their pjs, pick out books to share some special #dadsread time together.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

48 Hour Book Challenge - Finish Line!

Amazing but true - the 48 Hour Book Challenge is officially over for me! What an incredible two days this has been. I feel overwhelmed, slightly dizzy and thoroughly delighted that I was able to participate. I'm equally thrilled to read all the posts from other participants and see the sharing of diverse titles. Thanks go out especially to Pam of MotherReader, for not only hosting the Challenge again this year, but for weaving into it her commitment to diverse books.

So, because I know you're all wondering, here is my final stack:

Finish line reading time: 18 hours
Finish line amount read: 8 books

Today I finished:

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus: This award-winner turned out to be my least favorite - it didn't hit the depth I was looking for in such a compelling subject, and resolved a little too tidily in the end.

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg: Rafe Goldberg is starting out at a new school and decides he wants a fresh start - as the kid who isn't openly gay - but Rafe's decision to be untrue to a critical part of himself ends up having unforeseen consequences for him and those he loves.

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods: Violet is one of the only kids of color in her town, and because her African American father has died, Violet doesn't look like she fits with her white mom and sister - but then Violet gets a chance to connect with her paternal grandmother and suddenly learns about a whole new part of herself.

My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson: Luke and his two brothers are leaving their Eskimo village behind and going to the Sacred Heart School, where they meet others who have experienced the same kinds of loss and heartache, in this powerful tale of history and identity.

I had planned to sum this up by saying which was my favorite of the books I read this weekend, but I find it's almost impossible to do. Instead I can say that this was a blend of rich characters, heady storylines, intriguing plots and incredible voices, the kind of which can only come from many viewpoints of many types of people. #WeNeedDiverseBooks, it's true - to learn more about others, but ultimately about ourselves.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

48 Hour Book Challenge - Halfway Check-In

All right folks, I'm officially halfway through my 48 Hour Book Challenge. If you're participating too, how are you doing? Are you bleary-eyed and experiencing book hangover like I am? Usually I like to take a little bit of time after finishing a book to let it sink in and resonate. Not this time, though - I'm blasting straight from one title to the next like a champion!

Here's a look at my stack so far:

Halfway point reading time: 11 hours
Halfway point amount read: 4.5 books 

I plan to write more in-depth blog posts about each title later, but here's a one-sentence review of each:

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor: Magical realism at its best, in a story set in Nigeria and steeped in mysticism and imagination - unforgettable!

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang: A story about finding who you are and accepting where you come from, even as you try to blend in with the crowd - brilliant middle-grade reading.

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia: The sequel to One Crazy Summer, the story of three girls reconciling their experiences with the mother they never knew, as they return to their familiar life that suddenly isn't the same - history, humor and heart!

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina: Incredible voice and characters collide in this story of a young Latina girl who suddenly finds herself the focal point of a bully's ire - and must reconcile her past with the person she feels forced to become.

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus: Halfway through this one, so no real review yet - but an interesting based-on-true events story of a Japanese boy who becomes part of the crew of an American whaler in 1841.

SUCH a fantastic crop of books so far, you guys! Now I'm off to do a little tidying, work on my project and rest up before diving back in for more terrific diverse kidlit. Hope you're enjoying your 48 hours too!

Friday, June 6, 2014

48 Hour Book Challenge - Ready, Set, Read!

Hey peeps! The big weekend has come - I'm stocked up on provisions (read: wine and ice cream) and ready to read my eyes out for MotherReader's 9th Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge. Haven't heard about the 48HBC? Check out the full details over at MotherReader's blog, and sign up to participate yourself!

The goal of this challenge is simple: read as much as you possibly can during this 48 hour period. This year, the challenge has a very special emphasis that is dear to my heart, as any regular reader of this blog knows: the focus for participants this year is diverse books. I am so thrilled to see this, not only because it means a whole host of dedicated readers will be diving into some wonderfully inclusive literature, but also because they'll be sharing it: via their blogs, social media, and all other channels possible. I cannot wait to hear what everyone's reading - and it's a great excuse for me to clear a space on my TBR list, with so many yummy diverse books calling my name!

This year, Hubs generously agreed to take Sprout out of town for a little daddy-son bonding time. So aside from a few routine chores, and a project that I need to get finished before Monday, I'm all books all the time. Squee!

First up is a book that's been on my TBR shelf for way to long, that I'm so excited to finally dive into: Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch. Have you read this one? Stay tuned for my report -- and if you're a participant this weekend, happy reading!!