It is Sunday night – January 10th – as I write this. Tomorrow (today since I am posting on Monday a.m.) in the wee hours of the morning authors will be getting phone calls and by the time the sun rises the rest of us will begin to hear what books have focused the attention of readers in 2015. Well, at least what books have focused the attention of the committee members for the children’s books awards. ( Depend on when you get to this you may already know!)
There are lots of books (as always) that fit into that collection. I spent the cold, cold weekend in Minnesota (wind chill -28) finishing up a few books that kept popping up on people lists. I missed so many books but at least I tried. I do wonder how the committee members kept them all straight and get them all read.
Two books I finished were Rita Williams- Garcia books – P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama. I was not excited about P.S. Be Eleven but moved on to Gone Crazy in Alabama and there is where I found the writing I was looking for from her first book in this series, Once Crazy Summer.
Often a three book series means the middle books is a bridge to get our characters from one place to another and this was very true with this trio of books. It is not that the writing was bad in book two it just didn’t have the emotional weight of the other two. This middle book fills in a few holes in our historical context and gives our three characters the chance to grow into the conflict we find at the heart of book three.
No matter what – I was happy to spend a bit more time with these three spunky, funny and thoughtful girls. So glad to have several books to expand the growing collection relating the experiences of the early 60’s and the struggles that were experienced as our society began to voice a need for change in how people of color are treated in America.
Williams – Garcia steps into this conversation with grace, humor and a touch of reality that middle grade students need to know, can understand and can empathize with. These are great books to use to begin an exploration into the history of the 60’s.
I moved on from middle grade books to a Young Adult book with Stacy Lee’s new book Under the Painted Sky. This is a story that pulled me in and and kept me reading to the end. We have two young girls on the run in the wild west of 1849 – the time of the Gold Rush. One is running because she has killed a white man and is she is Chinese. The other running to help her but also to free herself from slavery and hoping to reunite with what is left of her family.
These two, unlike girls, dressed as young boys head out on a mission that will need luck and lots of support along the way. Lee has kept the pace of the book moving with lots of little twists, adventures and worries. I fell in love with our two ladies, Andy and Sammy, and the group of three men they begin to travel with.
Again this is a story I love because it brings children of color into the reading world of strong main characters of color, who are female. It is a story of friendship, hardships and of breaking barriers. Most of all it is a story of two girls on a dangerous but important journey in their lives. It gives us a look into their lives as a whole not just into the racial issue that they must confront. We know their feelings, loves and concerns. We see them building bridges across barriers, struggling with self doubt and pushing forward against all odds. They are people fighting for what is right and with a story to tell. They are not just the slave girl and China girl on the run. They are funny, bright, lovable, caring and fierce.
Stacy Lee has a new book coming out in May of 2016 called Outrun the Moon -San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty of Chinatown. Another adventure I am sure. I can’t wait to read it.