January 17, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Collection Built Around Its Community—Incarcerated Teens | YA Underground

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When I give guests a tour of my library one of the first things they notice is the way it is organized—the entire library is geared toward people of color. Because that is who is in here.

I always say, and make very clear, this is because of disproportionate minority confinement. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s another (easier for some people to hear?) word for racism. Youth of color are overrepresented at nearly every point of contact with the juvenile justice system—and this disproportionate minority contact is disturbingly persistent over time. Youth of color are more likely to be incarcerated and to serve more time than white youth, even when they are charged with the same category of offense.

But back to the library: I have the popular African American fiction section, a Latino section, biography, horror and sci-fi section—all of these feature books as much as possible by, for, and about people of color. The collection is labeled with 21 different genre stickers to help readers identify titles of interest. Toni Morrison is not in the popular African American section, she is in the classics section, because my library assumes that people of color want to see themselves in all genres. The smallest section in my library is the Hispanic/Latino section. I even have to put the fiction and the nonfiction together, it is so small. Where are all the Hispanic, Latino, and Latin American authors with the stories my kids want to read?

I have a catch-all section, which is actually where most of the white authors’ books live. John Green’s titles are there, although none of my patrons really read them. Before The Fault in Our Stars movie was released, I had never had a request for the book. I have Ellen Hopkins, and April Henry, and some action-packed series which my kids are loving. The most popular right now are T. M. Goeglein’s heart-pounding Mafia action-adventure Embers & Ash  (Penguin, 2014); Emmy Laybourne’s disaster-packed survivor story Savage Drift (Feiwel & Friends, 2014); Trevor Shane’s Children of the Uprising (NAL, 2013), and Lex Thomas’s next entry in the war and intrigue “Quarantine” series, The Burnouts (Egmont USA, 2014). I also include titles such as Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner in this section. In my institution, it is critical that I understand the worldview of my teens, and how they approach YA lit, however unusual it may seem to youth librarians serving those in outside populations.

To add diversity to your collection, or build one that considers your community’s demographics, consider the following titles that you may have missed.

Burning down the houseFew people are aware of what really goes on inside juvenile prisons, even though the U.S. incarcerates more youth than any other nation in the world. Incarcerated youth may be unable to see the big picture. Burning Down the House by Nell Bernstein changes all that. It does for children what the Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (New Press, 2012) has done for adults. It’s a must read for anyone interested in crime and justice and definitely needs to be on library shelves. A passionate advocate for children, Bernstein highlights teen’s voices and experiences throughout the book, which adds humanity and insight to the statistics. There are a few teens in my institution and a lot more on the outside who will be willing to tackle this book because of the subject matter. Watch for a full review to come at Adult Books for Teens.

Patrick JonesLibrarian and author Patrick Jones is writing a lot of books that fill a gap. The Bridge tells the story of a young man who is the only English speaker in a family of undocumented immigrants. This has serious consequences when his father has a heart attack and is misdiagnosed. José is on the straight and narrow, working two jobs and trying to succeed in school through all of his responsibilities.

IllegalI met N. at BEA, signing copies of his memoir, Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant, and read it on the plane on the way home. N. crossed the border when he was a teen, graduated with a master’s degree, and held a high paying job. This isn’t so much a feel-good story of rags to riches as it is an exploration of the territory of living underground, in fear of being found out as “illegal.” Without legal ID, he is constantly on edge, fearing traffic stops, going into a bar and getting carded, getting on a plane, traveling; he waits for the other shoe to drop and his irregular social security card to be found out. Sophisticated teens will enjoy this title. (Full review to come in Adult Books for Teens blog).

lowriders in spaceLowriders in Space, the forthcoming graphic novel from Chronicle books is terrific. Lupe Impala, lowrider chick and mechanic extraordinaire and her sidekicks El Chavo FlapJack and Elirio Malaria customize a car to enter the Universal Car Competition in hopes of winning so they can open their own shop. Seeking car parts they end up in the abandoned airplane factory which leads them into the stratosphere for detailing. Says Chavo “I don’t think we’re in the barrio anymore!” They pick up a few rings from Saturn, snag the Pleiades for their wheel and some pom-pom asteroids. It’s fun, it’s silly, it’s totally cool cars and there will be a sequel!

Black SheepRobert’s Black Sheep will end up in my popular African American section. It starts out strong with a great cover. Bad boy and wannabe rapper Dwayne is on the streets with his boys, but then meets posh girl Misha. A quarter of the way through the pacing slows down and gets a preachy. I kept reading because there is a lot of  diversity—Misha’s father is Rastafarian, and the leader of Dwayne’s gang drops out to be Muslim. Dwayne himself converts. He struggles to turn his life around while hiding his darker side from Misha. The action picks up towards the end when one night the two sides of Dwayne’s life collide. Fans of Sister Souljah (who works in a Muslim theme in her later books) might like this one, despite the uneven pacing.

Kinda Like BrothersPlease add Coe Booth’s new middle school book Kinda Like Brothers to your lists of possible Newbery contenders. This title could go on to win both the Coretta Scott King and the Newbery. Brilliantly written, every single character has a story, and readers will feel as if they know them, and will want to get know even more about them. Booth writes truths about boys’ relationships with each other that are real in all of their complexities. This title also shows relationships between African American boys and men in a big and profound way.

BERNSTEIN, Nell. Burning Down the House: the End of Youth Prison. New Press. Jun. 2014. 319p. Tr $26.95. 9781595589569.

BOOTH, Coe. Kinda Like Brothers. Scholastic. Aug. 2014 256p.Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545224963.

CAMPER, Cathy. Lowriders in Space. Bk. 1. illus. by Raul the Third. Chronicle. Nov. 2014. 107p. Tr $22.99. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781452128696.

JONES, Patrick. Bridge. (The Alternative). Darby Creek/Lerner. 2014. 86p. pap. $7.95. ISBN 9781467744829.

N., José Ángel. Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant. Univ. of Illinois Pr. 2014. 115p. pap. $19.95. ISBN 9780252079863.

ROBERT, Na’ima B. Black Sheep. Frances Lincoln. 2014. 272p. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9781847802354.

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Amy Cheney About Amy Cheney

Amy Cheney is a librarian and advocate, serving the underserved for over 25 years including preschoolers, middle schoolers, adults in county and federal facilities, students in juvenile halls, non-traditional library users and people of color. She began YALSA-Lockdown, a list serve for librarians serving youth in custody, which led to the formation of Library Services for Youth in Custody (LYSC). She founded In the Margins book award and committee, which brings national attention to self published books by, for and about people of color living in the margins. Her theme song is "Short Skirt, Long Jacket" by Cake. Learn more at Write2Read.

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