Rummanah Aasi



   Book bans and censorship are not of a thing of the past. It occurs even today.  Banned Book Week is officially underway. I have been busy presenting and advocating our intellectual freedom to a variety of classes at my school. Students are shocked and appalled about the book challenges and we are having lots of great discussions. 

   Check out of my Forbidden Reads feature if you are curious about some of the books that I have highlighted on this blog. You can also see what Banned/Challenged Books I've read in 2010, 2011, and 2012. I will also be reading and reviewing books that have been banned/challenged in 2015 this week.

  Here are the Top 10 Challenged/Banned of Books of 2016:




 Once again 7 out of the 10 books that are challenged and/or banned contain diverse contest, specifically LGBTQ+ as the vague complaint "sexually explicit" is on the rise. For the first time in the history of ALA's Top 10, a book was challenged solely because of its author.

Of the 10 books listed below, I have read 7 titles and I have linked my review down below:

  1. This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
    This young adult graphic novel, winner of both a Printz and a Caldecott Honor Award, was restricted, relocated, and banned because it includes LGBT characters, drug use, and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes.

  2. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
    Parents, librarians, and administrators banned this Stonewall Honor Award-winning graphic novel for young adults because it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint.

  3. George written by Alex Gino
    Despite winning a Stonewall Award and a Lambda Literary Award, administrators removed this children’s novel because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels.”

  4. I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
    This children’s picture book memoir was challenged and removed because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints.

  5. Two Boys Kissing written by David Levithan
    Included on the National Book Award longlist and designated a Stonewall Honor Book, this young adult novel was challenged because its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content.

  6. Looking for Alaska written by John Green
    This 2006 Printz Award winner is a young adult novel that was challenged and restricted for a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation.”

  7. Big Hard Sex Criminals written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky
    Considered to be sexually explicit by library staff and administrators, this compilation of adult comic books by two prolific award-winning artists was banned and challenged.

  8. Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread written by Chuck Palahniuk
    This collection of adult short stories, which received positive reviews from Newsweek and the New York Times, was challenged for profanity, sexual explicitness, and being “disgusting and all around offensive.”

  9. Little Bill (series) written by Bill Cosby and illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood
    This children’s book series was challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author.

  10. Eleanor & Park written by Rainbow Rowell
    One of seven New York Times Notable Children’s Books and a Printz Honor recipient, this young adult novel was challenged for offensive language.
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.
  Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.
  With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.

Review: I had high hopes for Karim's That Thing We Call a Heart especially with two starred reviews from two esteem journals, Kirkus and the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, but unfortunately for me the book fell flat in its execution.
  Shabnam is a secular Muslim who doesn't feel any attachments to Islam or her Pakistani culture in general. She feels comfortable fading into the background and just wants to get through her senior year of high school without any incidents so she can finally live her life on her own terms in college. Shabnam's summer before college brings lots of challenges and questions. Although she and her best friend Farah were once practically sisters, there's a distance between them now that Farah has chosen to wear hijab. Farah's bold and visual stance on religion draws attention to both her and Shabnam.
  I appreciated the variation of Muslim representation in the book. I didn't mind that Shabnam was not religious but her snide running commentary got on my nerves. Her careless actions, self absorbed personality, and her spineless personality is what I disliked most about Shabnam. She would not stand up for her best friend or even for her ethnicity when they were attacked in a tasteless Islamophobic jokes. I frankly lost respect for her and I did not understand why Farah, a vibrant character, would ever be best friends with her.
 Unlike Shabnam, Farah was a much more complex character that I wished got more page time. While she wears the hijab, she also has issues with religion and Pakistani culture. She talks about her frustrations of being perceived as 'not Muslim enough for her Muslim friends and too religious to her non-Muslim friends' due to her fashion statements and actions. I would have loved to get to know more of her and I wished the book spent more time juxtaposing Shabnam and Farah as it seems to indicate in the book's description.
 Regrettably, the book spends a lot more time on Shabnam's romance with Jamie, a boy she bumps into at the mall. The romance falls completely flat and insta-lovey as Shabnam is smitten quickly by being called "beautiful" a handful of times. Jamie feels more like a plot device than a fleshed out character. He comes off as a carefree person, but to me, he felt as someone who wanted to check off 'date an exotic brown girl' off his dating bucket list. It irritated me that Shabnam is willing to sleep with Jamie despite only being acquainted with him for twelve days and not knowing anything about his past, his family, or even his present/future. Her shock of her relationship status of being a summer fling was very anticlimactic.
  Karim makes a point to include the 1947 Partition between India and Pakistan as well as including famous Urdu poets in the story, but both of these story threads would have added a much needed layer of depth to this story, but they were used superfluously and did not add much to Shabnam's character development besides maintaining her exotic status in Jamie's eyes and those of her classmates. I was really looking forward to an exploration of what it means to be a Muslim American teen in That Thing We Call a Heart, but I only found glimpses of it in this book.  

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, underage drinking, drug use, and crude sexual humor in the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah, I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amélie Sarn
Rummanah Aasi

 I wanted to post a book list of books from a variety of genres and reading levels in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month. National Hispanic Heritage Month commemorates the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. If you would like to learn more, please visit the National Hispanic Heritage Month website.

 I've read quite a few of these titles and others are on my ever-growing to be read pile. This is by no means a comprehensive list. There are hundreds of titles out there to choose from. All of these titles are either feature Hispanic characters and/or are written by authors from Hispanic backgrounds. If I have reviewed the book, I will link my review.


Children's Picture and Chapter Books


 Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina: Mia’s Abuela has left her sunny house with parrots and palm trees to live with Mia and her parents in the city. The night she arrives, Mia tries to share her favorite book with Abuela before they go to sleep and discovers that Abuela can’t read the words inside. So while they cook, Mia helps Abuela learn English ("Dough. Masa"), and Mia learns some Spanish too, but it’s still hard for Abuela to learn the words she needs to tell Mia all her stories. Then Mia sees a parrot in the pet-shop window and has the perfect idea for how to help them all communicate a little better. An endearing tale from an award-winning duo that speaks loud and clear about learning new things and the love that bonds family members.

Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina: Juana loves many things — drawing, eating Brussels sprouts, living in Bogotá, Colombia, and especially her dog, Lucas, the best amigo ever. She does not love wearing her itchy school uniform, solving math problems, or going to dance class. And she especially does not love learning the English. Why is it so important to learn a language that makes so little sense? But when Juana’s Abuelos tell her about a special trip they are planning—one that Juana will need to speak English to go on—Juana begins to wonder whether learning the English might be a good use of her time after all.

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Méndez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh: Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Méndez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Méndez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.

Niño Wrestles the World (Niño) by Yuyi Morales: Señoras y Señores, put your hands together for the fantastic, spectacular, one of a kind . . . Niño!

Fwap! Slish! Bloop! Krunch! He takes down his competition in a single move!

No opponent is too big a challenge for the cunning skills of Niño—popsicle eater, toy lover, somersault expert, and world champion lucha libre competitor!


Children/Middle Grade Reads



The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya: For Arturo, summertime in Miami means playing basketball until dark, sipping mango smoothies, and keeping cool under banyan trees. And maybe a few shifts as junior lunchtime dishwasher at Abuela's restaurant. Maybe. But this summer also includes Carmen, a cute poetry enthusiast who moves into Arturo's apartment complex and turns his stomach into a deep fryer. He almost doesn't notice the smarmy land developer who rolls into town and threatens to change it. Arturo refuses to let his family and community go down without a fight, and as he schemes with Carmen, Arturo discovers the power of poetry and protest through untold family stories and the work of Jose Marti.

The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan: Neftali finds beauty and wonder everywhere: in the oily colors of mud puddles; a lost glove, sailing on the wind; the music of birds and language. He loves to collect treasures, daydream, and write--pastimes his authoritarian father thinks are for fools. Against all odds, Neftali prevails against his father's cruelty and his own crippling shyness to become one of the most widely read poets in the world, Pablo Neruda. This moving story about the birth of an artist is also a celebration of childhood, imagination, & the strength of the creative spirit. Sure to inspire young writers & artists.

The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau: Nothing exciting happens on the Hill of Dust, in the remote mountains of Mexico in the 1950s. There's no electricity, no plumbing, no cars, just day after day of pasturing goats. And now, without his sister and mother, eleven-year-old Teo's life feels even more barren. And then one day, the mysterious young Esma, who calls herself the Gypsy Queen of Lightning, rolls into town like a fresh burst of color. Against all odds, her caravan's Mistress of Destiny predicts that Teo and Esma will be longtime friends. Suddenly, life brims with possibility. With the help of a rescued duck, a three-legged skunk, a blind goat, and other allies, Teo and Esma must overcome obstacles-even death-to fulfill their impossible destiny.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan: Esperanza thought she'd always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico--she'd always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, and servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn't ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances--Mama's life, and her own, depend on it.

YA



Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas, #1) by Zoraida Córdova: Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust, but who may be Alex’s only chance at saving her family.

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall: When Lupita learns Mami has cancer, she is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of her close-knit family. Suddenly, being a high school student, starring in a play, and dealing with friends who don't always understand, become less important than doing whatever she can to save Mami's life.
  While her father cares for Mami at an out-of-town clinic, Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. As Lupita struggles to keep the family afloat, she takes refuge in the shade of a mesquite tree, where she escapes the chaos at home to write. Forced to face her limitations in the midst of overwhelming changes and losses, Lupita rediscovers her voice and finds healing in the power of words.

Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Peña: Danny's tall and skinny. Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. Ninety-five mile an hour fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.
  But at his private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’ s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged. But it works the other way too. And Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico.
   That’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he may just have to face the demons he refuses to see--the demons that are right in front of his face. And open up to a friendship he never saw coming.

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero: Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy's pregnancy, Sebastian's coming out, the cute boys, her father's meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez: New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz: Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork: Vicky Cruz shouldn’t be alive. That’s what she thinks, anyway—and why she tried to kill herself. But then she arrives at Lakeview Hospital, where she meets Mona, the live wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she’s never had. Yet Vicky’s newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up—sending her back to the life that drove her to suicide—Vicky must find her own courage and strength. She may not have any. She doesn’t know.

Nonfiction 



When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago: Esmeralda Santiago's story begins in rural Puerto Rico, where her childhood was full of both tenderness and domestic strife, tropical sounds and sights as well as poverty. Growing up, she learned the proper way to eat a guava, the sound of tree frogs in the mango groves at night, the taste of the delectable sausage called morcilla, and the formula for ushering a dead baby's soul to heaven. As she enters school we see the clash, both hilarious and fierce, of Puerto Rican and Yankee culture. When her mother, Mami, a force of nature, takes off to New York with her seven, soon to be eleven children, Esmeralda, the oldest, must learn new rules, a new language, and eventually take on a new identity. In this first volume of her much-praised, bestselling trilogy, Santiago brilliantly recreates the idyllic landscape and tumultuous family life of her earliest years and her tremendous journey from the barrio to Brooklyn, from translating for her mother at the welfare office to high honors at Harvard.

The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande: When Reyna Grande’s father leaves his wife and three children behind in a village in Mexico to make the dangerous trek across the border to the United States, he promises he will soon return from “El Otro Lado” (The Other Side) with enough money to build them a dream house where they can all live together. His promises become harder to believe as months turn into years. When he summons his wife to join him, Reyna and her siblings are deposited in the already overburdened household of their stern, unsmiling grandmother. The three siblings are forced to look out for themselves; in childish games they find a way to forget the pain of abandonment and learn to solve very adult problems. When their mother at last returns, the reunion sets the stage for a dramatic new chapter in Reyna’s young life: her own journey to “El Otro Lado” to live with the man who has haunted her imagination for years, her long-absent father.

Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life by Catherine Reef: Nontraditional, controversial, rebellious, and politically volatile, the Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are remembered for their provocative paintings as well as for their deep love for each other. Their marriage was one of the most tumultuous and infamous in history—filled with passion, pain, betrayal, revolution, and, above all, art that helped define the twentieth century.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle: It is 1896. Cuba has fought three wars for independence and still is not free. People have been rounded up in re-concentration camps with too little food and too much illness. Rosa is a nurse, but she dares not go to the camps. So she turns hidden caves into hospitals for those who know how to find her. Black, white, Cuban, Spanish—Rosa does her best for everyone. Yet who can heal a country so torn apart by war? Acclaimed poet Margarita Engle has created another breathtaking portrait of Cuba.

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda: Drawn from the most intimate and personal associations, Pablo Neruda's most beloved collection of poetry juxtaposes the exuberance of youthful passion with the desolation of grief, the sensuality of the body with the metaphorical nuances of nature.

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle: Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother's tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not. Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita's worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

Adult Fiction



The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende: Here is patriarch Esteban, whose wild desires and political machinations are tempered only by his love for his ethereal wife, Clara, a woman touched by an otherworldly hand. Their daughter, Blanca, whose forbidden love for a man Esteban has deemed unworthy infuriates her father, yet will produce his greatest joy: his granddaughter Alba, a beautiful, ambitious girl who will lead the family and their country into a revolutionary future.

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez: Uprooted from their family home in the Dominican Republic, the four Garcia sisters - Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia - arrive in New York City in 1960 to find a life far different from the genteel existence of maids, manicures, and extended family they left behind. What they have lost - and what they find - is revealed in the fifteen interconnected stories that make up this exquisite novel from one of the premier novelists of our time.

The Brief Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz: Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukœ-the curse that has haunted the Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón: Barcelona, 1945 - just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a volume from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last one in existence. Before Daniel knows it his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love. And before long he realizes that if he doesn’t find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez: After their daughter Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras leave México and come to America. But upon settling at Redwood Apartments, a two-story cinder block complex just off a highway in Delaware, they discover that Maribel's recovery--the piece of the American Dream on which they've pinned all their hopes--will not be easy. Every task seems to confront them with language, racial, and cultural obstacles. At Redwood also lives Mayor Toro, a high school sophomore whose family arrived from Panamá fifteen years ago. Mayor sees in Maribel something others do not: that beyond her lovely face, and beneath the damage she's sustained, is a gentle, funny, and wise spirit. But as the two grow closer, violence casts a shadow over all their futures in America.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of a mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendia family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, alive with unforgettable men and women, and with a truth and understanding that strike the soul.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel: A sumptuous feast of a novel, it relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. In desperation, Pedro marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her, so that Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all the odds.
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Leaving the safety of America, Teera returns to Cambodia for the first time since her harrowing escape as a child refugee. She carries a letter from a man who mysteriously signs himself as “the Old Musician” and claims to have known her father in the Khmer Rouge prison where he disappeared twenty-five years ago.
   In Phnom Penh, Teera finds a society still in turmoil, where perpetrators and survivors of unfathomable violence live side by side, striving to mend their still beloved country. She meets a young doctor who begins to open her heart, immerses herself in long-buried memories and prepares to learn her father’s fate.
   Meanwhile, the Old Musician, who earns his modest keep playing ceremonial music at a temple, awaits Teera’s visit with great trepidation. He will have to confess the bonds he shared with her parents, the passion with which they all embraced the Khmer Rouge’s illusory promise of a democratic society, and the truth about her father’s end.

Review: Music of the Ghosts is a lyrical, heart breaking, and haunting novel about Cambodia's past. The story opens in 1979 and grabs the reader's attention right away as teen Teera and her aunt flee the Khmer Rouge soldiers who decimated their village, trying to make their way into Thailand. This heart pounding, anxious escape sets the tone for the rest of the novel. The story jumps to 2003, when Teera makes the journey back to Cambodia from Minnesota, where she and her aunt settled 25 years earlier. Teera has received a letter from an old man who claims to have known her father in a Khmer Rouge prison. Desperate to learn any information about her father’s disappearance and ultimate demise, Teera makes the journey back to Cambodia.
 The story's narrative is then divided between Teera's experiences as a native and foreigner's experience in Cambodia and those of the old man who was friends with Teera's father. Teera's point of view offers hope and beauty as we learn about her past and that of her family until that frightful night. The old man's point of view is full of pain, despair as he recounts his life in captivity faced with excruciating pain and torture by the Khmer Rouge. Though the book's pacing is slow, the story and its characters are mesmerizing and it really opened my eyes as to what happened in Cambodia during those tumultuous times.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are graphic depictions of torture and war violence mentioned in this book. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner, The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova, Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascoes, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

Review: Flying Lessons and Other Stories is a short stories collection for middle grade readers, published in partnership with We Need Diverse Books. The stories are written by some of the best middle grade/young adult writers: Kwame Alexander, Matt de la Peña, Jacqueline Woodson, Soman Chainani, Grace Lin, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Federle, Meg Medina, Tim Tingle, and Kelly Baptist. All of these stories feature protagonists who deal with issues associated with growing up- fitting in, being excluded, dreams, family, friendships, crushes, and even learning life lessons along the way.
 I enjoyed all of these stories, however, there were a few that stood out to me. I loved how Matt de la Peña's story where playing basketball is the same as surviving and escaping a cage where the protagonist feels is too confining. Though he is faced with roadblocks from being taunted about his appearance and his lack of time on the court, the main character still manages to learn important lessons on and off the court. Woodson's haunting "Main Street" follows Celeste, the only girl of color in an all-white New Hampshire town, and her friendship with lifetime resident Treetop. Both are suffering from different losses: Treetop's mother has recently passed away, and Celeste isn't accepted in her new home. Their warm connection soothes their mutual pain and promises to last even after Celeste and her mother decide to return to familiar and welcoming New York. In Soman Chainani's story the main character is forced to go on vacation with his eccentric and emotionally distant grandmother only to find out that she wasn't distant at all but wanted her grandson to take risks and go out of his comfort zone. This is a very inclusive, strong short stories collection.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Amina's Voice by Hena Khan, Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He's even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he's Spider Man.
   But lately, Miles's spidey-sense has been on the fritz. When a misunderstanding leads to his suspension from school, Miles begins to question his abilities. After all, his dad and uncle were Brooklyn jack-boys with criminal records. Maybe kids like Miles aren't meant to be superheroes. Maybe Miles should take his dad's advice and focus on saving himself.
  As Miles tries to get his school life back on track, he can't shake the vivid nightmares that continue to haunt him. Nor can he avoid the relentless buzz of his spidey-sense every day in history class, amidst his teacher's lectures on the historical "benefits" of slavery and the importance of the modern-day prison system. But after his scholarship is threatened, Miles uncovers a chilling plot, one that puts his friends, his neighborhood, and himself at risk. It's time for Miles to suit up.

Review: I was first introduced to Miles Morales in one of the volumes of Ms. Marvel graphic novels. I didn't know much about him besides the fact that he was Spider-Man so I was really excited when I found out that Jason Reynolds was tapped by Marvel to write a Miles Morales book. After reading quite a few of Reynolds' other books I knew that Miles Morales was in very capable hands.
  I very much appreciated that Reynolds moved beyond an origin story and the novelization of a graphic novel. This book is more interested in Miles' personal journey grappling with his identity of being a half black/half Puerto Rican teen and a superhero, both of which limit and define him.
 Miles is an incredibly smart, loyal, and responsible teen. He is keenly aware of his surroundings and social status. Unlike many students in his elite prep school, Miles is a scholarship student who comes from the Brooklyn projects where crime is a way of life. His parents are tough but they fiercely love their son and want what is best for him.
  Reynolds also addresses racism in the book both explicitly and implicitly throughout the book. Miles' history teacher is racist and proclaims that slavery was beneficial in America and African Americans were better off because of it. I had a really hard time with this teacher especially because it is unfortunately very timely today. I also understood how helpless Miles felt in confronting the teacher given the fact that his father is an ex-convict, Miles knows that society also expects him to follow the same footsteps into crime. Though Miles got his powers from his uncle Aaron's criminal past, Miles is always at a crosswords on what type of person he can become. While surviving his junior year at high school and all the angst that comes along with it, Miles can't help but worry if he too will become a victim of nature or a nurturer who will break the glass ceiling that was placed above him.
  I will admit that the superhero aspect of the book was a bit clunky at times, but given the fact that the character development and themes were so strong that this didn't bother me as much. The villain felt a bit flat and underdeveloped, especially since he appeared after the half way mark of the book. I really hope there is another book featuring Miles since there are so many other aspects of his character and the book's themes to explore.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language in the book. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Miles Morales, The Ultimate Spider-Man Edition graphic novel series by Brian Bendis, Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo, Black Widow by Margaret Strohl
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