Review: Absolutely True Diary Part-Time Indian

“Traveling between Reardan and Wellpinit, between the white town and the reservation, I always felt like a stranger. // I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other.” page 118

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: A Novel by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Ellen Forney.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2007, my edition 2009.
YA realistic fiction, 230 pages not including extras.
Winner of many awards including a National Book Award.
Lexile:  600L  .
AR Level:  4.0 (worth 6.0 points)  .
NOTE: Due to content, this is not generally recommended for middle school students.

Junior is a Spokane Indian with a life from a Greek tragedy – medical woes, funerals, poverty, and picked on, he still tries to find the humor in life and look for the hope in his future in this semi-autobiographical novel.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian resized

Despite all the accolades, and my recent positive experiences of Alexie’s work, I did not expect to love this book the way I did.  Alexie seems mostly known for his literary fiction.  Diary is a YA book still interesting to the general adult fiction reader.  Unlike The Sun is Also a Star, which I might recommend to certain adults, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian is a teen coming-of-age story that I would recommend to almost any adult reader.  Arnold Spirit, Junior, is a Spokane Indian with hydrocephalus, a stutter, and a few other challenges, like dire poverty and 30-year-old textbooks.

Despite a life where the cards seem stacked against him, Junior perseveres, chasing his hope through tragic deaths and ridiculous logistics (how do you get to school 22 miles away when you’re incredibly poor and there’s no bus?  Answer: sometimes you don’t.  Sometimes you walk.)

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Review: The Outside Circle

This gorgeous and gritty graphic novel will educate everyone, not just indigenous Canadians, about institutional racism and other topics.

The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson, illustrated by Kelly Mellings.
House of Anansi, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 2015.
Adult graphic novel, 120 pages.
CODE’s 2016 Burt Award for First Nation, Inuit and Métis Literature Winner.
Not leveled.

Pete and his younger brother Joey only have each other and their drug-addicted mother to get through their violent, gritty urban life.  But when their mother’s boyfriend pushes them too far, Pete ends up in jail and Joey in foster care.  What will happen to their family?  Can Pete’s gang become their new family?

The Outside Circle

This book is about Canadian urban aboriginals.  Because I am American and not indigenous, I was surprised by the way it sucked me in as we read about generational poverty and the systematic dehumanization and institutionalized racism that had affected Pete’s entire family.  So much of what I read applies to so many other groups, and reading about Pete and his family was an easy way to absorb how these things can alter a family for generations at a time.

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100 Indigenous Books

Back in 2015, I started reading diverse.

In 2016, I got educated about #ownvoices (and started this blog).

What will 2017 bring?

I have some specific goals in mind.  Although the main focus here will continue to be children’s books featuring African Americans, I want to branch out into some other areas.

While my actual reviewing of said books is uneven, I read children’s books from most other groups even if they never make it onto my blog.  But even though I’ve been following Debbie Reese on and off for the past decade, I don’t do a good job reading indigenous books.  How can I expect my students to read the American Indian Youth Literature Award winners when I have not?

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Part of this is availability.  None of the libraries I work at have what I would consider a good Native collection, and the local public library is sparse as well, although they have been open to suggestions.  Mostly my power here has been negative, that is, removing outdated books with stereotypes or those that relegate Native culture to the past.

This is ridiculous given that I live in Wisconsin, where Act31 requires the teaching of treaty rights, three periods of Native American studies, and the inclusion of diverse reading materials.

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This year, I want to be more positive.  We made a start as a family by watching a few videos about modern natives and attending a powwow.

Now I am going to make a promise here: to read 100 books by indigenous authors.

I also have a goal of buying 50 of those 100 books.  We probably won’t keep all of them, so my thought is to donate some to libraries that don’t have them.  I would love to review all 100, but might just read some without reviewing them.

This is a massive undertaking, so I am not going to set a time limit.  Also, many thanks to my amazingly supportive partner, who’s willing to devote a large portion of our family resources towards this and other reading projects, and who selflessly gives up his weekend whenever I decide we need to educate the kids about something.

While I’m guessing most of the books I select will be Native American (and I’m hoping for a lot of Great Lakes area #ownvoices), I’m also going to include indigenous authors from elsewhere in this challenge, mostly Canadian, and likely some indigenous Australians as well.  I’ve already purchased a number of books.

For this challenge, I will be relying heavily on these lists, but I’m open to other sources.  Most of the books will probably be children’s or YA, but I’ll fit in some adult reads as well.

Anyone else want to give this a try?  (You don’t have to do 100 books!)

Update: You can find my booklist here, with notes on the books I’ve purchased, read, and reviewed.

Review: We Can!

The earliest readers need diverse books too! Here’s one appropriate for the beginning reader.

We Can! (also titled If You Can, I Can) by Gay Su Pinnell, illustrated by Barbara Duke.
Scholastic, New York, 2002.
Realistic fiction, 9 pages.
Lexile: BR  (What does BR mean in Lexile?)
AR: not leveled
NOTE: Intended for the earliest beginning readers, a later edition is titled If You Can, I Can.

We Can is the sweet story of two non-white brothers, told in extremely simple words with pictures carrying most of the story, for the earliest of pre-readers and beginning readers.

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We Can! by Gay Su Pinnell, Illustrated by Barbara Duke.

I was delighted to find a nice selection of early readers at a local thrift store.  It is incredibly difficult to find a good batch of books at this level in general, let alone culturally appropriate and diverse books, so I quickly sorted through the stack to find any that had diverse characters.  At a dollar each, this particular store was a little expensive for pre-readers (most places sell used ones for 50 cents down even as low as 10 cents, especially for used books which have writing and highlighting in them as some of these did), so I wanted to only select those that I might not find elsewhere.

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Review: State of Wonder

“Her skin was all cream and light in comparison to her father’s and very dark when she held her wrist against her mother’s.” p. 35

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.
Harper Perennial, HaperCollins, 2012.
Adult fiction, 353 pages plus extras.
New York Times Bestseller
Best book of the year 2011 from ten different news sources
Lexile: 990L
AR Level: 6.7 (worth 21.0 points)

Dr. Marina Singh has no interest in going to Brazil.  She’s quite happy sitting in her small windowless lab running pharmacological tests, and her lab partner Anders Eckman was happy to go into the Amazon as long as he could take some side trips to photograph rare and unusual birds.  But Marina’s plain, comfortable world shatters when a letter arrives relating his death.  The company wants to know what happened, and so does his widow.

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State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.

This was a free book from the library that I grabbed after forgetting my bag so I couldn’t read Hidden Figures on my break.  It was surprisingly gripping!  There are so many points to discuss which are major spoilers, but I’m going to limit the spoilers here as much as possible.

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Web: Kitaab World

There are several areas of diverse lit that I have very little knowledge about.  I don’t know much about Islamic books, so I rely on bloggers like Notes From an Islamic School Librarian to point me towards good reads or point out flaws in books that I might not notice.  I’m sadly ignorant about indigenous culture, but Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature is helping educate all of us about good Native representation in literature.

But until very recently, I didn’t have many ideas about good South Asian books.  Enter the new website Kitaabworld (kitaab means book in many languages).  They curate books and some other children’s items from South Asian cultures, including bilingual and religious books.

In addition to selling South Asian books right there on their website, they offer a lot of helpful content for the clueless but well-meaning non-South Asian, such as their guide to the best books of 2016.

I had only heard of four books on this list before, although Save Me a Seat was one of my favorite books of 2016.  However there are now several I would like to read, including One Half from the East and YA novel Rani Patel in Full Effect.  Mirror in the Sky also looks intriguing.

I hope you are also able to find some new reads from this awesome website!

Awards You Might Not Know About

Book awards beyond the Newberry and Caldecott.

We’ve all heard of the Newberry and Caldecott Awards.  In fact, you might even have done a book report on one at some time in your childhood.  If you’re a savvy librarian or teacher, you might know about some of the other awards like the Giesel or Wilder Medals.

But did you know that there are many awards out there specifically for helping you find the best books and authors for a host of diverse groups?

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The Coretta Scott King Book Awards – 2016
There are four different categories.  This long-running award is probably the most likely to be seen on the shelves of your local bookstore.  The number of honors (vs. awards) seems to change yearly based on what is published.

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Schneider Family Book Award – 2016
“The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”  Both fiction and non-fiction are eligible but fiction tends to win more.  Categories are Children’s, Teens, and Middle School, and multiple books can win, but there are no honors.

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Stonewall Book Award – 2016  
Running since 1971, this award honors books relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender experience.  There are currently six categories including fiction and non-fiction for children, YA, and adults, and up to four books can be honored in some categories (it varies by year).

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Pura Belpré Award – 2016  
“The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.”  There are winners and honors for authors and illustrators, fiction and non-fiction are mixed with fiction more predominate.

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American Indian Youth Literature Award – 2016   
These awards are given every two years to fiction or non-fiction books in the categories of picture book, middle grades, and YA. “Books selected to receive the award will present American Indians in the fullness of their humanity in the present and past contexts.”

 

Of course, awards are not perfect.  Some years mediocre books win an award, other times modern classics are passed over (Amazing Grace) and don’t win any awards.  However, for parents, teachers, and librarians, these award lists can be a huge help as we try to find quality books in areas we might not be very knowledgeable in.

What major awards am I missing?  Does your local library buy the winners of these awards?