Month: November 2020

by MHK Library staff MHK Library staff No Comments

Children’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy Featuring Pictures of People of Color in Positive Roles

Children’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy Featuring Pictures of People of Color in Positive Roles
By Hannah Atchison, Children’s Librarian

I had a very vivid imagination as a child. My older sibling and I spent a lot of time playing ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ and ‘Star Wars.’ My favorite games to play with my best friends, however, were very princess-centric for a long time. During my childhood, the Disney princesses included Pocahontas, Jasmine, and Mulan, but the rest of them had white skin and looked like me. There were very few picture books I had growing up that featured princesses who were POC (people of color). For those that don’t know, the term people of color refers to anyone who does not have white skin or is not of European heritage. Thankfully the number of picture books with people of color is steadily increasing.
Picture books are for everyone. Visual literacy teaches children vocabulary, communication, and social cues. When a child sees a character who looks like them, who has a cool job or special ability, they see themselves as being valuable and talented, too. Here are a few science fiction and fantasy picture books that feature people of color in positive roles.

“Reading Beauty” by Deborah Underwood. I read this one in my online storytimes over the summer. This is a retelling of the fairytale with a sci-fi spin. And that isn’t the only twist.

“Cosmo and the Robot” by Brian Pinkney. A brother and sister are on a mission. Cosmo’s robot is broken, but with his new fancy tool belt he thinks he can fix it.

“The Secret Science Project That Almost Ate the School” by Judy Sierra. A science project that goes horribly wrong. Is there a good kind of mutant slime?

“Charlie and Kiwi: An Evolutionary Adventure” by Eileen Campbell. Charlie has a presentation at school about birds. He chose the Kiwi. With a cool time machine, he learns about how birds have changed over time.

“Rox’s Secret Code” by Nathan Archambault. Rox invents and programs a robot to clean her room, but the robot gets smarter and wants to do more.

“Ta-Da!” by Kathy Ellen Davis. A game of imagination teaches the importance of taking turns and working together.

“Amazingly Wonderful Things” by Marla J. Hohmeier. A story about the power of imagination.

“The Evil Princess vs. The Brave Knight” by Jennifer L. Holm. Are ‘bad’ people all bad? Are ‘good’ people all good? Life is never boring in this kingdom where mischief reigns.

“The Very Last Castle” by Travis Jonker. There is a mysterious castle in her town that everyone is afraid of. But Ibb makes friends with the guard, and when he invites her to come in, she accepts.
And here is my list of great sci-fi and fantasy graphic novels in our children’s section.
“The Tea Dragon Society” by Katie O’Neill. The first in the series, this book introduces the (mostly) domesticated tea dragons and their unique caregivers.

“One Trick Pony” by Nathan Hale. Aliens are destroying technology. A few friends fight to protect it, with the help of a robotic horse.

“My Video Game Ate My Homework” by Dustin Hansen. Trying to create an awesome science project to win a cool prize, Dewey accidentally traps himself and his friend Ferg inside a video game.

“Monster Mayhem” by Chris Eliopoulos. Zoe is stuck in her favorite monster movie. She uses her scientific prowess to escape disaster and befriends the monster.

“That Night, a Monster” by Marzena Sowa and Berenika Kolomycka. Translated by Marzena Sowa and Tom Kaczynski. Thomas wakes up one day to find his mother is gone and instead, there is now a …monster fern!

“The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America” by Jaime Hernandez. A retelling of three folktales from Latin America.
Enjoy!

 

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New Books by American Indian Authors

New Books by American Indian Authors

By Mary Swabb, Learning & Information Services Supervisor

Image of the front cover of the book "Winter Counts" by David Heska Wanbli Weiden. It has a bright red background and a vertical image of a buffalo overlaid with the title of the book in white text. According to the United States Census Bureau, in 2019, 6.9 million Americans identify as American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) persons, and this year there are 574 federally- recognized American Indian tribes. Thirty-nine of these tribes call the state of Oklahoma home. I was born in Oklahoma, and while I only lived there for a few years, I’ve gone back frequently to visit family and have an affinity for the red-iron-rich staining dirt. Driving down I-35 from Manhattan to Oklahoma City, I’m always struck by the distinct change in the Earth’s hue, as well as the white-and-green highway signs featuring town names like Chickasha, Tonkawa, and Pawnee. These towns are named after American Indian tribes, and they call out to my curiosity as I drive down I-35. I wonder what stories and histories the peoples of these tribes have. I wonder how different or similar they are to my story. I wonder if they are just as taken with the vibrant red-iron-rich stained earth as I am, and if they have their own story to explain such a phenomenon. Being a librarian and avid bibliophile, I cannot help but find books to sate my curiosity about AIAN peoples and their stories. Here are some of the recently-published contemporary fiction novels I’ve discovered written by American Indian authors.

If you enjoy thrilling crime fiction novels, then check out “Winter Counts” by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (tribally enrolled Sicangu Lakota). This novel tells the story of a local enforcer, Virgil Wounded Horse, of the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Virgil is hired to distribute justice that the American legal system or tribal council denies. He’s a vigilante who becomes obsessed with finding and stopping a drug dealer from bringing heroin into his community after he suffers a personal tragedy. Virgil’s quest for vengeance forces him to face his own fears and reclaim his identity as a Native American. “Winter Counts” takes a look at the broken criminal justice system on reservations and ponders Native identity. Weiden has also written a children’s book entitled “Spotted Tail,” which chronicles the life of the great Lakota leader, Spotted Tail.

Mothers and daughters have complex and powerful relationships, which Kelli Jo Ford (tribally enrolled Cherokee Nation) strongly illustrates in “Crooked Hallelujah,” her historical fiction novel that reads like a compilation of short stories. Ford’s novel is an intergenerational story about a family trying to survive poverty, illness, and natural disasters in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the Red River region of Texas. The strong family of women in Ford’s novel mainly features Justine, who becomes pregnant at 15, and her daughter, Reney, who is struggling to navigate her desire to attend college with her deep-rooted family loyalty. “Crooked Hallelujah” depicts the limited choices women in poverty struggle with and the sacrifices mothers and daughters are willing to make for one another in the name of survival, love, and home.

The Night Watchman” is the newest novel by Louise Erdrich (tribally enrolled Chippewa). It’s a historical fiction novel that tells the story of Native American’s efforts to save their lands from being taken away by the U.S. government in the early 1950s. The novel weaves together a tapestry of personalities living on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. Erdrich’s own grandfather inspired her main protagonist, Thomas Wazhushk, a night watchman, at a jewel bearing factory who’s a hard worker that’s passionate about helping his tribe. The novel also follows Thomas’s niece, Patrice Paranteau, as she seeks to escape her challenging home life with her alcoholic father by joining her sister, Vera, in Minneapolis. As Patrice learns to navigate the city streets, Thomas organizes a letter-writing campaign to oppose the politicians trying to terminate their reservation. Erdrich’s novel showcases the struggle of people trying to hold onto their personalities and traditions in an ever-changing world.

If these titles did not sate your curiosity or pique your interest, please reach out to library staff at refstaff@mhklibrary.org, or 785-776-4741 ext. 300, and we can help you find a title that interests you.

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Another Winner from Tana French

Another Winner from Tana French

By Marcia Allen, Collection Services Manager

Tana French is a highly regarded Irish mystery writer.  Books like “The Witch Elm,” which was lauded by The New York Times, and “In the Woods,” which NPR and The Washington Post praised, earned her a quick following.  Typically, she writes of the investigations of the Dublin Murder Squad, in a series that tends to be gritty and intricately plotted, but her latest book, “The Searcher,” is altogether different.  This shapes up to be the efforts of a decent man trying to help a neglected child discover what happened to a missing brother.

Cal Hooper is a former detective with the Chicago police, whose marriage failed and whose daughter is somewhat distanced from him.  He tired of his position, so left and relocated to an isolated coast of Ireland village, seeking some other life.  Having purchased a long-neglected and moldy cottage, he sets about to repair it and begins fitting in with the local villagers who are now his neighbors.

Early on, he realizes his restorations are being observed, so he sneaks about and almost captures a child.  When the child returns later, Cal introduces himself and begins a one-sided conversation with the semi-feral Trey, hoping to gain some trust.  He asks for Trey’s assistance in working on an old desk, and in return, offers food and companionship to the child.

He soon learns that the child has sought him out for a particular purpose: Trey’s brother has been missing for some time, and the presence of objects he should have taken with him indicates that his disappearance was both sudden and unplanned.  Having left police work behind, Cal is in no hurry to take up Trey’s cause, but the child keeps pushing, and Cal  determines to learn what he can.

Given that Cal lives in a very small village, word travels fast about all the questions that he’s asking, and a few individuals have reasons to deflect him from his investigation. His persistence places him in jeopardy, and his is not the only safety at stake.  Then the unexpected occurs.

But, where is the appeal in the book?  For starters, Cal is a decent man who can’t resist the urge to help the downtrodden.  Obstacles and veiled threats do not dissuade him from his quest.  He recognizes the hurt and loss in Trey and vows to find answers.  And he has the subtle art or asking the right questions in a roundabout way, mastered by years of police work.

Too, there is so much local color in the novel.  His neighborly buddy, Mart, for example monitors Cal’s work on his house, as well as his questioning of the villagers.  And Mart has a quirky way of viewing the world that humors Cal. The local pub provides the perfect backdrop for all kinds of interactions, including some outrageous tall tales.  And Cal’s new friend, Lena, offers not only a puppy, but also some critical assistance during some brutal situations.

And surprises in the plotting are totally unexpected.  Cal completely misreads a particular situation, as do we readers, so that changes the course of the story.  One friendship turns out to be something entirely different that poses a clear threat.  One character resorts to physical brutality in a dreadful situation for which there are no clear answers.  No reader will anticipate some of the odd tangents in the story.

But the beauty of the book comes back to the friendship forming between a neglected child and a man who can’t ignore those needs.  When the time comes to share truths with Trey, Cal does not hold back.  He delivers needed evidence to bring the disappearance to a close.  Despite those really ugly truths, however, this mystery is one of compassion and understanding.  It will leave you with the satisfied sense of dreadful wrongs having finally been righted.  You’ll not regret reading Tana French’s “The Searcher.”

 

 

 

 

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Sharing the Refugee Experience with Kids

Sharing the Refugee Experience with Kids

By Jennifer Bergen, Program & Children’s Services Manager

Victoria Jamieson, author of “Roller Girl,” has written a new graphic novel for kids, “When Stars are Scattered.” It is co-authored with Omar Mohamed, and it tells Omar’s true story of living nearly his entire childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya. Jamieson’s humorous illustration style was toned down to a more realistic look that suits the experiences of refugees. Omar and his brother Hassan fled from Somalia to Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp. Omar’s story shows everyday life: getting water and making food, trying to attend school, studying without electric lights, as well as making family and friends with others in the camp. There are also nightmares, worries, and waiting, always waiting.

Jamieson’s graphic novel, which ends on an uplifting note, made me interested in learning more about refugee camps. Statistics from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, show that 79.5 million people were been forcibly displaced in 2019, and nearly half of them were children. Unrefugees.org includes some simple facts and photos good for younger kids interested in learning more. 2.6 million people live in camps, many of which are in West Africa where Omar’s story takes place.

I love to read true stories of people who have overcome huge barriers and lived through experiences vastly different from my own. Omar’s story is heart-wrenching and amazing, and the graphic novel style makes it very accessible to kids. It is not easy for any of us to read or watch footage of people living in refugee camps. It is so clear that we have so much, and they have so little. The unfairness of it is painful, and yet it’s important for us to learn about so we can seek ways to help.

“Other Words for Home” by Jasmine Warga, a 2020 Newbery Honor book, tells Jude’s story in poetic verse. Jude, a Syrian refugee, must deal with her feelings after leaving her father and older brother behind when she moves to the U.S. with her mom, in addition to trying to understand life in an American city and school. Also try “The Boy at the Back of the Class” by Onjali Q. Rauf about a Syrian boy’s school experience.

I also recommend some excellent books I’ve read in the past, including Alan Gratz’s “Refugee,” a powerful novel following three refugee families in different time periods on their difficult journeys, Linda Sue Park’s “A Long Walk to Water” which follows the stories of two children fleeing Sudan, and Thanhha Lai’s National Book Award winning novel “Inside Out and Back Again” about a girl from Vietnam whose family ends up in Alabama in 1975. Each of these novels puts us in the shoes of other children, seeing with their eyes and feeling their emotions.

Teaching young children about refugees can be especially difficult. Elise Gravel’s new picture book, “What Is a Refugee?,” provides a wonderful description that will open discussion between a parent or teacher and a child. Gravel’s straightforward text treads carefully and avoids being too scary, while still conveying the sadness and fear of having to flee from one’s home and country. I love the final pages where Gravel provides quotes from six refugee kids she interviewed, and brief bios of some famous refugees, from Madeleine Albright to Luol Deng.

“My Beautiful Birds” by Suzanne Del Rizzo tells the story of Sami beginning when his family flees Syria and walks for 2 days to reach a camp. Sami could not take his special pigeons with him and wonders if they escaped the smoke and flames. He grieves for his birds and slowly acclimates to his new home and school at the refugee camp, befriending some new birds and new friends.

“Mustafa” by Marie-Louise Gay is about a boy who is living in an urban setting and trying to understand his new world. He goes to the park and sees other children, especially one girl who says things to him, but he cannot understand her words. Mustafa feels invisible to others, until finally one day, he and the girl play and laugh together even though they still cannot understand each other’s language.

Tackling tough topics like this with children is hard, and not every child is up to it. Using books provides a safe window to look into someone else’s view. Kids can relate to the similar feelings they share with the main character, and begin to empathize with the feelings they’ve never had, such as the fear of leaving your home or family behind.

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