Big Blue Marble Bookstore Young Adult Newsletter
November 3, 2016
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This month in politics and YA...Systemic racism and its roots in slavery. In order to understand the experiences of racism in this country, one must allow that the country itself was built on the labor of those who were not considered full people by those in power. And while the legal definition of people is no longer divided by race, the attitudes of those who have been asked to cede some power to others can take many generations to shift. Example: when I read the (non-YA) book The Help, my main takeaway was: these southern white people in 1960 who lament losing the Civil War MUST ACTUALLY THINK THEIR SERVANTS SHOULD STILL BE ENSLAVED.  It explained a lot. Sorry for shouting. But when certain people say they want to make America great again...we should perhaps not be asking which decade they want, but instead which century.

Below are some powerful books of historical fiction that examine the experiences of African Americans within the context of history. One is the Seeds of America trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson ( Ashes just came out! It's great!)  set during the American Revolution (any Hamilton fans here?), amplifying the requisite cognitive dissonance that echoes through the ages, which allows freedom for some while saying freedom for all. Then there are three books that cross through time in one way or another, weaving ties through history of oppression and resistance.

There are of course many other racial/cultural prejudices that flow through our country's history. November is Native American Heritage Month, and at the moment a huge reminder of the insults/assaults on Native American persons, culture, and land is the Standing Rock/Dakota Access Pipeline stand-off. Here's a detailed explanation of the conflict. And so I recommend a near-future, alien-invasion book to use for reflection. (Also some more true-to-life books that follow.)

If you are of age, PLEASE VOTE on Tuesday! See below for our voting-day special!

I now have an archive for these newsletters! As I'm no longer adding to the past-selections list on the book club page of our website, I'm keeping a list of the most recent newsletters with the new recommendations in a post on our blog! Check it out.

Identity-based book recommendations on our  blog, updated frequently: 
Take care, and keep reading! 
Books from Years Past...

Gifts  and  Voices  by Ursula K. Le Guin 
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes  by Chris Crutcher 
Magic or Madness  by Justine Larbalestier 
Cut  by Patricia McCormick 
Changeling  by Delia Sherman 
A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass 
The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan 
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex 
Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher 
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 

Highlighting: Slavery and Freedom During the American Revolution
Chains, Forge, and Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson

Slavery during the American Revolution is the focus of Anderson's amazingly researched Seeds of America trilogy, tracking by date the progress of the Declaration of and the War for Independence along with the lives of Isabel and Curzon, the African American kids who inhabit these novels. 
Chains, Forge, Ashes
The ability and inclination to fight for freedom for all people while keeping some people enslaved requires a serious redefinition of "people" and/or a sense that one's own circumstances (as slaveowner or other beneficiary of slavery) aren't relevant to the whole.  Forge,  second in the series, contains quite a number of real, historical examples of this awkward thinking, or attempts to get past this thinking, in the chapter epigraphs:

"It would be useless for us to denounce the servitude to which the Parliament of Great Britain wishes to reduce us, while we continue to keep our fellow creatures in slavery just because their color is different from ours."
-Signer of the Declaration of Independence Dr. Benjamin Rush, who purchased William Grubber in 1776 and did not free him until 1794.  ( p.58, ch XII)

There are also pronouncements of liberty and equality, and many, many efforts to convince people of the dissonance.

"Liberty is Equally as precious to a Black Man, as it is to a white one, and Bondage Equally as intolerable to the one as it is to the other....An African, or a Negro may Justly Challenge, and has an undeniable right to his Liberty: Consequently, the practise of Slave-keeping, which so much abounds in this Land is illicit."
-  essay written by African American Lemuel Haynes, veteran of the Battle of Lexington

And in fact a number of the changes that led toward ending the slave trade and gradually toward emancipation stemmed from the decisions different states and leaders and armies had to make about what was owed the people who fought for them, who slaved for them, or whom they got to know on the battlefield.  But gradual is the point, and many white people never changed their minds, continuing to pass down their fears and prejudices to later generations.

See also my list of  Five Kids' Books About U.S. Slavery, including several listed here.
Store News!

Vote stickers by Nikki McClure
(Nikki McClure VOTE decals for sale!)

1) If you are eligible and registered to vote, please vote on November 8! Some links to help find your polling place: Philadelphia ... Pennsylvania ... New Jersey.  And the Philadelphia City Commissioners Office has a site to produce a sample ballot based on your address.

2) Come to the store on Election Day with your "Voted!" sticker and we'll give you a slice of election cake ! (It might not be this exact recipe, though!)
Election Cake by OWL Bakery
(Election cake, as made by OWL Bakery in Asheville, N.C.)

3) Playing Pokémon GO? Come battle for control of the Big Blue Marble Gym! Stop in on weekdays, tell us you're playing, and pick up a free soda!

4) Do you play D&D? On Thursdays at 5, we're hosting a weekly Dungeons & Dragons group meeting at the store, for kids ages 9-16. Come check it out!  (Dice and books available.)

5) We will be offering signed copies of this year's fabulous Kids' Literary Festival poster for sale! For details, email
Highlighting: Race Relations, Slavery, and Different Kinds of Time Travel

A more realistic form of time travel:
Glory Field cover
The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers  
Last February, the store held discussions on racial justice, Black history, and current tensions. The Glory Field  is a perfect book for this kind of discussion because, while fictional, it represents an unbroken thread of history in itself -- the main characters are teenagers in many generations of the same family (1753-1994), connected by the land and by their shared and remembered history.  And we need to have history if we're going to work with the present.
"Those shackles didn't rob us of being black, son, they robbed us of being human."

Two books of traditional time travel:
A Wish After MidnightA Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott
Gemma is having a pretty hard life in a rough part of Brooklyn in 2001, until a wish she makes in the Botanical Gardens sends her back to Brooklyn  in 1863, during the Civil War, where she works for a white abolitionist doctor and his family and must decide just how free she really is.  Intense and powerful.
The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman
Freedom Maze pb cover
Slated to spend the summer on her family's sugar plantation in Louisiana, 13-year-old Sophie wishes for a storybook adventure and is sent back in time by 100 years. In Sophie's own 1960, there is no question of who is black and who is white. It has never occurred to her that in 1860, tanned and barefoot, she might be taken for a slave in her own ancestral home...  
Read my interview with the author!
Highlighting American Colonialism, Past and Future
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex  

True Meaning of Smekday cover
Sometimes a funny book can make a really serious point.  
I have always introduced The True Meaning of Smekday in a single sentence, by saying it's about an 11-y-o biracial girl from Philly whose mother is kidnapped by aliens, so she drives the car across the country in the company of a rogue alien (who goes by the name of J.Lo so he won't be noticed) and saves the world from two alien invasions, with the help of her cat. But there's a lot more to it. Loyalty. And betrayal. And colonialism.

When the animated movie Home first came out, I asked people who'd seen it how closely it followed the book.  I knew the title had changed, and that J.Lo's name had changed, and that was about it. Among reassurances I received (from people who hadn't read the book) was that the movie was still focused on colonialism, which kind of amazed me. Until I saw it, Not only did they change which character saves the world and which merely gives him the courage to do it, not only did they change the cat from female to male for no apparent reason, but they also took out all the important history lessons.  There was no discussion of being biracial.   There were no Boov offering Florida to the humans forever and then taking it back because they discovered they liked oranges. And there was no establishment of mostly white Americans on a Native Reservation in Arizona because "But ... we needed it!"

The book is brilliant. And pointed. And serious. And also hilarious.  It's middle grade, and it's deeply relevant.

It is, however, about a biracial Black kid, not a Native American kid.  So also check out these books, on more real, more day-to-day lives of some Native Americans, past and present.
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines of WWII by Joseph Bruchac
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Code Talker cover

Big Blue Young Adult Book Discussion

For adults who read YA and teens who like to talk about books  


We had our final meeting on May 19. Newsletters will continue, with recommendations and reviews, and relevant events.  Feel free to send a review or comment!


Please join us on the fourth Thursday of the month (with some exceptions) for the Big Blue Young Adult Book Discussion, led by Jen Sheffield.  The young adult genre refers to the books under discussion; readers of all ages are welcome.  The books do not have to be big or blue, though that's always nice.


For a list of past selections, check out the Book Clubs page on the Big Blue Marble website. For links to the continuing newsletters and these new recommendations, see the bookstore blog.