I read two amazing books this week and they both centered on 11-12 year old black girls. It was pure coincidence that I ended up with both books checked out from the library. It didn’t even occur to me that they had that same framework until after I was reflecting on how good they both were.
The first was Blended by Sharon Draper and it centers around a girl – Isabella – who was has a Black dad and a white Mom who are divorced and she spends one week at a time in each of their homes. This book really got me reflecting on my own personal challenges when I was a young child of divorce because the character is written so vividly that – when she was feeling anxious about her parents – I felt like I was 11 years old again…feeling anxious about my own.
But there’s also a lot about what it’s like to not necessarily know who you are. She dealing with that pull of feeling like she’s two different people, not just because she literally spends her life split between two worlds, but also because she struggles with her racial identity, something she’s newly thinking about as a Black friend becomes a victim of some racist bullying.
The next book I read was Renée Watson’s Some Places More Than Others. I picked up this book I loved another book by the same author. In this one, Amara – a Black girl living in Oregon – convinces her parents to let her go to NYC with her Dad on a business trip to see where he grew up and meet his family.
This book deals with a lot of the broken relationships that can happen in families as Amara discovers her Dad and her grandfather have not actually spoken to each other in 12 years. Experiencing all of this from the point of view of a girl who can’t understand why you would stop talking to a parent, is really lovely. There’s so much depth to how she learns about her Dad through all of this and how she thinks about her own relationship with her Mom, it was hard to even consider the fact that this was written for “young readers” and not for adults.
Amara is also trying to work on a school project which has her reflecting a lot on family history and personal identity and it just got my mind whirring around the same topics and wishing I had had more time with my Grandmother who was – by far – the grandparent I was the closest with.
Both of these books just got me really reflecting on family and personal growth and person identity in ways that “adult” fictions just rarely seem to do. Books written for young people always have this thread of self-discovery through them, because that’s such an important facet of being young, and there’s just not as many books for adults that have that. I find books for young people to be filled with so much good introspection that always pushes me into my own paths of self-examination and it frustrates me to no end that people scoff at books for kids thinking that the only reason an adult would read them is for their own children.
No. I read both of these books for myself and they both opened up pathways of thought about my own personal experiences that hadn’t been opened in awhile.
All of that said – there was also also so much to learn about the Black experience in both books. There was a good article written awhile back that reminded everyone in their “Anti-Racist Reading” journeys that there are other ways to learn about the Black experience as well and I think books for children written by and about Black youth are one of the most enlightening avenues in my own racial discovery. Isabella has an incident of mistreatment by a security guard in a store. Then there’s a lot of commentary about the difference in racial makeup of Oregon and Harlem for Amara. Many experiences that open my mind and heart in ways that non-fictions won’t necessarily do.
(I do both. I have my own beat up and highlighted version of Ibram Kendi’s How To Be Anti-Racist.)
I think – if I had to describe myself in one specific and repetitive rant – it would be about how important I think it is for anyone who likes reading, to incorporate books for young people into their libraries. And how close-minded it is to discount YA or Junior level books in ways that indicate they don’t offer anything to adults beyond vampire love stories or schools of magic. Not that those books are not worthy, but I swear there is a huge majority of adult readers who think all books for kids are either Twilight or Harry Potter.
Anyway…check out those two books. They’re easy reads and truly lovely.