Swim Team

by Johnnie Christmas
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Content: There’s some conflict and some bullying by adults and other kids. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Bree and her father moved to Florida and with that came a new school and a new schedule. All the classes Bree wants to take are filled up, so she’s put in Swim 101. The problem: Bree doesn’t know how to swim, and she’s afraid of learning. She skips class until her father finds out, and then he enrolls her in swimming lessons. Hweer, she’s bullied, and so she runs away. it’s not until a near-drwoing incident when her upstairs neibero, Ms. Etta, rescues her that she realizes that she needs to learn to swim, making a deal with Ms. Etta to each her.

But no one of There is a small side lesson wno why there’s a stereotype of Black people not swimming, but the bulk of the story is Bree joining the middle school’s failing swim team, and learning how to compete and how to work as a team. There are ups and downs, but the girls learn that it’s better to support each other than compete against each other.

The thing I thought about most while reading this book was how representation matters. It will be wonderful for young Black girls to see themselves in this story. It’s a good story that centers on their experiences, and one that makes them the center of the narrative. On top of that, though, it’s a good story about teamwork and perseverance, and Christmas is a good storyteller and artist. Definitely a recommended graphic novel.

Audiobook: Go Back to Where You Came From

by Wajahat Ali
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

I had no idea who Ali was when I picked this up. I think it called to me because I’m always looking for immigrant stories, ones by people who don’t have my experiences. And although Ali is not an immigrant, he’s a first-generation American, which is just as interesting. It’s basically a memoir; Ali tells the story of how his parents came to America from Pakistan, his childhood, and then growing up and the trials he and his parents faced. (Spoiler: it’s a lot.) Ali tells his story with grace, keeping a reader/listener engaged with wry humor and just plain good storytelling.

It’s a good reminder of white privilege, and that there must be something bout this country if immigrants still want to keep trying to make a life here in the face of all the obstacles put in their way by white supremacy. Ali was a good person to spend a few hours with, and I feel like I learned something after having listened to his story. It was a good reminder that we’re all in it togeher in this huge melting pot we call America. Maybe we can even figure out how to make it work. Ali seems to have some hope for the future. I hope he’s right.

Audiobook: Four Hundred Souls

Edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain
Read by a full cast (too many to list!)
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It does not sugar coat history. There are mentions of lynchings, rape, use of the n-word, and mild swearing. It’s in the history section of the bookstore.

I’ve had this on my TBR pile (the large one, not the small one by my bed) ever since it came out a year ago. And then I got a great idea from a bookstagrammer: read a little every day in February for black history month. I tried to get it done by the end of the month and almost made it. It was easy to break down into little sections: the book spans 400 years, but every author gets a 5 year period, and the sections are broken up into 40 years chunks. Each individual author gets to choose what they want to talk about: some focus on an event, some on a person, some on an idea. Many chose to relate their essay to the way the country is today. It’s less of a history book and more of a “how history has impacted today” book, which I appreciated. Not all essays were equally interesting, but there was enough for me to keep engaged. That, and the essays were generally very short – less than 5 minutes in audio. The narrators were all really good, for the most part. I think some of the essays were read by the authors, but since the narrators didn’t announce themselves before they began reading, I wasn’t sure. (They do all say their names a the end, but it was hard to match them up. Mostly I was like “Oh, they read? Cool!”)

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it and learning about the history of Blacks in America. Fascinating well-done book.

Nubia: Real One

by L.L. McKinney and Robyn Smith
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Content: There is some violence and an instance of sexual assault. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I’ll be upfront about this: I haven’t loved a superhero comic this much since Ms. Marvel. I love Nubia and everything about her, from her moms, to her desire to do the right thing, to her friends, and pretty much everything.

Nubia knows she’s different, stronger, faster, but she’s always had to hide it her entire life. But now that she’s 17, she is tired of being shut in all the tme. She’s conflicted though: kids who look like her are usually portrayed as perpetrators, not the heroes. But, when her best friend is assaulted, Nubia makes a tough decision to step towards her destiny and embrace who she knows she is.

I loved this one, effortlessly blending the injustices towards Black kids by the police, white anger (and white privilege), and a story about a girl trying to find her way together. The art was sometimes rough, but the story made up for it. I am so happy I finally read this, and I can’t wait for more!

Jukebox

by Nidhi Chanani
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Content: There are some intense moments. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Shaheen’s dad is always going on about musicians and records, and she just wants to tune him out. But when he goes missing, she and her cousin, Tannaz, go looking for him and discover a time-transporting jukebox in a record store that Shaheen’s dad was always frequenting.

From there, it’s traveling through time trying to figure out what the jukebox is doing and where Shaeheen’s dad is. Full of historical facts and bits of music, this is a delightful graphic novel! Shaheen starts the book out hesitant and withdrawn, but the idea of finding her dad helps give her courage. it’s fun, it’s a smartly drawn book — I loved the historical bits — and full of music facts. Perfect for anyone who enjoys music.

The Legend of Auntie Po

by Shing Yin Khor
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Content: There is a death, but nothing graphic. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Mei bakes the pies for the loggers and workers in a camp in the Sierra Nevadas in 1885. Her father runs the kitchen, and the two of them make a good team. She’s happy enough, even though she’s Chinese and knows that she won’t have the same opportunities as her best friend Bee, who is white. That doesn’t stop her from trying to learn more, from telling stories of the legendary Auntie Po, and from being the best person she can be.

That makes it sound trite because this was a really solid graphic novel. I enjoyed the historical context, knowing that the conflicts that existed between the white people and the Chinese workers were real. But I also enjoyed the larger-than-life feel of it, as well. Is Auntie Po real? Did he help the loggers? Did Mei see her? I also thought the adult characters were pretty great from Hels the foreman to Hao, Mei’s dad.

A really solid book from Khor. I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Borders

by Thomas King, illustrations by Natasha Donovan
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Content: There are some moments that might be intense for some readers. It’s in the middle grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

The premise is simple: A boy and his mother want to go visit family in Salt Lake City from Canada. However, when they get to the border, the customs agents want them to declare a country The mother says “Blackfoot” which isn’t an acceptable answer. The rest of the book is the story of them being caught in the space between border crossings and how they get out.

It’s a simple story, but a powerful one. I admire the way the mother stuck to her values: they are Blackfoot, not Canadian, and that should be an acceptable answer for border crossings. The art is clear and realistic but not overly so. It was the story that I really appreciated in this one. I appreciated the back story about their lives, even if the only person named was the sister, and I enjoyed the way this story was resolved. It may not be the most brilliant graphic novel out there, but it is an important and interesting one.

Measuring Up

by Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu
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Content: There is some pressure on a character by a parent, which may be triggering for some. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Cici and her family live in Taiwan. She’s happy; she has her A-ma there to keep her company while her parents work and to teach her how to cook. So when Cici’s parents take jobs in America, Cici is heartbroken. Especially since A-Ma isn’t coming. Life in America is strange, and Cici wants to find a way to help A-Ma visit, so she enters a cooking competition for kids. The only problem is that Cici only knows how to cook Taiwanese dishes, and not “American”. She learns about Julia Child (yay!) and practices and practices to become better. And yet, she doesn’t want to lose her own identity and heritage.

What a delightful book! I loved the meshing of the immigrant story and food. There is a huge metaphor about how immigrants have to balance assimilation and their own heritage. There’s also a theme about finding your own path and not the one that your parents set out for you. I loved the characters, and how Xu drew them. She also met the challenge of drawing food and cooking, which isn’t easy.

I adored this one.

Across the Tracks

by Alverne Ball and Stacy Robinson
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Content: There are depictions of violence, including lynching. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In the early 1900s, due to Jim Crow, the Blacks in Tulsa developed their own community. They had stores, libraries, doctors, and were a thriving community. Of course, because of white supremacy, the white people in town couldn’t have the Blacks getting all successful. They invented a reason to arrest and lynch a Black kid, and then, when the Black families rose up in defense, burned the Black part of town, killing and unhousing families. The Black people built things back, but it wasn’t ever the same, and the white people swept history under the rug.

This is a very good history of that moment in time, highlighting the achievements of the Black people — doctors, lawyers, businessmen, educators — as well as the maliciousness of the white people. The text is pretty frank, and the art reflects that: it’s realistic and descriptive.

I think this is an important graphic novel and one that everyone should read. But, I’m not sure it was a great graphic novel It was lacking something to bring me into the story – perhaps because it was history and not really a story. it lacked a personal element, something to make me really care when the Black part of town burned. (That sounded harsh; I mean I care that white people were awful and racist and destructive. I just meant the story lacked an emotional core, if that makes sense.)

Recommended for the history.

Goliath

by Tochi Onyebuchi
First sentence: “Before his flight to Earth, they had warned Jonathan about the “gangs”.”
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Content: There is swearing, the use of the n-word, violence, and references to sex. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Let’s see if I can figure out a plot: It’s the future, and white people have ravaged the Earth and left it to rot while taking refuge in space. Then one of them, Jonathan, decides that life in space is not worth living and comes back. There he finds that a sort-of community has built around what little there is left. There are still haves and have-nots, but for the most part, people are living.

And honestly, that’s all I’ve got. I was thinking, when I started, that this feels a lot like Octavia Butler’s future, just farther along – the people have left the earth for dead and have gone into space, but it’s just the white people. Like in all good science fiction, Oneybuchi is taking the problems of gentrification and climate change and projecting into the future. It’s a bleak one, too. But, then, he takes a left turn at the section titled “Fall” and he lost me. Up to that point, I was, maybe not really enjoying, but rather, getting, what he was doing and I respected it. But Fall takes the book off the rails. It moves from thirst to first person with a bunch of found documents that are supposed to be news stories (?), and I just didn’t get it. This book is definitely for someone smarter than me, and one who is more willing to follow where Onyebuchi leads. He’s a good writer, but maybe not one for me.