The ABC Blog

The Importance of Talking to Your Children about Race

These past few weeks have been overwhelming for many people as we attempt to process the racial injustices and prejudices that continue to prevail in the United States. The outrageous racial profiling incident in Central Park and the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have left us devastated. There are no words to encompass the scale of injustice and grief that many have felt around the country. 

The knowledge that these incidences are a part of a systematic and ingrained racial bias can create a sense of hopelessness. At Atlas Book Club, an integral part of our mission is to help eliminate racial prejudices through children’s literature. When children have diverse and positive experiences with people of different ethnicities and races, they grow up embracing people who are different from them. We believe the empathy and compassion children develop when they are young can help them become adults who end the cycle of racial bias. 

If you are a parent and would like to learn how to talk to your children about sensitive topics such as race, please read some of the articles we’ve linked below about navigating these issues. 

We stand with you in this time of heartache and frustration. Don’t lose hope. 

From Blacklivesmatter.com “#BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.”

How to talk to kids about race and racism, according to experts

How to Talk to Kids About Race: Books That Can Help

9 Children’s Books about Police Brutality

Anti-Racism For Kids 101: Starting To Talk About Race

Why the Diversity of Your Reading List Matters

Books for Grown Folk: Reading Recs for Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Grown up books for grown up folks!

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

Kyuri is an achingly beautiful woman with a hard-won job at a Seoul “room salon,” an exclusive underground bar where she entertains businessmen while they drink. Though she prides herself on her cold, clear-eyed approach to life, an impulsive mistake threatens her livelihood.
 
Kyuri’s roommate, Miho, is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York. Returning to Korea after college, she finds herself in a precarious relationship with the heir to one of the country’s biggest conglomerates.
 
Down the hall in their building lives Ara, a hairstylist whose two preoccupations sustain her: an obsession with a boy-band pop star, and a best friend who is saving up for the extreme plastic surgery that she hopes will change her life.
 
And Wonna, one floor below, is a newlywed trying to have a baby that she and her husband have no idea how they can afford to raise in Korea’s brutal economy.

Together, their stories tell a gripping tale at once unfamiliar and unmistakably universal, in which their tentative friendships may turn out to be the thing that ultimately saves them. (Randomhouse Publishing Group)

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life follows four college classmates—broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition—as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. While their relationships, which are tinged by addiction, success, and pride, deepen over the decades, the men are held together by their devotion to the brilliant, enigmatic Jude, a man scarred by an unspeakable childhood trauma. A hymn to brotherly bonds and a masterful depiction of love in the twenty-first century, Hanya Yanagihara’s stunning novel is about the families we are born into, and those that we make for ourselves. (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned—from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren—an enigmatic artist and single mother—who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town—and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides.  Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs. 

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood—and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster. (Penguin Publishing Group)

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

Acclaimed literary essayist T Kira Madden’s raw and redemptive debut memoir is about coming of age and reckoning with desire as a queer, biracial teenager amidst the fierce contradictions of Boca Raton, Florida, a place where she found cult-like privilege, shocking racial disparities, rampant white-collar crime, and powerfully destructive standards of beauty hiding in plain sight.

As a child, Madden lived a life of extravagance, from her exclusive private school to her equestrian trophies and designer shoe-brand name. But under the surface was a wild instability. The only child of parents continually battling drug and alcohol addictions, Madden confronted her environment alone. Facing a culture of assault and objectification, she found lifelines in the desperately loving friendships of fatherless girls.

With unflinching honesty and lyrical prose, spanning from 1960s Hawai’i to the present-day struggle of a young woman mourning the loss of a father while unearthing truths that reframe her reality, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is equal parts eulogy and love letter. It’s a story about trauma and forgiveness, about families of blood and affinity, both lost and found, unmade and rebuilt, crooked and beautiful. (Bloomsbury USA)

Black Ice Matter by Gina Cole 

This collection of short stories explores connections between extremes of heat and cold. Sometimes this is spatial or geographical; sometimes it is metaphorical. Sometimes it involves juxtapositions of time; sometimes heat appears where only ice is expected. In the stories, a woman is caught between traditional Fijian ways and the brutality of the military dictatorship; a glaciology researcher falls into a crevasse and confronts the unexpected; two women lose children in freak shooting accidents; a young child in a Barbie Doll sweatshop dreams of a different life; secondary school girls struggle with secrets about an addicted janitor; and two women take a deathly trip through a glacier melt stream. These are some of the unpredictable stories in this collection that follow themes of ice and glaciers in the heat of the South Pacific and take us into unusual lives and explorations. (Huia (NZ) Ltd)

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Poornima and Savitha have three strikes against them: they are poor, they are ambitious, and they are girls. After her mother’s death, Poornima has very little kindness in her life. She is left to care for her siblings until her father can find her a suitable match. So when Savitha enters their household, Poornima is intrigued by the joyful, independent-minded girl. Suddenly their Indian village doesn’t feel quite so claustrophobic, and Poornima begins to imagine a life beyond arranged marriage. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend. 

Her journey takes her into the darkest corners of India’s underworld, on a harrowing cross-continental journey, and eventually to an apartment complex in Seattle. Alternating between the girls’ perspectives as they face ruthless obstacles, Shobha Rao’s Girls Burn Brighter introduces two heroines who never lose the hope that burns within.(Flatiron Books)

The Sympathizer (Pulitzer Prize Winner) by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as six other awards, The Sympathizer is the breakthrough novel of the year. With the pace and suspense of a thriller and prose that has been compared to Graham Greene and Saul Bellow, The Sympathizer is a sweeping epic of love and betrayal. The narrator, a communist double agent, is a “man of two minds,” a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam. The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping espionage novel, and a powerful story of love and friendship. (Grove Atlantic Inc.)

 A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

After 103 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and with four million copies of The Kite Runner shipped, Khaled Hosseini returns with a beautiful, riveting, and haunting novel that confirms his place as one of the most important literary writers today. 

Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them-in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul-they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman’s love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival.

A stunning accomplishment, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a haunting, heartbreaking, compelling story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love.(Penguin Publishing Group)

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

A Chinese woman who works in a New York nail salon doesn’t come home one day; her young son is raised by well-meaning strangers who cannot heal his broken heart.We meet Bronx fifth-grader Deming Guo on the day his mother disappears without a trace. From there, the story moves both forward and backward, intercutting between the narrative of his bumpy path to adulthood and his mother’s testimony. Gradually the picture comes together—Deming was conceived in China and born in America because his unmarried mother, Peilan, decided she would rather borrow the $50,000 to be smuggled to America than live out her life in her rural village. After her baby is born she tries to hide him underneath her sewing machine at work, but clearly she cannot care for him and work enough to repay the loan shark. She sends him back to China to be raised by her aging father. When Deming is 6, Yi Ba dies, and the boy rejoins his mother, who now has a boyfriend and lives with him; his sister, Vivian; and her son, Michael. After Peilan disappears, Deming is shuffled into foster care—his new parents are a pair of white academics upstate. Ten years later, it is Michael who tracks down a college dropout with a gambling problem named Daniel Wilkinson and sends a message that, if he is Deming Guo, he has information about his mother. The twists and turns continue, with the answers about Peilan’s disappearance withheld until the final pages. Daniel’s involvement in the alternative music scene is painted in unnecessary detail, but otherwise the specificity of the intertwined stories is the novel’s strength. Ko’s debut is the winner of the 2016 Pen/Bellwether Prize for Fiction for a novel that addresses issues of social justice, chosen by Barbara Kingsolver. This timely novel depicts the heart- and spirit-breaking difficulties faced by illegal immigrants with meticulous specificity. -Kirkus Reviews (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

In her debut novel Etaf Rum tells the story of three generations of Palestinian-American women struggling to express their individual desires within the confines of their Arab culture in the wake of shocking intimate violence in their community—a story of culture and honor, secrets and betrayals, love and violence. Set in an America at once foreign to many and staggeringly close at hand, A Woman Is No Man is an intimate glimpse into a controlling and closed cultural world, and a universal tale about family and the ways silence and shame can destroy those we have sworn to protect.

“Where I come from, we’ve learned to silence ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence will save us. Where I come from, we keep these stories to ourselves. To tell them to the outside world is unheard ofdangerous, the ultimate shame.”

Palestine, 1990. Seventeen-year-old Isra prefers reading books to entertaining the suitors her father has chosen for her. Over the course of a week, the naïve and dreamy girl finds herself quickly betrothed and married, and is soon living in Brooklyn. There Isra struggles to adapt to the expectations of her oppressive mother-in-law Fareeda and strange new husband Adam, a pressure that intensifies as she begins to have children—four daughters instead of the sons Fareeda tells Isra she must bear.

Brooklyn, 2008. Eighteen-year-old Deya, Isra’s oldest daughter, must meet with potential husbands at her grandmother Fareeda’s insistence, though her only desire is to go to college. Deya can’t help but wonder if her options would have been different had her parents survived the car crash that killed them when Deya was only eight. But her grandmother is firm on the matter: the only way to secure a worthy future for Deya is through marriage to the right man.

But fate has a will of its own, and soon Deya will find herself on an unexpected path that leads her to shocking truths about her family—knowledge that will force her to question everything she thought she knew about her parents, the past, and her own future. (HarperCollins Publisher)

Celebrating Culture Through Reading- Pacific Islanders

This month is Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month! We love exposing children to new cultures through reading, so we’ve compiled a new list of books written by and about Pacific Islanders.

Coincidentally, May 4-10th is also Children’s Book Week! Why not celebrate both the Pacific Islands and children’s books at once?

How the B-52 Cockroach Learned to Fly by Lisa Matsumoto

On the island of Oahu, Kimo, a brave young cockroach, dreams of a better life for all roaches. Tired of living in the garbage, Kimo sets off on his quest to prove that roaches deserve a respected place in the insect kingdom. Lisa Matsumoto’s story and Michael Furuya’s paintings bring to life a delightful and humorous tale about the unusual habits of Hawaiis most feared household pest, the giant B-52 cockroach. This is a story to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. (Lehua Inc)

Great for Hatch readers.

The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson

From Hawaii comes the electrifying tale of Nanaue, who has to balance his yearning for Dad’s guidance with his desire for Mom’s nurturing. The New York Times declares this book “especially appealing to boys who long to be just like Dad.” (Toon Books)

Perfect for Nest Jr. readers.

The Girl in the Moon Circle by Sia Figiel 

The Girl in the Moon Circle, like the cover drawing, shows Samoan life through the eyes of a ten-year-old girl called Samoana. Though young, Samoana is perceptive, not much escapes her analysis. She tells us about school, church, friends, family violence, having refrigerators and television for the first time, Chunky cat food, a Made-in-Taiwan, Jesus, pay day, cricket, crushes on boys, incest, legends and many other things. Her observations offer a compelling look at Samoan society. Often fiction allows authors to tell truths that otherwise would be too painful; Sia Figiel is uninhibited. Her prose, in English and Samoan, hurtles readers toward the end of the book. Sia Figiel, herself, has mesmerized audiences around the Pacific Islands with readings from The Girl in the Moon Circle. (Institute of Pacific Studies)

Great for Nest readers.

Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa by Tina Makereti 

Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa explores a world where mythological characters and stories become part of everyday life. Old and new worlds co-exist, cultures mingle and magic happens. Familiar characters appear, but in these versions the gods live in a contemporary world and are motivated by human concerns. In this perplexing world, characters connect with each other and find ancient wisdom that carries them through.(HUIA Publishers)

Great for Soar readers.

MAY’S THEME: Shattering the Single Story/ Diversity and History of the Persian Region

May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month! This yearly recognition was created to pay tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history and are integral to its future success. 

Modern Day Turkey

As such, it made sense for us to feature Asian countries as our focus of exploration this month. For the month of May, we will journey to the Persian region and explore Iran and Turkey! The Persian Empire is one of the most fascinating civilizations in ancient history. While modern day Persia is known as Iran, many countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan were all part of ancient Persia. Our exploration this month will dive into modern day Persia while exploring the history and culture of ancient Persia.

I have always said that an integral part of our mission here at Atlas Book Club is to showcase the diversity that exists within cultures, thereby shattering “the single story.” Our book selections for this month do just that! One selection celebrates the tradition of storytelling and poetry and is based on a character from the Shahnameh, a poem that took over 30 years to write and is one of the greatest epics of world literature. Another is a modern day story of a tween girl who must adjust to life in America after departing her home country of Iran. Our youngest will get a simple yet lovely story of hope in these uncertain times while our oldest group will go on an epic adventure that sprawls across Turkey, West Africa and Europe during the 16th century.

May boxes ship out in a couple of weeks. Join us if you can. It’s not too late!

-Bunmi

Two is Better Than One: Sequels and Trilogies of Books Featured in Past Boxes

Every month we choose a new and unique book for each of our subscription boxes, but have you ever wondered about the sequels to those books? We’ve made a list of all the books we’ve featured so far with a sequel or trilogy so that you can continue the series!

If you’d like to purchase the box with the book we’ve featured don’t forget to use code ABCSPRINGBREAK at check out for 10% off your first order. Don’t wait! Discount ends April 30th.

Shaka Rising: A Legend of the Warrior Prince and King Shaka: Zulu Legend

by Luke W. Molver, Mbongeni Malaba (Foreword by)

A time of bloody conflict and great turmoil. The slave trade expands from the east African coast. Europeans spread inland from the south. And one young boy is destined to change the future of southern Africa. This retelling of the Shaka legend explores the rise to power of a shrewd young prince who must consolidate a new kingdom through warfare, mediation, and political alliances to defend his people against the expanding slave trade.

Shaka has fought his brother to the death for rulership of the Zulu. Now king of the southern chiefdoms, Shaka seeks to uplift his people, consolidate alliances, and expand the reach of his power. But challenges both external and internal threaten his rule. A rogue military unit exacts revenge on its enemies. Land-hungry Europeans arrive and ingratiate themselves with Shaka, even while plotting their own path to power. And closer to home, Shaka’s own brothers conspire in secret.

PURCHASE THE DECEMBER SOAR BOX WITH SHAKA RISING HERE!

The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe’s Very First Case

by Alexander McCall Smith

Have you ever said to yourself, Wouldn’t it be nice to be a detective?
 
This is the story of an African girl who says just that. Her name is Precious.
 
When a piece of cake goes missing from her classroom, a traditionally built young boy is tagged as the culprit. Precious, however, is not convinced. She sets out to find the real thief. Along the way she learns that your first guess isn’t always right. She also learns how to be a detective.

The Mystery of Meerkat Hill

Precious wants to be a detective when she grows up. She is always practicing at being a detective by asking questions and finding out about other people’s lives. There are two new students in her class, a girl called Teb and a boy called Pontsho. She learns that they are brother and sister, and—even more exciting—that Pontsho has a clever pet meerkat named Kosi. 
 
One day, Teb and Pontsho’s family’s cow disappears. Precious helps them look for clues to find the cow. But getting the cow back home will require some quick thinking and help from an unexpected source.

The Mystery of the Missing Lion

Young Precious gets a very special treat.  She gets a trip to visit her Aunty Bee at a safari camp.  While there she makes a new friend, a boy named Khumo, and meets an actor-lion named Teddy, who is starring in a film.  When Teddy disappears, Khumo and Precious will brave hippos and 

PURCHASE THE DECEMBER NEST JR. BOX WITH THE GREAT CAKE MYSTERY HERE!

Akissi: Tales of Mischief and Akissi: More Tales of Mischief

by Marguerite Abouet, Mathieu Sapin (Illustrator)

Poor Akissi! The neighborhood cats are trying to steal her fish, her little monkey Boubou almost ends up in a frying pan, and she’s nothing but a pest to her older brother Fofana. But Akissi is a true adventurer, and nothing scares her away from hilarious escapades in her modern African city.

Jump into the laugh-out-loud misadadventures of Akissi in these girls-will-be-girls comics, based on author Margeurite Abouet’s childhood on the Ivory Coast.

Inspired by her childhood on The Ivory Coast, writer Marguerite Abouet takes readers on even more hilarious adventure in Akissi: Volume 2. Lessons learned along the way include being friends with people you don’t like, standing up for yourself, and dealing with the consequences of your actions.

The high spirited and mischievous Akissi returns for more “girls will be girls” adventures on the Ivory Coast in these previously untranslated stories.

PURCHASE THE APRIL NEST JR. BOX WITH AKISSI: TALES OF MISCHIEF HERE!

IF YOU’D LIKE TO SHOP ANY OTHER PAST BOXES, FIND THEM HERE!

Kapow! Celebrating Graphic Novels for all Ages!

Free Comic Book Day was yesterday, May 2, 2020! At Atlas Book Club, we’re highlighting the graphic novels we’ve featured in our past boxes so you can celebrate visual storytelling too!

Shaka Rising: A Legend of the Warrior Prince and King Shaka: Zulu Legend

by Luke W. Molver, Mbongeni Malaba

December 2019 Soar Box (ages 12yrs+) – South Africa

A time of bloody conflict and great turmoil. The slave trade expands from the east African coast. Europeans spread inland from the south. And one young boy is destined to change the future of southern Africa. This retelling of the Shaka legend explores the rise to power of a shrewd young prince who must consolidate a new kingdom through warfare, mediation, and political alliances to defend his people against the expanding slave trade. (Catalyst Press)

Kai and the Monkey King by Joe Todd Stanton

January 2020 Nest Jr. Box (ages 7-9 years) – China

When Kai grows tired of her bookish mum not being adventurous enough for a Brownstone, she decides to seek out the mischievous and rebellious Monkey King – who she’s always been told to stay away from. Will he bring her the adventure she craves, or will he cause her more trouble than he’s worth?

Read the latest story from the mythical Brownstone’s family vault where we venture to China and learn about the story of the Monkey King, meet magical gods, taste powerful peaches and see that maybe our heroes aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. (Nobrow Ltd)

Akissi: Tales of Mischief and Akissi: More Tales of Mischief by Marguerite Abouet, Mathieu Sapin (Illustrator)

April 2020 Nest Box (ages 9-12 years) – Ivory Coast

Poor Akissi! The neighborhood cats are trying to steal her fish, her little monkey Boubou almost ends up in a frying pan, and she’s nothing but a pest to her older brother Fofana. But Akissi is a true adventurer, and nothing scares her away from hilarious escapades in her modern African city.

Jump into the laugh-out-loud misadadventures of Akissi in these girls-will-be-girls comics, based on author Margeurite Abouet’s childhood on the Ivory Coast. (Nobrow Ltd)

Muslims in Children’s Literature

Today marks the commencement of Ramadan, one of the most significant months in the Islamic faith. Ramadan is a 30 day period during which Muslims engage in ritual fasting, from dawn to sunset. The practice of fasting is present in various religions around the world. For example, Lent is the Christian practice of fasting and sacrifice for forty days. Additionally, in Judaism, worshipers fast for 25 hours during Yom Kippur, as an act of atonement. Fasting is a time for Muslims to devote themselves to God and to reconnect spiritually through prayer and worship. Ramadan also emphasizes drawing closer to family members and friends. The end of Ramadan is celebrated with The Festival of Breaking of the Fast, Eid. Learn More

The devotion and sacrifice of Islam are part of what makes it such a beautiful religion. As such, it is unfortunate that children’s literature, in particular, lacks the representation of Muslim characters and narratives that accurately portray challenges and daily life of Muslims. Children’s book author, Rukhsana Khan explains some of these issues in the article “Muslims in Children’s Books | Up for Discussion” published in the School Library Journal.  She expresses frustration at the adoption, by authors, of simplistic approaches to stories featuring Muslim characters, the reliance on shallow stereotypes, and how such an approach does little to create genuine understanding.

Accurate and insightful children’s literature about Muslims is fundamentally important in creating a diverse collection of children’s literature. According to the Pew Research Center, “Islam is the second-largest religion in the world” and 24% of the global population identifies as Muslim. Additionally, there are 3.45 million Muslims in the United States alone as of 2017 and this number has been growing at a rate of roughly 100,000 per year. As such, it is vitally important that Muslim children, who make up a significant part of the world population, not only see themselves represented in literature but are visible and understood by children who have different religious and cultural backgrounds. Research has shown that a diverse worldview encourages children to be more empathetic and culturally aware of the people around them. As shown in the study by Cohen and Peery, students who read texts about Muslim women began to dispel their preconceived assumptions. These students ultimately had “more fair and realistic” perceptions of Muslim women afterward. 

The state of children’s literature featuring Muslim characters has certainly improved over the years. The emerging diverse landscape of literature is wonderful to witness as more books become available that not only serve as mirrors for Muslim children, but also serve as windows for them. Books that showcase different types of Muslim characters are important so that children of all backgrounds can learn about the rich diversity that exists within that culture.  

We’d like to showcase some of these books which depict more realistic and truer narratives of Muslim people written by the people who would understand those experiences best, Muslim writers. Happy reading and wishing all who celebrate, Ramadan Kareem!

-Chidinma Opaigbeogu

GREAT FOR HATCH READERS (PICTURE BOOKS FOR ALL AGES)

The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad, Hatem Aly (Illustrator), S. K. Ali (With)

With her new backpack and light-up shoes, Faizah knows the first day of school is going to be special. It’s the start of a brand new year and, best of all, it’s her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab—a hijab of beautiful blue fabric, like the ocean waving to the sky. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful, and in the face of hurtful, confusing words, Faizah will find new ways to be strong.

Paired with Hatem Aly’s beautiful, whimsical art, Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad and Morris Award finalist S.K. Ali bring readers an uplifting, universal story of new experiences, the unbreakable bond between siblings, and of being proud of who you are. (Little Brown Books for Young Readers)

GREAT FOR NEST JR. READERS (7-9 YEARS OLD)

Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi, Lea Lyon (Illustrator)

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)

GREAT FOR NEST READERS (9-12 YEARS OLD)

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal has big dreams, until a nightmarish encounter . . .

Twelve-year-old Amal’s dream of becoming a teacher one day is dashed in an instant when she accidentally insults a member of her Pakistani village’s ruling family. As punishment for her behavior, she is forced to leave her heartbroken family behind and go work at their estate.

Amal is distraught but has faced setbacks before. So she summons her courage and begins navigating the complex rules of life as a servant, with all its attendant jealousies and pecking-order woes. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s increasing awareness of the deadly measures the Khan family will go to in order to stay in control. It’s clear that their hold over her village will never loosen as long as everyone is too afraid to challenge them—so if Amal is to have any chance of ensuring her loved ones’ safety and winning back her freedom, she must find a way to work with the other servants to make it happen.This lyrical, life-affirming story is about losing and finding home and, most importantly, finding yourself. (HarperCollins Publishers)

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before.

But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

This lyrical, life-affirming story is about losing and finding home and, most importantly, finding yourself. (Penguin Young Readers Group)

GREAT FOR SOAR READERS (12+ YEARS OLD)

The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

Azad’s debut YA fantasy is set in a city along the Silk Road that is a refuge for those of all faiths, where a young woman is threatened by the war between two clans of powerful djinn.

Fatima lives in the city of Noor, a thriving stop along the Silk Road. There the music of myriad languages fills the air, and people of all faiths weave their lives together. However, the city bears scars of its recent past, when the chaotic tribe of Shayateen djinn slaughtered its entire population—except for Fatima and two other humans. Now ruled by a new maharajah, Noor is protected from the Shayateen by the Ifrit, djinn of order and reason, and by their commander, Zulfikar.

But when one of the most potent of the Ifrit dies, Fatima is changed in ways she cannot fathom, ways that scare even those who love her. Oud in hand, Fatima is drawn into the intrigues of the maharajah and his sister, the affairs of Zulfikar and the djinn, and the dangers of a magical battlefield.

Nafiza Azad weaves an immersive tale of magic and the importance of names; fiercely independent women; and, perhaps most importantly, the work for harmony within a city of a thousand cultures and cadences. (Scholastic Inc.)

Celebrating Earth Day- From Home!

Today, Earth Day celebrates its 50th anniversary! The movement was formed in 1970 by a then 25-year-old graduate student named Denis Hayes. Earth Day gained national recognition for its mission to enact change to protect the environment and its natural resources. The movement’s main goals are to get people actively involved in conservation efforts, whether that’s through voting for legislation that protects the environment or monitoring and changing your own patterns so that you can shrink your carbon footprint. 

It may be hard to get involved or to feel as though you cannot maximize your impact during this time of social distancing, but there are still things you can do from home. You can cut back on your power usage, avoid food waste by cooking only what you’ll eat at a time, or enjoy a day outside, being thankful for the earth we have! Earth Day Live is being held online today so you can learn more about conservation efforts on the official Earth Day website. The site also provides a link to some cool simulators like this one where you can find your foodprint, how much energy is needed to produce your tasty plate of pasta or your favorite cereal. 

An important aspect of Earth Day is education. Educating yourself about the changes the earth is going through is an important step to affecting change. You can use the information you’ve learned to inform others and use your voice when the time comes to support conservation policies to help protect our resources. Check out this list of environmentally friendly books you and your kids can enjoy together. We hope you like them as much as we do.

Happy reading and happy Earth Day!

GREAT FOR HATCH READERS (PICTURE BOOKS FOR ALL AGES)

You’re Snug With Me by Chitra Soundar, Poonam Mistry (Illustrator)

At the start of winter, two bear cubs are born, deep in their den in the frozen north. “Mama, what lies beyond here?” they ask. “‘Above us is a land of ice and snow.” “What lies beyond the ice and snow?” they ask. “The ocean, full of ice from long ago.” And as they learn the secrets of the earth and their place in it, Mama Bear whispers, “You’re snug with me.” (Lantana Publishing)

GREAT FOR NEST JR. READERS (7-9 YEARS OLD)

Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Johnson, Sonia Sadler (Illustrator)

As a young girl in Kenya, Wangari was taught to respect nature. She grew up loving the land, plants, and animals that surrounded her—from the giant mugumo trees her people, the Kikuyu, revered to the tiny tadpoles that swam in the river. Although most Kenyan girls were not educated, Wangari, curious and hardworking, was allowed to go to school. There, her mind sprouted like a seed. She excelled at science and went on to study in the United States. After returning home, Wangari blazed a trail across Kenya, using her knowledge and compassion to promote the rights of her countrywomen and to help save the land, one tree at a time. (Lee and Low Books)

GREAT FOR NEST READERS (9-12 YEARS OLD)

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, Judy Pedersen (Illustrator)

A Vietnamese girl plants six lima beans in a Cleveland vacant lot. Looking down on the immigrant-filled neighborhood, a Romanian woman watches suspiciously. A school janitor gets involved, then a Guatemalan family. Then muscle-bound Curtis, trying to win back Lateesha. Pregnant Maricela. Amir from India. A sense of community sprouts and spreads.  

Newbery-winning author Paul Fleischman uses thirteen speakers to bring to life a community garden’s founding and first year. The book’s short length, diverse cast, and suitability for adults as well as children have led it to be used in countless one-book reads in schools and in cities across the country.

Seedfolks has been drawn upon to teach tolerance, read in ESL classes, promoted by urban gardeners, and performed in schools and on stages from South Africa to Broadway.

The book’s many tributaries—from the author’s immigrant grandfather to his adoption of two brothers from Mexico—are detailed in his forthcoming memoir, No Map, Great Trip: A Young Writer’s Road to Page One. (HarperCollins Publishers)

GREAT FOR SOAR READERS (12+ YEARS OLD)

The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes

Fourteen-year-old March Wong knows everything there is to know about trees. They are his passion and his obsession, even after his recent falls—and despite the state’s threat to take him away from his mother if she can’t keep him from getting hurt. But the young autistic boy cannot resist the captivating pull of the Pacific Northwest’s lush forests just outside his back door. (Amazon Publishing)

You’re a Poet and You Didn’t Even Know It: National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month! Whether you and your young ones love writing poetry or just reading it, there are so many diverse and beautiful books of poetry out now for children! We’ve compiled a list of some poetry collections for every age group. We’re sure you and your children will find something you love. Happy browsing!

Great for Hatch readers!

We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp, Julie Flett (Illustrator)

In this sweet and lyrical board book from the creators of the bestselling Little You, gentle rhythmic text captures the wonder new parents feel as they welcome baby into the world. A celebration of the bond between parent and child, this is the perfect song to share with your little ones.

Internationally renowned storyteller and bestselling author Richard Van Camp teams up with award-winning illustrator Julie Flett for a second time to create a stunning board book for babies and toddlers. (Orca Book Publishers)

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, Ekua Holmes (Illustrator)

Before the universe was formed, before time and space existed, there was . . . nothing. But then . . . BANG! Stars caught fire and burned so long that they exploded, flinging stardust everywhere. And the ash of those stars turned into planets. Into our Earth. And into us. In a poetic text, Marion Dane Bauer takes readers from the trillionth of a second when our universe was born to the singularities that became each one of us, while vivid illustrations by Ekua Holmes capture the void before the Big Bang and the ensuing life that burst across galaxies. A seamless blend of science and art, this picture book reveals the composition of our world and beyond — and how we are all the stuff of stars. (Candlewick Press)

Perfect for Nest Jr. readers!

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano, Julie Morstad (Illustrator)

december 29

and i woke to a morning

that was quiet and white

the first snow

(just like magic) came on tip toes

overnight

Flowers blooming in sheets of snow make way for happy frogs dancing in the rain. Summer swims move over for autumn sweaters until the snow comes back again. In Julie Fogliano’s skilled hand and illustrated by Julie Morstad’s charming pictures, the seasons come to life in this gorgeous and comprehensive book of poetry. (Roaring Book Press)

Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems by Eloise Greenfield, Leo and Diane Dillon (Illustrator)

An ALA Notable Children’s Book, Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems includes sixteen poems that tell of love and the simple joys of everyday life, seen through the eyes of a child: playing with a friend, skipping rope, riding on a train—or keeping Mama company till Daddy gets back.

Each of these sixteen “love poems” is spoken straight from the perspective of a child. Riding on a train, listening to music, playing with a friend…each poem elicits a new appreciation of the rich content of everyday life. The poems are accompanied by both portrait and panorama drawings that deepen the insights contained in the words.

This beloved book of poetry is a Reading Rainbow Selection and the winner of George C. Stone Center for Children’s Books’ Recognition of Merit Award. (HarperCollins US)

Great for Nest readers!

Harlem: A Poem by Walter Dean Myers, Terry Deary, Christopher A. Myers (Illustrator)

Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and James Baldwin have sung their songs about Harlem. Now Newbery Honor author Walter Dean Myers joins their chorus in calling to life the deep, rich and hope-filled history of this community. Christopher Myers’ boldly assembled art resonates with feeling and tells a tale all its own. The words and pictures together connect readers of all ages to the spirit of Harlem in its music, art, literature, and everyday life. Author and illustrator tour. (Scholastic Inc)

Booked by Kwame Alexander

Can’t nobody stop you
Can’t nobody cop you…

In this follow-up to Newbery-winner The Crossover, soccer, family, love, and friendship take center stage. Twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read.  

This electric and heartfelt novel-in-verse by poet Kwame Alexander bends and breaks as it captures all the thrills and setbacks, action and emotion of a World Cup match! Now in paperback. (HMH Books)

Excellent for more advanced Soar readers.

With a Star in My Hand: Ruben Dario, Poetry Hero by Margarita Engle

As a little boy, Rubén Darío loved to listen to his great uncle, a man who told tall tales in a booming, larger-than-life voice. Rubén quickly learned the magic of storytelling, and discovered the rapture and beauty of verse.

A restless and romantic soul, Rubén traveled across Central and South America seeking adventure and connection. As he discovered new places and new loves, he wrote poems to express his wild storm of feelings. But the traditional forms felt too restrictive. He began to improvise his own poetic forms so he could capture the entire world in his words. At the age of twenty-one, he published his first book Azul, which heralded a vibrant new literary movement called Modernismo that blended poetry and prose into something magical.

In gorgeous poems of her own, Margarita Engle tells the story of this passionate young man who revolutionized world literature. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)

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.

Includes 7 new poems, including “Brown Girl Dreaming”. (Penguin Young Readers Group)

Wangari Maathai: A Woman Who Healed the World One Seed at a Time

One of my personal heros is Wangari Maathai. Born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya, in 1940, Wangari Muta Maathai led such an extraordinary life of service. I learned about Dr. Maathai and her work about ten years ago and I immediately felt connected to her. She was an African woman, a biologist, and an environmental conservationist doing work that she believed in and was passionate about; we had so much in common and I just felt a familiar kinship with her. 

Dr. Maathai studied in the United States, Germany and Kenya. She eventually returned to Kenya where she introduced the idea of planting trees as a way to help Kenyans improve their quality of life and to combat deforestation and its impact on the environment. She launched this grassroots movement, consisting mostly of women groups, and helped them plant trees on their farms, in schools and church compounds. And so the Greenbelt Movement was born. Founded in 1977, this movement has gone on to plant over 51 million trees all over Africa!

There are numerous books and websites that cite Dr. Maathai’s many accomplishments in great detail, so I won’t do that here. I will highlight that she was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree in the late 1970s. And in 2004, she became the first environmentalist and the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize for her work!

My main intention here is to highlight this phenomenal woman and introduce her to an audience who may not know much about her. Just take a moment to consider this – an African woman, born in a rural village in Kenya, accomplished all of the above in the 70s at a time when most girls and women in Africa did not have the opportunity, much less the right, to a formal education. Also consider that an African woman had the foresight and wisdom to not only recognize the impact of deforestation on our environment, back in the 70s when environmental conservation and caring about climate change was not the norm, but was in fact considered a threat to capitalism and commercialization. Then take in the fact that she not only recognized this, but acted upon it in a manner that empowered other women and improved their quality of life! A true hero indeed.


You can share the story of Wangari Maathai with your little ones through the following book recommendations. Also included in this list is her biography written in her own words. Enjoy!

-Bunmi Emenanjo

OUR HATCH SELECTIONS

Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prevot, Aurelia Fronty (Illustrator)

This simply told story begins with Green Belt Movement founder Wangari Maathai’s childhood at the foot of Mount Kenya where, as the oldest child in her family, her responsibility was to stay home and help her mother. When the chance to go to school presented itself, she seized it with both hands. In the 1960s, she was awarded the opportunity to travel to the US to study, where she saw that even in the land of the free, black people were not welcome.

Returning home, Wangari was determined to help her people and her country. She recognized that deforestation and urbanization was at the root of her country’s troubles. Her courage and confidence carried her through adversity to found a movement for peace, reconciliation, and healing. 

Aurélia Fronty’s beautiful illustrations show readers the color and diversity of Wangari’s Africa—the green trees and the flowering trees full of birds, monkeys, and other animals; the roots that dig deep into the earth; and the people who work and live on the land. Wangari Maathai changed the way the world thinks about nature, ecology, freedom, and democracy, inspiring radical efforts that continue to this day. (Charlesbridge)

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter

As a young girl growing up in Kenya, Wangari was surrounded by trees. But years later when she returns home, she is shocked to see whole forests being cut down, and she knows that soon all the trees will be destroyed. So Wangari decides to do something—and starts by planting nine seedlings in her own backyard. And as they grow, so do her plans . . .

This true story of Wangari Maathai, environmentalist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is a shining example of how one woman’s passion, vision, and determination inspired great change.(HMH Books)

OUR NEST JR. SELECTIONS

Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Johnson, Sonia Sadler (Illustrator)

As a young girl in Kenya, Wangari was taught to respect nature. She grew up loving the land, plants, and animals that surrounded her—from the giant mugumo trees her people, the Kikuyu, revered to the tiny tadpoles that swam in the river. Although most Kenyan girls were not educated, Wangari, curious and hardworking, was allowed to go to school. There, her mind sprouted like a seed. She excelled at science and went on to study in the United States. After returning home, Wangari blazed a trail across Kenya, using her knowledge and compassion to promote the rights of her countrywomen and to help save the land, one tree at a time. (Lee and Low Books)

Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli, Kadir Nelson (Illustrator)

Through artful prose and beautiful illustrations, Donna Jo Napoli and Kadir Nelson tell the true story of Wangari Muta Maathai, known as “Mama Miti,” who in 1977 founded the Green Belt Movement, an African grassroots organization that has empowered many people to mobilize and combat deforestation, soil erosion, and environmental degradation. Today more than 30 million trees have been planted throughout Mama Miti’s native Kenya, and in 2004 she became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari Muta Maathai has changed Kenya tree by tree—and with each page turned, children will realize their own ability to positively impact the future. (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books)

OUR NEST SELECTION

Dr. Wangari Maathai Plants a Forest by Rebel Girls, Eugenia Mello

Wangari lives in the lush, green, land of rural Kenya where the soil is perfect for planting, the trees tower into the sky, and the streams are full of mysterious creatures. All day, she plays beneath her favorite fig tree, and at night she gathers around the fire with her family to listen to her mother’s stories.

Then Wangari grows up and goes away to school, and things start changing at home. Farmers chop down the trees. Landslides bury the stream. The soil becomes overworked and dry, and nothing will grow. People go hungry. After all her studies, Dr. Wangari Maathai realizes there is a simple solution to these problems: plant a forest full of trees. (Timbuktu Labs)

OUR SOAR SELECTION

Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai

In Unbowed, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage. When Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she began a vital poor people’s environmental movement, focused on the empowerment of women, that soon spread across Africa. Persevering through run-ins with the Kenyan government and personal losses, and jailed and beaten on numerous occasions, Maathai continued to fight tirelessly to save Kenya’s forests and to restore democracy to her beloved country. Infused with her unique luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai’s remarkable story of courage, faith, and the power of persistence is destined to inspire generations to come. (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)