I wanted to recommend two books that were honored by the ALA this year. The first is Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan, published by Scholastic Press and was chosen as a Newbery honor book. The book is historical, structured around three young harmonica-playing, but generally musical people about the age of 12. The first is a non-Jewish boy in the mid 1930s Germany during the rise of Hitler and the Nazi regime. He is discriminated against because of a facial birth mark and because his father is outraged and outspoken about the governmental policies that so discriminate against the Jews and all who are different from the Aryan ideal. The second story is set in Pennsylvania about the older of two boys, orphaned and living in negligent circumstances, who finds himself and his little brother adopted by a woman who doesn’t seem to want them. The third is a story of a Hispanic girl in 1942 who moves with her parents from Fresno, to southern California. Aware of the recent Japanese internment, she is surprised by the discrimination she faces as the daughter of a farm worker. Music connects all these young people and shows the support it can give in a world that is steeped in fear and intolerance.
The second book is a Vaunda Micheaux Nelson hit, given a Coretta Scott King honor for its illustrations. Vaun is a personal friend, I’m pleased to say, living now in New Mexico. This is her fourth Coretta Scott King acknowledgment, this a picture book called The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem’s Greatest book Store. A few years ago, Vaun published No Crystal Stair, a book for teens about her great uncle’s store. Now she has this tribute to her beloved great uncle for younger readers. It includes cameos with Mohammed ali and Malcolm X, but just gives such a heartfelt message about the love of reading, the essentiality of books, that it resonates in all sorts of ways. “Knowledge is power; you need it every hour. Read a book.” That’s one of her uncle’s pithy sayings. These last two books of Vaun’s have been works straight from her heart, but long-suffering in their writing. But all readers will have benefited from the time it took to get the book into this amazing shape. Love and good work, Vaun.