Saturday, March 21, 2015

What’s Your Superpower? (Part 2)

My last post featured brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, a coming-of-age memoir in verse. In this book, we learn that Woodson discovers that her “brilliance” is telling stories. We encounter a similar theme in a different memoir for young people that, like Woodson’s book, has earned many awards. A 2015 Newbery Honor Book, El Deafo by Cece Bell is often referred to as a “graphic novel” in consumer reviews. It is, however, a graphic memoir--non-fiction.

When Bell becomes deaf at an early age, she must learn to cope not only with her deafness, but others’ reactions to it. Making true friends is hard, and teasing and bullying sadden, anger, and frustrate her until she takes a bully’s name for her, “El Deafo,” and embraces it as her superpower. What a great way to turn something intended as bad into something good!

You’ll have to read the book to find out how that works out. Read my young friend Haley's review to whet your appetite:

“This touching graphic novel uses bunnies as characters to show how the main character (Cece) is deaf.  This was very clever to help express how different she feels.  This story not only tells about how she learns to deal with her disability but also how she goes through elementary school.  She has the same friend problems as any elementary kid! But she handles them by going into her own creative world where she helps others.  El Deafo has its ups and downs but you'll want to read it to the end!” ~ Haley, 8th grade 

If you aren't sure what your superpower is, see what kinds of programs your public library offers this summer and get your whole family involved. Some libraries across the country are using the theme of heroes and superheroes. Maybe participating will help you find your superpower!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

What’s Your Brilliance? (Part 1)

The dust is settling on the book awards season, and winners’ covers proclaim their awards. I was fortunate to get my hands on two very popular titles for young people. While they are completely different, they have one theme in common—a young person’s discovering what’s special about  themselves. Here are my reflections on the first book:

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson has been awarded the 2014 National Book Award—Young People’s Literature, the 2015 Newbery, a 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor, an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Work—Youth/Teens, and others. Why all the accolades? And what can I possibly add to the many more learned reviews that have already been written?

-brown girl dreaming has historical significance. It is a coming-of-age memoir written in free verse about growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s partly in the North and partly in the South. These were historic times in the Civil Rights Movement, and this book shows what a young girl thought about living in those times in those places. How to behave in certain places to avoid trouble—or should you go ahead and make trouble?
“At the fabric store, we are not Colored
or Negro. We are not thieves or shameful
or something to be hidden away.
At the fabric store, we’re just people.” (from “the fabric store,” p. 90-91)

By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 -It is a book about who we are as family, and the ways family influences our identity. Aunts, uncles, brothers, sister, mother, father, and grandparents all played a part in making Woodson who she is today. Especially poignant is Woodson’s love for her maternal grandfather, expressed throughout the book, as in “sometimes, no words are needed:”
 “…My head against/my grandfather’s arm,
a blanket around us as we sit on the front porch swing.
Its whine like a song.”

-It is a book about finding one’s unique gift and figuring out what to do with it. Woodson’s brother could sing. Woodson’s sister was brilliant. Fortunately for us, Woodson found her gift in writing.
“I want to catch words one day. I want to hold them
then blow gently, watch them float
right out of my hands” (from “gifted,” p. 169).

The free verse format makes for easy reading that I want to read over and over again. On learning to write her name at age 3:
Will the words end, I ask
whenever I remember to.
Nope, my sister says, all of five years old now,
and promising me

infinity.” (from “the beginning,” p. 62-63)

Indian Girl Child 4970
By Biswarup Ganguly (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Like any life, there is stuggle and triumph, joy and sorrow.
“Maybe, I am thinking, there is something hidden
like this, in all of us. A small gift from the universe
waiting to be discovered” (from “hope onstage,” p. 233).

Woodson’s words are sure to help other young people—of any color—look for and find their own brilliance.

For more about Woodson, here's an NPR interview.

(Stay tuned for Part 2)