The Hate U Give

Angie Thomas seemed a bit in awe as she told her own publication story to the attendees of the Louisiana/Mississippi SCBWI JambalayaKidLit Conference. Being proactive with coincidence took her to a “right place – right time” cliché. She asked a question on an agent’s twitter query site about a book she had begun as a college writing project. “Would there be an interest in a book about a girl caught in a community where she had personal relationships with both the police and the Black Lives Matter neighborhood. The agent invited her to send the manuscript which he then sold at auction. Two years later, The Hate U Give has spent weeks on the New York Times young adult best seller list.

Our Louisiana/Mississippi group had already booked Angie for our conference in March before she became quite so famous. Our regional advisor interviewed her for the afternoon general session. She began, “I’m not sure what to do here. I’ve never interviewed a New York Times best seller before.”

Angie had a quick comeback. “That’s okay. I’ve never been a New York Times best seller before.”

Having set the tone for the interview, the writers and wannabe writers were drawn into the conversation that told of Angie’s own struggles, much like her protagonist, living in the community with her black neighbors and attending school in an elite, predominantly white, college. She emphasized that her novel did not make either the police or the Black Lives Matter proponents into the bad guys or good guys. As you might imagine, she signed a number of books bought after her presentation – including mine.

Angie obviously doesn’t need my help in promoting this debut novel. I found it to be all she had said with a protagonist torn between people in her two worlds that she genuinely cares about. The book is a hard read both from the language and the situations, but they are necessary to the story rather than gratuitous. I found myself using context for some of the authentic street language much like I used to do as a child when the books I chose contained vocabulary over my head.

The book will appeal to young adult readers – just ask the New York Times. It will also give insight to those who are looking for a just solution to the problems between the police and the Black community.     


Treasure Hunting on Earth Day

If the old saying, “You never have to go to work if you love your job,” is true, USM Associate Professor of Biology Mac Alford hasn’t worked in a while. In addition to the job for which he is paid, he took a group of retired members of an OLLI class on a field trip to look for wildflowers this week. Every few steps through the woodland trail, he would exclaim, “Oh, and look at this!” Becoming the girl who walked the trails at Papaw’s farm, I joined his enthusiasm.

We saw things I recognized like honeysuckle, wild phlox, and violets. Milkweed blossomed, waiting for visits from the Monarch butterflies. A young native longleaf pine stuck its bristles up, looking for all the world like a green feather duster, the beginnings of a trunk forming its handle. Then there was the carnivorous sundew. It’s pretty flower with a nice aroma attracts insects who come too close to the sticky leaves and give up their lives for the cause. In the wonder of second childhoods, the group of seniors followed the professor from discovery to discovery.

He answered questions as we went along including why that ubiquitous vine that I hate in my yard grows everywhere. I have puzzled over how it proliferates hither and yon beyond the huge tuber that must be dug to get rid of it. He said it has clusters of berries that birds love to eat which means they spread the seeds far and wide. He was only stumped by why my pyracantha bush will bloom but not produce berries. (No, it doesn’t have male and female bushes. Try another answer.)

This trip seemed just right to prepare for Earth Day tomorrow. I’m going to follow up in my yard by finding small wonders to celebrate. I invite you to join me in a virtual search and tell me what you discover.


Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel

Husband Al knew he wouldn’t have to ask twice. He saw Lemuria Books in Jackson on Kimberly Willis Holt’s travel schedule and asked, “Do you want to go?” With a collection of her books that goes back to when I met her almost twenty years ago in her early writing years, he knew I would want the latest. Her new book, Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel, displaced books-to-be-read at the top of my stack even before I found both a normal and an unusual connection to its protagonist.

The reader gets a hint of estrangement from the beginning, “My name, Stevie Grace, was tattooed inside a giant sun on my dad’s back.” With the tattoo and the back-to-nature lifestyle lived in an abandoned church outside Taos, New Mexico, Stevie’s parents don’t fit expectations for a daughter of a conservative Texas family. Stevie remains unaware of the problem, since her parents have cut ties with home, until she is suddenly left an orphan.

Stevie Grace must go live with a grandfather she has never met in a rundown motel in Little Esther, Texas. The unusual inhabitants of the motel take a shine to her sooner than her grandfather. He holds on to some mysterious grudge that her parents had also kept secret.

Like many of her books, this one draws on Kimberly’s heritage of her grandfather’s nurseries in Forest Hill, Louisiana and her longtime residence in Texas. An important story line follows Stevie’s efforts to beautify the motel with plants out front. Her progress in dealing with her grief and finding her place in this new world are foreshadowed by the divisions of the book – Seedling, Cultivate, Sow, Transplant, and Blooming. This good read now joins its companions on my special KWH shelf.

Not to forget my links to Stevie, the usual one is a love for growing things with normal successes and failures. The unusual connection is that we both had a grandmother we never met named “Dovie.” Both her grandmother and mine (in the picture) left legacies that have influenced our lives even without their physical presence.




Daniel Finds a Poem

Just in time for poetry month, Micha Archer won the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award at the Kaigler Children’s Book Festival for her book Daniel Finds a Poem. The story follows a little boy as he tries to find a definition of poetry.

Daniel’s interest is peaked by a sign on the park gate advertising “Poetry in the Park – Sunday at 6 o’clock.” He wants to know what poetry is so he can be ready for next week’s event. As he goes through each day of the week, he asks a different animal and gets a different perspective from each one. It’s not a spoiler to tell you ahead of time that he comes up with his own perfect poem to share and a way to observe poems everywhere he goes. The text encourages the preschool listener and the adult who reads aloud to be on the lookout for poetry in the world around them.

I was as intrigued with the illustrations as with the text since Micha is both author and illustrator. Early on, I felt something familiar – a little boy in a neighborhood exploring nature, beautiful collage artwork, the wonder of childhood. Then I turned the page and saw Daniel in bed looking forward to a new day. I knew the connection I was trying to make.

Micha confirmed my discovery when I talked to her at the festival. Like several illustrators at the festival, she acknowledged the artist who had gone before her and served as her inspiration. Her collage and view of childhood is reminiscent of Ezra Jack Keats.

The picture of Daniel greeting the morning is a tribute to Keats with a flipped arrangement of Peter in The Snowy Day, yet it is distinctly her own. Possibilities for sharing this book with children abound – the story, the day of the week sequence, and following Daniel’s example by looking for poetry in the natural world. But I think my favorite will be sitting with a couple of preschoolers with the two books spread together looking for likenesses and differences in the works of Keats and Archer! 


Rooting for Rafael Rosales

What could a young Dominican baseball fan have in common with an American daughter of an executive of a large corporation?

Rafael’s story is told over time beginning with the first chapter “Rafael, Many Years Ago” and following his goal of making a major-league baseball team in the United States. He and many of his peers see this as a way out of poverty. In the early days, he rescues a girl’s chicken, a girl who lives in destitution greater than his own.

Maya’s story begins in the present day during Rafael’s first year in the minor leagues. Her activism to save the bees in the environment runs afoul of the pesticide manufactured by her father’s company. Her fondness for plants loved by bees like thistles and dandelions that her sister calls “weeds” triggers her explanation, “A weed is a plant you don’t want. I want these, so they aren’t weeds.” Her love of baseball and a post on her sister’s blog lead to a friendship with the girl named Bijou who owned the rescued chicken and a link to Rafael.

The difficulty of life in the Dominican Republic and cautionary practices as Rafael pursues his baseball dream contrast with the affluence and moral dilemma for Maya as she decides how far to take her passion when her father’s job is at stake. I found the move back and forth between the two characters easy enough, but was a bit disconcerted for a while by the time with Rafael’s taking place over years while Maya’s stayed in the present.

Ultimately, there is a secret both Rafael and Maya share that could wreak havoc in the lives of people they care about. Right and wrong are not as clear as they should be. This is a good middle grade read with a nice window into the world of aspiring baseball players common to the Dominican Republic.