chosen by M. Evan Wolkenstein, author of Turtle Boy
Children's Books About...
1. Any Day Now
by Mae Respicio
Any Day With You by Mae Respicio is a beautiful book about Kaela, a girl who loves the Los Angeles beach, costume effects, and filmmaking. She’s proud of her Filipino family, and she immerses herself in the folk stories and mythology of her beloved great-grandfather, Tatang. The story centers around the revelation of a difficult piece of news - Tatang wants to spend his final years in his home country, the Philippines. Kaela and her friends band together to execute a challenge: to win a filmmaking contest that will convince Tatang to stay. Friendship in this story operates at two levels: the first is that of Kaela and her friends, who model kindness, inclusion, and mutual appreciation in their dedication to each other and to their common task. The second kind of friendship is intergenerational. Kaela and Tatang have always adored each other, but just as importantly, Kaela now must learn to embody the heart of true friendship: learning to see the other as their full selves, and seeking for one’s friend what they really and truly need. Kaela uncovers difficult stories from Tatang’s past and learns to “hold” them - even though they challenge her innocent image of Tatang as nothing but sunny, jolly, and affable. Friendship is about seeing, hearing, and sometimes letting go, and Any Day With You depicts this, beautifully.
2. The Boy at the Back of the Class
by Onjali Q. Raúf
The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q Raúf is about an immigrant boy who shows up in the protagonist’s classroom - and though he is at first a silent cypher, with very little information to be learned the main character pieces together that he and his family have fled Syria in search of safety from the war. The book demonstrates the power of kids working together to help and support someone who is more vulnerable than they are - and together not only do they protect Ahmet from bullying and xenophobia, they widen the circles of their own hearts, making space for friendship and respect for someone from a very different background than they. The book does a beautiful job of providing enough painful, tragic information that young readers can appreciate the tragedy of Ahmet (and his community’s experience), but also, it does it sensitively and delicately - allowing readers to learn a little at a time and to hold the sadness safely.
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3. The Assignment
by Liza Wiemer
The Assignment, by Liza Wiemer, (to be released on August 25th in the US) is a YA novel about a controversial, unethical classroom project, in which students are expected to step into the mindset of Nazis, purportedly to help them understand the dangers of fascism. The book is a page turner, with a number of twists and turns: never predictable, it pivots and reels you into the next set of rapids. One theme the book explores in a deep and profound way is how racism, antisemitism, and intolerance are deeply isolating experiences - not only for those victimized by it, but also for people floundering in its waves. The book traces the deepening friendship between Cade and Logan, two students who find themselves having to navigate the narrows of the assignment. Each is in danger of drowning as the teacher’s expectations run contrary to their own inner compass. As the two grow closer, however, they discover that they are able to strengthen and encourage each other - not only to weather the suffering they experience as a result of their deteriorating school environment, but also to fight for the values they feel in their hearts. The Assignment depicts the ways that morality and ethics can form one of the layers of a deep friendship - and even better, a potentially budding romance. In that sense, The Assignment challenges the notion that love or friendship is about what you do, what you like, or how you look: it’s about who you are, your roots, and how you grow.