LAST MINUTE GIFTS: 8 Great Multicultural Books published this year

Times are tense these days as the nation mourns the death of two New York City police officers shot dead execution style recently, a tragedy amidst ongoing protests over shooting deaths at the hands of unarmed men at the hands of some officers. Some parents may find themselves having to address these highly contentious issues to help their children make sense of it all.
But dealing with controversial topics like race and culture can be made easier if parents make sure that throughout their kids’ lives they expose them to the stories of diverse people and cultures different from their own.  Their children will  grow with a healthy appreciation for all people and may be more willing to take a holistic, fair, balanced and empathetic approach to listening and hearing the concerns of those who live in far off places from their own home — even if that place is within their country.
Dr. Claudette S. McLinn, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature, recently curated a listing of close to three dozen multicultural books released this year she deems the best. I selected 7  of them to share with Bellyitch readers along with one additional book I reviewed personally. I pulled the Amazon.com review summary of each book I have not read. 
If you are still looking for last  minute gift ideas for young elementary thru high-school aged children, and are relatively close to a bookstore, consider popping in to see if they have these titles. Otherwise, consider ordering them from our Amazon affiliate and having them shipped to that young reader in your life.  
A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman, 307 pages, published by Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group, ©2014 (Middle school/High school, fiction/novel in verse) 
Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.
THE RED PENCIL, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, 308 pages, published by Little, Brown and Company, ©2014 (Upper elementary school/Middle school, nonfiction)
New York Times bestselling and Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Andrea Davis Pinkney’s powerful verse and Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist Shane W. Evans’s breathtaking illustrations combine to tell an inspiring tale of a Sudanese girl’s triumph against all odds, traveling to and surviving a refugee camp with the help of a red pencil.
THE MADMAN OF PINEY WOODS, by Christopher Paul Curtis, 363 pages, published by Scholastic Press, ©2014 (Upper elementary school/Middle school, fiction)
Benji and Red couldn’t be more different. They aren’t friends. They don’t even live in the same town. But their fates are entwined. A chance meeting leads the boys to discover that they have more in common than meets the eye. Both of them have encountered a strange presence in the forest, watching them, tracking them. Could the Madman of Piney Woods be real? 
GABI: A GIRL IN PIECES, by Isabel Quintero, 284 pages, published by Cinco Puntos Press, ©2014 (High school, fiction)
Sixteen-year-old Gabi Hernandez has a lot to deal with during her senior year. Her best friend Cindy is pregnant; her other best friend Sebastian

just got kicked out of his house for coming out to his strict parents; her meth addict dad is trying to quit, again; and her super religious Tía Bertha is constantly putting a damper on Gabi’s love life. In lyrical diary entries peppered with the burgeoning poet’s writing, Spanglish, and phone conversations, Quintero gives voice to a complex, not always likable but totally believable teen who struggles to figure out her own place in the world. Believing she’s not Mexican enough for her family and not white enough for Berkeley, Gabi still meets every challenge head-on with vulgar humor and raw honesty. (Amazon review Excerpt)

TWENTY-TWO CENTS: MUHAMMAD YUNUS AND THE VILLAGE BANK, by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib, 40 pages, published by Lee & Low Books Inc., ©2014 (Elementary school, nonfiction/biography)
Growing up in Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus witnessed extreme poverty all around and was determined to eradicate it. In 1976, as an Economics professor, Muhammad met a young craftswoman in the village of Jobra who needed to borrow five taka (twenty-two cents) to buy materials. No bank would lend such a small amount to an uneducated woman, so she was forced to borrow from corrupt lenders who charged an unfair interest

rate, and left her without enough profit to buy food. Muhammad realized that what stood in the way of her financial security was just a few cents. Inspired, Muhammad founded Grameen Bank where people could borrow small amounts of money to start a job, and then pay back the bank without exorbitant interest charges. Over the next few years, Muhammad’s compassion and determination changed the lives of millions of people by loaning the equivalent of more than ten billion US dollars in micro-credit. This has also served to advocate and empower the poor, especially women, who often have limited options. Twenty-two Cents is an inspiring story of economic innovation and a celebration of how one person—like one small loan—can make a positive difference in the lives of many.

THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander, 237 pages, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ©2014 (Middle school/High school, fiction/novel in verse)
“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander (He Said, She Said 2013).
Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.
LITTLE MELBA AND HER BIG TROMBONE, by Katherine Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison, 34 pages, published by Lee &Low Books, Inc., ©2014 (Elementary school, nonfiction/biography, picture book)
Melba Doretta Liston loved the sounds of music from as far back as she could remember. As a child, she daydreamed about beats and lyrics, and hummed along with the music from her family s Majestic radio. At age seven, Melba fell in love with a big, shiny trombone, and soon taught herself to play the instrument. By the time she was a

teenager, Melba s extraordinary gift for music led her to the world of jazz. She joined a band led by trumpet player Gerald Wilson and toured the country. Overcoming obstacles of race and gender, Melba went on to become a famed trombone player and arranger, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs for all the jazz greats of the twentieth century: Randy Weston, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Quincy Jones, to name just a few. Brimming with ebullience and the joy of making music, Little Melba and Her Big Trombone is a fitting tribute to a trailblazing musician and a great unsung hero of jazz.

My addition:
PRINCESS CUPCAKE JONES WON’T GO TO SCHOOL  by Ylleya Fields, illustrated by Michael LaDuca, 32 pages, published by Belle Publishing, 2014 (Elementary school, fiction, picture book) 
PRINCESS CUPCAKE  is a heartwarming storybook tale about a young princess who comes up with a laundry list of tricks to avoid going to school the first day. None work, but by the end she realizes quickly that school wouldn’t be bad after all. The illustrations are modern and colorful and bring Fields story to life. Personally, it reminds me of my 7-year old daughter who had to start a new school mid year recently and was also nervous about doing so. Like Cupcake Jones in this book, my daughter too made friends on the first day and quickly adapted.  This is  is the second in an ongoing series by the South American born Cleveland transplant author who said she was struck by the limit of books featuring African American characters and penned the book by blending her daughters’ personalities together. My daughter read it from front to back when the same day our complimentary review copy ($15.95) came in the mail. She loved it too!

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