This article was written for the Nerdy Book Club. You can read the original post here.
This past June, I had the opportunity to attend the American Library Association’s annual conference. I heard a lot of different library professionals and authors speak, but one session stood among the rest. On the last full day of the conference, I joined a room full of children’s librarians for the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) annual awards breakfast. As the award for the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal was being presented to March: Book Three, author Congressman John Lewis stepped up to the microphone and received a standing ovation. Tears came to my eyes as I thought of all his experiences during the Civil Rights Movement of the mid- 20th Century, and his continued fight for human dignity and equality today. These past few months, a spotlight has swung again on hate and bigotry in our country. While we applaud the triumphs of stories like March, we are reminded just how much we still have to overcome.
I left the breakfast inspired. Earlier, I had heard Gene Luen Yang, (2016-2017 Library of Congress National of Ambassador for Young People’s Literature) speak about his platform, “Reading Without Walls.” As an cartoonist and author of graphic novels like American Born Chinese, Luen has laid out a challenge to encourage diverse reading across genres, formats, topics, and character identity. Because of campaigns like this, librarians and educators are making great strides in “breaking down these walls” as they introduce diverse titles like these to young readers. But I think we are just at the beginning of a conversation which will continue to emerge and expand as more and more young people are encouraged to read about the world beyond their “walls.”
I am a huge supporter of reading, and books in general. Yet, there are still many types of book that fall outside my “walls.” So I decided to take Yang’s reading challenge for myself –to encounter books with the ability to open my eyes and change my perspective. With the exception of the first book, geared more towards older readers, this is a list of ten middle grade books that I selected for my own Reading Without Walls journey. The challenge will look different for each of us, but this is where I decided to step outside of what I know, and learn a bit about what’s going on in the world around me.
Only three of the ten titles were historical fiction. Those three summaries are below. The remaining seven will just be in list form.
Lucky Broken Girl, by Ruth Behar (Grades 4-6)
Ruth Behar tells the biographical story of Ruthie Mizrahi, a Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl growing up in New York City in the 1960s. Ruthie is already experiencing hardships being in a new country, but when a horrible car accident leaves her in a body cast, her outlook goes from bad to worse. Yet while she is confined to her bed for a whole year, Ruthie learns to observe her life differently and soon recognizes the power of love, friendship, and creativity.
Talking Leaves, by Joseph Bruchac (Grades 4-7)
This meaningful story recalls an important moment in Native American history—the creation of the Cherokee written language. When Uwohali’s estranged father, Sequoyah begins devising strange markings to match the sound of Cherokee words, his tribe fears he is practicing witchcraft. Life becomes very difficult for Sequoyah and his family, yet Uwohali soon realizes how intelligent his father is and joins forces to help the tribe understand how important an Cherokee alphabet can be.
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson (Grades 4-8)
Part historical fiction, part poetic memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming is Jacqueline Woodson’s story of growing up in South Carolina and New York during the 1960s and ‘70s. Each chapter is written in expressive verse, laid out in easy-to-relate-to reflections of life as an African American girl surrounded by Jim Crow, Civil Rights Movement and a split-apart family. But as she struggles to find her place in the world, Jacqueline’s love of stories gives birth to a dream of finding her own voice and ultimately becoming a writer.
Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom (Frazzled #1), by Booki Vivat (Grades 3-6)
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, by Leslie Connor (Grades 5-7)
Ghost (Track #1), by Jason Reynolds (Grades 5-8)
Save Me a Seat, by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan (Grades 3-6)
The Goldfish Boy, by Lisa Thompson (Grades 4-6)
One Half from the East, by Nadia Hashimi (Grade 5-8)
The Pants Project, by Cat Clake (Grades 5-7)
Lastly, I want to give a shout-out to a new resource from We Need Diverse Books. It’s an app called Our Story, and it is a great way to find diverse books of all kinds. So get reading, and break down those walls!