I didn’t have much money. What I had was the burning desire to fill a big void in my community: the need for multicultural children’s books, including bilingual books. The desire to put the books I love into the hands of the readers looking for them. The desire to support diversity-focused small presses and independent authors of excellent books, but whom I know to have no or little marketing budget. These books are not yet reviewed by big, well-known newspapers, and not carried by big chain bookstores.
I figured I’d start with 10 copies of 10 different titles, and replace sold-out titles by new ones, to keep the customers looking for new items. As you will read below, reality quickly outgrew my vision.
I sold some personal items and emptied my saving account to purchase a business license, a seller’s permit, and to place the required ad in my local newspaper, announcing that I was open for business.
MultiCulturalism Rocks! Pop-Up, my tiny bookstore, was officially born.
I then used my credit card to purchase the first books. I simply contacted the publishers and the independent authors on the list I had made, with the help of Robert C. Liu-Trujillo, a writer/illustrator friend, and I pitched them my idea. I can’t thank enough the first people who jumped onboard. Not only did they enthusiastically welcome the initiative, but they also supported it by accepting to work with me: Robert C. Liu-Trujillo, award-winning author Zetta Elliot, Tiffany Golden, Maya Gonzalez, Justine Villanueva, and publishers Heyday Books, and Just Us Books.
I opened shop at the Davis International Festival on October 1st, 2017. I had clients already lined up while I was still setting up. A friend came to help me, and we were so busy selling that we didn’t have time to pause and be interviewed when asked.
Though I initially only spent a few days every month attending events and selling books, I systematically sold out of at least one title every time. To keep up with the pace of the sales, I increased my inventory, not just by ordering more than 10 books per titles when I saw fit, but also by adding more titles to meet my customers’ demands.
I quickly received more invitations to attend school events and cultural festivals not just outside of my county, but outside of my state as well (hopefully I will be able to honor these one day.). The African Market Place, in Sacramento, CA, whose community gave me a warm welcome, also quickly became a home where customers know to find me twice a month.
The challenge I’m meeting is that I need to increase my inventory again. I don’t do consignments. I pay for the books that I sell, and I believe that this is an essential way of supporting the authors I work with, especially the indie ones. I know my customers. I know what they want, and I know that all the books I carry will sell. So far, they all have. I used to be a bookseller specializing in children’s books, and I was good at it. This isn’t my first rodeo. I know to order just the right amount of items, taking into account the space I have, and the events I have lined up. I’m at a point where I need to rent a small space where I will store my inventory, because it is about to increase. And it will be an even sweeter deal if I could sell books from that location too, while still traveling places to meet the customers — educators, parents and kids, who are most looking for these stories and can’t come either to me or to the closest culturally diverse brick and mortar bookshop. I have a location in mind, in a vibrant community and with a rent within my range. I’ve been doing this, the traveling and transporting the table, banner, chair and books, using my green 2000, slightly beaten up Volkswagen Jetta. It would be amazing to one day have a vehicle with more space, to transport more of these amazing stories.
I keep tab of all the fun that happens every time I’m out — which books sell the fastest, anecdotes, pictures, etc. I’ve been asked to share these snippets by several people, and will try to regularly do so in the future. During this literary, nomadic journey, I’ve also had the pleasure to meet other mobile bookstore owners (all heroes to my eyes and, I’m sure, to the eyes of their customers). I would like to give them a big shoutout, and I’m planning on spotlighting them on this blog in the near future. Please help make this a recurring event by adding more names to that list.
Last but not least, one of the ways I look to timely meet the readers’ demands for more titles, before the end of this year, is by applying to small business grants. This month I’m applying to the NAV grant, as well as the Amber Grant, and as such a part of this blog post will also be shared in my applications.
Thank you for reading this far, and thank you for your support. Is there a book you would recommend? Any bookmobile you would like to give a shoutout to? What about your own work: What have you been up to? 🙂
PS: About the play on the colors in the captions: green for hope, red for passion, yellow for friendship. Those three colors are also an ode to my African origins.
Edited 08/16/18 at 3:54pm to add link to my NAV application.
Edited on May 24, 2015 to add contributor biographies, Tumblr and Pinterest links, which you will find at the end of this post. Most book titles link to Teaching for Change online bookstore, except for A is for Activist, The Phoenix on Barkley Street and I Love Ugali and Sukuma Wiki.
May 25, 2015: Important tweet from Cynthia Leitich Smith: @CynLeitichSmith books not on shelves can be ordered. B/c some bookstores/libraries don’t carry inclusive books. Readers ordering/inter-library-loaning prompt change, too.
Are you looking for books to add to your summer reading list? Ones written or illustrated by Native Americans or people of color? Ones that include characters that are Native? People of color? Disabilities? LGBTQ? Take a look at these! Note: I hope you enjoy several of these book covers as much as I did.
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara. A is for Activist is an ABC board book written and illustrated for the next generation of progressives: families who want their kids to grow up in a space that is unapologetic about activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and everything else that activists believe in and fight for. The alliteration, rhyming, and vibrant illustrations make the book exciting for children, while the issues it brings up resonate with their parents’ values of community, equality, and justice. This engaging little book carries huge messages as it inspires hope for the future, and calls children to action while teaching them a love for books. (Also available in Spanish and Swedish) (Triangle Square, 2013. 32 pgs.)
Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan and Sophie Blackall. Having to take her younger sister along the first time she is invited to a birthday party spoils Rubina’s fun, and later when that sister is asked to a party and baby sister wants to come, Rubina must decide whether to help. (Viking, 2010. 40 pgs.)
Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza by J. L. Powers, George Mendoza and Hayley Morgan-Sanders. George was one of those kids. You know, the kind that never stays still. And then one day, the doctor said he was going blind. Did that slow George down? Not for a single second. In fact, he was so fast, he went on to break a world record for blind runners. And now he is breaking more barriers because ironically, George Mendoza, blind painter, paints what he sees.
George Mendoza started going blind at age 15 from a degenerative eye disease. It wasn’t the sudden onset of blindness that many people experience. George lost his central vision and started seeing things that weren’t there–eyes floating in the air, extraordinary colors, objects multiplied and reflected back. George describes this condition as having “kaleidoscope eyes.” He triumphed over his blindness by setting the world record in the mile for blind runners, and later competing in both the 1980 and 1984 Olympics for the Disabled. Now a full-time artist, Mendoza’s collection of paintings, also titled Colors of the Wind, is a National Smithsonian Affiliates traveling exhibit. (Purple House Press, 2014. 32 pgs.)
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki and Qin Leng. In this beautifully written picture book, Hana Hashimoto has signed up to play her violin at her school’s talent show. The trouble is, she’s only a beginner, and she’s had only three lessons. Her brothers insist she isn’t good enough. “It’s a talent show, Hana,” they tell her. “You’ll be a disaster!” Hana remembers how wonderfully her talented grandfather, or Ojiichan, played his violin when she was visiting him in Japan. So, just like Ojiichan, Hana practices every day. She is determined to play her best. When Hana’s confidence wavers on the night of the show, however, she begins to wonder if her brothers were right. But then Hana surprises everyone once it’s her turn to perform — even herself! The Asian American female protagonist in this story offers a unique perspective, and bestselling author Chieri Uegaki has woven in lyrical scenes from Japan that add depth and resonance. The details in the artwork by Qin Leng connect the two places and contain a feeling of melody throughout. In the classroom, this book could serve as a celebration of music and performing arts, multicultural studies or the importance of intergenerational relationships. It is also a fabulous character education tie-in for discussing courage and perseverance. This terrifically inspiring book offers hope and confidence to all children who are yearning to master something difficult. Perhaps even more important, it allows children to see that there is more than one way to be successful at a task. (Kids Can Press, 2014. 32 pgs.)
Hungry Johnny by Cheryl Minnema and Wesley Ballinger. “I like to eat, eat, eat,” choruses young Johnny as he watches Grandma at work in the kitchen. Wild rice, fried potatoes, fruit salad, frosted sweet rolls—what a feast! Johnny can hardly contain his excitement. In no time, he’ll be digging in with everyone else, filling his belly with all this good food.But wait. First there is the long drive to the community center. And then an even longer Ojibwe prayer. And then—well, young boys know to follow the rules: elders eat first, no matter how hungry the youngsters are. Johnny lingers with Grandma, worried that the tasty treats won’t last. Seats at the tables fill and refill; platters are emptied and then replaced. Will it ever be their turn? And will there be enough? As Johnny watches anxiously, Grandma gently teaches. By the time her friend Katherine arrives late to the gathering, Johnny knows just what to do, hunger pangs or no. He understands, just as Grandma does, that gratitude, patience, and respect are rewarded by a place at the table—and plenty to eat, eat, eat. (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2014. 32 pgs.)
I Love Ugali and Sukuma by Kwame Nyong’o. A follow up to his well regarded ‘A Tasty Maandazi’ (2006) this latest children’s book by Kwame Nyong’o brings to life the world of the young African boy Akiki, and his love for his favorite food – ugali and sukuma wiki! (CreateSpace, 2013. 36 pgs.)
Imani’s Moon by Janay Brown-Wood and Hazel Mitchell. Imani is a young Maasi girl with a loving mother and a desire to do something great. When she decides she wants to touch the moon, she works hard to reach her goal, even in the face of teasing from the naysayers around her.(Mackinac Island Press, 2014. 32 pgs.)
Jazz by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers. This smash-hit picture book of jazz music poems, from award-winning father-son team Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers, is now available in paperback. There’s a crazy syncopation /and it’s tearing through the nation / and it’s bringing sweet elation / to every single tune./ It’s Jazz/ From bebop to New Orleans, from ragtime to boogie, and every style in between, this collection of Walter Dean Myers’s energetic and engaging poems, accompanied by Christopher Myers’s bright and exhilarating paintings, celebrates different styles of the American art form, jazz. “JAZZ” takes readers on a musical journey from jazz’s beginnings to the present day. Includes timeline and jazz glossary. (Holiday House, 2008. 48 pgs.)
Jonathan and His Mommy by Irene Smalls and Michael Hays. As a mother and son explore their neighborhood, they try various ways of walking–from giant steps and reggae steps to criss cross steps and backwards steps. (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 1994. 32 pgs.)
Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi and Lea Lyon. Lailah is in a new school in a new country, thousands of miles from her old home, and missing her old friends. When Ramadan begins, she is excited that she is finally old enough to participate in the fasting but worried that her classmates won’t understand why she doesn’t join them in the lunchroom. Lailah solves her problem with help from the school librarian and her teacher and in doing so learns that she can make new friends who respect her beliefs.
This gentle, moving story from first-time author Reem Faruqi comes to life in Lea Lyon’s vibrant illustrations. Lyon uses decorative arabesque borders on intermittent spreads to contrast the ordered patterns of Islamic observances with the unbounded rhythms of American school days. (Tilbury House Publishers, 2015. 32 pgs.)
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald No Combina by Monica Brown Ph.D. and Sara Palacios. Marisol McDonald has flaming red hair and nut-brown skin. Polka dots and stripes are her favorite combination. She prefers peanut butter and jelly burritos in her lunch box. To Marisol, these seemingly mismatched things make perfect sense together. Other people wrinkle their nose in confusion at Marisol—can’t she just choose one or the other? Try as she might, in a world where everyone tries to put this biracial, Peruvian-Scottish-American girl into a box, Marisol McDonald doesn’t match. And that’s just fine with her. (Children’s Book Press, 2013. 32 pgs.)
My Colors, My World/Mis Colores, Mi Mundo by Maya Christina Gonzalez. Maya longs to find brilliant, beautiful color in her world. But when the wind blows, desert sand covers everything, and turns her whole neighborhood the color of dust.With the help of a feathered friend, Maya searches high and low to find the colors in her world. And she does—in the vibrant purple of her Mama’s flowers, the juicy green of a prickly cactus, the hot pink clouds at sunset, and the shiny black of her Papi’s hair.As they follow Maya’s search for all the colors of the rainbow, little readers will be inspired to look around and ask themselves, where can I find the colors in my world? Bilingual English/Spanish. (Children’s Book Press, 2013. 32 pgs.)
My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best and Vanessa Brantley Newton.
Zulay and her three best friends are all in the same first grade class and study the same things, even though Zulay is blind. When their teacher asks her students what activity they want to do on Field Day, Zulay surprises everyone when she says she wants to run a race. With the help of a special aide and the support of her friends, Zulay does just that. (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2015. 40 pgs.)
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon. Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use. But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went on their way. One plastic bag became two. Then ten. Then a hundred. The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease. Some bags were burned, leaving behind a terrible smell. Some were buried, but they strangled gardens. They killed livestock that tried to eat them. Something had to change. (Millbrook Press, 2015. 32 pgs.)
Tía Isa Wants A Car by Meg Medina and Claudio Muñoz. Tía Isa wants a car. A shiny green car the same color as the ocean, with wings like a swooping bird. A car to take the whole family to the beach. But saving is hard when everything goes into two piles – one for here and one for Helping Money, so that family members who live far away might join them someday. While Tía Isa saves, her niece does odd jobs for neighbors so she can add her earnings to the stack. But even with her help, will they ever have enough? Meg Medina’s simple, genuine story about keeping in mind those who are far away is written in lovely, lyrical prose and brought to life through Claudio Muñoz’s charming characters. (Candlewick, 2011. 32 pgs.)
The Phoenix on Barkley Street by Zetta Elliott. Best friends Carlos and Tariq love their block, but Barkley Street has started to change. The playground has been taken over by older boys, which leaves Carlos and Tariq with no place to call their own. They decide to turn the yard of an abandoned brownstone into their secret hang-out spot. Carlos and Tariq soon discover, however, that the overgrown yard is already occupied by an ancient phoenix! When the Pythons try to claim the yard for their gang, the magical bird gives the friends the courage to make a stand against the bullies who threaten to ruin their beloved neighborhood. (Rosetta Press, 2014. 32 pgs.)
The Third Gift by Linda Sue Park and Bagram Ibatoulline. From two extraordinary talents, a beautifully crafted picture book for the Christmas season. The three wise men, or the three kings, are familiar figures in the Christmas tradition. Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park has taken the brief biblical references to the three as the starting point for a new story. In it we meet a boy who is learning his father’s trade; a man who gathers resin from certain trees; a merchant in the marketplace; and three strangers in brightly colored robes who are shopping for a gift for a baby. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline with exquisite paintings, this simple, moving tale of ordinary people involved in an extraordinary event brings new resonance to the well-known gift list of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Clarion Books, 2011. 32 pgs.)
We March by Shane Evans. On August 28, 1963, a remarkable event took place–more than 250,000 people gathered in our nation’s capital to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march began at the Washington Monument and ended with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, advocating racial harmony. Many words have been written about that day, but few so delicate and powerful as those presented here by award-winning author and illustrator Shane W. Evans. When combined with his simple yet compelling illustrations, the thrill of the day is brought to life for even the youngest reader to experience. (Roaring Brook Press, 2012. 32 pgs.)
Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda. Breathtaking action adventure for 8 to 12-year-olds. Ash Mistry, reluctant hero, faces ancient demons…and comes into an astonishing, magical inheritance. Varanasi: holy city of the Ganges. In this land of ancient temples, incense and snake charmers…Where the monsters and heroes of the past come to life…One slightly geeky boy from our time…IS GOING TO KICK SOME DEMON ASS. Ash Mistry hates India. Which is a problem since his uncle has brought him and his annoying younger sister Lucky there to take up a dream job with the mysterious Lord Savage. But Ash immediately suspects something is very wrong with the eccentric millionaire. Soon, Ash finds himself in a desperate battle to stop Savage’s masterplan – the opening of the Iron Gates that have kept Ravana, the demon king, at bay for four millennia… (Ash Mistry Chronicles. HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2012. 320 pgs.)
Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes. It’s Maddy’s turn to have a bayou summer. At first she misses life back home in the city, but soon she grows to love everything about her new surroundings — the glimmering fireflies, the glorious landscape, and something else, deep within the water, that only Maddy sees. Could it be a mermaid? As her grandmother shares wisdom about sayings and signs, Maddy realizes she may be only the sibling to carry on her family’s magical legacy. And when a disastrous oil leak threatens the bayou, she knows she may also be the only one who can help. Does she have what it takes to be a hero?
A coming-of-age tale rich with folk magic, set in the wake of the Gulf oil spill, Bayou Magic celebrates hope, friendship, and family, and captures the wonder of life in the Deep South. (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2015. 256 pgs.)
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become. (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014. 336 pgs.)
Can You See Me Now by Estela Bernal. On Amanda’s thirteenth birthday, her father is killed by a drunk driver while on the way to pick up her birthday present. She’s stunned when she overhears her mother blaming her: “If she hadn’t insisted on that stupid watch for her birthday, he would still be alive.” Her mom retreats into extra shifts at work, leaving Mandy with her grandmother and making her feel as if she has lost both parents. To make matters worse, she’s the butt of cruel pranks at school. One day, some girls even glue her skirt to the chair! But things take a turn for the better when she befriends Paloma, an unusual new student at Central Middle School, who introduces her to yoga and meditation. And she reluctantly becomes friends with Rogelio, a fat boy who is bullied even more than she is by their classmates. Mandy’s new friends, a dog named Lobo and an interesting school project help to ease the pain of her father’s death and her mother’s absence. She maintains a connection to her father by writing letters to him each night. But will she always be invisible to her mother? (Piñata Books, 2013. 160 pgs.)
Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities by Mike Jung and Mike Maihack. Vincent Wu is Captain Stupendous’s No. 1 Fan, but even he has to admit that Captain Stupendous has been a little off lately. During Professor Mayhem’s latest attack, Captain Stupendous barely made it out alive – although he did manage to save Vincent from a giant monster robot. It’s Vincent’s dream come true… until he finds out Captain Stupendous’s secret identity: It’s Polly Winnicott-Lee, the girl Vincent happens to have a crush on. Captain Stupendous’s powers were recently transferred to Polly in a fluke accident, and so while she has all of his super strength and super speed, she doesn’t know how to use them, and she definitely doesn’t know all the strengths and weaknesses of his many nemeses. But Vincent and his friends are just the right fan club to train up their favorite superhero before he (she?) has to face Professor Mayhem again. And if they make it through this battle for the safety of Copperplate City, Vincent might just get up the courage to ask Polly on a date. (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2012. 320 pgs.)
How I Became A Ghost by Tim Tingle.Told in the words of Isaac, a Choctaw boy who does not survive the Trail of Tears, How I Became A Ghost is a tale of innocence and resilience in the face of tragedy. From the book’s opening line, “Maybe you have never read a book written by a ghost before,” the reader is put on notice that this is no normal book. Isaac leads a remarkable foursome of Choctaw comrades: a tough-minded teenage girl, a shape-shifting panther boy, a lovable five-year-old ghost who only wants her mom and dad to be happy, and Isaac s talking dog, Jumper. The first in a trilogy, How I Became A Ghost thinly disguises an important and oft-overlooked piece of history. (How I Became a Ghost Series. RoadRunner Press, 2013. 160 pgs.)
I Lived On Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín and Lee White. An eleven-year-old’s world is upended by political turmoil in this “lyrically ambitious tale of exile and reunification” (Kirkus Reviews) from an award-winning poet, based on true events in Chile. Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile—until one day when warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates start disappearing from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.
The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protesters, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents—her educated, generous, kind parents—must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” Before they do, however, they send Celeste to America to protect her. As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again? (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015. 464 pgs.)
March Book 1 by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall. (March Trilogy. Top Shelf Productions, 2013. 128 pgs.)
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia. Eleven-year-old Delphine is like a mother to her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. She’s had to be, ever since their mother, Cecile, left them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. When they arrive from Brooklyn to spend the summer with her, Cecile is nothing like they imagined. While the girls hope to go to Disneyland and meet Tinker Bell, their mother sends them to a day camp run by the Black Panthers. Unexpectedly, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern learn much about their family, their country, and themselves during one truly crazy summer. (Amistad, 2011. 240 pgs.)
Revolution is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine. The summer of 1972, before I turned nine, danger began knocking on doors all over China. Nine-year-old Ling has a very happy life. Her parents are both dedicated surgeons at the best hospital in Wuhan, and her father teaches her English as they listen to Voice of America every evening on the radio. But when one of Mao’s political officers moves into a room in their apartment, Ling begins to witness the gradual disintegration of her world. In an atmosphere of increasing mistrust and hatred, Ling fears for the safety of her neighbors, and soon, for herself and her family. For the next four years, Ling will suffer more horrors than many people face in a lifetime. Will she be able to grow and blossom under the oppressive rule of Chairman Mao? Or will fighting to survive destroy her spirit–and end her life? (Henry Holt and Co., 2007. 249 pgs.)
The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano. It is 1969 in Spanish Harlem, and fourteen-year-old Evelyn Serrano is trying hard to break free from her conservative Puerto Rican surroundings, but when her activist grandmother comes to stay and the neighborhood protests start, things get a lot more complicated — and dangerous. (Scholastic, 2012. 224 pgs.)
Shooting Kabul by N. M. Senzai. In the summer of 2001, twelve year old Fadi’s parents make the difficult decision to illegally leave Afghanistan and move the family to the United States. When their underground transport arrives at the rendezvous point, chaos ensues, and Fadi is left dragging his younger sister Mariam through the crush of people. But Mariam accidentally lets go of his hand and becomes lost in the crowd, just as Fadi is snatched up into the truck. With Taliban soldiers closing in, the truck speeds away, leaving Mariam behind. Adjusting to life in the United States isn’t easy for Fadi’s family and as the events of September 11th unfold the prospects of locating Mariam in a war torn Afghanistan seem slim. When a photography competition with a grand prize trip to India is announced, Fadi sees his chance to return to Afghanistan and find his sister. But can one photo really bring Mariam home? Based in part on the Ms. Senzai’s husband’s own experience fleeing his home in Soviet controlled Afghanistan in the 1970s, Shooting Kabul is a powerful story of hope, love, and perseverance. (Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2011. 288 pgs.)
The Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrick Henry Bass and Jerry Craft. Shy fourth-grader Bakari Katari Johnson is having a bad day. He’s always coming up against Tariq Thomas, the most popular kid in their class, and today is no different. On top of that, Bakari has found a strange ring that appears to have magical powers–and the people from the ring’s fantastical other world want it back! Can Bakari and his best friend Wardell stave off the intruders’ attempts, keep the ring safe, and stand up to Tariq and his pal Keisha, all before the school bell rings? (Scholastic, 2014. 144 pgs.)
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing-she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too? (Viking Books for Young Readers, 2011. 368 pgs.)
Antigoddess by Kendare Blake. The Goddess War begins in Antigoddess, the first installment of the new series by acclaimed author of Anna Dressed in Blood, Kendare Blake. Old Gods never die… Or so Athena thought. But then the feathers started sprouting beneath her skin, invading her lungs like a strange cancer, and Hermes showed up with a fever eating away his flesh. So much for living a quiet eternity in perpetual health. Desperately seeking the cause of their slow, miserable deaths, Athena and Hermes travel the world, gathering allies and discovering enemies both new and old. Their search leads them to Cassandra–an ordinary girl who was once an extraordinary prophetess, protected and loved by a god. These days, Cassandra doesn’t involve herself in the business of gods–in fact, she doesn’t even know they exist. But she could be the key in a war that is only just beginning. Because Hera, the queen of the gods, has aligned herself with other of the ancient Olympians, who are killing off rivals in an attempt to prolong their own lives. But these anti-gods have become corrupted in their desperation to survive, horrific caricatures of their former glory. Athena will need every advantage she can get, because immortals don’t just flicker out.Every one of them dies in their own way. Some choke on feathers. Others become monsters. All of them rage against their last breath. The Goddess War is about to begin. (The Goddess War series. Tor Teen, 2014. 352 pgs.)
Ash by Malinda Lo. In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.
The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love. Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief. (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010. 272pgs)
Chameleon by Charles R. Smith Jr. Shooting the breeze with his boys. Tightening his D on the court. Doing a color check — making sure nobody’s wearing blue or red, which some Crip or Piru carrying a cut-down golf club would see as disrespect. Then back to Auntie’s, hoping she isn’t passed out from whiskey at the end of the day. Now that Shawn is headed for high school, he wonders if he’d be better off at the school in Mama’s neighborhood, where he’d be free of Compton’s hassles. But then he wouldn’t be with his fellas — cracking jokes, covering each other’s backs — or the fine Marisol, who’s been making star appearances in his dreams. Dad says he needs to make his own decision, but what does Shawn want, freedom or friendship? With teasing, spot-on dialogue and an eye to the realities of inner-city life, Chameleon takes on the shifting moods of a teenager coming of age. (Candlewick, 2010. 384 pgs.)
Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn. He’s part Win, the lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts all his classmates out, no matter the cost. He’s part Drew, the angry young boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who spent a fateful, long-ago summer with his brother and teenage cousins, only to endure a secret so monstrous it led three children to do the unthinkable. Over the course of one night, while stuck at a party deep in the New England woods, Andrew battles both the pain of his past and the isolation of his present. Before the sun rises, he’ll either surrender his sanity to the wild darkness inside his mind or make peace with the most elemental of truths–that choosing to live can mean so much more than not dying. (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013. 224 pgs.)
Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi and Craig Phillips. Corey, Holly, and Savitri are closer than family until a random act of violence shatters their world. A gunman shoots at their car, leaving Corey dead, Holly in a coma, and Savitri the sole witness to the crime. When Holly wakes up, she is changed—determined to hunt down Corey’s killer, whatever the cost. Savitri fears that Holly is running wild, losing her grip on reality. Friends should stand by each other in times of crisis. But can you hold on too tight? Too long? (Knopf Books For Young Readers, 2013. 320 pgs.)
Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend by Erika Wurth. Margaritte is a sharp-tongued, drug-dealing, sixteen-year-old Native American floundering in a Colorado town crippled by poverty, unemployment, and drug abuse. She hates the burnout, futureless kids surrounding her and dreams that she and her unreliable new boyfriend can move far beyond the bright lights of Denver that float on the horizon before the daily suffocation of teen pregnancy eats her alive. (Curbside Splendor Publishing, 2014. 288 pgs.)
Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. Gabi Hernández chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity. (Cinco Puntos Press, 2014. 208 pgs.)
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon. When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth. Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down. (Henry Holt and Co., 2014. 336 pgs.)
If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth. Lewis “Shoe” Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him — people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan’s side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home — will he still be his friend? (Arthur A. Levine, 2014. 368 pgs.)
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan. Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they had before, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.
Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants in the body she wants to be loved in without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self? (Algonquin Young Readers, 2013. 256 pgs.)
Jumped In by Patrick Scott Flores. Sam has the rules of slackerhood down: Don’t be late to class. Don’t ever look the teacher in the eye. Develop your blank stare. Since his mom left, he has become an expert in the art of slacking, especially since no one at his new school gets his intense passion for the music of the Pacific Northwest–Nirvana, Hole, Sleater-Kinney. Then his English teacher begins a slam poetry unit and Sam gets paired up with the daunting, scarred, clearly-a-gang-member Luis, who happens to sit next to him in every one of his classes. Slacking is no longer an option–Luis will destroy him. Told in Sam’s raw voice and interspersed with vivid poems, Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott is a stunning debut novel about differences, friendship, loss, and the power of words. (Henry Holt and Co., 2013. 304 pgs.)
Legend by Marie Lu. What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem. From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths – until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets. (Legend series. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2011. 336 pgs.)
The Living by Matt de la Peña. Shy took the summer job to make some money. In a few months on a luxury cruise liner, he’ll rake in the tips and be able to help his mom and sister out with the bills. And how bad can it be? Bikinis, free food, maybe even a girl or two—every cruise has different passengers, after all.
But everything changes when the Big One hits. Shy’s only weeks out at sea when an earthquake more massive than ever before recorded hits California, and his life is forever changed. The earthquake is only the first disaster. Suddenly it’s a fight to survive for those left living. (First in a series. Delacorte Press, 2013. 320 pgs.)
Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis. Benji and Red couldn’t be more different. They aren’t friends. They don’t even live in the same town. But their fates are entwined. A chance meeting leads the boys to discover that they have more in common than meets the eye. Both of them have encountered a strange presence in the forest, watching them, tracking them. Could the Madman of Piney Woods be real?
In a tale brimming with intrigue and adventure, Christopher Paul Curtis returns to the vibrant world he brought to life in Elijah of Buxton. Here is another novel that will break your heart — and expand it, too. (Companion to Elijah of Buxton. Scholastic Press; 2014. 384 pgs.)
Money Boy by Paul Yee. Ray Liu knows he should be happy. He lives in a big suburban house with all the latest electronic gadgets, and even finds plenty of time to indulge in his love of gaming. He needs the escape. It’s tough getting grades that will please his army veteran father when speaking English is still a struggle. But when his father accesses Ray’s Internet account and discovers Ray has been cruising gay websites, his belongings are thrown on the front lawn and suddenly he’s homeless. Angry and defiant, Ray heads to the city. In short order he is robbed, beaten up, and seduced, and he learns the hard realities of life on the street. Could he really sell himself for sex? Lots of people use their bodies to make money — athletes, actors, models, pop singers. If no one gets hurt, why should anyone care? (Groundwood Books, 2013. 184 pgs.)
None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio. A groundbreaking story about a teenage girl who discovers she’s intersex . . . and what happens when her secret is revealed to the entire school. Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between. (Balzar + Bray, 2015, 352 pgs.)
Pig Park by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez. Fifteen-year-old Masi Burciaga hauls bricks to help build a giant pyramid in her neighborhood park. Her neighborhood is becoming more of a ghost town each day since the lard company moved away. Even her school closed down. Her family’s bakery and the other surviving businesses may soon follow. As a last resort, the neighborhood grown-ups enlist all the remaining able-bodied boys and girls into this scheme in hopes of luring visitors. Maybe their neighbors will come back too. But something’s not right about the entrepreneur behind it all. And then there’s the new boy who came to help. The one with the softest of lips. Pig Park is a contemporary Faustian tale that forces us to look at the desperate lengths people will go to in the name of community–and maybe love. (Cinco Puntos Press, 2014. 246 pgs.)
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears… Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on. (Arthur A. Levine, 2015. 304 pgs.)
Silver People by Margarita Engle. One hundred years ago, the world celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, which connected the world’s two largest oceans and signaled America’s emergence as a global superpower. It was a miracle, this path of water where a mountain had stood—and creating a miracle is no easy thing. Thousands lost their lives, and those who survived worked under the harshest conditions for only a few silver coins a day.
From the young “silver people” whose back-breaking labor built the Canal to the denizens of the endangered rainforest itself, this is the story of one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, as only Newbery Honor-winning author Margarita Engle could tell it. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 2014. 272 pgs.)
Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Quincie Morris has never felt more alone. Her parents are dead, and her hybrid-werewolf first love is threatening to embark on a rite of passage that will separate them forever. Then, as she and her uncle are about to unveil their hot vampire-themed restaurant, a brutal murder leaves them scrambling for a chef. Can Quincie transform their new hire into a culinary Dark Lord before opening night? Can he wow the crowd in his fake fangs, cheap cape, and red contact lenses — or is there more to this earnest face than meets the eye? As human and preternatural forces clash, a deadly love triangle forms, and the line between predator and prey begins to blur. Who’s playing whom? And how long can Quincie play along before she loses everything? TANTALIZE marks Cynthia Leitich Smith’s delicious debut as a preeminent author of dark fantasy. (Candlewick, 2007. 336 pgs.)
When Reason Breaks by Cindy Rodriguez. A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy. (Bloomsbury USA, 2015. 304 pgs.)
Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed. This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny? (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015, 304 pgs.)
Zero Fade by Chris L. Terry. Zero Fade chronicles eight days in the life of inner-city Richmond, Virginia, teen Kevin Phifer as he deals with wack haircuts, bullies, last year’s fly gear, his uncle Paul coming out as gay, and being grounded. (Curbside Splendor, 2013. 294 pgs.)
*Except where noted, annotations are from Amazon’s website.
+Annotation is from the publisher’s website.
Excerpt from Edi’s post:
To make the list easier to distribute, we’ve created PDF versions. “Anno” is the complete, annotated list while “unanno” is a listing by titles.