In 1982 a charismatic and popular young man went out to celebrate his bachelor's party. What happened next would be the subject of several court cases and intense debate. What's undeniable is that a bar fight turned fatal ending with a white father and son beating a Chinese-American man to death. Vincent Chin would never see his wedding day, leaving the friends and family gathering for his wedding to observe his funeral rites instead. When the two white men received only a $3,000 fine and 3 years probation for this heinous crime, it was hard to believe that race hadn't played a role. Soon Vincent Chin's friends and family would rally together to protest the verdict and get the crime retried as the first federal civil rights trial involving a crime against an Asian American. Uncover the story behind this crime through case files, trial transcripts, and interviews with the people who were there. This is a hard but important story, and one that sheds light on what's happening today.
From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement by Paula Yoo
Erica's Picks 7th & up tags: history, nonfiction, People of Color, social justice
At first, President Lincoln would not allow African Americans or American Indians to enlist with the union army. But as the war drew on and the casualties mounted, it became harder and harder to find men willing to fight. In 1863 he changed that policy and allowed the creation of segregated units. By the end of the Civil War about 20,000 American Indians fought on both sides. One of the largest companies of American Indians were the Anishinaabe sharpshooters of Company K. Drawing on their hunting skills and their rich warrior tradition they were a formidable force who served with courage and honor. Learn about their stories, their service, and the history of their people.
The primary sources Sally Walker was able to find from photographs to letters home really bring members of Company K to life and depict the life of a Civil War soldier in detail. A fascinating history and a story that should be widely told and remembered.
Deadly Aim: The Civil War Story of Michigan's Anishinaabe Sharpshooters by Sally M. Walker
Erica's Picks 6th - 8th tags: history, nonfiction, People of Color
Will loves turtles, but he hates being called turtle boy. The specimens he collects from the nature preserve behind his school are silent but supportive friends he can study and understand. The kids at school, on the other hand, only call him "turtle boy" because of his small chin. It turns out to be more than just a cosmetic concern, and the doctor says he'll need corrective surgery soon. But Will has been terrified of hospitals ever since his father unexpectedly died during a routine operation. Then his rabbi assigns Will to cheer up a RJ, a teen dying from an incurable illness, as his community service project for his Bar Mitzvah. Both boys seem to hate it at first, but Will's life changes in ways he never would have believed once he discovers RJ's bucket list and becomes determined to help him finish it.
This is such moving story that I didn't even mind the buckets of tears it made me cry. All of the characters are well drawn and learning about their interests from herpetology to drumming was fascinating as well. Highly recommended, but have the tissues ready.
Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein
Erica's Picks 4th - 7th tags: character driven, contemporary fiction, family life, friendship, SEL, tear jerker
Ning never knew her father, but anyone who sees her can tell that he was a foreigner. Her strange looks combined with her unbound feet make her an outcast and guarantee that she will never find a husband. Her mother hides her away so she's barely experienced life outside her small home and her only friend is her mother's servant. One day she makes a rare trip to a temple and makes a wish for her father to return. Little does she know that wish would change her life forever. Soon she's all alone in a foreign land filled with people who distrust her. How can she build a new life for herself and still be true to her roots? Where can she run when home is thousands of miles and an ocean away?
This story, based on the life of the author's great-great-grandmother, is an engaging and unique immigration tale. From Ning's life in Shanghai to her trip across the ocean and her life in America her bold spirit shines through as she's thrown into daunting situations and has to handle them all on her own. I love how she borrows courage from tales of her favorite pirate queen. An author's note in the back details more about the life of the author's family.
View from Pagoda Hill by Michaela MacColl
Erica's Picks 5th - 8th tags: character driven, family life, global perspectives, historical fiction, People of Color
Eli is new to the foster care system, but his foster sister Morgan has been in it almost her whole life and barely remembers her biological family and indigenous roots. At first all Morgan wants is to be left alone to read in her secret spot in the attic, but when she brings Eli there something magical happens: a drawing from his sketchbook opens a portal into another land. Misewa is trapped in a perpetual winter and populated by animals that walk on two legs and speak Cree and English. Eli feels at home, as a native Cree speaker and someone who grew up with folk tales about similar creatures. Morgan just wants to take Eli and get back to their foster home before they mess it all up and she gets kicked out again. But the more they learn about the land and how its inhabitants are suffering, the more they are drawn to help. Even if it means facing bitter cold, hunger, and the dangers that hide in the snow.
This is an outstanding series opener. It has echoes of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe but stands on its own with fully realized world-building and layered characters. I read this in the summer, but I could feel the chill as I read Robertson's descriptions of the harsh environment. I appreciated the bits of Cree language and culture woven throughout and can't wait to read the next installment.
The Barren Grounds (The Misewa Saga #1) by David Alexander Robertson
Erica's Picks 5th - 8th tags: adventure, fantasy, global perspectives, People of Color
Nala was hoping to find love this summer, but she never thought she'd find it at an Inspire Harlem event. The activist organization is her cousin-sister-friend Imani's thing. Tye is perfect and she can't believe he's into her, so she pretends to be a vegetarian and acts like she's volunteering at a local retirement home instead of just hanging out doing puzzles with her grandmother. At first being with Tye is better than her wildest dreams. But soon she gets tired of pretending to be someone she's not. What will happen when Tye finds out she's been lying to him? Why shouldn't she be enough as she is? Soon her dream summer turns into a nightmare.
The theme of the novel is captured by the title and watching it all unfold was incredibly moving. Topics ranging from self-image to activism are explored without it ever feeling preachy. Every character is well-drawn and layered and the way the plot all comes together is masterful. I absolutely adored this novel and highly recommend it
Love Is a Revolution by Renée Watson
Erica's Picks 7th - 8th tags: character driven, contemporary fiction, family life, issues fiction, People of Color, romance, social justice, summer vacation
It's Ellen's last summer before college, and all she wants is to spend the time with her best friends before everything changes. But Xiumiao seems like she's already moved on. Then Ellen gets grounded for the whole summer by her step-mother. Luckily her other best friend, Melissa finds a loophole. Ellen's parents are always on her about getting outside and exercising more, so Melissa convinces them to let Ellen out of the house for quidditch practice. At first Ellen only agrees to it because the alternative is being stuck indoors doing chores all day. But soon this all-gender, full-contact sport with a bunch of geeks running around with PVC pipes between their legs starts to grow on her. She finally understands the appeal of sports, and she starts to understand some more things about herself too. It wasn't the summer Ellen wanted or expected, but it will turn out to be one she will never forget.
There's a lot to love about this book full of enthusiastic geeks and misunderstandings. The relationships are complicated and authentic. The protagonists are on the cusp of adulthood and figuring out their identities and exploring their gender and sexual orientation in a way that will ring true to many teens. I am not a sports fan but Ellen's journey from hating exercise to enthusiastic team player was moving. As was the way the characters learned from their mistakes and false assumptions. A great summer read.
This is How We Fly by Anna Meriano Erica's Picks 7th & 8th tags: character driven, contemporary fiction, family life, friendship, LGBTQ, People of Color, SEL, sports, summer vacation
Robin loves her life in Seoul. She loves going to the cafes with her friends and talking about their favorite comics. So when a vacation to America suddenly turns into a permanent relocation after her mother gets married with no warning, she is devastated. English has never been her strongest subject so getting along in her new school is difficult. Trying to find friends she can trust is harder when even her step-cousins shun her. But things start to turn around when she finds a comic club. As Robin learns more about her mother and why she decided to move, she begins to adjust to her new life.
This comic memoir is full of heart and I enjoyed reading about Robin's experience as an immigrant and her life in both Korea and Alabama. I love how she describes her mom in the afterward as "a much more interesting character than I am" and her empathy for her mother's difficult decision shines through, even as it caused her a lot of pain at the time. An insightful and moving comic.
Almost American Girl by Robin Ha Erica's Picks 6th - 8th tags: art, character driven, comics, family life, global perspectives, people of color, school stories
Henri is a charming, popular student, star debater, and dog walker extraordinaire. He's passionate about taking care of his neighbor's dogs, but he knows they'll trust a corporation more than some kid, so he makes a fake dog walking company complete with its own website. No one suspects he's the only employee, except for his neighbor Corinne. She has problems of her own. She knows recommendation letters can make or break a college application and hers keep saying that she's too intense and doesn't fit in socially. She promises Henri she'll keep his secret as long as he uses his popularity to reform her image. At first it's a grudging arrangement, but as they get to know each other better Henri's feelings change. Which is why it's so devastating when he has to decide between his dreams for his future and betraying Corinne.
Ben Philippe is just as charming as his protagonist, judging from this and his other book. Reading a book of his is always a pleasure. This book is a classic rom-com premise but with thought-provoking messages of society's expectations for its main characters and academic integrity.
Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe Erica's Picks 7th & 8th tags: character driven, contemporary fiction, friendship, people of color, romance, school stories
After living a life terrified of being turned in by a neighbor for not being patriotic enough, Twelve year old Sora and her family make the dangerous decision to try and escape to South Korea as the front line of the war moves closer to their village. Fleeing into a war zone with limited resources is dangerous enough without having to worry about being caught by their own country men and punished for trying to defect. In the chaos of a bombing Sora is separated from her parents and left with her eight year old brother to protect. As they struggle through the hunger, cold, and war happening around them they wonder if they will ever see their family again, or if they are even alive.
This harrowing journey is incredibly moving. The resilience of Sora to push on and care for her brother despite everything is astonishing. While appropriate for a middle grade audience, the realities of life at the time are not sugarcoated and you should be prepared for a tear-jerker. The ultimate message though is one of hope and empathy.
Brother's Keeper by Julie Lee Erica's Picks 4th - 7th tags: family life, fast-paced, global perspectives, historical fiction, people of color, survival, tear-jerker