New Header! ALA 2012 re-cap!

30 Jun

As you can see, colors have changed and a new header has made this blog blossom (see what I did there? ;P). My talented friend, Elle, who is an AMAZING graphic designer, worked with me to create a header fitting the theme of this blog, as well as my own personal identity. I couldn’t have imagined something better. She also designed Allison’s header, so if you’re ever in need of a quality re-design for your blog, Elle’s your girl!

Now…on to my ALA 2012 re-cap.

I am always super glad when ALA is local (or semi-local…I still had to drive 50 minutes) – it’s truly a relief when I don’t have to contend with flying, hotel reservations, worrying about luggage limits, etc.¬† My good friend, Allison was super awesome, and let me crash at her place, for which I’m supremely grateful!

Allison, me, Cindy Pon, and Joanna catching up at the Harper Collins booth.

Friday night was a whirlwind of activity, beginning with a brief foray into exhibits. Immediately upon our arrival, Joanna, Allison, and I ran into one of our favorite writers: Cindy Pon! Cindy wrote the lush, and fully engrossing Kingdom of Xia duology, Silver Phoenix and Fury of the Phoenix.

I ended up picking up most of my ARCS on opening night, and spending time chatting with some lovely folks, including Hannah Ehrlich from Lee & Low. Hannah was extremely gracious and handed me a copy of Diverse Energies a forthcoming dystopian sci-fi anthology featuring amazing writers like Cindy Pon, Malinda Lo, Paolo Bacigalupi, Ursula Le Guin, Greg Van Eekhout, and more! She also gave me Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s new book, Summer of the Mariposas, a Mexican American re-imagining of Homer’s Odyssey – I can’t wait to dig into this one!

Following exhibits, we made our way over to the Hilton where Kellie from Walden Pond Press and MaryAnn Scheuer from Great Kids Books organized a fantastic meet-up to discuss middle grade books. I met so many fabulous writers, publishers, bloggers, and librarians at this event. The best part? I got to finally meet one of my favorite librarians ever from Twitter, Sarah – who is just as charming and hilarious in person!

Lastly, it was on to the House of Blues for Little, Brown’s Dance Party celebrating the forthcoming publication of Libba Bray’s The Diviners.

Libba and I at the LBYR Dance Party ~ in keeping with THE DIVINERS Roaring 20s theme, I’m wearing a flapper headband.

Libba was showcasing her awesome dance moves (she seriously is a great dancer), and I got to talk with her for a brief while, and tell her how terrifying her new book is. She advised me to “sleep with one eye open.” Not helpful, Libba. ūüėČ

Saturday was filled with a host of activities and sessions, beginning with Harper Collins’ Picture Book Breakfast where I got a chance to see some of the newer titles on display – I picked up a couple of books that possibly merited consideration for ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project: Defiance by C.J. Redwine and Valkyrie Rising by Ingrid Paulson. Following the HC breakfast, I was off to an insightful focus group with Lerner Books where we discussed how libraries currently proceed with collection development for juvenile areas. At the end of the session, we were allowed to choose some books for our libraries~thank you, Lerner Books, for such a wonderful opportunity!

Later that afternoon, I went to a delightful publisher preview by Disney-Hyperion, where they showcased some incredible titles including Matthew Cordell’s new picture book, Hello! Hello!, a timely story about how social media obscures the important things in life. Andrea Davis Pinkney and her husband, Brian Pinkney are collaborating on a stunning picture book featuring vital black men who shaped African-American culture and history. I also discovered that Ms. Pinkey sings beautifully. Mo Willems closed the preview by reading aloud from his new Elephant and Piggie book.

My Saturday wrapped up with the YALSA Happy Hour at Morton’s, arranged by Allison, who served as YALSA’s Local Arrangements Chair. After that, it was a nice dinner with Michelle, Allison, and Melissa. Then we were off to the YA Blogger Meet-up, organized by YA Highway and Kelly Jensen from Stacked Books.

Sunday was equally as busy, and my highlights included the YA Coffee Klatch, a musical-chairs type affair where authors rotate around tables every 5 minutes–truly a blast. We also met up with my friend and co-worker Eveleen at the Scholastic Literary Brunch, where we were treated to tasty quiche and a lively Readers’ Theatre. Things I learned: James Dashner is a fan of Downton Abbey (I know, right?!), and Eliot Schrefer wins the award for cutest “awwww” inspiring moment (the slideshow had a picture of him being cuddled by a Bonobo chimp). Schrefer’s upcoming YA book, Endangered is set in the Congo and features a girl who must save Bonobos when a revolution breaks out. Raina Telgemeier’s forthcoming graphic novel,Drama will draw budding thespians.

Allison, Melissa Wiley, and me, following the Authors are ROCKSTARS! interview.

Following the brunch, I had the opportunity to guest host on Allison and Michelle’s Authors are ROCKSTARS! podcast.¬† Allison and I interviewed Melissa Wiley about her splendid Martha and Charlotte series of books (about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ancestors), a mutual love of Betsy-Tacy, her forthcoming books, The Prairie Thief and Fox and Crow Are Not Friends, and juggling motherhood. Lastly, because the kids at my library love her so much, it was even more of an honor to meet Melissa. Afterwards, it was off to the Disneyland Hotel for the Pura Belpre Celebracion where Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s speech moved me to tears.

In the early evening, Joanna, Allison, and I, along with my husband, Bryan, went to an author/librarian/blogger meet-up organized by Sarah Bean Thompson of Green Bean Teen Queen and YA author, Lindsay Leavitt. So. Much. Fun. And I also got to chat more with one of my other literary heroes, Malinda Lo, who wrote the breathtaking Huntress (an Amelia Bloomer 2012 Selection). Then it was off to the Newbery-Caldecott Awards, where Jack Gantos and Chris Raschka gave very heartfelt, moving speeches. This event made me feel very proud to be a children’s librarian. I mean, I grew up seeing those iconic gold seals on the books, and to actually be in a room with all these esteemed authors and librarians was very emotional.

Monday wound down very nicely, including some sessions that revitalized me as a librarian. In particular, the joint ALSC/YALSA program on the Digital Lives of Tweens was INCREDIBLE. We also stopped in on the LibWardrobe session on perception about librarians’ dress, where there was a heated discussion about TLC’s What Not to Wear. The Odyssey Awards were exciting, and if you ever get a chance to attend, I highly encourage it. These awards are given to the best audiobook narrations for children and teens. The day capped off with the Printz Awards. Always the ultimate in my conference experience. Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman regaled us with a special librarian song (including accordion accompaniment!), and Christine Hinwood, Craig Silvey, and Maggie Stiefvater gave gracious, touching speeches. Corey Whaley’s acceptance did not disappoint – it was funny, sincere, and humble.

Angie Manfredi, Allison, Corey Whaley w/his shiny Printz, and me.

And that concludes my ALA re-cap. Phew!

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An Explosion of Color: Mama’s Saris

25 May


Mama’s Saris
by Pooja Makhijani/Illustrated by Elena Gomez

Pub Date: 2007

Publisher: Little, Brown

Level: Picture book/ages 7-up

Copy checked out from my library

A couple of years ago, I purchased this beautiful book for some family friends who just had a baby girl. I’ll be honest here – it’s the book I would’ve enjoying sharing with my mother. Or maybe a daughter. But this book wasn’t published when I was little, and I don’t have any daughters. Still, I’m not going to be deterred from reading Makhijani’s lovely¬†tale with my two little guys. So much of¬†this book resonated with my own experiences, making it that much easier to give my children a vivid snapshot into my childhood.

In Mama’s Saris, an Indian-American girl celebrates her seventh birthday raptly watching¬†her mother gently unpack a leather suitcase filled¬†with brightly-colored saris, each one with its own personal history. “Inside are her saris–the yellow satin one she wore for Uma Didi’s baby shower, the peach-colored one that is as fine as a spider’s web, and my favorite, her red wedding sari…” (pg. 3) The imagery of saris in a suitcase¬†reminds the reader that this is a story set in the diaspora – the little girl is most likely a first-generation Indian-American. In fact, my own mother stored her saris in a suitcase that traveled with her from India to London, and finally to the United States. During the rare occasions she opened it, my sister and I would huddle around her, grabbing at the pieces of silk, trying on the petticoats and the cholis (blouses). The saris varied in style – some were very informal (georgette cr√™pe) and some very ornate (South Indian Kanchipuram).

In the book, while¬†her mom¬†occasionally takes out her saris, the girl’s Nanima (maternal grandmother) wears a sari every day. This small detail struck me, because of its allusion to generational gaps; I can attest to the fact that I have¬†never¬†seen my own grandmother (who has lived in the United States for over 35 years) wearing anything but a sari. On the other hand, my mother stopped wearing saris soon after arriving in the States in¬†1980. And I wear a sari once in a blue moon.

With my husband, Bryan, on our wedding day. Red is the traditional color for wedding saris.

In¬†Mama’s Saris, it’s clear that the¬†sari is much more than¬†just¬†a garment to adorn oneself; the little girl realizes that¬†it’s her¬†cultural legacy. Wearing a sari signifies the transition from girlhood to womanhood. “Mama is silent for a long time. Then she says, ‘I remember the first time I wore one of Nanima’s saris. It made me feel like a big girl.'”(pg. 17)¬† The story beautifully comes full circle when the girl, dressed up in one of her mother’s sari’s, looks into her mother’s eyes and proclaims, “I think I look just like you.”(pg 28)

In her introductory¬†note, Makhijani writes that she “wrote Mama’s Saris after realizing that [her own] fascination with her mother’s fancy clothes was not unique. It seemed as if each of [her] female friends, regardless of ethnicity or age, remembers being captivated by her mother’s grown-up clothes.” (pg. 1) It’s interesting that Makhijani describes her mother’s clothing as “fancy” – for those of us who were raised outside of India, wearing a sari seems like a novel thing. But for our mothers and grandmothers who grew up in India, the sari is the means by which to keep tradition alive. The sari isn’t just “fancy,”¬†it’s “home.”

Elena Gomez’s illustrations are intricate and vibrant, and combined with Makhijani’s wonderful writing, make¬†Mama’s Saris an outstanding read. I would pair this book with Kashmira Sheth’s My Dadima Wears A Sari, along with Sandhya Rao’s My Mother’s Sari.

As American as apple pie

8 Apr

A few weeks ago, while going through an amazing stockpile of books sent to me last year by publishers to consider for the Amelia Bloomer Project, I spotted a lovely gem: an early chapter book written by Jenny Han. As a fan of her Summer trilogy (YA), I was super excited to read Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream. Jenny did not disappoint РI was completely captivated by little Clara Lee and her mission to become Little Miss Apple Pie.

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han. Illus. by Julia Kuo

Released: January 2011

Publisher: Little Brown for Young Readers

Grade Level: 1-4

In case you’re wondering, I’m not making any apple pies…

Third grader, Clara Lee is incredibly excited about the town of Bramley’s upcoming Apple Blossom Festival, with its apple bobbing, candy apples, apple dessert contest, and the town parade. But the¬† most important part of all is Miss and Little Miss Apple Pie, where one high school student and one elementary school student are chosen to represent the town in the parade. “Miss Apple Pie is pretty much a dream come true…You wear a red sash and a tiara with little red apples on top. You wave, and you throw apple candy at the crowd. Little Miss Apple Pie gets to stand next to her..[and] wear a sash too, and a tiara…” (Pg. 13)

Despite its title, the main charm of this book isn’t the Little Miss Apple Pie pageant, but rather Clara’s interactions with her friends and family, and the way she deals with balancing her Korean identity with her American one. Clara is determined to win the Little Miss Apple Pie contest and even has her winning outfit planned out. “If I won, I knew just what I would wear. The dress Grandpa bought me in Korea…It’s Korean style, with a skirt the color fruit punch and a white jacket with rainbow-striped sleeves, and best of all, a long bow.” (Pg. 14) Unfortunately, Clara hates making speeches, and making a big one in front of the school is part of the contest rules. One night, Clara has an awful dream about her grandfather (with whom she’s very close) that leaves her shaken. But according to her grandfather, in Korean culture, dreams involving death portend good luck, and Clara’s is about to change! And sure enough, Clara begins experiencing an upswing–she conquers the dreaded rope climbing exercise in P.E., her friend Max shares his cookies with her (unusual because he’s not a sharer), and a secret admirer leaves a candy necklace in her desk.

Even though “luck” is now on Clara’s side, she still contends with everyday issues, such as trying to get along with her younger sister, Emmeline, dealing with a friendship rift, and trying to prove that she’s just as American as anyone else.¬† When fellow rival, Dionne Gregory implies that Clara isn’t American enough to be Little Miss Apple Pie, Clara feels saddened and confused. “Wasn’t my family as American as apple pie, too? Grandpa came from Korea, but both my mom and dad were born in America, just like me. I deserved to have a shot at Little Miss Apple Pie as much as Dionne did. Didn’t I?” (Pg. 80)¬† Han handles Clara’s dilemma with sensitivity, and simple, clear language that conveys the feeling of being Othered. With her family and friends rallying for her, Clara realizes that she’s just as much of a contender for the pageant title as anyone. Her touching speech about interconnectedness and the sense of community in Bramley certainly won me over! I won’t tell you what happens, but the ending was definitely satisfying, like a slice of warm apple pie with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream! For readalikes, please check out Grace Lin’s Year of the Dog and Maria G. Lee’s F is for Fabuloso.

Copy kindly provided by Little, Brown.

Review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

31 Mar

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

Pub Date: August 2012

Publisher: Little, Brown

Level: Teen/Ages 10-up

Published in the UK last year, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is a devastating debut by British writer, Annabel Pitcher. Little, Brown is publishing it this August, in the United States (with a brand-new cover).¬† 10-year old Jamie Matthews’ life is in flux–his mum has walked out on him, older sister, Jas, and their father, unable to cope with the cloud of sadness that’s hung over the family since Jamie’s sister (and Jas’ twin), Rose was killed in a terrorist bombing in London five years ago. After what would’ve been Rose’s fifteenth birthday, Jamie’s dad decides that he cannot reside in London anymore, and he moves everyone to the English countryside for a “fresh new start.” In truth, Jamie’s father wants to escape the city¬†for life in a place without Muslims. “‘None of that foreign stuff in the Lake district’ he said. ‘Just real British people minding their own business.'” (pg. 26) In addition to his newfound (and frankly, misplaced) sense of patriotism, Dad has a drinking problem and spends most of the novel hungover, sad, and/or angry. He clings to the memories of his dead daughter, holding on to her ashes (which are kept in an urn on the titular mantelpiece).

Jamie misses his mother, and desperately awaits her reunion with the family. In fact, when he receives a Spiderman t-shirt as a birthday¬†gift from her, he feels it’s his only remaining connection to Mum and refuses to take it off. Arriving at his new school, hoping to make a clean start of things, Jamie is stunned to see a Muslim girl in his class (identifiable by her hijab), and feels uncomfortable when he’s assigned to sit next to her. The other kids in the class turn out to be bullies, but Sunya welcomes Jamie, and becomes somewhat of a kindred spirit. They bond over their love of comic superheroes, as well as devising ways to get back at the school¬†bullies (Sunya’s inventiveness will have you laughing out loud, even when it’s oh-so- wrong!). And that’s the crux of the novel – Jamie is conflicted about his friendship with a Muslim girl, because of his sister’s death at the hands of Islamic extremists. He struggles to mourn the death of a sister he barely knew and is scared of betraying his father.

Pitcher does a fine job of drawing readers into Jamie’s story, as well as eliciting sympathy for all characters (including the bigoted dad, and that’s no easy feat). However, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece doesn’t go into incredible detail about cultural differences. I mean, yes, we understand that Sunya wears a hijab, she feels like an outsider at her Christian school, and also endures relentless teasing from classmates who taunt her with nasty names like Curry Germs. But, since the novel is narrated from Jamie’s perspective, readers aren’t completely clued into what’s really going on in Sunya’s head.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece isn’t about what makes us different, but rather, what brings people together. For me, one of the most powerful moments in the book comes about when Jamie visits Sunya’s house and realizes that every bad thing¬†he’s ever assumed about Muslims is completely false. When the inevitable confrontation occurs between between Jamie’s dad and Sunya and her mother, it’s a tense and emotionally wrought meeting. I know I had to put the book down for a moment.

As much as I enjoyed this book – Sunya and Jamie’s friendship is touching, and I soaked up every word focusing just on those two – I was not a fan of Jamie’s mother’s storyline. Mum is beyond horrendous – she walks out on the kids, and never contacts them. You later find out that while Jamie and Jas have been dealing with a drunk, emotionally neglectful father, Mum has been gallivanting around the world with her new boyfriend. And, there’s a story behind the Spiderman tee that infuriated me beyond words.

What really worked for me was Jamie’s voice (I’ve read reviews elsewhere, where folks were disappointed in how “young” the voice sounded – I disagree) which felt authentic in its confusion, sadness, and moments of elation. Jas is also well characterized, and to me, it felt like she was the glue keeping the family together.When a wrenching loss finally brings Jamie and his father closer to understanding one another…well, you’ll definitely want to have some tissues on hand.

Loved this book, and recommend that everyone pick it up, especially given its timeliness. Yes, it’s a downer, but I think it’s worth it.

ARC for review kindly provided by Little, Brown at ALA Midwinter ’12.

Getting in touch with culture: Shine, Coconut Moon

2 Mar

*Sorry, I have to comment on how awesome it is, that her body hair was not airbrushed out of this book cover.

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger

Released: June 2010

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry

Level: Teen/Ages 13-up

17-year old Samar “Sammy” Ahluwalia doesn’t really know a whole lot about her Punjabi heritage. Raised by her single mother, Sharanjit in New Jersey, Sammy’s had a fairly Americanized upbringing. Between school, hanging out with bestie Molly, or sharing tender moments with Mike, her boyfriend,¬† Sammy hasn’t really had the time to get in touch with her culture. And it’s not like Mom has been especially encouraging, either – Sharanjit has been estranged from her parents since her daughter was a baby. In fact, Sammy has never even met her grandparents. But one day, a stranger in a turban shows up at Sammy’s door, and her life dramatically changes. Uncle Sandeep desperately wants to know his niece, and teach her about Punjabi and Sikh traditions. But Sharanjit, who left home years ago to get away from her parents’ stifling restrictions, wants no part of it for Sammy.

In Meminger’s novel, the term “coconut” is a casually tossed pejorative (from a Punjabi classmate who assumes Sammy isn’t Indian), describing someone who is “brown on the outside, white on the inside.” With her Indianness called into question, Sammy becomes especially determined to get in touch with her Sikh and Punjabi heritage. As she gets closer to discovering herself, Sammy begins distancing herself from Mike, who can’t fathom the importance of his girlfriend’s personal journey. Mike’s lack of sympathy and his racist attitude eventually get him kicked to the curb. Even Molly doesn’t get it at first, but thankfully (because I didn’t want the bestie to go away!) she rallies around her friend. And when Sammy finally meets her Nani and Nana (grandmother and grandfather), you’ll definitely want to have some tissues on hand.

Shine, Coconut Moon is an incisive look at how distorted perceptions of race, ethnicity, and religion profoundly impacted treatment of Middle-Eastern and South Asian Americans following the tragic events of 9/11. Reading about Uncle Sandeep’s car being bombarded with garbage from racists yelling, “Go back home, Osama!” set my heart racing. I was in junior high school in the early ’90s, during the Persian Gulf War, and I vividly recall being told “Go back to Iraq!” Perhaps the most hurtful thing I took away from those encounters was a feeling of Otherness–like, I wasn’t really an American at all (despite immigrating to the States as a 1.5 year old). Meminger’s book really hit home for me, and was an emotional read. I’ve also had my Indianness called into question many times – when I took a course at Cal on Hindu Mythology (totes aced it by the way), I remember another student telling me (after hearing that I didn’t speak any languages other than English), “What kind of Indian are you?” I was stunned, but I definitely didn’t let it get me down. Like Sammy,¬† I realized it’s a personal journey, and today, I’m comfortable in my skin.

Despite having a South Asian protagonist, I think Shine, Coconut Moon will appeal to anyone who has felt like an outsider and/or is trying to bridge two cultures.  Highly recommended.

Copy checked out from my library.

Review: Sora and the Cloud

29 Feb

I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely someone who revels in buying crisp stationery¬†and penning a pretty letter to a family member, or a thank you note to a friend. For me, the texture of the paper, the way the ink flows, the grip of the¬†pen in my hand–I take all of this into consideration when selecting the proper writing tools.

Pencil box, pretty stationery, Miffy pen ~ I’m all set!

So, naturally, ¬†I was drawn to the beautiful images and text in Felicia Hoshino’s gorgeous watercolor and mixed media bilingual English/Japanese picture book, Sora and the Cloud, published in January by Immedium.

Sora and the Cloud by Felicia Hoshino. Japanese trans. by Akiko Hisa

Released: January 2012

Publisher: Immedium

Level: PreK-2

Using a light, soothing color palette filled with sea green, cream, and peach, Hoshino takes readers on a whimsical journey through the streets (and skies) of San Francisco. Sora is an adventurous little Japanese-American boy who loves climbing all over everything (even his parents!). One day he discovers a tree and keeps climbing higher and higher until he encounters a napping cloud resting in the leaves. Cloud is delicately illustrated as a simple puff with expressive eyes, a gentle smile, and two blushes (!) of color infusing its cheeks. Of course, Sora mistakes Cloud for a piece of cotton candy and is about to take a bite, when off they float, drifting over such familiar landmarks as Chinatown and the Golden Gate Bridge. Soaring above the city, Sora and his new friend encounter a wide array of fantastic sights, including a bustling amusement park and a traditional Japanese festival of kites.

In her author’s note, Hoshino explained that she wanted to write a book she could enjoy with her children in English (her native language) and Japanese (her husband’s native language). A helpful glossary defines the Japanese expressive dialogue sprinkled throughout the book (separate from the Japanese translations appearing below the English text), as well as the cultural inspirations behind Sora’s adventures. Other charming details include the depiction of Sora’s grandparents in the beginning of the book (a nod to the reverence of older generations, common in East/South Asian cultures) and mei tai babywearing (I especially picked up on this because I used to wear my kids in slings when they were teeny!) Sora and the Cloud is a lovely celebration of Japanese-American culture, and reminds us that keeping traditions alive is an important part of who we are.

Because I know you’ll love this book as much as I did (yes, you will!), I wanted to give you some information my good friend, Allison, from Reading Everywhere shared with me the other day: Felicia Hoshino specializes in watercolor portraits of children. Visit her lovely website here:http://www.felishino.com, so you can own a piece of personalized artwork. ūüėČ

Copy checked out from my library.

South Asian American youth literature and the bi-cultural experience

26 Feb

As¬†a youth services librarian, and the mother of two children of bi-racial/bi-cultural heritage, I’m strongly committed to highlighting books¬†mirroring a¬†broad spectrum of cultural differences. I also find myself experiencing a renaissance of sorts, as I see a plethora of recently published multicultural children’s and young adult books. For example, during my childhood,¬†I NEVER read a single book with an Indian-AMERICAN female main character~believe me, if I had, it would’ve changed my life! Now, I put “AMERICAN” in all caps, because reading a book about Indians is so not the same as reading a book about Indian-Americans.¬†Seriously, after¬†several arguments and debates with my own parents (both born in India) about the differences between the “way people do things in India” versus “the way people do things in America,” I’ve realized there is a¬†BIG difference between the two.

My sons, both 3.5 and 1.5 years old, are the product of a bi-racial marriage- I’m Indian-American and my husband, Bryan, is Caucasian-American. It’s been a mission of mine, since before the boys were born, to find books accurately reflecting a bi-cultural sensibility. So you can imagine how pleased I was to recently discover children’s and young adult books with South¬†Asian¬†characters balancing dual heritages and cultural experiences.¬† With that said, I’m beginning my inaugural¬†blog post¬†(sorry, the introduction doesn’t really count as the “first” entry)¬†discussing two books featuring bi-racial characters with South Asian heritage.

The Whole Story of Half A Girl by Veera Hiranandani

Released: January 2012

Publisher: Random House

Level: Middle-Grade/ages 9-12

The summer before sixth grade, Sonia Nadhamuni’s life is thrown into upheaval when her father loses his job and becomes depressed. Sonia and her sister, Natasha, can no longer afford to attend their progressive, but incredibly expensive private school, and their mother is forced to take extra hours at work. Sonia enrolls in a large, public middle school where her classmates don’t quite know what to make of her mixed Jewish American and East Indian heritage. Sonia also can’t decide whether to befriend popular cheerleader, Kate, or hang out with the very awesome and smart, Alisha, who’s not exactly at the top of the social totem pole. When Mr. Nadhamuni disappears, Sonia takes stock of her situation, re-evaluating her friendships and ultimately decides that her dual heritage makes her a “whole” rather than “half” a girl.

Hiranandani’s debut novel is heartfelt, discussing cultural identity, family dynamics, mental health, and the timely issue of economic hardship in such a way that’s not too heavy for a middle-grade reader. There isn’t a “happy” ending in this book–Sonia still has a lot of stuff to work out with her family, as well as with herself–but I felt that it ended on a moderately high note. Perhaps the most important take-away from the novel is seeing a truly realistic depiction of cultural differences. In that respect, Hiranandani nailed it.

The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

Released: January 2011

Publisher: Flux

Level: Teen/ages 14 and up

After a classmates calls her a “towelhead,” Asha Jamison who is half Indian, a quarter Mexican, and a quarter Irish is inspired by the negative experience. She and her best friend, Carey, who is half Chinese and half Caucasian, decide to start up a club, “The Latte Rebellion,” promoting awareness about students of mixed heritage. Oh, and they try to make bit of money on the side for a graduation trip by marketing t-shirts with the logo of their new project. Before they know it, the club gains traction, attracting a variety of socially conscious people. Soon, Asha and her friends are caught in the middle of a brewing political movement. Stevenson deftly handles complex issues related to race and identity, but also realistically depicts typical adolescent drama, including the heart-breaking end¬† of a lifelong friendship.

Gosh, how much do I adore this book?! Well, first of all, I loved that it was set in Northern California, in a location that was totally recognizable and identifiable to me. Not a big issue for most readers, but for this one, it was a personal issue. In fact, Sarah and I have our alma mater in common – we’re both UC Berkeley grads (Go Bears!), and it’s kind of nice to see that this book gives mad props to Cal. More importantly, The Latte Rebellion made cultural and racial identity issues its central theme – for some, this might feel heavy for a young adult book, but for those teens interested in political movements and cultural studies – this book speaks honestly, and directly to them.

ARCs provided by School Library Journal for professional review. The Latte Rebellion was reviewed for SLJ in February 2011. The Whole Story of Half A Girl was reviewed for SLJ in February 2012.

Introduction

23 Feb

After much wavering, I’ve decided to start up a blog about children’s and young adult literature. As a youth services librarian, I often find myself relying upon friends’ and colleagues’ blogs as valuable collection development and reader’s advisory tools…as well as for some fun stuff to read on my own time. Lately, I’ve been feeling the need to track the books I’m reading. And I’m not just talking about perfunctory little blurbs on Goodreads, but rather, writing honestly about the books I read and often recommend. I’ve decided to call this blog Masala Reader because I hope that the vast majority of what I write here will emphasize diversity in children’s and young adult literature.

Masala is a Hindi word used to describe a mixing of spices, but in the context of this blog, I find it to be an apt metaphor for describing emerging literary trends reflecting myriad diversities. And, of course, there’s the personal connection–I’m Indian-American, a product of blended cultures. As an adult, I’m beginning to see the books I longed to read as a child being published and marketed to the mainstream. I truly believe it’s important for everyone, regardless of age, to be able to relate culturally (and I’m using this word in the broadest sense) to the media they consume. It might seem trivial to some, but when I read a description of a traditional South Indian dinner being eaten by an Indian-American family in Sheela Chari’s Vanished, I teared up. Sharing (as well as viewing) such intimate details about culture and ethnicity can be personally meaningful to authors and readers.

I’m looking forward to blogging and, hopefully, hearing what some of you have to say.