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Ho’onani: Hula Warrior

April 4, 2020

In honor of School Library Month, I am featuring book reviews from young library science students from the University of Washington’s iSchool in Seattle, WA.  Books featured in this blog are picture, middle grade and young adult titles that are not only appropriate for the middle school reader in today’s world, but necessary, for the up and coming review feature the cutting-edge of voices in BIPOC populations that often don’t get an opportunity to be heard in the text of books intended for today’s youth.  This first book is a nonfiction picture book meant for much younger youth.  The powerful lesson of third-gender acceptance, however, provides the background for critical thought by all on the acceptance of others.

ISBN 978-0735264496.  Grades PreK-2.  Tundra Books.  October 1, 2019.  40pp.  $21.99 Hdc.  Ho’onani:  Hula Warrior.
Heather Gale and Mika Song’s Ho’onani: Hula Warrior is the story of a girl who identifies as between masculine (kane) and feminine (wahine) roles, and finds acceptance through traditional Hawaiian culture. Ho’onani does not feel like a boy or a girl, and with the support of her teacher Kumu Hina and her parents, she tries out for a traditionally male role in a school-produced hula chant. This causes a minor conflict between her sister, who urges her to accept traditional gender roles, and auditioning boys who are shocked to see a girl trying out.
Ho’onani: Hula Warrior is based on the true story of Ho’onani Kamai and her teacher Hinaleimoana Kwai Kong Wong-Kalu (a transgender identified person, herself) as featured in the documentary, A Place in the Middle.

The traditional pledge of Aloha is an example as to why third-gender people are highly regarded within indigenous Hawaiian culture.

The front matter explains this, and the traditional Hawaiian term for a person who embraces both masculine and feminine traits, “māhū”.  However, some of the concepts from the front matter do not appear in the main text itself, but could be used for supplemental instruction, or follow-up by an adult reader or storytime librarian.


The illustrator, Mika Song, is a former animator, and the illustrations look like storyboards, or concept art, for an animated film by Disney/Pixar; with a brushy watercolor style, that is both to the book’s credit and its detriment. The images are, with one or two exceptions, purely illustrative of the text and do not add much imaginatively to the work, and are classically composed; but in some cases the concept-design/storyboard aesthetic appears spare or sketchy in ways that do not serve the narrative. However, the expressive use of solid line and color strongly evoke character emotions, and the varied use of color values plays a role in centralizing Ho’onani and Kumu Hina as the most important figures in each image, through a strong use of color contrast and saturation.  Ho’onani: Hula Warrior nevertheless offers an excellent view of gender identities and acceptance in Native Hawaiian culture.
ISBN 978-0735264496.  Grades PreK-2.  Tundra Books.  October 1, 2019.  40pp.  $21.99 Hdc.  Ho’onani:  Hula Warrior.
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2020 In the Margins Press Release

February 12, 2020

Contact:  Sabrina Carnesi, In the Margins Book Awards Committee Chair


NEWPORT NEWS, VA. – The In the Margins Book Awards (ITM) committee is pleased to announce their selection for overall top titles and Top Ten List for 2020.  In the Margins Book Award selections are inclusive of stories written for youth between the ages of 9 and 21, in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, and advocacy. Many books considered for this award are self-published and from smaller independent publishers.  The committee’s charge is inclusive of youth living a marginalized existance, with specific focus on narratives and informational text that address the disproportionality of injustices experienced by BIPOC youth from the historical impact of cultural irrelevance and structural exclusion which often finds them living in poverty, in the streets, in custody, or a cycle of all three.

In addition to reading and discussing a multitude of book titles published over the previous 18 months of the award year, a unique selection experience of the committee is the input received from young adults who have also read and directly shared their opinions on the same book titles.   Incorporating the enthusiastic response from youth who live the experiences of our charge is a vital component to generating this annual reading list which was originally intended as a selection tool for librarians who service youth in juvenile detention facilities throughout the North American continent, and has since spread to community outreach programs and schools throughout North America.

For the first time in its seven year history, the committee has not only selected a story that is representative of Indigenous voices as its top fiction title for two years consecutively, but have generated a Top Ten and Recommended List with an overall total of 4 titles with authentic Indigenous and First Nation representation. Another first for the 2020 lists is that both top nonfiction and advocacy titles shatter traditional format, with one book written as a memoir-in-spoken-word and the other written as a memoir-in-essay. Our top title selections in each category for 2020 are:

surviving city

Surviving the City written by Tasha Spillett-Sumner, illustrated by Natasha Donovan, published by Highwater Press (2018), won Top Title for Fiction (YA).

Milkwan and Dez are best friends.  Milkwan is Anishinaabe and Dez is Inninew.  When Dez disappears after finding out she might be sent to a group home because her grandmother is too sick to care for her, it brings back the memories of the disappearance of Milkwan’s mother.  The resilience, cultural, and spiritual support needed by Milkwan to overcome the resurging anguish is addressed in this haunting story that highlights the alarming numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. “The committee is very much aware of the crisis that surrounds missing and murdered Native women as one that has been disregarded by law enforcement and federal agencies for generations.  With the overwhelming response our committee received from the youth reviews gathered for this title, it is our hope that this novel in graphic form spotlights the disproportionalities of this critical issue to youth throughout the country who are seldom made aware of such injustices, and that it may be transformative in growing the community needed to abate such crises,” said Sabrina Carnesi, ITM committee chair.

Hip Hop

When Hip Hop Met Poetry: An Urban Love Story written by Tytianna Wells, cover design by Ashley Cathey, published by  Honey Tree Publishing (2019),  won Top Title for Nonfiction (YA and Older Teens).

In multiple formats of song lyrics, poetic verse, and journal entries author Tytianna Wells shares her passionate memoir from ages 13 to 19 which looks beneath the surface of a good-girl-bad-boy relationship where she becomes a teen mom who loses her baby to stillbirth before graduating from high school.  Tytianna plans to use proceeds from her memoir to fund the Nadia Michelle Scholarship Foundation, an educational support and personal development youth program named after her daughter.  After reading Tytianna’s memoir Carnesi shares the committee’s belief that this title can serve as “a catalyst for teen girls who find themselves in similar situations of despair and brokenness to overcome their barriers and continue on a path of healthy growth and development into adulthood.”


Solitary written by Albert Woodfox, published by Grove Press (2019), won Top Title for Advocacy and Social Justice.

This memoir covers the wrongful treatment the criminal justice system subjected Albert Woodfox to as a man who spent over four decades in Louisiana’s Angola prison, one of this nation’s most notoriously known state prisons. Woodfox spent most of these years in solidarity confinement as part of the Angola 3 who were wrongfully convicted for the murder of a CO (corrections officer) while in jail for lesser crimes. To keep from going insane, Woodfox credits the unwavering friendship with his two wrongly convicted Panther comrades Robert King and Herman Wallace and his ability to channel his anger into educating himself, which aided his transformation into a leader amongst the prisoners. The committee strongly believes ”this memoir serves as a strong tool of advocacy against an unjust criminal justice sentence that turns a blind eye to the disproportionality of solitary confinement in states such as Louisiana where 20 percent of more than 2700 inmates have been in solitary confinement for more than a year.”

This year’s Top Ten List highlights the 44 titles that comprise the fiction, nonfiction, and advocacy lists which are posted on the book award’s website.  In the Margins Official 2020 Top Ten titles are as follows:

  1. Harris, Johnathan and Gary Leach.  Colorblind: A Story on Racism.  April top102019.Zuiker Press.  Hardcover Paperback $12.99.  96 pages.   9781947378124.  Middle Grades.
  2. Laínez, René Colato and Fabricio Vanden Broeck.  My Shoes and I:  Crossing Three Borders / Mis Zapatos y Yo: Cruzando tres Fronteras (Bilingual). May 2019.  Arte Público Press.  Hardback  $17.95.  32 pages.  9781558858848. Middle Grades and Younger. 
  3. Mendoza, Jean, Debbie Reese, & Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People (ReVisioning American History for Young People). July 2019.  Beacon Press. Paperback $18.95.  272 pages.  9780807049396.  Middle Grades and Young Adults.
  4. Ogle, Rex. Free Lunch. September 2019.  Norton.  Hardback $16.95.  208 pages.  9781324003601.  Middle Grades.
  5. Patel, Sonia.  Bloody Seoul. August 2019.  Cinco Puntos Press.  Hardback $17.95.  224 pages.  9781947627208.  Young Adult.
  6. Spillett-Sumner, Tasha and Natasha Donovan. Surviving the City November 2018. Highwater Press. Paperback. $18.98.  56 pages.  9781553797562.  Middle Grades.
  7. Taylor, Annette D.  Dreams on Fire.  October 2018.  West 44.  Hardback $19.95.  200 pages.  9781538382486.  Paperback. $12.90.  200 pages.  9781538382479. Young Adult.
  8. Wells, Tytianna N. M. and Ashley Cathey. When Hip Hop Met Poetry: An Urban Love Story.  May 2019.  Honey Tree Publishing.  Paperback.  $12.95. 370 pages. 9780991031870.  Young Adult. 
  9. Wurth, Erika T.  You Who Enter Here. March 2019.  SUNY Press.  Paperback $19.95.  248 pages.  9781438473161.  Older Teens and New Adults.
  10. Young, Damon.  What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger.  Ecco.  March 2019.   Hardback $27.99. 320 pages.  9780062684301.  Older Teens and Adults.

The 2020 committee is comprised of juried and nonjuried members who are librarians and library academics who currently work with youth who experience the challenging circumstances of marginalized issues represented in the selected titles. Members of the 2020 juried committee are:

  • Sabrina Carnesi, Portsmouth Public Schools, Portsmouth, VA;
  • Marvin DeBose, Philadelphia Free Libraries, Philadelphia, PA;
  • Raemona Little-Taylor, Marin County Free Libraries, San Anselmo, CA.
  • Dr. Rae Anne Montague, Chicago State University, Chicago, Illinois; and
  • Dr. Kerry Sutherland, Akron Summit County Public Library, Akron, OH.

The complete set of 3 lists is located on the Award Page for the book award website.  Click here for new book submissions and Committee Membership inquiry.

For additional information please contact the committee at

2018 – 2019 Annual School Library Report

June 18, 2019


Two 2019 Titles I Can’t Wait On!

May 27, 2019

Cant Wait Lisa Simpson GIF - CantWait LisaSimpson HappyDance GIFs

Here’s 2 titles coming up in October that I just can’t wait for:  

  • Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

  • Light It Up by Kekla Magoon



Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by [Reynolds, Jason]ISBN 0781481438285. Grades 5 – 9.  Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy.  October 8, 2019.  208p.  $17.99 Hdc.  The book I’m most excited for is “Look Both Ways,” the new story collection by Jason Reynolds which features 10 stories about the events that occur during one daily walk home from school.  I can’t recall a more intimate of an experiences in terms of what goes on during that walk from the school to home. Now of course Jason’s new title deals with the walk shared from the bus stop to home, but in my small town, we didn’t have a school bus.  We walked, and I took this walk each day from 5th grade through 9th grade.  My walking buddies were not determined by popularity, lunch table groups, or recess partners and friends.  It was a much tighter-bound group: the girls who lived in my neighborhood.  This group was connected by territory and parental alliances that went back decades. At the beginning of our bond, our diverse group had only experienced school integration for a year.  Since I wasn’t allowed to walk home alone from school until I was ten years-old, I didn’t know about the walking-home group until my first day of fifth grade.  That day I walked home alone, behind an a group of females I recognized from the neighborhood.  I decided to follow them because I was a little frightened of this new challenge and I had no idea what the best route was.  When the group noticed me at their rear and stopped to wait for me to catch up, I remember the relief I felt from the sense of security this brought.  The older girls from junior high walked a different route, so our little diverse group operated with total autonomy.  In this late sixties’ time period, we had a lot in common, like: Girl Scouts, church on Sunday mornings, household chores,  poorboy tops and hip-hugger skirts, and knowledge of the latest bubblegum pop song lyrics.  We hit the same checkpoints everyday, cutting through each others’ yards and greeting neighbors on the way to our own house. Little did we know how timed this ritual was with the adults and how their antennas went up when we varied in our route or were 5 minutes behind (a clue that something happened to delay our travel). We worked out family problems, personal issues, and disagreements on that route from school to home. We shared our latest Avon perfume sticks, like Honeysuckle, which was my favorite (#throwback). . .and I’ll never forget us all reading Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s me Margaret” which brought about my first peer-based independent literary conversation on a title that was reflective of a shared experience…the sanitary belt! Our conversations on this were riveting! Our unspoken code of honor was titanium!


Light It Up by [Magoon, Kekla]ISBN 9781250128898.  Grades 7 & Up.  Henry Holt.  October 22, 2019.  368p.  $18.99 Hdc.  With so much controversy over #BlackLivesMatter and so  many people of the dominant culture who STILL don’t understand what the hashtag means, here is another narrative which concerns the senseless racially profiled killing of yet another black child.  This time around Kekla places the story’s setting in the same neighborhood as her groundbreaking “How It Went Down,” the novel that inspired Jason Reynolds and Brendan Keily’s “All American Boys.”

In this new title, the story is told in the same multiple points-of-view as “How It Went Down” and it deals with the unnecessary death of a child from the neighborhood.  What amps it up is the author’s inclusion of white supremacists counter protestors.  I am waiting for my ARC from NetGalley.


[Review] Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

March 24, 2019

I just recently responded to a comment on this review, which stated that the writer of the comment was highly offended. I can’t imagine how this book which highly advocates for #metoo, before the hashtag was generated and gives such a powerful platform for the voiceless to be heard, would be offensive. Although the commenter has explained how this comes about because she is the mother of a special needs child, and the use of the word “retarded” is referenced in the text, I feel when writing for young adults, you have to show the issues authentically, not in a bleached out super hyper anti-bactarialized manner of expression. The impact would be missed. As I said in the reply to this comment, the issues in this book are very gritty but they were not presented to the reader in graphic contextualized depictions. It’s horrifying enough that people on earth exist that do such abusive things to youth. Please read my recent response to the comment for Girls Like Us by Gail Giles.

Brichi's Lit Spot

18404410Candlewick.  223pp.  May 27, 2014. 9780763662677.  Grades 7 and Up.  Just finished reading this and I’m honestly choking back the tears.  I can’t believe how skilled the author’s handling of the main 3 characters’ dignities with such poignancy.  There’s Biddy whose mother abandoned her to a grandmother that was filled with nothing but hate and resentment for a baby that survived an oxygen deprived birth and grew up to survive 2 separate rapes.  There’s Quincy who grew up in one foster home after another after surviving a traumatic head injury from a brick that was caused by her mother’s boyfriend when she was six.  There’s Ms. Elizabeth, the senior citizen that took both girls under her wings and helped them to understand, at last, what family really means. That both girls have survived such a traumatic life of sexual,emotional, and mental cruelty and still look to a future is extraordinary for…

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Readers’ Advisory was My Favorite SLJTeenLive 2018 Presentation, but Liz Knocked it Out of the Ballpark!

August 18, 2018


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This past Wednesday, August 15, School Library Journal held their annual online conference for FREE!!!!!! There were so many choices for selection.  I found myself literally virtually attending double sessions, even though I would be able to go back and catch the video.  There was just something about being there LIVE that brought the energy!

The day’s events opened with none other than the fabulous author of “Poet X” Elizabeth Acevedo who literally has the power to send me to war, if necessary, for she simply fires her audience up with what some say is passion.  I call it the eloquence of a lived experience that’s been silenced for so long that it comes out kicking…and she did not let us down!”


Girls DancingShe knocked it out of the ballpark to those that caught her opening address which expressed the needs for representation not only in the books we read, but literally in the classrooms of K-12 and Higher Education.  She mentioned the absence of voice in today’s curriculum-chase to master profit-driven standardized tests, which has resulted in the absence of opportunities to exercise student voice.   Her comments on the need to address POCs history and cultural differences which causes us to see with a totally difference gaze than those from the dominant society were so spot on, I felt like I was listening to a testimony in church.

While I’ve gushed on the opening session, I still must say one of the sessions that stood out for me was the Readers’ Advisory session which featured the best advisory praxis for the year from five public and school librarians around the country.  I can’t think of which one I liked the most. There was the social justice presentation on “Reading Woke” presented by a school librarian and another  that matched hip hop and rap turns to books, based on how well the lyrical content matched up with context of the novel.

The presentation at the top is a rendering of the slides from the live presentation for all five librarians in the session.”

“That Night” is a Statement on the Devastation Opioids are Doing to ALL Our Youth in this Country

July 24, 2018

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 6.59.42 PMCicely Wolfe’s That Night is more than a story of adolescent teen girls losing a friend to death, for we all understand the impact that loss has on youth. They are not at the point in their life to even think that there is an end to something they have only just started.  This at times, is why so many of our youth are fatalistic about the choices they make, the actions they take, and the procrastinating they do.  Not to say all of these themes are present in That NightIn the case of fatalism, that is definitely present, for readers are immersed into the emotional shocking accounts of Kayla –popular high school soccer player, friend and bestie with Sarah and Cass, and girlfriend to Paul– found dead from a heroin overdose at a house party.  What happens next is an account of the reactions these characters have to Kayla’s death, and their interactions with their peers, their families, and others in their community

What makes this book stand apart from other titles of this sort is that it gets the death out of the way; it gets the actual experience of opioid use out of the way; AND it pushes the impact the death and use of an opiate has on those that are left behind front and center.  Many who work with rehabilitating drug user will tell you that the user has no care for the trauma they bring to their families and love ones.  They will use them as they use the drug…until they use them up.  Even the drug addict that does care can’t control the physical need for the drug over their emotional senses.

This is not the case in That Night, however, for Kayla was not a user, Kayla was curious, someone whose first experience with opioids was the last.

There were many flags in Kayla’s story that led her to heroin, however.”

The huge one was the knee injury she suffered from playing soccer.  If anyone has an athlete in their home, they have experienced the desperation these children go through to get back on the playing field when they are injured. Some don’t seek out medical coverage for fear of being medically benched for the season.  This causes so many to play on the injuries, and this leads to prolonging and/or exacerbating the extent of what has been hurt.

For Kayla, she was going through similar issues of team-separation-guilt but was seeking medical attention.  The problem was that no one took her seriously about the pain she felt and her ability to cope with this pain.” 

tnquotePerhaps it was because they were fearful of her becoming addicted to the same thing that killed her, for it is well known that opiates have been used for centuries as a painkiller and that it is in many pain-killing drugs,  In a manner, this was one of the issues that really bothered me: the obsession of not having Kayla labeled an addict and the ignoring of her need for comfort from the knee injury.  As a reader, I found myself in constant irritation with the adults, due to the one fact that they refused to acknowledge and attend to her complaints and needs.  Just as Todd and Edward’s research* on the informational needs of teens who were addicted to drugs that looked in other places for help when no info was available in any of the libraries they went to (2004), youth do the same thing for almost anything they need help and information on.  Their sense of inquiry and need is so strong that if they can’t find it in one place, they start seeking out help from other places.  This can lead to serious trouble if they are not monitored, as in the case of Kayla.

Wolfe, who lives in Ohio and can speak on how the increase in drugs is nearly destroying towns and neighborhoods in the Ohio Valley Region, was not hesitant to put these issues up front and in the reader’s face.”

The loudest message for me is that the rampant availability of drugs in this country has so penetrated our society that it is now well ensconced in white middle-class America.  I say this because the use of drugs and its presence has been so stereotyped as an inner city issue involving the poor and people of color, until it seemed that no one even realized that the drug dealers who were selling to the users in the city were also selling in the suburbs and decided to increase their services where patrons could afford higher prices. It’s an even more scary issue that inner citer parents who have worked so hard to get their families out of the crime-laden inner cities, can’t get away from the drug sellers in the suburbs, and that suburbanites with history in the burbs can no longer see a safe _I loved the message of Kaylas story._- YA Books Centralfuture in a place they have lived for generations and felt as if they were safely cocooned from street crime.

To truly say this is one of the worse social issues we face in this society is an overstatement, for I feel the worse is that we face is that we are a country that fails to provide medical benefits to all its citizenry.   Our second worse social issue is that we are a country of wealth that grows food to feed the world, but not to feed us. It should not be an embarrassment that you are not rich enough to afford basics.  Our third is that with all this land and lumber and abandoned homes, there are homeless people.  My fourth is that I find it so strange that we can’t stop the illegal sale of drugs in this country when we know who’s selling, where they live, the route the drugs are delivered in, the dropoff points, the international points of origins. . .  My only answer is for this to continue in the manner that it is seen by the average citizen is because some folks in high up places are getting some pretty big payoffs, for this to continue.  The federal law enforcement and Drug enforcement are simply not that stupid.

I recommend this book for therapeutic reading circles with young adults who are experiencing grief from the loss of loved ones, stress from peers and family members who are users, as well as those who are and know someone who has a sports injury.”

This is also one of those stories that readers of  Gayle Forman’s If I Stay and Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall will be attracted to.”

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Cecily’s books, which include That Night, are available on Amazon.  Click the screenshot to go to her Amazon author site for more information.


Please click on the screen below to go to Day 3’s Interview of author Cecily Wolfe.

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*Todd, R. J., & Edwards, S.  (2004).  Information seeking and utilization in relation to drugs.  In M. K. Chelton & C. Cool (Eds.) Youth information-seeking behavior (pp. 353- 386).


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