#BlackVoices in Young Adult Literature

These past few days, I have been thinking long and hard about what I, a white woman from Canada, have to offer to the Black Lives Matter Movement. I desperately wanted to offer my support, but was unsure how I could do so in a meaningful way. Then one night, I realized that I already had a platform – this blog, my Bookstagram, and my other social media accounts – that I could use to support and promote books written by black authors.

This post, focused on #BlackVoices in Young Adult Literature, is the third in a series of posts highlighting literature created by black authors and illustrators. It is by no means a comprehensive list of books, but I hope that it inspire readers of all ages to bring more diverse books into their own lives. This list, in comparison to my previous lists about Black Voices in Kids Literature and Middle Grade Literature, is longer, if only because this is the demographic I read most often, and I wanted to include as many of my favourite reads by black authors as possible.

I look at books as being a form of activism. Sometimes they’ll show us a side of the world that we might not have known about.

– Angie Thomas, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of The Hate U Give and On The Come Up
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#BlackVoices in Middle Grade Literature

These past few days, I have been thinking long and hard about what I, a white woman from Canada, have to offer to the Black Lives Matter Movement. I desperately wanted to offer my support, but was unsure how I could do so in a meaningful way. Then one night, I realized that I already had a platform – this blog, my Bookstagram, and my other social media accounts – that I could use to support and promote books written by black authors.

This post, focused on #BlackVoices in Middle Grade Literature, is the second in a series of posts highlighting literature created by black authors and illustrators. It is by no means a comprehensive list of books, but I hope that it will give readers a place to start, and inspire readers of all ages to bring more diverse books into their own lives.

“It’s important to have diverse characters in books because books give kids mirrors and windows. Books create empathy. If we don’t have diversity, if we’re only showing things from one perspective, how are we creating empathy? It’s important beyond just children’s books — it’s important period. I think that the more diversity we have in books the better. Give kids options. Who wants the same thing over and over? Let’s show other lives. Let’s show other perspectives and other marginalizations. It goes a long way in creating empathy.”

– Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give and On The Come Up
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#BlackVoices in Kids Literature

These past few days, I have been thinking long and hard about what I, a white woman from Canada, have to offer to the Black Lives Matter Movement. I desperately wanted to offer my support, but was unsure how I could do so in a meaningful way. Then one night, I realized that I already had a platform – this blog, my Bookstagram, and my other social media accounts – that I could use to support and promote books written by black authors.

This post, focused on #BlackVoices in Kids Literature, is the first in a series of posts highlighting literature created by black authors and illustrators. It is by no means a comprehensive list of books, but I hope that it will give readers a place to start, and inspire readers of all ages to bring more diverse books into their own lives.

“Research from Harvard University suggests that children as young as three years old, when exposed to racism and prejudice, tend to embrace and accept it, even though they might not understand the feelings. By age 5, white children are strongly biased towards whiteness. To counter this bias, experts recommend acknowledging and naming race and racism with children as early and as often as possible. Children’s books are one of the most effective and practical tools for initiating these critical conversations; and they can also be used to model what it means to resist and dismantle oppression.​”

Embrace Race (2020)
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The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

Released on January 15, 2019, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi is a YA Fantasy novel set in an alternate-Paris during a time of extraordinary change – one that is full of mystery, decadence, and dangerous desires…

No one believes in them. But soon no one will forget them. It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance. To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood. Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history – but only if they can stay alive.

The Gilded Wolves (The Gilded Wolves, #1) by Roshani Chokshi

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A Song Below Water (ARC) by Bethany C. Morrow

Set to release in North America on June 2, 2020, A Song Below Water is Bethany C. Morrow’s newest YA Fantasy novel. A Song Below Water promises to be a story for today’s young readers – a captivating modern fantasy about black mermaids, friendship, and self-discovery set against the challenges of today’s racism and sexism.

DISCLAIMER: Thank-you to Raincoast Books for providing me with an Advance Readers’ Edition of A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow, in exchange for an honest review.

Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Never mind she’s also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes. But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.

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Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

Released on December 3, 2019, Children of Virtue and Vengeance is the second installment in Tomi Adeyemi’s thrilling Legacy of Orïsha series. In what promises to be a stunning sequel, Zélie must save Orïsha from a devastating civil war, while also hoping not to lose herself in the process.

After battling the impossible, Zélie and Amari have finally succeeded in bringing magic back to the land of Orïsha. But the ritual was more powerful than they could’ve imagined, reigniting the powers of not only the maji, but of nobles with magic ancestry, too. Now, Zélie struggles to unite the maji in an Orïsha where the enemy is just as powerful as they are. But when the monarchy and military unite to keep control of Orïsha, Zélie must fight to secure Amari’s right to the throne and protect the new maji from the monarchy’s wrath. With civil war looming on the horizon, Zélie finds herself at a breaking point: she must discover a way to bring the kingdom together or watch as Orïsha tears itself apart.

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The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

Released in North America on January 8, 2019, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe is a hilarious contemporary realistic YA debut novel about a rather cynical Black French Canadian teen who moves to Austin, Texas, and experiences the clichés and joys of the American high school experience—including falling in love.

What’s more? The Field Guide to the North American Teenager is so awesome that it was selected as the Indigo Teen Staff Pick of the Month for January 2019! You can check out the The Field Guide to the North American Teenager and other Indigo Teen SPOTM’s on Indigo‘s website.

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of he Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe from Indigo Books & Music Inc. in exchange for an honest review. 

Norris Kaplan is clever, cynical, and quite possibly too smart for his own good. A black French Canadian, he knows from watching American sitcoms that those three things don’t bode well when you are moving to Austin, Texas. Plunked into a new high school and sweating a ridiculous amount from the oppressive Texas heat, Norris finds himself cataloging everyone he meets: the Cheerleaders, the Jocks, the Loners, and even the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Making a ton of friends has never been a priority for him, and this way he can at least amuse himself until it’s time to go back to Canada, where he belongs. Yet, against all odds, those labels soon become actual people to Norris. Be it loner Liam, who makes it his mission to befriend Norris, or Madison the beta cheerleader, who is so nice that it has to be a trap. Not to mention Aarti the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who might, in fact, be a real love interest in the making. He even starts playing actual hockey with these Texans. But the night of the prom, Norris screws everything up royally. As he tries to pick up the pieces, he realizes it might be time to stop hiding behind his snarky opinions and start living his life—along with the people who have found their way into his heart.

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Diverse and #OwnVoices Books

If you’re active in the book community, you may have seen this hashtag kicking around – you may have even read up about it. Especially after the recent outrage from the book community surrounding racist and ableist themes in Veronica Roth’s Carve the Mark. Which is good – because this is an important conversation, and it’s not one that’s going away. In fact, it seems that the discussion surround Carve the Mark spread the call for more diverse, inclusive books to the wider community, and now, more people than ever, are recognizing the need for diverse books.

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Just look at these statistics (above) – and that’s just in regards to children’s books. The #OwnVoices movement calls upon writers to respect the voices of the characters they write – to not disrespect the diversity in the world around them. We Need More Diverse Books (WNDB) defines diversity as “all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.” It asks – can a white, upper-class author really write about the experiences of a minority teen living in poverty? Can a straight author write about the experiences of a LGBTQ2+ youth? And it calls upon the book community to respect #OwnVoices by respecting a diverse community of books, authors and readers, not just the one story of books they know. Respecting diversity in literature is not just a social trend; it’s critical to developing cultural literacy, and to overcoming long-held stereotypes. Susie Rodarme, of BookRiot, sums this up pretty well:

“If you don’t actually know anything about the lives of the people that you’re writing about, though–if you haven’t experienced anything like it in your real life and what you know actually does come mostly from TV and movies–it’s going to come out in cliches and stereotypes when you try to write it.”

And as white, middle-class university student from Canada, do I really have any right to be writing about this? I might not, which is why I’ll keep my judgments on the topic short, but I wanted to make my readers aware of the movement, and I wanted to challenge all of you to make yourselves more aware of the growing diversity in literature, and the need for it.

“So when we call for more diverse stories, I think this diversity must come from diverse authors. It’s not enough to have the same group of primarily white, cis, hetero, able-bodied authors writing more diversely; even with good intentions, they may not get it right. The call for diverse stories comes from groups of people who want to see themselves depicted in stories. That call isn’t answered if we read someone else’s depiction of us and we find that it isn’t true to life” – Susie Rodarme, Book Riot

Books are a type of media – like newspapers, like social media, like the 6 o’clock news, thy perpetuate stereotypes and norms to society, and they dictate our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not.

So the next time you pick up a book, try checking out a #OwnVoices book – I’ve taken the liberty of including some recognized #OwnVoices books below, and I’d love to hear what you think of them, or if you have some that should be added to this list!

And if you’re looking for more information about #Own Voices, please check out WNDB

You can also find my recent post regarding the importance of including diverse books in the classroom on my education blog, titled Miss Vosper.

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