Oranges for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide

Orange for the Sunsets

Tina Athaide, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Friendship, Social class, Ethnic relations, East Indians, Uganda, Family life, Idi Amin, History

Publishers Synopsis:

Asha and her best friend, Yesofu, never cared about the differences between them: Indian. African. Girl. Boy. Short. Tall.

But when Ugandan President Idi Amin announces that Indians have ninety days to leave the country, suddenly those differences are the only things that people in Entebbe can see—not the shared after-school samosas or Asha cheering for Yesofu at every cricket game.

Determined for her life to stay the same, Asha clings to her world tighter than ever before. But Yesofu is torn, pulled between his friends, his family, and a promise of a better future. Now as neighbors leave and soldiers line the streets, the two friends find that nothing seems sure—not even their friendship. And with only days before the deadline, Asha and Yesofu must decide if the bravest thing of all might be to let each other go.

Why I like this book:

Tina Athaide’s powerful novel is gripping as it explores the 1972 expulsion of 50,000 Asians from Uganda. Athaide portrays the vast disparity between the two ethnic groups in Uganda through the daily lives of Asha Gomez, an Indian Ugandan, and Yesofu, an African Ugandan. Their friendship is depicted within the backdrop of historical events, a brutal dictator, social class, ethnic relations, family relationships, and hope. 

The narrative is told in the alternating voices of Asha and Yesofu, which is very effective because readers will understand the emotions each character has to confront individually and together as friends. All of the successful businesses, farms, schools, homes and churches are owned by Indians, while the Africans work hard labor in the sugar cane fields and are servants in Asian homes. Few African can get loans to buy land or start businesses.

Asha was born in Uganda and knows no other home. Her father is from Goa, India, and works in the Ministry of Tourism and they entertain foreign dignitaries. Her family is wealthy. She lives in a two-story house with a wraparound front porch. They can afford to eat kulfi or ice cream and serve their tea on beautiful silver trays. Her family have African servants, including Yesofu’s mother, Fara, who works as a housekeeper and cook. Asha is a compassionate, caring, brave and determined character. But she’s also very naive to the social injustices.  She never has visited Yesofu’s home or thinks to ask Yesofu about his life. 

Yesofu’s life is a stark contrast to Asha’s. His family lives in a two-room shack made of “wattle and daub — woven rods and twigs plastered with clay and mud and topped with a grass roof.” Yesofu sleeps on a woven mat and gathers branches for firewood and hauls water from the well twice daily. His mother has very little education and his Baba works in the fields all day. Yesofu’s and his brother Esi’s education is paid for by Asha’s father. Yesofu dreams of getting a scholarship to attend college and playing professional cricket.  At first, Idi Amin’s talk about a brighter future for Africans excites Yesofu. His Baba may be able to buy land. He may be able to attend college and have a better life. So he joins his friends and family in support the actions of Amin.

This is a period in history I wished I’d followed more closely in the 70s. So I’m very grateful to gain some understanding through Athaide’s novel, which is loosely based on her own life there. Her novel is well-researched. It really will help readers understand what happens when racial nationalism is used to rid a country of other ethnicities. President Idi Amin promises to help African Ugandans. But he seizes Indian properties, businesses, bank accounts. He is violent and commits torture and murder. Friends become enemies. There are no winners. And Yesofu begins to sees a darker side to Imin’s promises. Yesofu’s comment says it all: “Idi Amin had promised change would come to Uganda. And he was right. Everything had changed. No Asha. No Akello. No jobs. No money for school fees. No food, Dada Amin had promised a great future, but a future is hard to build when there’s nothing left.” 

I highly recommend Orange for the Sunsets. Readers won’t be able to put it down. Make sure you read her Author’s Note, the 90 Days in History, additional resources and view her personal family photos.

Review:For those wondering how to discuss the dangers of manipulative and toxic nationalism with children, this delicately told story is it. Orange for the Sunsets is a nuanced and balanced way to see politics through a child’s eyes.”— Nadia Hashimi, M.D., author of The Sky at Our Feet and One Half from the East.

Tina Athaide was born in Uganda and grew up in London and Canada. While her family lift Entebbe just prior to the expulsion, she has memories of refugee family and friends staying with them in their London home. The stories and conversations she listened to through the years became the inspiration for this book. Tina now lives in California with her husband, Ron, and their daughter, Isabella.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

Take Back the Block

Chrystal D. Giles, Author

Random House Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jan. 26, 2021

Pages: 240

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Community, Social Justice, Family, Neighborhoods, Gentrification, Friendship, African Americans

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Brand-new kicks, ripped denim shorts, Supreme tee–

Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That–and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games–is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.

But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived in his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are supposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it before it’s too late?

Why I like this book:

Chrystal D. Giles has written a timely and powerful novel for middle grade students that hits a sweet spot for me — kids making a difference in their communities and fighting for what they believe in. It celebrates the joy of family, friendship and community and will captivate readers from the start.  The plot is daring and hopeful. It is “loosely based on Giles’s hometown.

There is a  delightful cast of characters, with Wes Henderson leading his crew of best friends: Jasper (Jas), Mya, Alyssa, Takari (Kari) and Brent. They live in Kensington Oaks and are typical 6th graders, interested in video games, movies, school and birthday parties. Wes is a lovable and outgoing narrator, who is afraid of public speaking — especially when his social studies teacher, Mr. Bates, assigns each student to research a social justice issue, write a report and do a 10-minute presentation. He’s doomed.

Thumbs up to Wes’s parents for introducing him to social activism. His mother is an active community leader and takes Wes to a peaceful protests so that he understands what is happening in nearby neighborhoods that are being torn down for new shopping areas. This exposure is handy when the Oaks becomes the new target of a development group who wants to build condos and shops. There is no way Wes can leave the only home he’s ever known and holds his family’s history.

While the adults in the community are arguing, some selling their homes and others giving up, Wes knows he has to do something. A fire burns in his belly and he gathers his friends to fight for the survival of the Oaks. They enlist the support of a local group, Save Our City. Suddenly, Wes has his school social justice project, and Mr. Bates proves to give good advise and knows people. He allows Wes and his friends to meet in his classroom after school as they research and strategize each move. No more SPOILERS.

Take Back the Block deals with a topic that I haven’t seen addressed in children’s books — gentrification, the unfair displacement of families in lower income neighborhoods. Development companies buy up homes cheap, tear them down and replace them with high-end housing and shopping areas.  Most families can’t afford to live in the developments and are forced to find housing elsewhere. This is common in many Black communities.

This is an important book for a classroom to read together. Wes and his friends are the new faces of social justice and youth activism, whether it is gun control, climate change and equality. And student interested in social justice issues may gain courage from Wes.

Chrystal D. Giles is making her middle-grade debut with Take Back the Block. Chrystal was a 2018 W Need Diverse Books mentee, and her poem “Dimples” appears in the poetry anthology Thanku Poems of Gratitude. Chrystal lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and son. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @CREATIVELYCHRYS.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young American Making History

No Voice Too Small: 14 Young Americans Making History

Lindsay H. Metcalf and Keila V. Dawson, Editors

Jeanette Bradley, Editor/Illustrator

Charlesbridge, Nonfiction, Sep. 22, 2020

Suitable for ages: 6 – 11

Themes: Youth activism, Making a difference, Bullying, Clean Water, Climate Change, Gun Violence, Poetry

Publisher’s Synopsis:

“You’re never too young or too small to change the world.” – Mari Copeny

This all-star anthology covers fourteen youth activists calling for change and fighting for justice across the United States. These change-makers represent a wide range of life experiences and causes, including racial justice, clean water, LGBTQ+ rights, mental health, and more, Beautifully illustrated poems by #ownvoices authors, plus secondary text, spotlight the efforts and achievements of such luminaries as Marley Dias, Jazz Jennings, and Mari Copeny, “Make Some Noise” tips will inspire readers to take concrete action for change, Back matter includes more information on the poetic forms used in the book.

Why I like this book:

No Voice Too Small will inspire and empower young readers, parents and teachers. This is my favorite kind of book to share with readers because there is an urgency among young people who see the injustice around them, are concerned that adults aren’t doing enough, and want to take action to improve their communities, country and world. They are brave and working for the rights of children in a peaceful manner.

Readers will hear from Nza-Ari Khepra, 16, who loses a friend to gun violence in Chicago and launches Project Orange Tree, which grows into the National Gun Violence Awareness Day celebrated every June. Meet Ziad Ahmed,14, who is treated unfairly in high school because he’s Muslim, and creates an online platform where students can share their stories and stop hate. Levi Draheim, 8, fears the loss of his Florida home to rising seas and joins 21 kids who sue the US government for failing to act on climate change. Jasilyn Charger, 19, protests the construction of a pipeline that threatens to leak oil into the Missouri River that provide water for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and many other people living downstream.

The book is beautifully designed. The #own voices authors and editors, Lindsay H. Metcalf and Keila V. Dawson, capture each child’s captivating story in an attractive double-page spread. The left side of every spread features a soulful poem with warm and appealing illustrations of each child by Jeanette Bradley. The text about the young person’s contribution is featured on the right, along with additional artwork by Bradley. Read their stories and you will be inspired.

Resources: The book is a resource for students to use in the classroom.  At the end of the book there is a section about each of the 14 poets who participated and a page of the poetry form used. This book will spark many lively discussions and encourage young people to identify a problem and think about what they may do alone or together to create change and improve their community, country and world.  What will you do?

Lindsay H. Metcalf is the author of Farmers Unite! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices. She has also been a reporter, editor, and columnist for the Kansas City Star and other news outlets.

Keila V. Dawson has been a community organizer and an early childhood special education teacher. She is the author of The King Cake Baby. 

Jeanette Bradley has been an urban planner, an apprentice pastry chef, and the artist-in­-residence for a traveling art museum on a train. She is the author and illustrator of Love, Mama.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the editors in exchange for a review.

Feminist, Social Justice-Themed Board Books for Children

I Want to Be…, Nibi is Water and I am Violet, are part of Second Story Press’s first season releasing feminist, social justice-themed board books for babies and toddlers, ages 0-3 years. The three books explore some  amazing and unusual jobs people do; talk about how we use our precious water; and celebrate the color of our skin. Such a wonderful and diverse series of books for little ones! There is simplicity in all three books and they are beautifully illustrated in bright colors that will please toddlers.

I Want to Be…A Gutsy Girls’ ABC

Farida Zarman, Author and Illustrator

Apr. 14, 2020

Synopsis: Filled with diversity and empowerment, little girls will see that they can be anything they want. There are an alphabet of possibilities for when you grow up. Some jobs sound fun — ice sculptor, toymaker, dog handler, kite designer, party planner, and wind farmer. And some jobs sound exciting and important — jockey, aerialist, novelist, sportscaster, oceanographer, and mountain climber. Each fun letter is complimented by an illustration of a girl filled with delight and wonder as she shows us how we can be anything we want to be.

Nibi is Water (Nibi Aawon Nbiish)

Joanne Robertson, Author and Illustrator

Apr. 14, 2020

Synopsis: A first conversation about the importance of nibi (water) told from an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) perspective. Toddlers will learn about the many forms of water in rain, snow and ice. They use water to drink, bathe, brush their teeth and flush the toilet. They build snowmen in the winter, swim in the pool or canoe on a lake. Nature depends upon water to grow plants, food, and trees. Animals need water to drink and fish swim in water. Our role is to thank, respect, love and protect nibi in our daily activities.

I Am Violet

Tania Duprey Stehlik, Author

Vanja Vuleta Jovanovic, Illustrator

Synopsis: This book celebrates and explores how people come in a rainbow of beautiful colors. A little girl looks around her and sees that some people are blue, some are green, some are red. People in the world come in a rainbow of colours and Violet herself is a wonderful mixture of her mom and dad. Her mom is red, her dad is blue, and, as the little girl declares: “I am proud to be both. I am proud to be me! I am Violet!” Her message of pride and acceptance has been simplified for the youngest among us so it can be shared even earlier.

Resources: All three books are great first discussion books. Parents can help toddlers  identify letters associated with amazing gender-neutral jobs; they can talk with them about protecting water and learn dual language words (glossary at the end); and they can help their little ones explore their own skin color and the skin color of others.  Encourage children to draw pictures of fun jobs, how they use water, and self/family portraits showing their skin colors in bright colors. Children have big imaginations.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copies provided by the publisher.

Stand Up! by Wendy L. Moss

Stand Up!: Be an Upstander and Make a Difference

Wendy L. Moss, PHD, author

Magination Press, Nonfiction, Dec. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 13-19

Pages: 112

Themes: Caring, Kindness, Courage, Assertiveness, Social Justice, Making a Difference

Book Synopsis:

Do you want to be an Upstander who makes the world a better place by standing up to bullying and injustice in your school, home, or community? If so, this book is for you!

You may doubt that one kid can make a difference. You can’t fly like Wonder Woman or scale walls like Spiderman, but you could be a hero to someone else by speaking up. Small changes can lead to bigger and bigger changes!

Chock full of quizzes, examples, practical advice, and small steps you can take in your real life, Stand Up!: Be an Upstander and Make a Difference takes readers through the ways to be an Upstander, including being kind to yourself, having empathy for others, spreading kindness, and dealing with conflicts.

Why I like this book:

My favorite kind of stories to share are books that show kids making a difference in their schools, communities and world. This remarkable resource speaks directly to teens who want to focus on helping themselves and others in a multitude of social situations. It may be in standing up for equality and fairness. Being the kindness that you want to receive. Dealing with situations that involve anger and conflict in a respectful manner.

I like the term Upstander which means “a person who stands up to support fairness and respect while also trying to decrease bullying and injustice.” Being an Upstander begins with understanding yourself — how you do you feel most of the time? It’s hard to help others until you know what pushes your buttons.

This book is about empowerment and is not preachy!  And it is a fun read. Moss provides ideas and strategies throughout the book that work. Each chapter has a theme and is packed with real-life stories, situations, quizzes, and practical suggestions and strategies to help readers handle difficult moments with sound advice.

Educators: This book belongs in your classrooms. It is a much-needed resource to help  students stand up for what is right. It also encourages team work among students.

Wendy L. Moss, PhD, ABPP, FAASP, has her doctorate in clinical psychology, is a licensed psychologist, and has a certification in school psychology. Dr. Moss has practiced in the field of psychology for over 30 years and has worked in hospital, residential, private practice, clinic, and school settings. She has the distinction of being recognized as a diplomate in school psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology for her advanced level of competence in the field of school psychology.

Dr. Moss has been appointed as a fellow in the American Academy of School Psychology. In addition, she is the author of Bounce Back: How to Be a Resilient Kid, Being Me: A Kid’s Guide to Boosting Confidence and Self-Esteem, and Children Don’t Come With an Instruction Manual: A Teacher’s Guide to Problems That Affect Learners; coauthor, with Donald A. Moses, MD, of The Tween Book: A Growing-Up Guide for the Changing You; coauthor, with Robin A. DeLuca-Acconi, LCSW, of School Made Easier: A Kid’s Guide to Study Strategies and Anxiety-Busting Tools; coauthor, with Susan A. Taddonio, DPT, of The Survival Guide for Kids With Physical Disabilities & Challenges; and has written several articles.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.