As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

Jason Reynolds is a New York Times bestselling author who writes poetry and novels for young adult and middle-grade readers. Reynolds’ books are also multiple award winners. My latest read, As Brave as You, was a Kirkus Award Finalist, Schneider Family Book Award Winner, and Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book.

As Brave as You is the story of a multigenerational family and their ideas of love and bravery across those generations. Genie and his big brother, Ernie, are spending the summer with her grandparents all the way in Virginia. Their parents are driving them from Brooklyn all the way down to the country in Virginia. Genie has never done anything like this before, so he’s both excited and nervous. When the family finally arrives in Virginia, Genie is surprised. His grandpa is blind! Grandpop can’t see, but he covers it so well, especially by wearing a pair of cool Ray-Bans.

Being an ever-curious kid, Genie has so many questions for Grandpop so he just starts asking whatever pops into his head. The more Genie learns, the more he thinks that Grandpop is the bravest person he knows. The only flaw: Grandpop NEVER leaves the house. Grandpop finally allows Genie to go into his secret room: a place filled to the brim with songbirds and plants. It’s a wonderful room that looks like the outside has been pulled inside. Genie starts to think if Grandpop is actually as brave as he presents.

Genie deals with complicated thoughts around bravery the closer it gets to Ernie’s fourteenth birthday. Grandpop has a tradition for all the men who turn fourteen: in order to become a man, you have to learn how to shoot a gun. Genie thinks this is incredibly cool, but Ernie isn’t really interested at all. That also throws Genie’s idea of bravery into freefall. Is being a man really about proving something? Or is it about being responsible for your own decisions?

This book is also available in the following format:

Online Reading Challenge – May Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challengers!

How did your reading go in May? Did you read any of the books from our Book Flight, or did you find something else to read for this month’s theme of racial justice, advocacy and civil rights?

I read the main title, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I had braced myself for lots of dry, stuffy legalese but instead found a lively, beautifully written, completely engaging book filled with compassion and heartbreak and hope. Stevenson is a master at weaving together multiple stories, presenting each with a clear voice. I quickly found that it was a book that I couldn’t put down.

Bryan Stevenson is fresh out of law school when he heads to Alabama to create the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned and women and children trapped in the labyrinth rules and laws of the criminal justice system.

Early on Stevenson takes on the case of Walter McMillian, a young black man who was convicted of killing a white woman, a murder he did not commit but for which he’s been sentenced to die. In the months and years that Stevenson works on McMillian’s case he comes up against not only racial prejudice but also conspiracy, political corruption and legal challenges. Despite this, Stevenson never gives up. He visits  McMillian and other men on Death Row, most of whom have been tossed aside and forgotten by society. He goes to the homes of their families to offer comfort and advice. He works relentlessly to find answers and to correct mistakes not just for McMillian, but for dozens of other cases as well.  Slowly the Equal Justice Initiative grows and makes inroads against a broken system.

While the many stories of injustice are horrible, it’s the fact that these stories happened not just a hundred years ago, or even fifty years ago, but that many injustices continue to this day is chilling. That someone like Bryan Stevenson (and many others), continue to fight and educate on these injustices does give me hope.

How did you feel after reading a book from this month’s “Book Flight”? Did you feel anger or frustration? Did you learn anything about what has happened in our recent past, and what continues to happen in our criminal justice system? Did it give you a better understanding of why people may fear the police rather than trust them?

Be sure to share your thoughts on this month’s Book Flight in the comments below.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas is a young adult author whose breakout book, The Hate U Give , won many awards and was made into a major motion picture. That gut-wrenching novel discussed topics of police brutality and systemic racism in a timely and much needed way. Her subsequent novel, On The Come Up, was widely anticipated and pushes the narrative even more.

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas is the story of a young woman working hard to pursue her dreams. Bri wants to be a rapper. Not just any rapper though, she has dreams of becoming one of the greatest rappers of all time. Bri’s father was an underground hip hop legend named Lawless who was killed right before he made it big. Growing up hearing all the stories about her dad, but not having many memories of her own, Bri wants to make it big and be her own person. She doesn’t want to be known as Lil Law forever.

With the help and support of her aunt, Bri goes to the ring to rap battle and gain some popularity. Her aunt is even able to get her studio time to record her first song. When her first song is released, Bri is excited. She spoke from her heart when she wrote that song and can’t wait for people to actually understand more about her life. But when the song goes viral and the media picks it up, Bri discovers that it’s gaining popularity for all the wrong reasons. Now that she’s being made out to be a menace and is the center of controversy, Bri is uncomfortable with what others are saying. When her family’s financial situation grows even more dire, Bri realizes that the only way to help is to become a rap star as fast as she can. It’s not just something she wants to do, Bri HAS to make it. Her family’s livelihood depends on her.

This book is also available in the following formats:

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

Books told from multiple viewpoints have a way of tearing at my soul. Seeing the same storyline through different characters lends additional compelling layers of emotion, backstory, and meaning that readers wouldn’t have through only one character. I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal is a young adult novel told from two viewpoints over the course of one night.

Atlanta high school seniors Lena and Campbell, one black and one white, want to be normal teens. After a football rivalry escalates into a riot one Friday night, the two are forced to rely on each other to survive. From two very different backgrounds, the two girls are unexpectedly thrown together when chaos erupts at their school. During that night, Lena and Campbell must travel through the violent race riot that has enveloped Atlanta as they try to get home.

Lena knows what she wants out of life. With an awesome boyfriend, amazing style, and big plans for her future, Lena is determined to make a name for herself. Campbell, on the other hand, is just trying to survive. Being abandoned by her mother and starting her senior year at a new school in a new town with her dad is not how she imagined her life turning out. Campbell just wants to make it through the school year.

When the two head to the football game, they have plans for what they expect the night to be. When a rivalry with another school turns into a riot, Lena and Campbell are thrust together into a fight for survival. They aren’t friends. They barely know each other and don’t understand what the other is going through. Racing through town, their differences matter less as the city goes up in flames and people riot in the streets.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Never Stop Learning

One of the ways we can cope with difficult times in a positive and constructive manner is to educate ourselves. Take the time and effort to seek out the facts. It’s not easy and it’s not comfortable and for most of us (myself included) it’s a continual learning experience. As citizens – of this city, this state, this country, this world – it’s our job to do this.

Here are some resources from the library and some links that can help.

Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism and You by Jason Reynolds (also available on Overdrive)

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Brown

Just Mercy: a Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (also available on Overdrive)

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

Please note that there are waiting lists on most of these titles. The Library is working on adding more copies both in hard copy and e-book form. Please place a reserve on any you find interesting and we’ll get a copy to you asap!

Meet Maria Nhambu

Last fall I wrote about Maria Nhambu’s memoir, Africa’s Child. You can read my blog about it here. It tells the story of how she grew up as an orphaned, mixed-race child in Tanzania. The first book in the Dancing Soul Trilogy, Africa’s Child is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring. It leaves you wondering where she went from there.

I am thrilled to share that the second book, called America’s Daughter, has been published. In it, Nhambu chronicles what it was like for her leaving Africa. She was eighteen years old with a newly-adoptive mother who was barely four years older than her. She found a vastly different culture in America and began building a new life in it.

Laugh and cry with her as she recalls the many differences between Tanzania and Minnesota. She reveres education as her key to escaping a life of poverty and oppression. It is no surprise that she chose a career as an educator (at one point, she taught a soon-to-be famous musician named Prince Rogers Nelson.) Nhambu has a love for music, especially African music. She went on to create a program called Aerobics With Soul. It incorporates African dance into a fitness workout.

Nhambu still spends summers in Minnesota, but lives in Delray Beach, Florida during the winter. Thanks to family ties she has to the Quad Cities, she will be visiting us at Eastern on Saturday, Sept 9 at 10:30am to share her story with us in person. Joining her will be her adoptive mother and sister. Refreshments and copies of her books will be available. If we are lucky, there will be dancing. 😉

Nhambu is a gifted storyteller whose candor has made me cry, then cheer for her. Come meet a fascinating woman whose indomitable spirit has proven that love truly does conquer all.

Soul Food by Adrian Miller

soul foodSoul Food is an insightful and eclectic history,  where Adrian Miller delves into the influences, ingredients, and innovations that make up the soul food tradition.

Focusing each chapter on the culinary and social history of one dish – such as fried chicken, chitlins, yams, greens, and “red drinks” – Miller uncovers how it got on the soul food plate and what it means for African American culture and identity. Miller argues that the story is more complex and surprising than commonly thought. Four centuries in the making, and fusing European, Native American, and West African cuisines, soul food – in all its fried, pork-infused, and sugary glory – is but one aspect of African American culinary heritage. Miller discusses how soul food has become incorporated into American culture and explores its connections to identity politics, bad health raps, and healthier alternatives.

This refreshing look at one of America’s most celebrated, mythologized, and maligned cuisines is enriched by spirited sidebars, photographs, and 22 recipes. (description by publisher)

Women’s History Month

February was Black History Month, but  March marks the transition into Women’s History Month.  If you didn’t catch our displays last month, stop by and see what’s new. 

One book in particular that serves as the perfect segue from one theme to the other is Sister Days by Janus Adams.  Subtitled “365 Inspired Moments in African American Women’s History,” the book is written in diary style, with short anecdotes for every day of the year.  For example, Philippa Schuyler, who was declared a prodigy at age 3, is featured on July 29th, while Era Bell Thompson, who was inducted into the Iowa Hall of Fame, is the woman of the day on April 30th.   Personally, I had not heard about either of these remarkable individuals! 

Another book that’s received a  lot of press lately is the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  It’s a true story of a poor woman who died of cervical cancer.  Before her death in 1951, a sample of her cancerous tissue was taken, but without her knowledge or consent.  Her cells, known as HeLa cells, not only survived in the lab, but thrived, providing scientists with a building block for many medical breakthroughs, starting with the cure for polio.

This is just a small sampling of a wide variety of materials celebrating women of achievement throughout the years.  Come check some out!