Younger readers will adore Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (grades 1-2), where a little girl disconcerted by her long name learns the story behind each name and why she has it. It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr (Pre-K/TK/K) encourages children to accept themselves and others through charming pictures.
Real-world events and issues are the backdrop for two books for older students. In Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (grades 3-5), a Pakistani-American Muslim middle schooler struggles to fit in while retaining her family’s vibrant culture; her world is upended when the local mosque is vandalized. Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (grades 6-8) is a heartbreaking tale of 12-year-old Jerome, shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for the real thing. As a ghost, Jerome observes the impact his killing has on family and community, then meets ghost Emmett Till, who suffered a similar fate in 1955. Emmett helps Jerome recognize how historical racism possibly led to the events that ended his life.
Best suited for 11th and 12th graders, The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The title character is a captain in the South Vietnamese army, who, when the South fell to the North in 1975, fled with other military leaders and citizens on the last planes out of the country. The captain experiences all that is wondrous and barbarous in his new home in Los Angeles while continuing to work as communist informant, spying on his army fellows as they plot a counterrevolution.
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