Guest Post: Cuba for Beginners, by 2017-2019 National Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle

Sometimes I’m included on a panel proposal for a conference. Like most authors, I have absolutely no idea why one proposal is accepted, while another is rejected, but the real mystery of panels is titles. Many of them try to say something about diversity, but I’m not always sure exactly which aspect of diversity is being featured. Recently, I learned that I would be on a “Cuban Literature” panel at a book festival. I was thrilled. This was a specific title, clearly stated. Then I learned that the panel would also include an otherwise wonderful, wise, and revered non-Cuban author whose new book, no matter how well-intentioned, is loaded with offensive historical and linguistic errors. Many non-‘own voice’ authors do thorough research, but Cuba is an easy country to misinterpret. Rural Cuba, in particular, is often misunderstood by tourists who speed past impoverished villages and farms in air-conditioned buses, listening to official stories told by government guides.

I wrote to the book festival. The organizers responded immediately, changing the panel. Then, even though speaking up was awkward and quite frankly, terrifying, I wrote to the editor of Katherine Paterson’s book. She and Paterson have been very gracious, but it would take a complete revision to make the book historically accurate. A few minor corrections won’t make its oversimplification of a complex era any less offensive.

The basic problem with many of the books about Cuba written by casual travelers is that idealists often go to the island, listen to official propaganda, imagine Utopia, come home, and start writing. So many non-own voice books about Cuba are suddenly emerging that it’s hard to keep up with them, but I try to read anything about my ancestral homeland.

Refugee by Alan Gratz makes linguistic assumptions, but is generally accurate, and the small errors are not offensive. I was in Cuba many times during the rafter crisis of the early ‘90s, and I know how dangerous it was to speak Fidel’s name out loud. It was either whispered, or indicated with sign language, using the fingers to indicate a beard. No one would have ever pronounced his surname out loud, as characters in Refugee do, nor would they call the U.S. el norte. It was dangerous to admit that one wanted to leave the country, so a metaphor was needed, and throughout the island, everyone said Yuma, not ‘the north.’ Yuma was taken from old American cowboy movies where the hero would survive his desert crossing only if he could make it to Yuma, Arizona. In Cuba during the early 1990s, if secret police or neighborhood spies overheard a conversation, one could claim to be discussing the movie, not plans to build a raft.

While I was in their home, two of my cousins stepped out onto their balcony, shook their fists, and shouted, “¡Viva Fidel!” That same night, they quietly slipped away on a homemade raft. Caught by a Cuban patrol boat, they were arrested. Their parents, who were government officials, were ordered to denounce them. Their mother had been a literacy brigade volunteer, but her sons’ desire for freedom of expression helped her see that literacy by itself is not enough, when accompanied by censorship. Fortunately, I was eventually able to help the whole family leave the island. I mention this story to show the complexity of Cuba. The only part of this entire saga that would have been visible to an outsider was the pro-Fidel scene on the balcony, deliberately staged to make a particular impression.

Unlike Refugee, many of the recent non-own voice books about Cuba are either wildly inaccurate, offensive, or both.

A popular young adult fantasy novel perpetuates the myth of sustainable agriculture on an island where, in reality, food has been rationed for more than half a century, and 80% of the food is imported. I think that’s an injustice to the Cuban people, who are hungry.

There’s a military thriller titled, Cuba Libre (Free Cuba) misspelled as an absurd and meaningless Cuba Libra (Cuba Pound).

A critically acclaimed literary novel describes women patting out tortillas with their hands even though in Cuba, the word tortilla means omelet.

There is a murder mystery featuring priests who supposedly molested children at a time when in reality, religion had been outlawed, churches were closed, and the clergy had been deported or arrested.

It wouldn’t take much research for all these American authors who are jumping on the Cuba bandwagon to learn basic facts about the country they’ve misinterpreted. All they have to do is hire scholars—Cuban-American historians and linguists—to proofread their manuscripts.

Anyone who has read my memoir, Enchanted Air, knows that I spent the summer of 1960 in rural Cuba. Here is just a taste of the complexity of that post-revolutionary era in the countryside: My mother had around two hundred cousins. Some were uneducated, while others were highly educated. Some of the educated cousins became idealistic volunteers in the literacy brigades of 1961. However, while they were teaching illiterate people how to read Romeo and Juliet and Don Quixote—along with hard-line Stalinist propaganda—other books were banned, even burned. Poets, novelists, and journalists were arrested. Some were abritrarily executed. Many of my mother’s guajiro (peasant) cousins had fought with Che Guevara in the central mountains, but now, because they were growing food in a region where it could be seized by counter-revolutionaries hiding in the mountains just uphill from their farms, they were rounded up and sent to prisons and forced labor camps. Some were incarcerated for decades, along with their entire families, simply because of the locations of farmland that had been in our family for centuries, extending back to indigenous ancestors.

The Cuban government still refers to those innocent guajiros as bandits, and so does Katherine Paterson.

I am liberal. I travel to the island of my mother’s birth often. I lobby to lift the embargo. I promote peace and reconciliation. Nonetheless, I am dismayed when books written by people who don’t understand Cuba’s complexity decide to honor idealistic aspects of revolutionary history by simply ignoring the brutal aspects. Should a novel set in 1989 Beijing omit the Tiananmen massacre? That is the depth—or rather the shallowness—of many of these new books written by casual travelers.

People might ask me why I don’t just write my own novel about rural Cuba in 1961, during the oddly juxtaposed literacy campaign/reign of terror that followed Playa Girón (called the “Bay of Pigs” by Americans). Here is my cautious answer, which I hope will stay on this page instead of circulating as a quoted tweet:

  1. I don’t want to be declared an enemy of the state, added to the long list of Cuban-American authors who are not allowed to visit the island.
  2. I don’t want relatives I have visited on the island to be accused of hosting an enemy of the state.

The basic problem is that tourists don’t understand Cuba, while those of us who do understand need to self-censor.

Even though I censor myself, I have no desire to censor other writers. I believe in freedom of expression precisely because idealistic literacy brigades were accompanied by censorship, repression, and firing squads. I don’t believe in any restrictions on freedom of expression—other than hate speech and inciting violence—precisely because during the 1960s, Cuba became a country where you could spend many years in prison simply for owning a Bible, reading a foreign newspaper, or listening to Beatles music.

I’m overjoyed that tourists have the right to visit Cuba. Unfortunately, they also have the right to absorb propaganda, come home, and write inaccurate books. One of the most offensive errors in the advanced review edition of My Brigadista Year is the mis-translation of Che Guevara’s violent military slogan, ¡Venceremos!” (We will win) as a pacifst’s “We Shall Overcome,” which in the ARC is capitalized, apparently for greater emotional impact. I hope that offensive error will be corrected before the book comes out. The ghosts of my relatives who fought with Che before being arbitrarily shot or arrested, know that he wasn’t a pacifist.

I don’t want to censor Katherine Paterson or anyone else, but I regard inaccurate historical novels as unfinished, and even when they are finished, I don’t think non-Cuban authors should be included on panels called, “Cuban Literature.”

This is a year of amazing debut Cuban-American children’s authors: Ruth Behar, Emma Otheguy, Pablo Cartaya, Celia Pérez! Please add them to panels, instead of inviting the authors of unfinished books. Then sit back and listen, instead of making assumptions that try to explain our complex culture and history with drastically over-simplified stereotypes.

About the author:
Margarita Engle is the 2017-2019 national Young People’s Poet Laureate, and the first Latino to receive that honor. She is the Cuban-American author of many verse novels, including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Lightning Dreamer, a PEN USA Award recipient. Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, received the Pura Belpré Award, Golden Kite Award, Walter Dean Myers Honor, Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and Arnold Adoff Poetry Award, among others. Drum Dream Girl received the Charlotte Zolotow Award for best picture book text.

Her newest verse novel about the island is Forest World, and her newest picture books are All the Way to Havana, and Miguel’s Brave Knight, Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote.

Books forthcoming in 2018 include The Flying Girl, How Aída de Acosta learned to Soar, and Jazz Owls, a Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots.

Margarita was born in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during childhood summers with relatives. She was trained as an agronomist and botanist. She lives in central California with her husband.


Edited on 9/12/17: “Katherine Paterson’s book” instead of “Paterson’s book.”

Posted in Causes, Essay, Guest Post | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

South Asian Kidlit Books in 2017 – Part 2

Flowering Minds

Welcome back! Summer is flying by and we’ve got a lot of wonderful South Asian Kidlit books coming out in the next few months. It is wonderful to the see the breadth of South Asian books that are coming out from real-world stories, to contemporary, and fantasy. Last week, I was interviewed by Kristi at the Winged Pen about diversity in children’s literature. Come find out my thoughts on the current state and areas where I think there needs to be more focus.

Today I bring you nine titles (2 PB, 4 MG, 4 YA) that are being released in the second-half of 2017. What’s cool is that we have a few returnees! Folks that were featured in previous round-up posts! 🙂 These books are traditionally published and are either by a South Asian author, contains a South Asian Main Character, or involves South Asian culture. The books are…

View original post 1,472 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2017 LIS 7190 Social Justice and Children’s/YA Literature

Here it is! My LIS 7190 Social Justice and Children’s/YA Literature reading list for summer 2017!

Almost-Final Reading List (in alphabetical order)

  1. Alko, Selina. Illustrated by Sean Qualls. The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage
  2. Austrian, J.J.. Illustrated by Mike Curato. Worm Loves Worm
  3. Budhos, Marina. Watched
  4. Charleyboy, Lisa and Mary Beth Leatherdale (eds.) Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices
  5. Cohn, Diana. Illustrated by Francisco Delgado. ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes We Can! Janitor Strike in LA
  6. Elliott, Zetta. A Wish After Midnight
  7. Favilli, Elena. Illustrated by Francesca Cavallo. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
  8. Friedman, Darlene. Illustrated by Roger Roth. Star of the Week
  9. Gansworth, Eric. If I Ever Get Out of Here
  10. Gonzalez, Maya Christina. Call Me Tree/Llámame Árbol
  11. Harris, Duchess and Sue Bradford Edwards. Hidden Human Computers
  12. Herrington, John. Mission to Space
  13. Jensen, Kelly (ed.) Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World

View original post 593 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2017 Debut Authors of Color & Native Americans


1) The list will be updated as needed for additional author names, book release dates, and book covers.
2) All book titles link to Teaching for Change bookstore, which carries multicultural and social justice books for all ages. Proceeds from sale benefit Teaching for Change, a non-profit that “provides teachers and parents with the tools to create schools where students learn to read, write and change the world.”



after-the-fall-coverKate Hart (member of Chikasaw Nation with Choctaw heritage)
After the Fall; Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, January 24th, 2017
Seventeen-year-old Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt…and his slacker brother, Andrew. Raychel sneaks into Matt’s bed after nightmares, but nothing ever happens.

9780545767033Celeste Lim (Malaysian American)
The Crystal Ribbon; Scholastic, January 31st, 2017
In the village of Huanan, in medieval China, the deity that rules is the Great Huli Jing. Though twelve-year-old Li Jing’s name is a different character entirely from the Huli Jing, the sound is close enough to provide constant teasing-but maybe is also a source of greater destiny and power.

9780544785106Linda W Jackson (African American)
Midnight Without A Moon; HMHKids, January 3rd, 2017
It’s Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to move north. But for now, she’s living with her sharecropper grandparents on a white man’s cotton plantation.

9780062422644Tiffany D. Jackson (African American)
Allegedly; Harper Collins, January 24th, 2017
Orange Is the New Black meets Walter Dean Myer’s Monster in this gritty, twisty, and haunting debut by Tiffany D. Jackson about a girl convicted of murder seeking the truth while surviving life in a group home.

Jennifer Torres
Stef Soto, Taco Queen; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, January 17th, 2017
A heartwarming and charming debut novel about family, friends, and finding your voice all wrapped up in a warm tortilla.
Estefania “Stef” Soto is itching to shake off the onion-and-cilantro embrace of Tia Perla, her family’s taco truck. She wants nothing more than for Papi to get a normal job and for Tia Perla to be a distant memory. Then maybe everyone at school will stop seeing her as the Taco Queen.


9780062498533Angie Thomas (African American)
The Hate U Give; Balzer + Bray, February 28th, 2017
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Angie Thomas’s searing debut about an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty.

9780062473042Ibi Zoboi (Haitian American)
American Streets; Balzer + Bray, February 14th, 2017
American Street is an evocative and powerful coming-of-age story perfect for fans of Everything, Everything; Bone Gap; and All American Boys. In this stunning debut novel, Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws on her own experience as a young Haitian immigrant, infusing this lyrical exploration of America with magical realism and vodou culture.

9781101999103Rhoda Belleza (Asian American)
Empress of a Thousand Skies; Razorbill, February 7th, 2017
Rhee, also known as Crown Princess Rhiannon Ta’an, is the sole surviving heir to a powerful dynasty. She’ll stop at nothing to avenge her family and claim her throne.

9781250079213S. “J.J.” Jae-Jones (Korean American)
Wintersong; A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin’s Griffin, February 7th, 2017
Dark, romantic, and unforgettable, Wintersong is an enchanting coming-of-age story for fans of Labyrinth and Beauty and the Beast. The last night of the year. Now the days of winter begin and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride…

9781481472111Lilliam Rivera (Latinx)
The Education of Margot Sanchez; Simon and Schuster, February 21st, 2017
Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.

see-you-in-the-cosmosJack Cheng (Chinese American)
See You in the Cosmos; Dial Books, February 28th, 2017
11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan–named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977.



9781481486965Karuna Riazi (Muslim American)
The Gauntlet; Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster, March 28th, 2017
A trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair.



9781101997239Pablo Cartaya (Cuban American)
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora; Viking Books for Young Readers, May 17th, 2017
Save the restaurant. Save the town. Get the girl. Make Abuela proud. Can thirteen-year-old Arturo Zamora do it all or is he in for a BIG, EPIC FAIL?

9781481478687Sandhya Menon (Indian American)
When Dimple Met Rishi; Simon Pulse, May 30th, 2017
A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Misa Sugiura
It’s Not Like It’s a Secret; Harper Teen, May 9th, 2017
This charming and bittersweet coming-of-age story featuring two girls of color falling in love is part To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and part Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.
Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like the fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.


S. K. Ali (Muslim American)
Saints and Misfits; Simon and Schuster, June 17th, 2017
How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?
Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

5142dan-2ol-_sx320_bo1204203200_Leah Henderson (African American)
One Shadow On the Wall; Atheneum, June 6th, 2017
An orphaned boy in contemporary Senegal must decide between doing what is right and what is easy as he struggles to keep a promise he made to his dying father in this captivating debut novel laced with magical realism.



Rebecca Barrow
You Don’t Know Me But I Know You; HarperTeen, August 29th, 2017
There’s a box in the back of Audrey’s closet that she rarely thinks about.
Inside is a letter, seventeen years old, from a mother she’s never met, handed to her by the woman she’s called Mom her whole life. Being adopted, though, is just one piece in the puzzle of Audrey’s life—the picture painstakingly put together by Audrey herself, full of all the people and pursuits that make her who she is.

Celia C. Perez (Mexican-Cuban)
The First Rule of Punk; Viking Books for Young Readers, August 22th, 2017
The First Rule of Punk is a wry and heartfelt exploration of friendship, finding your place, and learning to rock out like no one’s watching.
There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school—you can’t fix it with duct tape like you would your Chuck Taylors. On Day One, twelve-year-old Malú (María Luisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle School’s queen bee, violates the school’s dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college-professor mom in the process.

F. C. Yee
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo; Amulet Books, August 8th, 2017.
The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie’s every waking thought. But when she discovers she’s a celestial spirit who’s powerful enough to bash through the gates of heaven with her fists, her perfectionist existence is shattered.

Tochi Onyebuchi (African American)
Beasts Made Of Night; Razorbill, September 26th, 2017
Packed with dark magic and thrilling action, Beasts Made of Night is a gritty Nigerian-influenced fantasy perfect for fans of Paolo Bacigalupi and Nnedi Okorafor.
In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.

Akemi Dwan Bowman
Starfish; Simon Pulse, September 26th, 2017
A gorgeous and emotionally true debut novel about a half-Japanese teen who grapples with social anxiety and her narcissist mother in the wake of a crushing rejection from art school.
Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

Julie C. Dao (Vietnamese American)
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns; Philomel Books, October 10th, 2017
Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her.

tigers-daughterK Arsenault Rivera (Latinx)
The Tiger’s Daughter; Tor Books, October 3rd, 2017
Even gods can be slain
The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.

dear-martin-coverNic Stone (African American)
Dear Martin
; Crown Books for Young Readers, October 17th, 2017
Justyce McAllister is top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs.



Heny Lien (Taiwanese American)
Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword; Razorbill/Random Penguin House, Fall 2017

Axie Oh (Korean American)
Rebel Seoul; Tu Books, Fall 2017

Ki-Wing Merlin
Weaving a Net is Better Than Praying for Fish; Balzer+Bray / HarperCollins, Fall 2017


February 28, 2017 to add Jack Cheng’s See You in the Cosmos, Celia C Perez’s website and book cover;
April 1st, 2017 to add F. C. Yee, Misa Sugiura, Akemi Dawn Bowman, Jennifer Torres, and Ki-Wing Merlin.
Book Cover Release: Rebbeca Barrow’s You Don’t Know Me But I Know You, S. K. Ali’s Saints and Misfits, Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns


Posted in Books, MG/YA, Middle Grade, YA Books | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

#GameChangingKickstarter: BLACK COMIX RETURNS – African American Comic Art & Culture

Black Comix Returns -- Source: Kickstarter

Black Comix Returns — Source: Kickstarter

What’s the buzz about:
A collection of art and essays showcasing the best African American artists in today’s vibrant comic book culture.

On this blogger’s bucket list (one can dream):
That a publisher contacts the creators — Professor John Jennings and Dr. Damian Duffy, offers them a book contract (if they so wish), and thus makes Volume 1 of this awesome collection available again in print. Thank you.

How this is changing the game:

We need reference books like this one on the market. Readers of all backgrounds, who are curious about diversity in the field of comic books, will benefit from this if they’re
1) looking to diversify their bookshelf,
2) being intentional about their reading (in this case, focusing on African American comix, their origins, and creators),
3) doing research on the topic,
4) wanting to keep up with up and coming comic books creators.

To support Black Comix Returns and for further information, head over to its kickstarter’s page.

If you’re reading this and the kickstarter is over, fret not. Black Comix Returns is on:
* Facebook
* Twitter

Its website,, is under construction at the time of this article.

Source: Kickstarter

Source: Kickstarter

Posted in Comic Books / Graphic Novels, Game Changing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#OwnVoices February Contests, Agents Wish List

Here are some news #OwnVoices contests for the month of February:

1. Restless Books Immigration Writing Prize.
No entry fee. Deadline: February 28, 2017. Eligibility: 1st generation immigrant writer. Writing that addresses U.S. identity in the global age. Submit a non-fiction manuscript of at least 25,000 words. Prize: $10,000 advance, and publication by Restless Books. For more information, visit

2. Matthew Power Literary Reporting Award.
From MPLRA website: The Matthew Power Literary Reporting Award is a grant of $12,500 to support the work of a promising early-career nonfiction writer on a story that uncovers truths about the human condition. In 2017 for the first time we will also name a runner-up, who will receive $2,500. Deadline: February 21, 2017.

3. HBO Writing Fellowship
“The HBOAccess® Writing Fellowship provides mentorship for up to 8 diverse, emerging storytellers. Following a one-week intensive of master classes, participants are immersed in 8 months of mentoring by HBO creative executives, as each participant develops a script suitable for HBO® or Cinemax®.” Applications are accepted from March 1 to March 4, 2017.

Check these resources for further information on contests, grants, calls for submissions for magazines, and more:
* Funds for Writers
* Poets & Writers – Grants & Awards Database

A few #OwnVoices Literary Agent wish lists
1. Sarah Davies, of Greenhouse Literary, is looking for “a dynamic Syrian writer who writes fiction (or non-fiction) for children and teens.”
2. Lorin Oberweger, of Adams Literary, is looking for awesome stories of resistance, not fantasy or dystopian.
3. From Jennifer Azantian, of Azantian Literary Agency: “As a side-note, just for #WriteYourResistance and #Ownvoices, I am open to contemporary stories not just ones with a speculative twist.”
4. Justin Wells, of Corvisiero Literary Agency, is looking for Muslim own voices middle grade and young adult manuscripts.
5. Lauren Spieller of Triada US Literary Agency, is looking for Muslim own voices picture book manuscripts.

Learn more about literary agents’ wish lists, year round, on Manuscript Wish List‘s website.

Posted in Contest, Literary Agent | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: Fred Korematsu Speaks Up, by Laura Atkins & Stan Yogi, illus. by Yutaka Houlette

“If you have the feeling that something is wrong, don’t be afraid to speak up.”
Fred Korematsu

fk-speaks-up-coverIt’s traumatizing to be arrested and thrown in jail. Maybe even more so when it’s simply because of your skin color, religious affiliation, or gender identity. The memories remain painful. It takes courage to speak up.

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up, written by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, and illustrated by Yutaka Houlette, tells the story of the unsung American hero who stood up to the government when an executive order was issued to send all Japanese Americans above fourteen to internment camps. He fought not just for his sake, but for civil liberties and for the Constitution of the United States, and the government later thanked him for it.

Fred Koretmatsu Speaks Up isn’t a typical history or biography book. Chapter after chapter, the book not just gives facts, but also turns the table on the reader, asking questions such as, “Why do you think discrimination happens?”

What I liked about this book and why I recommend it:

1) Fred Korematsu Speaks Up has a surprising universal appeal. Indeed, Mr. Korematsu’s experience is not just told in relatable ways through his daily activities–at home, in school, looking for a job, but it also relates to current events, and it relates to communities beyond the Asian American ones.
2)  His story can help children and adults alike, of any background, understand what it is like to grow up being an immigrant or a child of immigrants in the USA. We’re given a glimpse into his family dynamic, as well as into the reality that an immigrant’s identity isn’t as clear cut as stereotypes make it be. To the reader who is an immigrant, this is an empowering story. To the one who is not, this is the bridge to help him understand what it took for his neighbor, classmate or friend to enjoy the same freedom today.
3) In the light of what is going on in the world, this book introduces the young reader to the legal and political vocabulary, and is useful in presenting and understanding historical American values, the government role, and activism (ACLU has a central role).
4) The book’s interactive structure as a teaching tool: short chapters telling a slice of Mr. Korematsu’s story, followed by pages filled with historical facts and documents, a glossary, and a timeline…
5) The clean, sobering and soothing illustrations by Yutaka Houlette.

January 30 is Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, and also his birthday. Several news outlets (NPR, CNN, The Smithsonian Mag, just to quote a few) celebrated him via their articles. Google contribute with a unique doodle.


I humbly urge every librarian, teacher, and parent to read it, and to do so with a child. If you’re reading this review, please pick up the book and spread the word about it.

fred-k-portraitFavorite quote:
Am I an American or not?
he wonders.”



Further steps to take:
o You can purchase the book at the EastWind Books.
o Help Fred Korematsu Speaks Up‘s book drive, and nominate or give the book to a library.
o Connect with the Fred Korematsu Institute to support his legacy, and spread the knowledge about civil liberties and the Constitution. Educators receive a free teaching kit, shipped worldwide, free of charge.
o Join the book’s group on Facebook, to discover school or library resources, discuss the book or ask questions to Laura Atkins, one of the book’s creators. You will also have access to the dates of upcoming book events or school visits.
o If you tweet about the book or otherwise discuss it online, it would help if you use the hashtag #FightingForJustice.

Recommended age range: 8-14.
Publisher: HeyDay Books
Release date: January 30, 2017.

Updated on January 31, 2107, to correct spelling error on “Korematsu.”

Posted in Books, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment