As a reader, I am often drawn to the same genres (mystery, YA, historical fiction) with similar settings (Victorian England) and characters (spunky spinster women that solve crime and end up winning over the tall, handsome, grumpy man.)
I do read everything that I can, but I recognize that I need to expand my reading of BIPOC even further. I always made a purposeful choice to read diverse authors, but re-prioritized this after hearing author Varian Johnson speak at the Boston Globe Horn Book Award Ceremony in 2018. He told the librarians and teachers in the audience that we need to think about who is in our classroom and choose books for them. Children need to see themselves in what they are reading and need exposure to other children that are not like them. Representation and the cultivation of empathy became an even more important goal in my classroom and in my life.
To that end, I started adding even more diverse books, genres, and authors to my reading list. Today, I am going to tell you about two: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and There There by Tommy Orange
The Underground Railroad
Colson’s Whitehead’s book is the story of Cora, who is living as a slave on a Georgia plantation, and follows her from her plantation and onto her journey on the Underground Railroad. This was a book that I had on my ebook TBR list for a few years and kept putting off in favor of paper books. Without my usual provider of paper books (the library,) I finally picked it up last week.
BEYOND THREE STARS RATING: 4 STARS.
Structurally, I appreciated the vignettes and multiple perspectives. What a fascinating and horrifying story. In school, we always learned about the Underground Railroad, never in such detail. The danger, the horror, the lack of humanity, and emotions in the book made it difficult to read and difficult to stop reading. Although the book takes place in the 1800s, many of the scenes could have been ripped from the news in 2020. Worth a read, if not just to put human emotions with the facts that you learned in 8th grade history class.
Like The Underground Railroad, There There by Tommy Orange uses multiple perspectives to tell the story of another persecuted group: Native Americans. Orange’s book follows the lives of characters that are loosely connected to each other and to an upcoming festival in California.
BEYOND THREE STARS RATING: 3 STARS
I know I said I wouldn’t use the 3 star rating, but I feel it is deserved here and not just my own hang-ups regarding honest reviews. At the end of the day, I liked the book. I found the bits of informative text fascinating and disturbing. I was moved by the stories of the characters. I was shocked at the ending. I loved the first half of the book. However, around the halfway point, I felt like there were too many stories and characters to follow. The build up to the end of the book dragged because the focus of the narrative kept jumping around.
Overall, my issues with the book’s structure did not take away from the complexity of the stories and their importance. Everyone should read at least the first third to a half of this book for insight into these characters who are living as many current people of Native American heritage are.
READING BIPOC IN THE FUTURE
For the second half of 2020, a few colleagues and I will be doing a reading BIPOC authors challenge. I am excited to continue to broaden my reading and find some great new recommendations for friends and students.
What do we HAVE to read?