YA – One of the Good Ones

Moulite, Maika, and Maritza Moulite. One of the Good Ones. Inkyard Press, 2021. 978-1-335-14580-2. 384 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Teen YouTube activist and influencer Kezi Smith dies under police custody following her arrest at a social justice rally on her eighteenth birthday. Instantly immortalized as a martyr in the fight against police brutality, Kezi’s family is devastated by loss. While her pastor parents want to preserve and protect Kezi’s memory, sisters Happi and Genny look for a unique way to honor her. Embarking on the trip Kezi planned to take following an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book, the sisters and friends Ximena (Kezi’s girlfriend) and Derek go on a journey to reconnect with the Smith’s African American family history and remember Kezi. Tormented by her broken relationship with Kezi, the trip is an opportunity for Happi to understand her older sister, who she feels like she didn’t truly know. Together they will learn more about Kezi, each other, and their family’s history. A surprising twist won’t shock careful readers, but the alternate time periods may challenge struggling readers.

THOUGHTS: This title examines what it means to be remembered and who gets to be called “one of the good ones.” Recommended for high school collections where social justice and social issue titles are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – Accused: My Story of Injustice (I, Witness series)

Bah, Adama. Accused: My Story of Injustice (I, Witness series). Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-01663-2. 112 p. $16.95. Grades 5-8.

Adama Bah immigrated to the United States when she was two years old. Her father had come to work in the United States two years prior from Guinea. As a student she attended public school, until seventh grade when she went to an Islamic boarding school to learn more about her religion. Then, September 11, 2001, happened. Upon her return to New York City for Ramadan break, Adama experienced cruelty and hate from strangers because of her dress which identified her as Muslim; she was 13. On March 24, 2005, Adama’s nightmare of hatred and cruelty reached a horrific level. She was ripped from her home and taken into custody, but she did not know why. She was identified as a terrorist and suicide bomber, but no one could share any evidence to these acts except that she was a practicing Muslim. She was stripped of her rights, her family, her pride, and her religion. At the age of 17, she was released back to New York City under the watch of a federal ankle bracelet. Her father, through all of this, was deported. She, as the eldest child, was now responsible for the well-being of her family in New York City and Guinea. She quit school to work but still faced daily hatred, cruelty, and bigotry.  Adama was granted asylum in 2007, but she still fights hatred and bigotry to this day. 

THOUGHTS: This is a fantastic addition to middle school biography collections. The cover is not the most appealing (it appears juvenile), but the book itself is eye-opening. I’m glad I gave it a chance. The print is large with lots of white space (again somewhat juvenile in appearance), but the content is engaging and a very quick read. This is a great text to teach perspective and current U.S. history. It is one of several titles currently available in the I, Witness series.

Biography          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

MG – Ground Zero

Gratz, Alan. Ground Zero. Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-24575-2. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

Brandon, 9 years old, suspended from school for fighting, is spending the day with his father, who works at the Windows on the World Restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. He sneaks away from his dad to run an errand when a plane flies into the building. It is September 11, 2001. Brandon’s life has changed forever. Decades later, and a world away, Reshmina, a young Afghan girl, also lives with the fallout of that horrific day. Life in rural Afghanistan changed drastically when the US armed forces came to push back the Taliban. While no one likes the American soldiers, most Afghans fear the Taliban as well. Alan Gratz’s take on the 9/11, attack follows the two young people, alternating between their stories. While Brandon fights for his life as he tries to escape the burning tower, Reshmina struggles with the burden of Pashtunwali, providing aid to those who request it. Reshmina comes across an American soldier injured during a Taliban ambush. Despite her hatred of the Americans, she cannot leave him to die after he asks for help. The move places her family in danger; her twin brother has begun working with the Taliban and threatens to notify them of the soldier’s presence at their home. It won’t surprise any reader that the soldier is Brandon, 18 years later. There is nothing subtle about this book. Gratz had a point to make, and he hammers it home. The two stories aren’t just parallel, but painfully structured to be identical stories – an event in one story is mirrored by a similar event in the other narrative. And Gratz does not couch his opinion that everything the US did in Afghanistan was wrong and hurtful. While the current generation of readers looks for books set around 9/11, Gratz, a master of historical fiction adventure, who single handedly has converted young readers to historical fiction fans, falls a bit flat with this story. Gratz fans will want to read it, but it will not replace gems like Refugee or Projekt 1065.

THOUGHTS: Purchase where Alan Gratz is popular, but readers may be disappointed.

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Graphic Novel

Levinson, Cynthia, and Sanford Levinson. Art by Ally Shwed. Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Graphic Novel. First Second, 2020. 978-1-250-21161-3. $18.99. 279 p. Gr. 8 and up.

This graphic novel, which is an adaptation of a nonfiction book written in 2017 and part of the World Citizen Comics book series, tells the story of the United States’ Constitution, from its drafting and ratification through its many amendments over the last two centuries and right up to and including part of Donald Trump’s presidency. In a sort of dual timeline, the story goes back and forth between the framers making decisions about the Constitution and various points in American history where those decisions had problematic consequences. From the argument of balance of power between federal and state government in the infancy of the nation to the problems with the Patriot Act after the September 11 attacks, the back and forth plot clearly demonstrates how these men couldn’t possibly have predicted and accounted for occurrences 200-plus years in the future when they wrote this monumental document. This includes a particularly timely discussion of habeus corpus in 1787 that the book’s creators then tie to the Ebola crisis in 2014, which obviously strikes a chord with readers in 2020 dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. After telling the story of the Constitution’s history, the creators grade the document in several areas from “providing for the common defense” to “establishing justice” and give it an overall report card; the results are unsettling.

THOUGHTS: Take out the cartoons, and this book reads exactly like a history textbook. It is chock FULL of information, and it forces readers to ask some very serious questions. At times, though, readers may forget how serious the content is because of the fun simplicity of the cartoonish forefathers speaking in common 21st century vernacular. A highly recommended read for everyone, but reluctant readers in a Social Studies class will find this format extremely approachable. On a personal note, I read this book in the days following the insurrection at the US Capitol, and I am not exaggerating when I say that several lines of this book gave me chills – the opening, in particular, part of which reads, “It might be appealing to believe that, because the Constitution and our country have survived this long, they’ll always do so. But the framers were not so confident. Perhaps you shouldn’t be, either.”

Graphic Novel          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD
342.73 Constitutional law — United States

From Wonder Woman, to US History and Malala Yousafzai…New Nonfiction

wonderwoman

Lepore, Jill. The Secret History of Wonder Woman. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 978-0-385-35404-2. 410 p. $29.99. Gr 9+.

Harvard professor and New Yorker writer Lenope digs deep into the history of Wonder Woman, the first female superhero to have her own comic book, and the most popular female superhero of all time- who fights for “peace, justice, and women’s rights”. While not only discovering Wonder Woman’s evolution, Lenope also touches upon how she made and remade feminism, while exploring the history and development of those responsible for her creation, specifically William Moulton Marston. Marston was a freshman at Harvard when he created Wonder Woman, influenced by the woman’s suffrage movement and feminists he knew as a child and by growing up surrounded by feminists. Strongly believing in women’s rights and non-conformity, Marston and his wife lived an extremely non-traditional life while also writing traditional family comics for Family Circle (Marston was a psychologist who invented the lie detector test). One of the couples house-mates, Margaret Sanger, the famous feminist and birth-control pioneer, partially inspired the character, as well as other women Marston loved throughout the years. Marston also strongly felt that women felt powerful from bondage and sexual desire, which is reflected in the original Wonder Woman comic panels spread throughout the book. A solid and substantial volume that comic book fans- specifically fans of origins stories will welcome.

741; Comic Books/Superheroes    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

This book was gifted to us by a kind upper school teacher, and while it hasn’t circulated a ton, it has generated a lot of conversation. We have many upper school students interested in comics and graphic novels, so over the past year we have started to build a graphic novel collection for older students and adults (in addition to the popular graphic novel we have in our middle school reading room).  A lot of students have asked about the Wonder Woman book when it was displayed, which prompted us to mention the graphic novel collection upstairs, which made the items circulate more! Hopefully word of mouth will make it circulate even more.

 

untoldhistory

Stone, Oliver. The Untold History of the United States: Young Readers Edition, 1898-1945, Volume 1. New York: Anthem Books for Young Readers, 2014. 978-1-4814-2173-7. 383 p. $19.99. Gr. 6-12.

This is the first of a planned four volume set born from a somber documentary that examines historical events in a context that differs greatly from traditional textbooks. The volume focuses on 1898-1945, and Stone attempts to answer questions such as, “Why is the gap between the rich and the poor greater in the United States than in any other developed country?” and “Why do African Americans and Latinos still face discrimination?”. Events, such as the building of America’s railroads and Roosevelt’s New Deal reform, are presented with facts that have come to light in recent years after archival footage and declassified information have been made public. Readers will be drawn in by the popular filmmaking author, Oliver Stone, but will stay for the balanced narrative and interesting photos, illustrations and documents that accompany the text, while becoming well-informed readers on United States history, economics and politics.

United States HIstory    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

What an interesting book! The structure is not chronological, like I imagined, but more narrative, which makes it much more approachable (and different from a textbook). Instead of just historical fact- like how Woodrow Wilson premiered a pro-Klu Klux Klan film in the White House- this text goes into the why and how that could happen. It is important to realize that for every event, or historical act that is a story behind even that, and I feel Oliver Stone did a fine job, as did Susan Campbell Bartoletti, who adapted it for young readers.

 

malala

Yousafzai, Malala. I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World – Young Readers Edition. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014. 978-0-316-32793-0. 230 p. $17.00. Gr 6-12.  

Nobel peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s 2013 memoir has been adapted for middle and high school students. Malala and her family- specifically her father, a principal, teacher, and founder of one of the only girls schools in Pakistan- are outspoken advocates for education equality. Readers will enter a world not that different from their own; Malala stays up too late studying, talks about the Twilight series, and argues with her younger brothers, but she soon learns that her village in Pakistan was taken over by the Taliban, a violent Islamic fundamentalist political movement through the Middle East. Malala decided to speak out against the terrorism; writing about it on a blog that would later appear on a BBC blog, appearing on international talk shows, being filmed in a documentary, and founding an organization to help girls receive an education. Her actions prompted many death threats, and one day on the bus from school, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman. In the days that followed, Malala survived, and the shooting received international attention. Upon her recovery, Malala remained dedicated to activism for girls education, and her story is one to inspire youth around the world. A superb addition to any biography collection; Malala is someone who made a difference and fought for equity with compassion and peaceful perseverance. YA edition includes a helpful glossary and timeline of important events.

Biography     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

Last year we had a special assembly about peace, and one teacher spoke about Malala’s amazing story. This was around the time she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and was appearing on talk shows like The Daily Show. This prompted us to purchase her memoir, which circulated among teachers and a few students. When we purchased the young readers edition, we had a student check it out, and create a video book review for a project. This was wonderful, as we were able to add it to the catalog record for that title, and other kids who viewed the trailer were then interested in checking it out; we even had a hold list for it!