"Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books? Where are the future white personnel managers going to get their ideas of people of color? Where are the future white loan officers and future white politicians going to get their knowledge of people of color? Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?" —Walter Dean Myers (1937-2014)
If the year 2014 will be remembered for anything in the world of children's literature, it will be the groundswell of discontent over the lack of diversity and the subsequent #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. On March 15, the New York Times published an op-ed piece by author Walter Dean Myers, who asked, “Where are the people of color in children’s books?” It’s not the first time he's asked that question, as nearly 30 years earlier, Myers raised the same issue in another Times article, “I Actually Thought We Would Revolutionize the Industry" (1986).
While the market continues to reflect a disparaging lack of diversity in children's literature, there are fortunately lots of people who make it their job to write, read and share books that feature main characters of all colors, ethnicities, religious persuasions, sexual orientations and socioeconomic backgrounds. Myers will be missed dearly, not just as an author but as a champion for diversity in books. So we honor Myers—and all authors like him—with a list of a few of our favorite multicultural books so far this year:
Abuelo by Arthur Dorros and Raúl Colón
Spanish words are sprinkled throughout Dorros' sweet story of a young boy's adventures with his abuelo as they explore the Argentian countryside on horseback. When the boy's family moves to the city, these memories stay with him, and his connection to his grandfather and their heritage remains despite the distance. Colón's warm and windy illustrations are just perfect for this story. (And if you're as big a fan of Colón's work as I am, watch for his next book, Draw!, coming September 16.) Read our review.
Bird by Crystal Chan
On the day Jewel was born, her brother tried to fly off a cliff and died. Twelve years later, Grandpa has still not uttered a word, and Jewel feels stifled by her moody parents. She meets a boy who calls himself John (which was her brother's name), but Grandpa's convinced that the boy is a duppy, a type of malevolent spirit. Chan drew on her own mixed-race upbringing for this heartbreaking story, as Jewel takes pride in her Jamaican heritage but gets frustrated when people expect her to speak Spanish—even more frustrated when strangers ask what she is instead of who. Read our review.
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods
Coretta Scott King Honor-winning author Woods (The Red Rose Box) was inspired to write Violet’s story by the circumstances of a biracial daughter of a friend who was unable to trace the African-American side of her family. From this true story comes the uplifting tale of a biracial 11-year-old girl who meets the African-American side of her family for the first time. After a rocky start, Violet and her dad's family build a relationship around personal prayer, her family’s difficult history and her own racial identity, all while dancing to old records and whipping up some delicious meals. Read our review.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
This novel-in-verse about family and basketball is full of quick wordplay, deft rhymes and allusions to classical and jazz music. Twelve-year-old Josh and his twin brother Jordan live for the game, but their home life is just as strong. Their mother is tough but fair with the boys, and their father is an ex-player whose pro dreams faded after an injury. After an irreplaceable loss, familial bonds become even more important. This book definitely has a rhythm all its own, as the verses here are more than just a device to encourage reluctant readers. It is kinetic, gripping poetry. Read our review.
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
Created by Chinese American artist Chu F. Hing and first appearing in 1944 in Blazing Comics, the Green Turtle was the very first Asian-American superhero. National Book Award finalist Yang and artist Liew rescued the Green Turtle from obscurity with this funny origin tale. Nineteen-year-old Hank was just an average boy—until his mother decided he should be a hero. Now he's training in martial arts and getting in over his head with the local crime scene. Fortunately a dash of Chinese mythology gives him the chance to fulfill her dream. Read our review.
Girls Like Us by Gail Giles
Special-ed teenagers Quincy and Biddie have just graduated from high school and must enter the real world. They've been matched up as roommates (though mixed-race Quincy isn’t sure how she feels about interacting with a white landlady), and as they learn how to fend for themselves, the girls find unexpected friendship with each other as well as with their landlady. The story unfolds in dual voices that are truly unforgettable, revealing their progress and fears, as well as physical, mental and sexual trauma. It's a frank and honest story about physical and mental disabilities that never feels cliche or sensationalized. Read our review.
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
Ali lives with his mom and sister in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. He hangs out with his best friends Noodles and Needles—who was born with Tourette's syndrome and knits to help focus his attention—on the streets and on the brownstone stoop, and of course they get themselves in a bit of trouble. Reynolds' depiction of urban life is authentic, and his characters are well developed and relatable. This debut immediately announced Reynolds as an author to watch. (I'm serious about that . . . his follow-up, The Boy in the Black Suit, is coming out next January. Watch for it.) Read our review.
Readers, share in the comments below! What should be added to this list?
A very sad day indeed: Walter Dean Myers died yesterday at the age of 76 following a brief illness, according to the Children's Book Council.
Myers was and will continue to be an icon in children's literature. He received two Newbery Honors, six Coretta Scott King Awards and Honors, the first-ever Michael L. Printz Award and the first Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 2012 he was appointed the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and served for two years. Over the course of his 45-year career, he authored more than 100 books, both fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose.
Richard Robinson, Chairman, President and CEO of Scholastic, shared some kind words:
“Walter Dean Myers changed the face of children’s literature by representing the diversity of the children of our nation in his award-winning books. He was a deeply authentic person and writer who urged other authors, editors and publishers not only to make sure every child could find him or herself in a book, but also to tell compelling and challenging stories that would inspire children to reach their full potential. My favorite quote from Walter is a clarion call to embrace the power of books to inform and transform our lives – he said, ‘Once I began to read, I began to exist.’ He will be missed by us all.”
Look back through our coverage of some of our favorites. Myers will certainly be missed.
This summer, let your child or teenager choose their own summer reading! There are plenty of brand new books that will keep your youngster—reluctant or eager—reading all summer long. Of course, they should be soaking up sunshine and swimming so much they could grow gills, but spending time with a book is just as important.
We've selected our favorite new books for summer reading, categorized by the genre your child or teen might enjoy. This is a particularly helpful guide if your child is participating in the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge, which encourages young readers to choose their own books and log minutes to earn rewards.
Ready, set, read!
If your child or teen is interested in steampunk adventures,
why not try . . .
The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
Ages 8 to 12
"From the best-selling author of Airborn and This Dark Endeavor comes another cinematic adventure. In this historical steampunk folktale, young William Everett is traveling across Canada on the maiden voyage of The Boundless. With seven miles of cars, including enough freight cars to form a circus “town,” The Boundless is the longest train in the world." Read our full review.
Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne
Ages 8 to 12
"Who hasn’t imagined a new life, with new parents, in an exciting place? And a castle—definitely a castle! With chefs and maids and servants—everything you could ever want. In Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times, written by Emma Trevayne, 10-year-old Jack gets exactly this. Unfortunately, things are not as wonderful as they may seem." Read our full review.
Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
Ages 10 and up
"Jaleigh Johnson has created a uniquely imaginative world in her first book for middle-grade readers, The Mark of the Dragonfly. Thirteen-year-old Piper is a feisty, orphaned girl who survives by discovering and restoring flying objects from meteor showers. What she doesn’t count on is finding Anna, who is being chased by a member of King Aron’s army and bears the mysterious mark of the dragonfly." Read our full review.
If your child or teen is interested in juicy mysteries,
why not try . . .
Three Bird Summer by Sara St. Antoine
Ages 10 and up
"For the first time ever, it will just be Adam, his mom and his aging grandmother at their cabin on Three Bird Lake. His parents have recently divorced, and although it will be a different kind of summer, 12-year-old Adam looks forward to escaping the routine of school, sitting on the dock by himself and watching the loons." Read our full review.
Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
Ages 10 and up
"On the heels of solving her first mystery in the Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky, Mo LoBeau faces more intrigue in her tiny North Carolina town of Tupelo Landing. Just when her adoptive kin buy the old Tupelo Inn, now abandoned and rumored to be haunted, her sixth-grade teacher assigns an oral history report to coincide with the community’s 250th anniversary." Read our full review.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Ages 12 and up
"How do you talk about a story so shrouded in secrecy, its own heroine doesn’t know what’s going on? Here’s what we do know: The characters in E. Lockhart’s 10th novel are members of a privileged American family. We know that a private island is involved, on which both intense friendship and romance bloom. But anything else we think we know could be a lie." Read our interview with Lockhart.
The Prince of Venice Beach by Blake Nelson
Ages 12 and up
"Set on the beaches and back alleys of Los Angeles, The Prince of Venice Beach is the tale of a homeless runaway who lives an easy life off the grid—until his only means of income turns morally complex." Read our full review.
If your child or teen is interested in sun-filled drama,
why not try . . .
I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora
Ages 10 to 14
"Everyone should read Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird; at least that’s what eighth-graders Lucy and her friends Michael and Elena think. In fact, they believe so strongly in this summer reading-list classic that they decide to put their clever and surreptitious marketing skills to work to get everyone talking about—and searching for—the book." Read our full review.
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Ages 12 and up
"At just 18, Emi has parlayed a Hollywood internship into work as a production designer, a job for which she has natural talent. While prop shopping at an estate sale, she finds a letter from a deceased movie star that sends her and her best friend, Charlotte, on a quest to find the actor’s troubled granddaughter, Ava." Read our full review.
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Ages 12 and up
"For Rose, summers at Awago Beach are a constant. She and her parents have been renting a cottage there for as long as she can remember, and none of the changes in her life can alter the yearly trip to the beach—not even her parents’ sudden surge of fights. She’s reunited with her best beach friend Windy, and at first everything falls into the usual rhythm." Read our full review.
What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Ages 14 and up
"Set on the beaches of a fictional island located off the coast of Connecticut, What I Thought Was True is the story of a young woman learning firsthand of the mystifying intricacies of love, lust, luxury and loyalty—and how each can change drastically for her friends, her family and herself." Read our full review.
If your child or teen is interested in a thrilling new fantasy series,
why not try . . .
The Thickety by J.A. White
Ages 8 to 12
"By age 6, Kara Westfall has seen and suffered unimaginable loss: Her mother was convicted of witchcraft, and Kara was accused as well. By 12 she’s developed a dark sense of humor, but she’s a dutiful sister to younger brother Taff and tries to care for her grieving father. Their village hates and fears her, so when a strange bird appears in her path and leads her into the Thickety, the oppressive forest that surrounds them, she’s frightened but curious." Read our full review.
The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove
Ages 10 and up
S.E. Grove’s debut novel is set in a world unmoored from time. Different countries can exist in the 19th century, Dark Ages, prehistory or even the future. This grand adventure involves a glass map, a kidnapped uncle and a cast of complex and endearing characters. Look for a review in the July issue of BookPage.
Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly
Ages 12 and up
"Mermaid princess Serafina is nervous. Today’s the day she’ll prove herself a true descendant of her famous ancestor Merrow in the royal family’s traditional Dokimí ceremony. She’ll demonstrate her worthiness to rule through “songcasting” a complex musical spell, and the day will end with her formal betrothal to the handsome but rebellious crown prince Mahdi." Read our full review.
Take Back the Skies by Lucy Saxon
Ages 12 and up
"The first book in a new series from 19-year-old author Lucy Saxon, Take Back the Skies offers readers an incredibly fast-paced mixture of fantasy and steampunk. It’s full of twists and turns that will shock even the most ardent fantasy fan." Read our full review.
What books would you recommend to a young reader this summer?
"Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift." — Kate DiCamillo
May 12 - 18 is the 95th annual Children's Book Week! Established in 1919, this annual celebration of children’s books and reading is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country.
A few great ways to celebrate CBW this week:
Children's Book Week is administered by Every Child a Reader (ECAR), a literacy organization dedicated to instilling a lifelong love of reading in children. The Children's Book Council, the national non-profit trade association for children's book publishers, is also a sponsor.
How are you and your kids celebrating this week?
"Endlessly invent yourself," Jack Gantos tells children in our September 2007 Meet the Illustrator interview, which I recently rediscovered while digging through the BookPage archives.
How true, Mr. Gantos—and quite relevant to your own life! Coming June 14 from Macmillan Children's, Gantos' popular Joey Pigza series is getting a major redesign with artwork by Lane Smith. Smith is the illustrator behind several Caldecott Honor-winning picture books, including The Stinky Cheese Man and Grandpa Green.
The Joey Pigza series, which stars a troubled young boy with ADHD, includes four titles. The first, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, was a 1998 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature. Joey Pigza Loses Control was a 2001 Newbery Honor Book. The next two titles were What Would Joey Pigza Do? and I Am Not Joey Pigza.
Check out the new looks:
The twists and riffs of an Eoin Colfer story combined with the gleeful quirkiness of Oliver Jeffers' illustrations? That's what I call an unbeatable team. Their first-ever picture book collaboration, Imaginary Fred, is coming this fall from HarperCollins.
Here's what we've got to look forward to:
Imaginary Fred is a unique take on the concept of imaginary friends. It’s the story of two little boys and their shared love of movies, music, and comic books. It is about how a little bit of electricity, a little bit of luck, and a little bit of magic can spark a friendship like no other. The perfect chemistry between Eoin Colfer’s text and Oliver Jeffers’s artwork will make for a treasured new picture book.
The publisher's already calling it an "instant children's classic," "genius" and "the stuff of dreams." It's way too soon to be throwing labels like that around, but we're nevertheless excited to see what fun this duo whips up.
We all have our favorite heroines from children's and young adult literature: Eloise, Pippi, Hermione, Katniss, Matilda—the list goes on and on. And then there are the real-life historical figures who paved the way for little girls everwhere: Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks and so many others.
In honor of Women's History Month, we're highlighting 10 new books that give young readers a fresh batch of heroines, from new fictional favorites to historical role models getting some much-deserved attention:
"Ellen, 'born with saltwater in her veins,' spent her days at the shore and learned at a young age from her father how to navigate a ship and operate a sextant. Because of Ellen’s desire for adventure and her competitive nature ('there is no glory in second place'), her father would often caution her—a recurring theme in this story—that 'a true navigator must have the caution to read the sea, as well as the courage to dare the wind.'" Read our full review.
"Whether you’re an adult or a child, this new picture book biography gives an informed overview of intriguing nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale. . . . [S]he felt that God wanted her to help people through nursing, even though the idea 'horrified' her parents." Read our full review.
"When a job lands Kate in San Diego, she sets her mind on transforming the dry, barren town into a site of tree-filled splendor. The story of how she makes her vision a reality is a remarkable one." Read our full review.
"With grace, simple shapes and lots of style and movement, this book perfectly captures Josephine, with a varied and vibrant color palette that complements her dynamic personality. Josephine is an extraordinary tribute to an American legend." Read our full review.
"Sulking around the White House one night, Audrey discovers a hidden compartment containing a diary written by a previous First Daughter, Alice Roosevelt. Alice’s desire to 'eat up the world' and claim an independent identity for herself—including bringing her pet snake to state functions, dancing on the roof and sneaking a boy past White House guards—inspire Audrey to try similar antics, with results that don’t always end up as planned." Read our full review.
"On the heels of solving her first mystery in the Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky, Mo LoBeau faces more intrigue in her tiny North Carolina town of Tupelo Landing. . . . Small-town charm, clever dialogue and Mo’s unyielding wit are excellent reminders of why the first book was so successful." Read our full review.
"Sloan has created a story where the line between youth and adulthood moves back and forth, often more than once in a single day—and where kids and adults 'have relationships that are real and go both directions,' she says. The book is a moving, often funny reminder that such relationships are worth cultivating, and that being open to new people and experiences—however strange or difficult they may seem—can lead to wonderful things." Read our full interview with Sloan.
"Laila is observant, analytical and introspective, regularly comparing American customs to her family’s old existence of royal restriction. She neither fully condemns nor endorses either one of her lives or the people associated with them, but rather walks the common ground between them and begins to understand them." Read our full review.
"Eighteen-year-old American pilot and amateur poet Rose Justice has pulled some strings to land a spot with Great Britain’s Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). As the daughter of a flight school director, she has been flying since she was 12, and after three months with ATA, she can deliver new and repaired Spitfire fighter planes to airfields without batting an eyelash." Read our full review.
"As Emily attempts to fit in at ASG and strives to articulate her feelings about the events surrounding her boyfriend’s recent death, she begins to feel a real kinship with Dickinson, whose work proves 'to other daughters of America, the ones who endure, who rise like rare birds from the ashes, that they are not alone.'" Read our full review.
We'd love to hear from you! Leave a comment below about your favorite young adult or children's book that stars a kick-butt heroine.
Books published posthumously are so bittersweet. They're such a treasure, because we get to enjoy more of our favorite writer's work, but they're such a tragedy, because we have no way to share our delight (or, perhaps, displeasure) with the author.
But I'm going to go with "treasure" when it comes to two books coming in April, when middle grade readers can enjoy new books from two celebrated children's book authors, published posthumously: Ice Whale by Jean Craighead George and The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones. Both books were left unfinished at the time of the author's death and were completed by talented family members.
Coming April 3 from Penguin, Ice Whale (ages 9 to 11) was Jean Craighead George's final novel and was completed by her children, Craig and Twig, after her passing in 2012. George, the author of more than 100 books, won the 1972 Newbery Medal for Julie of the Wolves and a 1959 Newbery Honor for My Side of the Mountain.
Ice Whale is yet another epic nature adventure set in northern Alaska, but this one unfolds with a surprising twist: It alternates between voices of Eskimos and a bowhead whale, and chapters featuring the whale include squiggly symbols, invented by George to represent whale sounds.
Ice Whale also has some especially sweet acknowledgements from Craig and Twig:
"We especially thank our mother, Jean, for leaving us with this "homework assignment," which pulled us all together after she died."
Dianna Wynne Jones, author of more than 40 fantasy novels, including Howl's Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci series, died in 2011 before she could finish The Islands of Chaldea (ages 10 and up). Jones' sister, novelist and actress Urusla Jones, completed the unfinished manuscript, which will be published April 22 by Greenwillow Books. This standalone fantasy has all the makings of a classic Jones novel. The publisher shares more:
"Aileen comes from a long line of magic makers, and her Aunt Beck is the most powerful magician on Skarr. But even though she is old enough, Aileen's magic has yet to reveal itself. When Aileen is sent over the sea on a mission for the King, she worries that she'll be useless and in the way. A powerful (but mostly invisible) cat changes all of that—and with every obstacle Aileen faces, she becomes stronger and more confident and her magic blooms."
Ice Whale and The Islands of Chaldea definitely sound like two treasures.
February is Black History Month, the perfect time to remind young readers of beloved heroes and heroines like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman. This year, new books focus on other important figures, including Malcolm X, the many voices of the Harlem Renaissance and unexpected champions of equality, from unstoppable performers to long-forgotten slaves.
We picked our 10 favorite new books for honoring African-American heroes and heroines. Some of these stories are inspiring, some brutal and unflinching, but all are valuable and educational.
"Kristy Dempsey revisits a watershed moment in performing arts history in her sparkling new book, A Dance Like Starlight. The story’s spirited young heroine, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, lives with her mother in Harlem. The year is 1951." Read our full review.
"This lyrical tribute to Sugar Hill, the historic Harlem neighborhood of the 1920s and ‘30s, and its legendary inhabitants packs a lot of information with an economy of words and R. Gregory Christie’s colorful, stylized paintings." Read our full review.
"With appeal for younger and older readers alike, Under the Freedom Tree is both a beautiful tribute to a lasting symbol of freedom and a powerful reminder that one brave action can change the course of history." Read our full review.
"Malcolm Little is a terrific introduction to a polarizing historical figure and an inspiring tale that children can apply to their own lives. We all face adversity at one time or another; it’s how we respond that counts." Read our full review.
"In Josephine, Patricia Hruby Powell writes with great reverence and a vigor fitting to the life of the illustrious performer Josephine Baker. This handsomely designed tribute to Josephine’s life is refreshingly uncluttered in every way: Powell’s free-verse text doesn’t waste any words, and Christian Robinson’s minimalist acrylic illustrations communicate the very essence of Josephine’s vivacious spirit." Read our full review.
The Sittin' Up by Shelia P. Moses
Putnam | Ages 10 and up
"While most African-American children’s literature focuses on either slavery or the Civil Rights movement, Moses gives middle grade readers a glimpse of a time when slavery was recent enough to weigh heavily on the minds and hearts of African Americans, yet a more equitable future was also imaginable." Read our full review.
"Using the framework of Sarah’s unlikely wealth, Bolden offers a wide-ranging book discussing the creation of the Indian Territory and Oklahoma, the rise of black towns and boomtowns, and the greed and corruption that surrounds money. Searching for Sarah Rector draws upon photographs, census records, sensationalist newspaper articles and first-person interviews to tell a fascinating account of a little-known time in American history." Read our full review.
The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook | Ages 10 to 14
"In The Port Chicago 50, Steve Sheinkin, author of the Newbery Honor book Bomb, tells the harrowing story of the fight for the lives and rights of 50 black sailors." Read our full review.
"Cy in Chains is a difficult, painful novel, but it’s an important one. Cy quickly morphs from a kind, compassionate boy, looking out for his friend before the accident, to a young man who’s been broken by a life of hard work and cruelty, and who comes to see compassion as a weakness he can’t afford." Read our full review.
"In a highly credible fashion, Willow grapples with her choices—she is as afraid of the path of freedom as she is of the certain horrors of continued enslavement. Perhaps most important to Willow, however, are the secrets she learns about the fate of her own mother, a beautiful and educated African woman." Read our full review.
We always look forward to the Newbery, Caldecott and Printz Awards, and this morning was filled with delight (and some surprise!) over this year's recipients.
We're perhaps most ecstatic that Kate DiCamillo won the 2014 Newbery Medal for Flora & Ulysses, the adventurous, hilarious story of a cynical, comic-loving girl who befriends a most unusual squirrel. (We were looking forward to this one several months before it came out; watch us chat with DiCamillo about seal blubber, poetry and giant donuts here.)
Mad props to our teen literature expert, Jill Ratzan, for predicting the Printz winner! She shared her prediction for Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, saying, "Midwinterblood makes its readers work hard to uncover its secrets. That makes it a top Printz contender in my book." Seven intertwined narratives, full of blood and magic, unfold in reverse chronological order on a mysterious, remote island.
We are also tickled that Brian Floca won the Caldecott Medal for Locomotive, a gorgeous picture book about the beginnings of the transcontinental railroad in the United States.
Here's a (partial) list of the 2014 Youth Media Award winners. Find the full list here, and click the links below to read coverage in BookPage.
2014 CALDECOTT MEDAL
Locomotive by Brian Floca (Atheneum)
CALDECOTT HONOR BOOKS:
2014 NEWBERY MEDAL
Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick)
NEWBERY HONOR BOOKS:
2014 PRINTZ AWARD
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook)
PRINTZ HONOR BOOKS:
MARGARET A. EDWARDS AWARD (lifetime achievement in writing for young adults)
Markus Zusak (The Book Thief)
So, what do you think, readers? We're definitely thrilled by some, surprised by others.
For even more recommendations for fantastic children's and teen books, see our list of the Best Children's Books for 2013.