Multicultural Reading:

Grades K-12 and for All Ages

K-2

ALLISON by Allen Say (Houghton Mifflin, 1997). When she tries on her kimono, Allison realizes that she looks more like Mei Mei, the doll she's always had, than she does either of her parents. She breaks some of her parents’ things, and she says she doesn't belong to them. But by befriending a stray cat, Allison subtly comes to find there are many ways to create a family.

Amazing FacesAMAZING FACES, anthology by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet (Lee & Low, 2010). In this lovely picture book anthology, Hopkins brings together sixteen poets and poems about brief flashes of time and instantaneous emotions resulting therefrom. Soentpiet's elegant illustrations evoke the feelings of the poems via environmental detail and the expressions on the people's faces. The collection includes poems by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Kam Mak, Carole Boston Weatherford, Jane Medina, Nikki Grimes, Jude Mandell, Jane Yolen, Tom Robert Shields, Pat Mora, Janet S. Wong, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Prince Redcloud, Mary E. Cronin, Joseph Bruchac, J. Patrick Lewis, and Langston Hughes. Ages 4-up. Publisher copy. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

APPLE PIE 4TH OF JULY by Janet S. Wong, illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine (Harcourt, 2002). A young girl whose parents own a Chinese restaurant ponders the appropriateness of Chinese food versus Apple Pie on the 4th of July.

AT THE BEACH by Huy Voun Lee (Holt, 1994). Xiao Ming learns to write Chinese (Mandarin) by writing in the sand and comparing the characters to various sights around her.

THE COLORS OF US by Karen Katz (Holt, 1999). Lena, who is the color of cinnamon, is ready to start painting. When her artist mom starts asking Lena about the colors of brown, Lena says, "But Mom, brown is brown." A walk with her French-toast color mom shows Lena all the beautiful colors of her family, friends, and community. This isn't explicitly an interracial book, but clearly the celebrated diversity of coloring in the characters suggests mixed ancestries and advocates both pride and tolerance in relationship to difference. Sweet, cute, joyful. Author-illustrator Katz is the adoptive mother of the real Lena, who came into her family from Guatemala.

DEAR JUNO by Soyung Pak, illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung (Viking, 1999). Juno can't wait to read the letter from his Korean grandmother, but he doesn't know how to translate the Korean words. From little clues tucked inside the letter, Juno knows some of Grandmother's news anyway. When it's time to write her back, he must figure out how to communicate — even though she doesn't read English.

Family/FamiliaFAMILY/FAMILIA by Diane Gonzales Bertrand, translated by Julia Mercedes Castilla, illustrated by Pauline Rodriguez Howard (Arte Publico, 1999). A young boy learns the value of a family reunion.

GRANDFATHER COUNTS by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Ange Zhang (Lee & Low, 2000). When Gong Gong (grandfather) first comes to live with Helen, she feels distanced by his inability to speak English and her inability to speak Chinese. Then, watching a train together, they begin to teach each other how to count the cars, Helen in English and Gong Gong in Chinese. In time, the two begin to bond as grandparent to child. A realistic, warm book that is not overly sentimental. Helen's family is Asian American and European American, but no issue is made of this.

GRAMPA'S CORNER STORE by Dyanne DiSalvo-Ryan (HarperCollins, 2000). When a competing superstore moves in, Lucy's determination and community teamwork may be the best chance of survival for Grampa's corner store. European American.

HANNAH IS MY NAME by Belle Yang (Candlewick, 2004). Hannah and her family are so excited to immigrate to the United States, to become Americans, to be free. But how scary and worrisome it is to wait to see if they will be sent green cards so they may stay legally and make San Francisco their home. Joyful, vibrant, and optimistic without minimizing the challenges faced by newcomers, Yang's book should be an essential part of any immigration, Asian American, California, and/or patriotism unit and a treasure for home and public libraries. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Chinese American.

HARVESTING HOPE: THE STORY OF CESAR CHAVEZ by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Harcourt, 2003). Cesar Chavez led thousands of migrant farm workers and changed their world forever. Krull’s compelling and inspiring text belongs in every elementary classroom and library. Morales’ art is just flat-out gorgeous. Open this first-rate picture book biography, and drink in the magic. A better-than-cinematic visual feast.

HIROMI'S HANDS by Lynne Barasche (Lee & Low, 2007). Hiromi wants to spend more time with her sushi-chef Papa so she begs to go to the fish market with him. When he sees her interest is sincere, he begins to teach her about the fish. Later, she decides her dream is to be a sushi chef, just like him. Ages 4-up.

A HOUSE BY THE RIVER by William Miller, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Lee & Low, 1997). As the storm comes in and the river rises, Belinda and her mother have no choice but to wait it out and hope for the best. Ages 4-up. African American.

IT IS THE WIND by Ferida Wolff, illustrated by James Ransome (HarperCollins, 2005). What has caused the noise in the night? Is it the owl, the gate, the swing? What is it, really? In perfect poetry, a young boy in his farmhouse bedroom wonders, worries, and then sleeps reassured. African American.

JALAPENO BAGELS by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Robert Casilla (Atheneum, 1996). Pablo wants to pick something from his parents' bakery to share with his classmates on International Day. Okay, the title sort of gives the story away, but it's still charming and includes a brief Spanish/Yiddish glossary and recipes!

JERUSALEM SKY: STARS, CROSSES, AND CRESCENTS by Mark Podwal (Doubleday, 2005). Celebrating faith and the city itself, poetic prose and vivid paintings evoke peace and hope. Respectful and inclusive, the author/illustrator acknowledges that "no place has been fought over more" and suggests, "[p]erhaps possessing Jerusalem is like trying to own the sky." Yet the upraised prayers to one God suggest a belief in a brighter future. A miraculous book that more than meets its great challenge of expressing both the sacred and humanity's potential.

Jingle DancerJINGLE DANCER by Cynthia Leitich Smith and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000).* Jenna, a Muscogee (Creek)-Ojibwe girl, is enthusiastic about wanting to jingle dance at the upcoming powwow. With time running short, she seeks the assistance of women of her contemporary intertribal community in bringing together the remainder of her regalia. A story of reciprocity and respect.

JOURNEY HOME by Lawrence McKay, Jr., illustrated by Dom & Keunhee Lee (Lee & Low, 1998). Mai accompanies her mother on a journey from the U.S. to Vietnam to search for her mother's birth family. Their only clue is the kite Mai’s mother has had since she first came to the U.S. and was adopted by a white family. Though it is not the main theme of the book, Mai is also a child of Ango-Vietnamese heritage. This is a gentle, thoughtful story that explores the linking of worlds, loss and rediscovery, as well as the many definitions of family.

JUAN BOBO GOES TO WORK: A PUERTO RICAN FOLK TALE by Marisa Montes, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (HarperCollins, 2000). In this colorful picture book, enthusiastic but bumbling Juan Bobo sets off to work with humorous and, in the (very) end, surprisingly successful results.

THE LAST DOLL/LA ULTIMA MUNECA by Diane Gonzales Bertrand, translated by Alejandra Balestra, illustrated by Anthony Accardo (Arte Publico, 2001). The last doll on the shelf is given to a girl at her quinceanera by her godfather.

THE LEGEND OF THE VALENTINE by Katherine Grace Bond, illustrated by Don Tate (Zondervan Publishing House, 2002). Marcus, age 9, is living in Alabama in the 1960s and facing prejudice, including the jailing of his father, a civil rights activist. The true story of St. Valentine inspires him to embrace forgiveness. Good choice for Christian schools, civil rights collections, and everybody else. Not just for Valentine's Day.

LILIANA'S GRANDMOTHERS by Leyla Torres (Farrar, 1998). A look at Liliana's loving relationship with her white American grandmother, Mima, who lives in Liliana's home town and her grandmother Mama Gabina, who lives in a Spanish-speaking country.

MINTY: A STORY OF A YOUNG HARRIET TUBMAN by Alan Schroeder, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Dial, 1996). This is award winning fictional account is based on some facts.

bookjacketMONSOON by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2003). Deeply sensory, this book takes readers to Northern India. The details are storytelling, somehow familiar, bringing each moment alive, the ache and eagerness for the rains. Feel the dust, taste the mangoes, play hopscotch, dance in the rain. Akib's soft, expressive art is a perfect compliment to Krishnaswami's evocative text.

MUSLIM CHILD by Rukhsana Khan (Napoleon Publishing-Canada, 1999), Albert Whitman-U.S., Spring 2002). A collection of short stories, poems and prose that examines the world through the eyes of Muslim children.

MY NAME IS BILAL by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Barbara Kiwak (Boyds Mills, 2005). Bilal keeps his distance when bullies harass his sister, Ayesha, pulling at her head scarf. Then, hiding his Muslim identity, he tells the class his name is "Bill." Mr. Ali, a teacher, witnesses Bilal's struggle and gives him a book about another Bilal, which inspires him to defend his sister and embrace his identity. Ages 5-up.

THE OTHER SIDE by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis (G.P. Putnam's, 2001). The story of two girls, one white and one African-American, who don't let a fence stand between their friendship.

PIZZA FOR THE QUEEN by Nancy Castaldo, illustrated by Melisande Potter (Holiday House, 2005). Raffaele is thrilled when the queen's messenger asks him to make a pizza for her. What an honor! But what should he put on his pizza? Giovanni's mozzarella, Maria's olive oil, Guiseppe's sausage, Niccolo's little fishes? Wait! He'll make three and the queen will have her choice of his best. But what does Meow-Meow do to the little fishes, and what then will Raffaele put on his third pizza? Which one will the queen like best? More on this title from Cynsations.

SAM AND THE LUCKY MONEY by Karen Chinn, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Lee & Low 1995). Sam is all ready to spend his money in Chinatown. But maybe buying a thing isn't the best way to use it. A celebration of giving. Amazing watercolor illustrations.

Shake It MorenaSHAKE IT, MORENA AND OTHER FOLKLORE FROM PUERTO RICO compiled by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by Lulu Delacre (Millbrook, 2002). A lively author-illustrator team treats young readers to the songs, riddles, stories, and games of their own Puerto Rican childhood. The colorful illustrations reflect the diversity of the people and the charm of their many traditions. Read The Story Behind The Story from Carmen T. Bernier-Grand.

SMALL BEAUTIES: THE JOURNEY OF DARCY HEART O'HARA by Elvira Woodruff, illustrated by Adam Rex (Knopf, 2006). Darcy notices life's little gems--the spider web, the pebbles--and so it is she who carries with her the most vivid memories, the family heritage to a new land. With evocative, realistic illustrations, this lovely picture book works well both as one family's story and a window into the past. Ages 6-up.

TWO MRS. GIBSONS by Toyomi Igus, pictures by Daryl Wells (Children's Book Press, 1997). Delightful celebration of a child's love for the two Mrs. Gibson’s in her life, her Japanese-American mother and her African American grandmother.

The Sea ChestTHE SEA CHEST by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Mary GrandPre (Dial, 2002). First-time author Buzzeo is paired with HARRY POTTER illustrator GrandPre in a book that lovingly and poetically captures the stirring magic of a foundling babe who becomes a treasured sister. Maita says: "I longed for a time I might not be the only child the craggy island knew." The time is now. Spectacular, musical, and deeply affecting. European American. Read The Story Behind The Story from Toni Buzzeo.

SUBWAY by Anastasia Suen, illustrated by Karen Katz (Viking, 2004). A mother and daughter take a subway ride that's so much more--a celebration of transit, humanity, urban life. Gorgeously festive. Diverse community.

SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE by Anita Riggio (Putnam, 2002). A much-needed look at the trials and heart's home of being a middle child in a large, loving but busy Italian-American Catholic family. Italian American.

wabi sabiWABI SABI by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young (Little Brown, 2008). "Wabi Sabi" is the Japanese concept of the beauty of impermanence. In WABI SABI, it's also the name of a cat driven to learn what his name means... Told in haiku and sparse prose, and illustrated in collage, WABI SABI beautifully explores the concept of wabi sabi and is an altogether lovely and elegant picture book. Ages 4-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

WILLIE WINS by Almira Astudillo Gilles, illustrated by Carl Angel (Lee & Low, 2001). When Willie brings an alkansia, formerly the shell of a coconut to school as a bank, Stan gives him a hard time. But when the moment comes to open all the banks, everyone is surprised that Willie's--which once belonged to his father--holds a historic treasure inside. An incredibly rare picture book in that it features Filipino Americans.

WONDERFUL WORDS: POEMS ABOUT READING, WRITING, SPEAKING, AND LISTENING selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Karen Barbour (Simon & Schuster, 2004). A collection of poems that captures the wonder of language in a decidedly multicultural landscape. A triumph; should be required reading for every child.

3-5

bookjacketALL OF THE ABOVE by Shelley Pearsall (Little Brown, 2006). Most of the teachers at Washington Middle School are ready to give up, including math teacher Mr. Collins. In desperation, he proposes that his students build the world's largest tetrahedron. Told in alternating points of view of four students, Mr. Collins, and one or two other adults, this is a fun and heartwarming look at a group and community coming together for a cause. Plus, how can you not love a book that has barbecue recipes? Ages 9-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

ChainedCHAINED by Lynne Kelly (FSG, 2012). Ten-year-old Hastin takes a job with a circus owner in order to pay off his sister's hospital bill.  His job -- to care for the baby elephant Nandita -- is made more difficult by the cruel elephant trainer and the circus owner.  He contemplates running away with her, but where can a ten-year-old boy go to hide out with an elephant? Chained offers a thought-provoking look at elephants and how how captive elephants are sometimes treated, as well as a compelling protagonist and poignant coming-of-age story. Ages 8-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

CROSSING BOK CHITTO: A CHOCTAW TALE OF FRIENDSHIP AND FREEDOM by Tim Tingle (Choctaw), illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges (Cherokee)(Cinco Puntos, 2006). Chronicles the important relationship between citizens of Choctaw Nation and those people held in slavery in Mississippi prior to the U.S. Civil War and the Trail of Tears. An evocative story, wonderfully told and gorgeously illustrated. End material includes "Choctaws Today: Two Prosperous Nations, One Strong People" and "A Note on Choctaw Storytelling." Ages 9-up.

ESCAPING TO AMERICA by Rosalyn Schanzer (HarperCollins, 2000). This book introduces young readers to the author's grandparents and their children as they journey from their native Poland to the United States, facing oppression, violence, anti-semitism, illness, and uncertainty along the way. The text is clean, clear, and immediate--as though Schanzer speaks to readers gathered at her knee. The illustrations simultaneously convey the period and yet, because of the design, almost offer the feel of a film.

FREE BASEBALL by Sue Corbett (Dutton, 2006). Felix loves baseball and longs for the day when his father, who's a baseball star in Cuba, will join him and his mother in Florida. When a team with a couple of players who might be Cuban comes to town, Felix takes advantage of being mistaken for the bat boy to stow away in the team bus. Exciting and heartfelt—a home run! More on this title from Cynsations.

Grand PLanTHE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Abigail Halpin (Atheneum, 2011). Eleven-year-old Dini and her best friend Maggie, both of Takoma Park, Maryland, are tremendous fans of Bollywood movies and, particularly, of the greatest movie star of all time: Dolly Singh. When Dini's parents announce that they're moving to Swapnagiri, India, for two whole years, Dini and Maggie are devastated. The only good thing the two friends can see is that maybe, just maybe, Dini will get a chance to meet the great Dolly Singh herself. So when her family finally arrives in the remote mountain town, Dini sets her plan into motion... THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING offers a vibrant voice and a funny, almost cinematic glimpse into Dini's quest. With larger than life characters and a dose of kismet, in THE GRAND PLAN, Dini encounters monkeys, strangers, representatives of the India Post, and maybe, even, a movie star. Ages 8-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

HEnry Aaron's DreamHENRY AARON'S DREAM by Matt Tavares (Candlewick, 2010). Young Henry Aaron had always dreamed of becoming a Major League baseball player. So he dedicated himself to that task, practicing at every opportunity. It still seemed impossible, in the 1940s, in segregated Alabama. But then Jackie Robinson burst onto the scene and Henry's dream seemed just a little more real. So he worked even harder, playing first in the Negro League and then in the minors, until in 1954, he earned a position with the Milwaukee Braves. And, then, twenty years later, he broke Babe Ruth's home run record... HENRY AARON'S DREAM is an uplifting and heartwarming account of how, through perseverance and ignoring the nay-sayers, Hank Aaron made it to the Major Leagues to become baseball's home run king. Ages 8-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

I'M SORRY, ALMIRA ANN by Jane Kurtz (Holt, 1999). This beautifully written historical chapter book takes young readers on the Oregon Trail with Sarah and Almira Ann. European American.

Indian ShoesINDIAN SHOES by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2002).* Ray and Grampa Halfmoon face the challenges of daily life with love and humor in this collection of short stories set in Chicago and rural Oklahoma. Together, they encounter homesickness, bad hair cuts, mystery, artistic competition, and a wedding without proper pants for the ring bearer.

JUAN BOBO: FOUR FOLKTALES FROM PUERTO RICO (An I Can Read Book) by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by Ernesto Ramos Nieves (HarperCollins, 1994). Bright, festive illustrations accent charming, funny text.

Julia's KitchenJULIA'S KITCHEN by Brenda A. Ferber (FSG, 2006). Cara was away, visiting her best friend on the night of the fire. That's why she wasn't at home, why she doesn't have all the answers. Why did her mom and little sister have to die? How could Dad have escaped when they didn't? Why won't he talk to her now? All these years, Cara thought she and God had an understanding. How could He have abandoned her family? As Cara struggles to understand, she realizes what she can do. She can save Julia's Kitchen, the baking business her mom left behind. An honest, heartfelt story of grief, healing, and wrestling with faith. Ages 9-up. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. More on this title from Cynsations.

MINNIE SAVES THE DAY: THE ADVENTURES OF MINNIE by Melodye Benson Rosales (Little Brown, 2001). Dolls come to life in this new hardcover chapter book series with lovely color interior illustrations. The story has cross-cultural appeal but is also the rare fantasy in an African American family and community. It also works as a window to Chicago's Bronzeville community in the 1930s, where the story is set.

MoonshadowMOONSHADOW: RISE OF THE NINJA by Simon Higgins (Little Brown, 2010).  In this historical fantasy based on medieval Japan, the orphan Moonshadow has been raised as a ninja warrior spy by the members of the Grey Light Order to serve the shogun and preserve the peace against fractious warlords. In addition to being a master of stealth and swordsmanship, Moonshadow possesses the "eye of the beast," the ability to see through the eyes of animals.  Now, on his first mission, he must put all his skills to the test as he goes in alone to the the castle of a rebel warlord who wants to overthrow the shogunate... MOONSHADOW: RISE OF THE NINJA is a thoroughly fun, action-packed yarn.  Altogether, an engaging story of friendship, honor, and belonging. Ages 10-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

MUSKRAT WILL BE SWIMMING by Cheryl Savageau (Abenaki-French Canadian), illustrated by Robert Hynes, featuring a Seneca traditional story retold by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)(Northland, 1996). When a young Native girl is called "Lake Rat," she is comforted by Grampa who both reveals how he was once called "Frog" because of his French-Indian heritage and shows how those intended insults are signs that the bullies don’t appreciate the joy of the frog and wonder of the lake.

OLA'S WAKE by B.J. Stone (Holt, 2000). Josie never met Great-Grandma Ola, and she's not sure why going to Ola's funeral is so important to her mother. But go she does, and through a series of stories, Josie connects to the great-grandmother with whom she has so much in common. European American.

PEACEBOUND TRAINS by Haemi Balgassi, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet (Clarion, 1996). Sumi misses her mother, who is in the Army, but she still has Harmuny (grandmother). They sit on Sumi’s favorite rock and ' at the sound of a train whistle ' Harmuny recalls when she and Sumi’s mother escaped war in Seoul, Korea on the roof of a peacebound train. A touching treatment of the effects of war on a family. Illustrated with great beauty and sensitivity.

(older end)

Birchbark HouseTHE BIRCHBARK HOUSE by Louise Erdrich (Ojibway) (Hyperion, 1999). Touching on the same era as the Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, this first book in a planned triology is in some ways Erdrich's answer to the imbalance in the way Native-white relations have historically been portrayed in children's literature. Readers will be engaged by appealing protagonist, Omakayas, educated by this glimpse at Ojibway daily life, and perhaps inspired to look at history with an eye to different points of view. Elegant writing. 5th graders, strong 4th graders.

DUST FROM OLD BONES by Sandra Forrester (Morrow/HarperCollins, 1999). Simone Racine at first envies her lighter cousin Claire-Marie. But then Claire-Marie's Creole father leaves her and her mother in sudden poverty. This triggers Simone's realization that their lighter coloring is at best a mixed blessing as well as also the need to free the slaves they're intending to sell. Throughout, Simone struggles with her heritage — black and white — and the contrary rules for those living in between. 5th graders, strong 4th graders.

F IS FOR FABULOSO by Marie G. Lee (Avon, 1999). Jin-Ha's teachers assume she must be performing amazing well in math class because... well, don't all Asian Americans? But in this stereotype-busting story, they're wrong. Jin-Ha is smart, but it doesn't come naturally to her, and having a bad teacher just makes matters worse. But when she lies to her immigrant parents about the F on her test, will a bully turn friend? And will Jin-Ha ever manage to set things right? A sweet, fairly quiet, sometimes funny novel. 4th and 5th graders.

IN THE SHADE OF THE NISPERO TREE by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand (Orchard, 1999). Teresa, 9, is caught between the mother who wants her to attend an exclusive school as a member of high society, and her father, who doesn't want her to become a snob. Because of her own lies, she runs from her old life, following her mother's wishes, and losing the friend who is dearest to her. This poignant novel, set in 1960s Puerto Rico, is at once the story of one very realized girl and an exploration of the complexity of class and ethnicity. 4th and 5th graders.

SCORPIONS by Walter Dean Myers (HarperCollins, 1988). A story set in contemporary urban America about the power of friendship and the deadly lure of a gun. 4th and 5th graders.

A SINGLE SHARD by Linda Sue Park (Clarion, 2001). Tree Ear, a young orphan, becomes an apprentice to a master potter. Despite many challenges he perseveres in this role, even making an arduous journey to the royal court, and continuing when only a single shard is left to show.

THE STORYTELLER’S BEADS by Jane Kurtz (Harcourt, 1998). Two very different Ethiopian refugee girls, Sahay of the Kemant people and Rahel who is a blind Beta-Israeli, reconcile their differences and help one another with compassion, a flute, a small bag of Ethiopian soil, and the stories connected to the beads of Rahel’s grandmother’s necklace.

Tofu and T. RexTOFU AND T. REX by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2005).* Militant vegan Frederika Murchison-Kowalski is back at the Peshtigo School. The bad news is that now Freddie has to live with her cousin, Hans-Peter, a diehard carnivore, and grandfather, who happens to own a butcher shop and sausage deli. Freddie and Hans-Peter are soon at odds with each other over bathroom sharing, dinner menus, and more. To complicate matters, Hans-Peter needs Freddie’s insider knowledge to get accepted into the Peshtigo School himself. Read The Story Behind The Story from Greg Leitich Smith. Don’t miss the companion book, NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO (Little Brown, 2003).

THE VOYAGE OF PATIENCE GOODSPEED by Heather Vogel Frederick (Simon & Schuster, 2002). First-time author Frederick offers the story of math-whiz Patience who reluctantly leaves her home in Nantucket to join her captain-father on a three-year whaling trip. At first she struggles to adjust to the cook and crew, and then that crew turns even more motley and mutinous. A solid historical middle grade novel with a strong female protagonist and a dose of adventure crafted in lovely prose.

We've got a jobWE'VE GOT A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN'S MARCH by Cynthia Levinson (Peachtree, 2012).  In early May of 1963, thousands of Birmingham schoolchildren took part in a massive campaign to violate the city's segregation laws and thereby flood the city's jails. Over the course of some ten days, more than 4,000 children were arrested, and/or had fire hoses and police dogs set upon them.  This is the story of four of them. Levinson provides a perspective on the civil rights movement as a whole, as well as focusing on what it meant to four very different individuals.  With exceptional research including personal interviews with many of the parties involved, Levinson brings to life an inspiring moment of history of children empowered and determined to take on the system. Ages 10-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

Words in the DustWORDS IN THE DUST by Trent Reedy (Scholastic, 2011). Thirteen year-old Zulaikha lives in an Afghanistan recently liberated from the Taliban. But her concerns are more immediate than the politics of Kabul: getting along with her stepmother; dealing with her siblings; preparing for her sister's upcoming wedding; ignoring the taunts and almost always-horrified reactions to her appearance; and surreptitiously learning to read and write the poetry that so inspired her mother. Then the Americans come to town, offering protection, opportunities, and a new life. And surgery to fix Zulaikha's cleft palate... In WORDS IN THE DUST, Trent Reedy offers a human face to what is, for many, a far-off war. Reedy compellingly captures the rhythms of a small Afghan town and the dreams and personalities of its residents. Zulaikha is utterly believable as she reaches toward the future that is now available to her. Ultimately, WORDS IN THE DUST delivers as a finely-wrought novel of love, hope, and decency. Ages 10-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

6-8

THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE by Louise Erdrich (Ojibway) (Hyperion, 1999). Touching on the same era as the Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, this first book in a planned triology is in some ways Erdrich's answer to the imbalance in the way Native-white relations have historically been portrayed in children's literature. Readers will be engaged by appealing protagonist, Omakayas, educated by this glimpse at Ojibway daily life, and perhaps inspired to look at history with an eye to different points of view. Elegant writing. 6th graders. Don’t miss the sequel, THE GAME OF SILENCE (HarperCollins, 2005).

A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED AND OTHER POEMS by Janet S. Wong (McElderry, 1996). Drawing on her Chinese, Korean, and American backgrounds, poet Wong offers an insightful, sometimes poignant, sometimes funny voice to children's poetry.

DUST FROM OLD BONES by Sandra Forrester (Morrow/HarperCollins, 1999). Simone Racine at first envies her lighter cousin Claire-Marie. But then Claire-Marie's Creole father leaves her and her mother in sudden poverty. This triggers Simone's realization that their lighter coloring is at best a mixed blessing as well as also the need to free the slaves they're intending to sell. Thoughout, Simone struggles with her heritage -- black and white -- and the contrary rules for those living in between. A rare book that captures the pain and priviledge of "passing" or not during a fascinating period in New Orleans history. 6th graders.

F IS FOR FABULOSO by Marie G. Lee (Avon, 1999). Jin-Ha's teachers assume she must be performing amazing well in math class because... well, don't all Asian Americans? But in this stereotype-busting story, they're wrong. Jin-Ha is smart, but it doesn't come naturally to her, and having a bad teacher just makes matters worse. But when she lies to her immigrant parents about the F on her test, will a bully turn friend? And will Jin-Ha ever manage to set things right? A sweet, fairly quiet, sometimes funny novel. 6th graders.

MAYA RUNNING by Anjali Banerjee (Wendy Lamb Books, 2005). It's 1978, and Indian-born Maya is the only middle schooler with brown skin in her small Manitoba town. A bully taunts her, Maya's ultra-Indian cousin Pinky attracts Maya's boyfriend, and Maya's embarrassing parents want to move to California! Maybe the Hindu elephant god, Ganesh, can make all her wishes come true. But is that what she really wants?

Moccasin ThunderMOCCASIN THUNDER: AMERICAN INDIAN STORIES FOR TODAY edited by Lori Marie Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005). An anthology collection of short stories about contemporary Native American teenagers. Contributing authors: Joy Harjo; Sherman Alexie; Cynthia Leitich Smith; Richard Van Camp; Linda Hogan; Joseph Bruchac; Louise Erdrich; Susan Power; Greg Sarris; and Lee Francis. Ages 12-up. More on this title from Cynsations. Read The Story Behind The Story from Lori Marie Carlson.

MY LOUISIANA SKY by Kimberly Willis Holt (Holt, 1998). In the late 1950s, Tiger Ann Parker wants out of her rural Louisiana small town where she lives with her mentally disabled parents. So she's off to live with an aunt for the summer, and a family secret comes to light. European American.

NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO by Greg Leitich Smith (October, 2003).* What three best friends in Chicago find out about the Land of the Rising Sun, Pygocentrus nattereri, and Galileo’s choice, among other things, makes for a hilarious and intelligent read filled with wit, wisdom, and a little bit of science. Ages 10-up. German and Japanese American. Read The Story Behind The Story from Greg Leitich Smith.

AN OCEAN APART, A WORLD AWAY by Lensey Namioka (Delacorte, 2002). Xueyan, called Yanyan, is an excellent student at her missionary school in 1911 China, and she wants to study medicine. Yet it's an unusual occupation for a woman of her day, even one with no interest in marriage like Yanyan. Will karate-expert and scholar Baoshu change her mind or will Yanyan find her place and excel academically in another country, America? Companion book to TIES THAT BIND, TIES THAT BREAK. The new title is even more engaging.

PENNY FROM HEAVEN by Jennifer L. Holm (Random House, 2006). In this rich period piece set in the summer of 1953, eleven year old Penny is beset by family (in the form of a her mother, a former nurse, live-in grandparents, her cousin and best friend Frankie and his slightly illicit schemes, and a whole bunch of Italian uncles), one or two secrets, Dem Bums, her beloved Brooklyn Dodgers, and an aged dachshund. A lovely and heartwarming story based on the author's family history that captures both the sense of America of 1953 and what it means to be the child of recent immigrants. Ages 10-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

Rain is not my Indian NameRAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2001). Cassidy Rain Berghoff didn’t know that the very night she decided to get a life would be the night that Galen would lose his. It’s been six months since her best friend died, and up until now, Rain has succeeded in shutting herself off from the world. But when controversy arises around her aunt Georgia’s Indian Camp in their mostly white Kansas community, Rain decides to face the world again—at least through the lens of a camera.*

RED HOT SALSA: BILINGUAL POEMS ON BEING YOUNG AND LATINO IN THE UNITED STATES edited by Lori M. Carlson, introduction by Oscar Hijuelos (Henry Holt, 2005). From the anthologist who brought us Cool Salsa, this new collection reaches farther and deeper, chronicling the perspective of young Latinos today. Includes helpful glossary and biographical notes. Featured poets include Gary Soto. Ages 12-up. More on this title from Cynsations; read The Story Behind The Story from Lori M. Carlson.

SKELETON MAN by Joseph Bruchac (HarperCollins, 2001). Molly's parents are gone, vanished. She needs to find answers and a way to go on. But Molly has been taught well of her Mohawk traditions. She understands the importance of dreams. She knows to take them seriously. This contemporary Native American novel is a must read and a scary one at that.

TAE’S SONATA by Haemi Balgassi (Clarion, 1997). Tae has to sort out her feelings when she is assigned to do a school report on South Korea with a popular guy. An interracial romance and a sweet look at Korean-American family life that also deals with what it's like to feel spotlighted for your race.

9-12

THE AFTERLIFE by Gary Soto (Harcourt, 2003). In this sometimes funny, sometimes bittersweet story, Chuy is murdered, stabbed with a knife only to find…not an end, but a new beginning. As a ghostly being, he visits family and friends. He finds the young man he could’ve been and maybe even true love. This isn’t a story of “too late.” It’s one of “just in time.”

THE AGENCY: A SPY IN THE HOUSE by Y.S. Lee (Candlewick, 2010). At age eleven, in 1850s London, orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn was rescued from the gallows by agents of Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. For the next six years, she studied all that was expected of a proper Victorian lady (and more).

And now, at seventeen, she's invited to join The Agency, a secret organization of women investigators whose mandate is to assist Scotland Yard. Mary's first assignment is as paid companion to the spoiled daughter of a wealthy merchant who is suspected of insurance fraud and smuggling. But along the way, she encounters secret upon secret and no one is what they appear...

Exciting, full of verve, and with a hint of romance, A SPY IN THE HOUSE offers a terrific protagonist and a fun mystery as it explores Victorian London and traditional and nontraditional roles of both men and women therein. With her background in Victorian literature and culture, Y.S. Lee provides texture and pungency without overshadowing the characters or plots.

Ages 12-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith. Read The Story Behind The Story by Y.S. Lee.

AMERICAN EYES: NEW ASIAN-AMERICAN SHORT STORIES FOR YOUNG ADULTS edited by Lori M. Carlson with an introduction by Cynthia Kadohata (Holt, 1994). For a frank, refreshing discussion on literature by Asian Americans, read the introduction to this collection.

bookjacketBLACK MIRROR by Nancy Werlin (Dial, 2001). Frances has always felt isolated at her New England prep school, but more so now that her brother has killed himself by overdosing on heroin. When Frances joins the social services charity her brother belonged to, she discovers that all is not as it seems, and realizes how little she really knew him. In this story, Frances is Japanese/white American and Jewish.

COOL SALSA: BILINGUAL POEMS ON GROWING UP LATINO IN THE UNITED STATES edited by Lori M. Carlson, introduction by Oscar Hijueios (Fawcett Juniper, 1994).

CUBANITA by Gaby Triana (HarperCollinsCollins, 2005). Unlike Mami, Isa is no Cubanita. Of course she loves her family, but the U.S. is the only home she knows. What's more, Isa has broken up with her boyfriend, is busy teaching kids art at a summer camp, and is not getting involved with any boy so as to leave for the University of Michigan with a clear head. But then she meets a man and Mami suddenly may need her more than ever. What's this non-Cubanita to do? 

DANCING IN THE STREETS OF BROOKLYN by April Lurie (Delacorte, 2002). A Norwegian American family novel set in 1940s New York. Lurie is a first-time author to watch.

EVERY TIME A RAINBOW DIES by Rita Williams-Garcia (HarperCollins, 2001). Thulani, a 16 year old Jamaican who lives in Brooklyn with his brother and sister-in-law, has yet to come to terms with the death (some years ago) of his mother.  One night, while maintaining his dovecote, he witnesses a rape from the roof of his brownstone. He rescues the girl — Ysa — and takes her to her home. Though initially rebuffed by her, he continues to reach out to her and, slowly, she reciprocates and both begin to heal.

HABIBI by Naomi Nye (Simon & Schuster, 1997 (and Aladdin)). This novel is about a fourteen-year-old Arab-American girl's move from St. Louis to Jerusalem and her experiences with prejudice and religious intolerance that stem from her budding romance with a Jewish boy.

IN THE BREAK by Jack Lopez (Little Brown, 2006). Fifteen year old surfer Juan steals his mother's SUV and he and his best friend Jamie flee to Mexico (with Jamie's sister and their surfboards) after Jamie beats up his (Jamie's) abusive step-father. It's not the most well thought out idea in the world, but they figure that while hiding out, they can also find the perfect wave... Juan's voice is redolent with passion for the sea, the waves, and the bonds of friendship. IN THE BREAK eschews "surfer dude" clichés while letting the reader understand the lure of the surf, as it explores the trio's bittersweet past and present, while offering hope for the future. Ages 12-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

MOCCASIN THUNDER: AMERICAN INDIAN STORIES FOR TODAY edited by Lori Marie Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005). An anthology collection of short stories about contemporary Native American teenagers. Contributing authors: Joy Harjo; Sherman Alexie; Cynthia Leitich Smith; Richard Van Camp; Linda Hogan; Joseph Bruchac; Louise Erdrich; Susan Power; Greg Sarris; and Lee Francis.

RED HOT SALSA: BILINGUAL POEMS ON BEING YOUNG AND LATINO IN THE UNITED STATES edited by Lori M. Carlson, introduction by Oscar Hijuelos (Henry Holt, 2005). From the anthologist who brought us Cool Salsa, this new collection reaches farther and deeper, chronicling the perspective of young Latinos today. Includes helpful glossary and biographical notes. Featured poets include Gary Soto. Ages 12-up. More on this title from Cynsations; read The Story Behind The Story from Lori M. Carlson.

SLAM! by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic, 1996). SLAM! is the story of Greg, 17, who’s hot on the basketball courts but not in class. A strong voice and well-drawn character who’s part of the crowd that looks to athletics for escape and a future.

A STEP FROM HEAVEN by An Na (Front Street, 2001). Young Ju and her family have emigrated from Korea to the United States, where they dream of building a better future. Once here, the family struggles economically - Young Ju's parents both work long hours at two jobs - and with her father's increasing drunken violence. The novel takes the reader from Young Ju's arrival at age four to when she leaves for college; and, without being heavy-handed, offers a genuine sense of what it's like to learn the language and of Young Ju's frustration at the family's necessary frugality.

THICKER THAN WATER: COMING OF AGE STORIES BY IRISH AND IRISH-AMERICAN WRITERS edited by Gordon Snell (Delacorte, 2001). A fascinating and much-needed young adult collection, highlighted by "One Day When We Were Young" by Vincent Banville and "Off Ya Go, So" by Chris Lynch. Ages 12-up.

Under a Red SkyUNDER A RED SKY: MEMOIR OF A CHILDHOOD IN COMMUNIST ROMANIA by Haya Leah Molnar (Frances Foster/FSG, 2010). Eight-year-old Eva Zimmerman (as the author was previously known) lives with her family in tight quarters in Bucharest, Romania. Her family, Holocaust survivors, have hidden Eva's Jewish heritage from her, in the hopes that it will shield her from anti-Semitism. Formerly well-to-do, the family has suffered under the Communists and is trying to emigrate to Israel. But when her family applies for visas, they are fired from their jobs. UNDER A RED SKY is, at its core, the sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, story of the day-to-day life of a young girl trying to discover who she is in a society where even school-children can be government informers. More broadly, it provides a compelling and sometimes chilling look at the tribulations of life in post-war Romania and living under Communist rule. Ages 12-up. Publisher copy. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

WHITE BREAD COMPETITION by Jo Ann Yolanda Hernandez (Piñata Books, 1997). Set in San Antonio, this linked series of stories offers insights into Luz (and the women in her life) when she prepares for the state-wide spelling bee. Hernandez does not shy away from the ways in which communities often jeopardize themselves or the complex array of sometimes surprising influences that make people who they are.

All Ages

WORDS WITH WINGS: A TREASURY OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN POETRY AND ART compiled by Belinda Rochelle (HarperCollins, 2000). A magnificent feast of moving language and colorful imagery.

CYN notes:

*Books by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Therefore, recommended with enthusiasm but an acknowledged bias. See www.cynthialeitichsmith.com and www.gregleitichsmith.com for additional information and curriculum support.

CYALR is a children's and young adult literature Web site. It features author/illustrator interviews, reading recommendations, teacher and librarian resources, publishing news, writing tips, and much more. An emphasis is given to new voices, lesser-known gems, and multiculturalism. Named one of the top 10 author sites on the Internet by Writer's Digest and one of the ALA Great Sites for Kids, CYALR is offered by Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of JINGLE DANCER (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000), RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (HarperCollins and Listening Library, 2001), INDIAN SHOES (Harper, 2002), TANTALIZE (Candlewick, 2007), SANTA KNOWS (Dutton, 2006), and ETERNAL (Candlewick, 2009).

© Copyright Cynthia Leitich Smith, 2003-2010.