Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee – A stunning, emotional journey across the Oregon Trail

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Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

I have just been on the most incredible adventure. And now I am not too sure of what to do with myself.

Under a Painted Sky combines elements I am not usually familiar with (nor fond of) – Westerns and historical fiction – with themes I love to read about – sisterhood, friendship, loss, and the unexpected things we find. The result? An unforgettable, and poignant story about the bravery and determination of two young girls as they journey across the Oregon Trail. Lee captures the dusty road of the Oregon Trail with unparalleled finesse and detail with a moving story about pursuing the precious few things left in the face of overwhelming loss.

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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – Mesmerizing poetry and beautifully told

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Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

I picked up this book because I fell in love with Woodson’s story in Flying Lessons and Other Stories called Main Street. The narrative in Main Street was achingly beautiful, nostalgic, and poignant, and so on a whim, I picked up Brown Girl Dreaming at my library without so much as a glance at what it was about – just in time for Black History Month too.

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Kindred by Octavia Butler – A powerful historical/sci-fi; absolutely exceptional in every way

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Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

Kindred is a truly outstanding book. Not only is it the first science-fiction written by a black author – making it an incredible piece of black American literature – but it is an amazing book by its own merits. And there are many.

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Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh – A treasure for the youth of now and for generations to come

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Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories.

I loved Flying Lessons and Other Stories. This book was the perfect book to start off 2017 – it filled me with so much joy, reminded me of the ups and downs of youth, and filled me with so much hope — hope, because kids with marginalized identities may read this book and find themselves in the stories’ characters. And I cannot emphasize how important this is – and consequently how this makes Flying Lessons and Other Stories so important and successful.

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Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

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Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

The acclaimed Rae Carson begins a sweeping new trilogy set in Gold Rush-era America, about a young woman with a powerful and dangerous gift.

Before reading this book, I was largely ignorant to the California Gold Rush between 1848 to 1855. After reading Walk on Earth a Stranger, I may still be far from fluent in the history but Carson has written a wonderful story that gives us insight to what it might have been like, propelled by one heck of a sweeping story about what it means to be brave.

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