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MTYT: A New Kind of Wild

By Seemi Aziz, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ and Janelle B. Mathis, University of North Texas, Denton, TX

As we conclude our week of introducing titles that for us speak to the many aspects of displacement, A New Kind of Wild shares a story that represents how local and applicable the notion of displacement can be for young readers. There are many ways that children are displaced in their daily life—required family moves to other communities or cities, family separations, feelings of not belonging, bullying, and other ways that emotional and physical displacement can occur. A New Kind of Wild is best described by the author’s dedication: “And to anyone who has had to leave a place they love for somewhere new, this is for you” (Hoang, 2020). Ren has always lived in the rainforest where, during the day, he imagines adventures with dragons, unicorns, fairies and kings while surrounded by nature. He must move to the city where he was lonely and finds nothing that stirs his imagination. Then he meets Ava who has always lived in the city and shares with Ren the imaginative wonders of her city life.

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WOW Recommends: The Blackbird Girls

Cover of the Blackbird Girls depicting two girls in black dresses carrying brown backpacks looking out to a red-hued city with a cloud of black smoke rising into the red sky.Pripyat, Ukraine, Soviet Union, 1986 may not mean anything to many readers but perhaps the word Chernobyl means something. If not, it will upon reading this deeply engaging book about Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko, two middle school girls who find themselves suddenly thrown into the most horrific circumstances when the nuclear power plant—Chernobyl—blows up in their city.

It was a Saturday, a half day at school, when Valentina finds her father not at the breakfast table, and the sky is red. Urged to go to school, Valentina notices the neighborhood is filled with police officers, and while she is curious, no one dares to ask the police any questions. At school, she is confronted by Oksana, an outspoken anti-Semite, who challenges Valentina to a race to show how Jews are the weaker race. Valentina does not comply with the rules that suggest she should just let Oksana win and by doing so, keep her place in the social hierarchy. She outruns Oksana, and it is from this starting point that readers are introduced to the two “blackbird girls,” who must navigate an evacuation from their city without their parents and learn to live together with Valentina’s grandmother in Leningrad, whom Valentina had never met. Valentina’s mother kept Valentina from her grandmother because of her dangerous actions, and while Oksana would never willing live with Jews, she has no choice as her mother is sent to Minsk because of radiation exposure. Valentina’s mother gives up her train ticket to Oksana, an action that again causes great dissonance in Oksana’s thinking about Jews.

This is a fascinating narrative that addresses not only the explosion of Chernobyl, but the political and social realities of Soviet rule in the 1980s. As Valentina and Oksana come to trust each other, and Valentina’s grandmother, readers develop compassion for both girls as Oksana, herself, has secrets that must be addressed. Ultimately, this is a story of hope, of friendship, and of loyalty that is truly inspiring. Based on real events and a real person who was a child in Pripyat at the time of the explosion, this book is a great read for any young reader of history and for those who love to see how overcoming dire circumstances is truly possible. -Recommended by Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio Continue reading

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MTYT: The Undefeated

Mary L. Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson, New Mexico State University, NM

In their fourth MTYT installment for April 2020, Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson provide their take on Kwame Alexander’s The Undefeated, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. The Undefeated was the winner of the 2020 Caldecott Medal, the winner of the 2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, and was a 2020 Newbery Honor Book.
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A Long Time Coming: Representations of Male Queerness in Children’s Literature

Donna Bulatowicz, Montana State University, Billings, MT, and Desiree Cueto, Western Washington University, WA, with Gavin McCormick

This series of WOW Currents, “A Long Time Coming,” centers on the progress made toward diversifying children’s literature and on the need to further this effort. In this final segment, we look at the evolution of LGBTQ+ books. The importance of authentic depictions in these books cannot be overemphasized, as Ellen Oh wrote on her blog, “Because queer kids are still killing themselves over being different (or being told that they’re different) and the greater representation they have in books, the less alone they’ll feel.” Continue reading

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A Long Time Coming: Representations of Muslim Characters in Children’s Literature

By Donna Bulatowicz, Montana State University Billings, MT, and Desiree Cueto, Western Washington University, WA with Alicen Anijo

Cover of One Green Apple depicting a yong girl in a light colored hijab holding an apple with an apple orchard in the background, where other children pick apples.Even though roughly 1% of U.S. adults identify as Muslim (Pew Research Center 2020), few books published in the United States authentically portray this community. This leads to challenges in finding books for Muslim children that represent their religious identity. It also poses a problem for non-Muslim children who need to see religious diversity represented in literature. Books are one way to mitigate prejudice; thus, the importance of a multitude of authentic portrayals of Muslim main characters in books can make a difference. Continue reading

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A Long Time Coming: Fictional Depictions of Autism Spectrum Disorder

By Donna Bulatowicz, Montana State University Billings, MT, and Desiree W. Cueto, Western Washington University, WA with with Megan Robinson

Cover of A Friend For Henry depicting a young boy with black hair playing with colored blocksIn 1965, Nancy Larrick wrote “The All-White World of Children’s Books,” which called publishers to task for limited, almost non-existent representations of diverse characters. Fast-forward nearly 50 years and the same sentiment is conveyed through the hashtag, turned movement, turned non-profit, We Need Diverse Books. According to its website, We Need Diverse Books serves as a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers who advocate for essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people. The ongoing work of readers, reviewers, authors and publishing houses connected to the movement has changed the industry in significant ways. However, there is still a long way to go before inclusivity is the industry standard. This WOW Currents post highlights newer titles that move the work forward by reflecting the lives of marginalized groups with depth and complexity. We also consider how some representations in children’s books have remained stagnant and limited to heroic or stereotypical representations. In each segment, we feature the perspectives of cultural insiders: Megan Robinson, Alicen Anijo, Gavin McCormick and Ana Casillas-Sanchez, who enrolled in Desiree Cueto’s Culturally Relevant Materials for Diverse Learners course at Western Washington University. Drawing on their inquiries, we examine representations of Autism Spectrum Disorder, LGBTQAI+, Islam/Muslim Religion and Depression. Continue reading

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WOW Recommends: Under The Broken Sky

Cover of Under the Broken Sky which depicts two young Japanese girls carrying backpacks and embracing each other, looking out to the viewer on a background of desert and blue sky.Written in free verse, Under the Broken Sky is the story of a family of Japanese settlers in the historical context of Manchuria in northern China in World War II. Manchuria is a forested and rich agricultural land that Japan invaded in 1931 for raw materials due to a lack of resources in Japan. In 1945, twelve-year-old Natsu lives with her father and little sister, Asa, on a quiet farm in Manchuria. Natsu’s mother died while giving birth to Asa, leaving their father in raise them. But Japan is losing the war, and the Soviet Union invades in the summer of 1945, and Natsu’s father is drafted to fight for the Japanese Empire. Natsu, Asa, and Auntie (their neighbor), along with other Japanese settlers, become refugees, fleeing on foot to the city of Harbin, where they live in an abandoned school. Facing a harsh winter, hunger, exhaustion, illness, and bullets from Soviet planes, many die, including Auntie. Natsu and Asa are left destitute and alone. Natsu survives by begging on the streets, and like other Japanese parents, is faced with the agonizing decision of selling her little sister Asa, to a Russian woman in hopes that Asa will be fed, cared for, and kept safe. This story gives readers insight into Japanese refugee families during World War II as well as families today who are forced to leave their homes. -Recommended by Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District. Continue reading