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The Harlem Charade: History, Community, Friendship, Family

April 20, 2017
The Harlem CharadeSo here I am, in the midst of my Scholastic book fair for spring and I did not think this event would lead me to my next GR review, but it has.  After looking at the reviews in Goodreads and reading the text,  I have just discovered Scholastic has Natasha Anastasia Tarpley just-released book, Harlem Charade, in paperback. Needless to say I have ordered a classroom set for my 6th grade reading group.

There are several questions I have and several observations I’ve noticed from the reviews of this title in which some find it not interesting, while others are over joyed with its representation. I liked this book’s overarching premises of community, family, history, and culture as would be placed in today’s world. That it is set in contemporary Harlem with issues that touch headline news is vital, for it provides opportunities for our younger teen & tween readers to discuss this within their own age group circles, especially in a book club, classroom, or grade level placement.

The story characters are reflective of the children and classroom makeup of many schools in today’s world: Jin is Korean, Elvin is black, and Rose is white. I liked the Asian family running a neighborhood bodega. Look at the dicotomy of that situation alone! Not to give away any of the story, but there’s so much dialogue to come from this alone. A bodega in Harlem would mean a Spanish owned market or store of some kind. That an Asian (Jin’s family is Korean) family is running a neighborhood bodega should be a standout curiosity. There has been clashes with Korean businesses in Harlem for a long time…the Korean fruit stands that were at a time the only fruit stands in the Harlem neighborhoods…throughout the country the black hair supply stores ran mostly by Koreans are just a few.  There’s even the Chinese food takeouts ran by Koreans, and now the fried chicken shops all over Korea and showing up USA style in America. I really think if we looked closer at the  pop culture development of Korea, we would understand the Korean influx into the black and Latinx communities.   Do our children realize the migratory patterns of Korean immigrants across the world?… the Korean Diaspora? Do they know South Korea has one of the largest Afro-Asian populations of all Asian countries? Do they know there are people of Asian ancestry in general and specifically of Korean ancestry in just about every Caribbean Island…Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Mexico’s …? This book opens up dialogue to those windows and sliding doors (Rudine Bishop’s 1990 plea for positive imagery and diverse contemporary life for our Children of Color).

Before 10 pages are up, there’s the discovery of a rare painting and the discussion of how much harder it is for artist from communities of color to become established and for their art to sustain…and the mention of  Zora Neale Hurston, who was given so much push-back for writing about a romance that is set in the oldest chartered all-black city to still be functioning today 6 miles south of Disney World, and who later died and was buried in an unmarked grave. There are questions that can be addressed as to why this country which is touted as the land of opportunity, is not a country that supports its fine arts. There are no platforms for them to display their art, and to be trained in the craft is often too expensive for young unknowns from underrepresented groups. Although I am digging deeper, this book addresses these issues and more…and I haven’t even touched on Rose and Elvin.

From a children’s book perspective, a country that is not supportive of the fine and performing arts and has major publishing companies that produce childrens’ books at a 90% annually rate with non-diverse protagonists in a country whose POC is approximately 48% is experiencing identity issues. Our history is not positive in its reflection of POC and there needs to be an adjustment. This novel seeks to address these issues with care and a sense of unity, as well as the reminder of how a community and family’s strength can be sustaining.

“When We Were Fierce” is Not So Fierce

August 20, 2016

Below is my response to a Rich in Color post on E. E. Carlton-Trujillo’s  When We Were Fierce which was pulled from release by the publishing company due to the pushback in the children’s literature field.  I addressed another response by a black American author who took the critical feedback as an attempt to censor an author’s voice, comparing the reaction to events surrounding the black community’s negative reaction to the play he wrote, St. Louis Woman,  which included Pearl Bailey and the Nicholas brothers.  As a literary reviewer, Cullen was controversial too.  He didn’t want  black authors to sound black or include cultural vernacular in their work.  No one is asking E. E. Trujillo to not be authentic.  That, in essence is what the critique is all about.   The author angrily stomped off the page saying she will no longer read any more Rich in Color posts.

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 2.57.00 PMTo not involve yourself in dialogue whether you agree or not is to deny yourself knowledge and insight. I have read E. E. Carlton-Trujillo’s book and the issues are authentic and relavant. They were however being portrayed through extremely stereotypic one dimensional characters, which in my opinion, fed the media’s decades old portrayal of urban POC. In a society where a Donald character can trumpet out to masses of white Americans that most black Americans are poor and with little hope to succeed, and need to vote for him; where young Olympian Danielle Douglas was lambasted across the Internet because the media caught her in melancholy post-competitive performance moments accusing her of being nonAmerican thus bringing her to tears in an interview, while no one has attacked the white swimmers that lied about being robbed by black guys with guns as being nonAmerican…I’m finding it incredible that anyone cannot see this blatant double standard.

The narrative that cries out for writers to be more responsible when they write language for our youth of color to read is nothing new! In contemporary times, about 51 years old Nancy Larrick brought this issue to national attention when she looked at 5000+ books published between 1962 and 1963 to seek positive portrayals of black Americans. She found with the exception of one book, blacks portrayed as buffoons, servants, and Africans in their traditional indigenous bush settings…in other words wild heathens. There was no excuse then and today there still is no excuse for the lack of people of hues, but to purposely make an effort to promote a blanketed misrepresentation of urban POC is irresponsible.

Freedom of expression is an inherent right to our country’s citizenry, but equitable and authentic accuracy should be the responsibility of children and young adult authors in their expression. To have to consistently keep this narrative alive against pub-houses, as well as authors with their heads in the sand, school district curriculum planners, as well as the general public who have never participated in dialogue with the counter narratives that are supportive of POC in YA and children’s books…the repetitiveness over the generations is at ad nauseum level.

The above response to this much needed article is yet another example of someone who walks with eyes wide shut. To deny the consistent outcries that say something is wrong with the portrayal of youth in literature OR the absence of youth of color, is an act to maintain the marginalized status and relevancy for the culture and lived experiences for well more than half of the American population. As K. Imani has said it is not just about one group of color…when one group wins we all win: Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, white, and black. Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 3.36.50 PMAlso, To compare the critical feedback on “When We Were Fierce” to the works of Countee Cullen is not an accurate analogy of the assault on this great writer. He was not irresponsible in his authenticity of lived experiences or language. Beyond the cardboard pigeonholed characterizations, the vernacular in “When We Were Fierce” was made up and reinforced widely preconceived notions for blackness in urban settings.

Larrick’s Research Article:

Romeo and Juliet Look-Alikes

March 14, 2016

OK so I finally broke down, and bent to pressure with a few of the Romeo and Juliet Look-Alikes! So here are 2 I have review over the past 12 months, as well as 7 others I think are knockout reads!

Amiri & Odette: A Love Story  The Fault in Our Stars  Like No Other

 Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles  Romiette and Julio by Sharon M. Draper

 Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles  Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors    Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman
  1. Amiri and Odette:  A Love Story by Walter Dean Myers & Javaka Steptoe
  2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  3. Like No Other by Una LaMarche
  4. Noughts & Croses by Marlorie Blackman
  5. A Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
  6. Romiett & Julio by Sharon Draper
  7. Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles
  8. Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfor
  9. Son ofthe Mob by Gordon Korman
  10. Starred Review for SLJ FEB 2016- redstarLORD, Emery. When We Collided. 352p. ebook available. Bloomsbury. Apr. 2016. Tr Lord, Emery. When We Collided$17.99. ISBN 9781619638457.

    Gr 8 Up –Filled with raw, descriptive truths and told through the alternating voices of the protagonists, this story takes place in the idyllic, picturesque setting of Verona Cove, CA. Small enough for everyone to know one another yet large enough to handle a summer tourist season, this background locale is a perfect nesting spot for the poignant love story between Vivi Alexander and Jonah Daniels. The collision between the teens crests and ebbs in what seems like a far too small window of time. Instead, the story dares to allow the action to rise and fall in an organic way. Teeming with in-your-face realism, the work exposes readers to the emotional ups and downs of Vivi, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and Jonah,… to continue, go to:

  11. MCLEMORE, Anna-Marie. The Weight of Feathers. 320p. ebook available. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne. Sept. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250058652.   Gr 7 Up –For almost an entire generation, the Palomas and the Corbeausweightoffeathers
    have been rivals in a steadily escalating feud that is fueled by hearsay and fantasized superstitions. Both families’ livelihood is dependent on their itinerant performances, from one town to the next, and both family shows have turned com
    petitive, with the Corbeaus performing tightropelike acts in the trees and the Palomas presenting mermaid exhibitions in the natural waterways. Members of the families are born with particular marks that brand them according to their lineage. continue, go to:

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s “All American Boys” is Working on Building Houses – 1 Book at a Time

October 22, 2015


Reynolds, Jason & Brendan Kiely. All American Boys. 320p. ebook available. Simon & Schuster.   September 29, 2015.  $17.99hb. ISBN 9781481463331.  Ages 12 and Up.  Artistically inclined Rashad Butler preferred sketching and painting over ROTC, but to please his father he played the role of the dutiful son and joined.  According to Rashad’s father, the opportunity to serve in the military was a huge factor in waylaying the prejudgement-factor currently aimed at young black American and Latino boys.  Scared of how society has been recently reacting to teen boys, Mr. Butler was adamant about how he wanted his son to present himself in public:  no slang, so slouched walk, no hoodie on your head, and no sagging pants.  When Rashad ended up being the victim of assault by the off-duty-cop recently hired for security at Jerry’s neighborhood store, his father’s worse nightmares came true.  The officer in question reacted to the store clerk’s scream that Rashad was robbing and attacking another customer, dragged Rashad from the store, and preceded to pound his face into the sidewalk.  Unbeknown to the officer, the assault was witnessed by Quinn, a young boy he had been mentoring for years and who held him in the highest levels of esteem.  Unbeknown to Quinn, the off-duty cop, and Rashad, several observers recorded the entire incident and posted it to the Internet, causing the videos to go viral.  Told in the alternating voices of Quinn and Rashad, Reynolds and Kiely are able to deftly handle the aftermath of confusion, fear, and anger which split the community in half.   A large amount of viewpoints are presented among those living in each of the narrators’ world.  Readers are allowed to experience on how issues of race, privilege, media manipulation, and policing are viewed from the point of view of the adults and youth who are involved.

This timely and powerful narrative takes its cues straight out of our most recent and controversial headlines.   Loaded with abundant opportunities for readers to apply critical thinking in discussions surrounding the social justice issues raised, this is a must have for library collections.  Educators who have considered books such as James Preller’s Bystander (Feiwel & Friends, 2009) which has  been an added curriculum choice due to the issues of bullying,  will be inclined to feel the same way about Reynolds and Kiely’s All American Boys (Simon & Schuster, 2015) due to the issues of social justice.

Jason Reynolds aligns his job as an author to a builder of houses.  Some houses are built from scratch while others need structured adjustment.  The exterior of the house is the image the world has of most black American youth, while the structured adjustments deal with  mending the neglected walls and ceiling of the interior.  This constructionist vision has led to him being this year’s recipient of the Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Award for young emerging authors.  His commitment to the portrayal of black men and young black boys in a more positive and enduring light affords the readers of his narratives a more authentic view of black American family dynamics, void of the stereotypical media display. Jason is the author of three novels and has co-authored both his recent publication,  All American Boys, and an autobiography with his college roommate.  Jason lives in Brooklyn and will be visiting Miss Marie’s Library December 11, 2015.  Visit Jason’s website for a deeper look at this wonderfully talented rising star. Kiely’s debute title, The Gospel of Winter (McElderry, 2014) has been translated into eight languages and shows debuts his skill at handling hard subject matter.  In The Gospel of Winter, Brendan tackles the headline news issues of child abuse between young boys a popular priest.  This book has won him wide appeal.  All American Boys, wihich deals with youth and police brutality is masterfully handled in the same way…with depth of knowledge, the ability to communicate hard issues, and I’m sure…a lot of research.  Brendan used to live in Boston, and is now a resident of Greenwich Village.  More about Brendan can be found in his website.

Finally! A Beautiful Black Fantasy Heroine Who Embraces Her Natural Beauty

August 1, 2015
ShadowshaperI couldn’t say this any better than Goodreads’ Fountain Pen Diva.  My BFF Jackie Johnson shared news of Daniel’s latest fantasy book with me because she absolutely loved it.  With Jackie being a writer (her latest book of poetry), my interest was really peaked so I looked Daniel up on Amazon and Goodreads.  Here’s an excerpt from the Fountain Pen Diva.  Her written review echoes Jackie’s verbal review. 
Sierra Santiago is one of those awesome heroines. She’s proudly and fiercely Afro-Latina with a gorgeous mane of fluffy fro and lots of teen attitude (I kept seeing the killer Esmeralda Spalding as Sierra). She’s an artist full of cultural pride despite the colorism that sadly is as much a part of Latino life as it is here in America and other places. I loved how Sierra put her color-struck aunt in check after making a disparaging comment about Robbie, a young Haitian artist, whom Sierra is digging on. And while she digs on Robbie, when it’s time for the mission, finding out exactly what shadowshaping is and how to use her powers, she’s not wasting time hung up on the guy. I really hate when authors do that to the heroine, and far too many YA authors are guilty of what I call “heroine hijacking”…
 Click here for the full review, and look for this book as a new additional to Ms. Marie’s Library this fall! View Daniel’s Youtube video of him talking to a literature class at Princeton University this pass April 2015, which is exactly 2 months before the June 2015 publication of Shadowshapers.

Daniel Jose Older is a NYC young adult author who has written Daniel José Older5 previous titles. This is Daniel’s first hardcover.  Daniel’s band Ghost Star gigs regularly around New York and he facilitates workshops on storytelling from an anti-oppressive power analysis. You can find his thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as an NYC paramedic and hear his music at, on youtube and @djolder on twitter.  His blog is at

Jackie, Jason, & Kwame w/Dr. Bickmore at LSU YA Lit Conference

August 1, 2015
If you haven’t read Jackie Woodson’s “Brown Girl Dreaming” or Jason Reynolds’ “When I Was the Greatest” or Virginia’s Own Kwame Alexander’s “Crossover,” then hurry up and get on the bandwagon!  All 3 authors won the highest awards available for children’s and young adult fiction from the American Library Association.  Jackie won the Coretta Scott King Award and the Newbery Honor for 2015, after winning the National Book Award.  Jason won the Coretta Scott King Honor Award, and Kwame took home the gold….the 2015 Newbery Award!  Dr. Bickmore (3rd from left, is the organizer of the Louisiana State University Young Adult Literature Conference.  I don’t know who grabbed who, but I’m glad they got the picture taken together at the conference last fall!  It’s amazing none of them knew what was in store for them….except Jackie of course who won the National Book Award for Children’s Books, which is awarded in the fall. 

Jason Reynold’s New Book “All American Boys” Review Coming Soon!

August 1, 2015

Jason is consciously committed to writing books that show “a broadly positive” yetauthentic “portrayal of black American men.” This is a priority not as prevalent many of today’s adolescent and YA writers, for although they are not avoiding a positive portrayal of the

When I Was the Greatest

black American male, their focus falls within other areas and deals with other issues that are just a vibrantly needed for our youth (such as  David Levithan, Cassandra Clare, and Hannah Moskowitz who consistently gives voice to the marginalization issues facing LGBTQ youth).

Jason Reynolds, whose first book “When I was the Greatest,” is the Coretta Scott King Honor awardee for 2015 and has Top Ten placement in several ALA connected and independent book lists for adolescent and young adult readers.   This book presents a view of

the black American urban male in a variety of spaces:  as a young adolescent in a single-parent working class household, as the friend of a neighbor whose need to identify with street cred is more important than

family/friend loyalty/brotherhood, as a young adolescent boy with Tourette’s syndrome who simply wants to be accepted by others for who he is, and as an estranged father in a lived world of homelessness yet capable of displaying a strength of character seldom seen in today’s media drenched videoed expressions of the urban black American male.

His second book, “The Boy in the Black Suit,” portrays the path a young boy travels to handle the death of his mother from cancer, and his third book coming out September 30 “All American Boy” has echoes of Kekla Magoon’s “How it Went Down,” due to the circumstances surrounding the death of a young urban black male and the way the book is organized to show all the points of view involved. Jason also has an autobiography out that he co-wrote with his college room-mate and Jason Griffin called “My Name is Jason. Mine Too. Our Story Our Way.”

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