Aug 6, 2010

Inclusive Literature

Budhos, Marina. 2006. Ask Me No Questions. Ginee Seo Books. ISBN: 978-1416903512

Nadira Hossain and her family are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh struggling to stay in America.

Critical Analysis:
After the events of September 11th, new registration laws were put in place for people who were born in a Muslim country. Many people who registered were thrown in jail, deported or sought asylum in Canada. Ask Me No Questions begins with Nadira Hossain and her family seeking asylum in Canada. They are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh living on an expired visitor’s Visa. It is a long-shot, they know, but it is better than being deported. Nadira’s father says, “There comes a time when the writing is right there on the wall. Why should we wait for them to kick us out? I want to live in a place where I can hold my head up.” Things do not go according to plan and Nadir’s father is taken into custody. Nadira’s mother stays in a shelter to be near her husband, while Nadira and her sister Aisha travel back to New York. The girls follow their father’s instruction and try to go back to their regular life in New York, but that is easier said than done. The aunt, uncle and cousin they reside with are also living in America illegally. Nadira and her sister Aisha feel all eyes are on them, and that everyone knows their secret; they are living in the United States illegally and their father is in jail. Nadira knows that she is not the only one living on an expired visitor’s Visa, “That’s how you can tell the immigrant kids from the ones born here. We don’t laugh about those places [Disney World]. We just want to go.” Nadira remembers being at the school playground when she was little and overhearing girls chant, “Ask me no questions, tell me no lies.” This, she says, was her schools unspoken policy. Ask me no questions, teacher, and I will tell no lies.

Several months goes by and despite all of Nadira and Aisha’s efforts, their father is still detained. They have written letters to the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and made countless phone calls to lawyers and other government agencies. Lawyers’ offices are backed up with people who are facing the same situation as the Hossain’s. Nadira’s father is only a waiter and his case is of no immediate importance. As Nadira continues to think of ways to secure father’s return, her sister Aisha begins to unravel. Aisha is a senior in high school, nominated for Valedictorian, and has college applications out to some of the country’s best schools. In an attempt to detach herself, she begins to skip class and miss assignments all in attempt to detach herself. Aisha feels that her family is doomed and all of her hard work as a student will amount to nothing. Nadira, on the other hand, continues to fight for her father’s release and the ability to call America home.

This book, for a lack of better words, was enlightening. I cannot imagine going through life living on pins and needles. Throughout the book, Nadira explains that her family grows more and more comfortable in America. When they first arrived, the Houssain’s lived out of suitcases and only purchased things that were easily mobile. Overtime, the family began to relax and Nadira’s mother even bought curtains for their small apartment. Nadira and Aisha assimilate into the Western culture by wearing rock back t-shirts and hip-hugger jeans. Aisha has worked hard to fit in with the popular crowd, while Nadira tries to simply blend in. Aisha has even learned how to drive. She keeps this a secret from her father because this practice would never be allowed in Bangladesh. Her mother on the other hand knows of Aisha’s secret lessons and she, too, begins to assimilate. She no longer walks a few paces behind her husband, but right alongside him. All of these actions do not go unnoticed with Nadira’s uncle and aunt. They are very concerned preserving their Muslim traditions. These clashing of ideas are throughout the entire book.

Although the ending wraps up a little too nicely and neatly, the story has heart that should be shared with many. The reader gets a little background of Bangladesh when Nadira narrates the countriy tormented history, and also when Nadira’s father tells his stories. The reader also gets a few snippets of Bangla, the language spoken in Bangladesh interwoven in the story. The additional language use is not cumbersome, but a smooth addition. Ask Me No Questions is a worthwhile addition to any library serving teens. Recommended for ages 13 and up.

ALA Best Books For Young Adults
ALA Notable Children's Books
Bank Street Best Books of the Year
Booklist Editors' Choice
CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book
Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best
Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee
James Cook Teen Book Award Inaugural Winner
Kirkus Best Children's Book
Kirkus Editor's Choice
Nutmeg Book Award Finalist
Nutmeg Children's Book Award Nominee
NYPL "Books for the Teen Age"
Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award Nominee

“The teen voice is wonderfully immediate, revealing Nadira's mixed-up feelings as well as the diversity in her family and in the Muslim community.” Booklist

“The message drives the story here; the motivations of the characters are not always clear, and the ending may strike some as a bit tidy. But the events of the novel are powerful enough to engage readers' attention and will make them pause to consider the effects of a legal practice that preys on prejudice and fear.” Publisher’s Weekly

“Nadira's conflicting emotions are portrayed in such a way that even though teens might not identify with her situation, they can easily relate to her feelings. The topics addressed in this book are very relevant in today's society, and teens will quickly be able to make real world connections. Although not all teens would choose to read this book on their own, it could be effectively used in the classroom.” Voya

Abdel-Fattah, Randa. 2007. Does My Head Look Big in This? Scholastic. ISBN: 9780439919470

Nye, Naomi Shihab. 1999. Habibi. Simon and Schuster. ISBN: 978-0689825231

Green, John & Levithan, David. 2010. Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Dutton Juvenile, ISBN: 978-0525421580

Two teenage boys, both named Will Grayson, cross paths late one night in a porn shop.

Critical Analysis:
Will Grayson is an average 16-year-old boy living in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. Will Grayson is also an average 16-year-old boy living in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. Both Will Grayson’s have no idea of each other’s existence until their worlds collide late one night in a porn shop. Yes, a porn shop. Will is there to pass the time, and the Other Will is there to meet a boy that he met online. The night is going well for both Will’s and soon they are outside talking and trying to make sense of the encounter. They soon learn they do not have much in common. Will is straight, an only child, and his parents are still happily married. He has a lot of friends, and his biggest worry is where to go eat at lunch. The Other Will is gay, lives in a shabby 2-bedroom apartment with his over-protective mother, and takes antidepressants. While they are getting to know each other, Other Will receives a text message that his online interest is not a boy, but an annoying girl named Maura that has been begging for his attention all year. Other Will is becomes even more depressed and somehow he finds himself spilling his life story to Will on the sidewalk outside the porn shop. Enter Will’s best friend Tiny Cooper. “Tiny Cooper is not the world’s gayest person, and he is not the world’s largest person, but I believe he may be the world’s largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world’s gayest person who is really, really large.” Tiny is the kind of boy that is in love with a new boy every other week, and when he sees the Other Will, he falls in love all over again. The Other Will has some of the same feelings, but Tiny’s size is something he is not used to. Much to Will’s surprise, Tiny and the Other Will hit it off and begin a fast relationship. The addition of Other Will does not exactly excite Will, and he suddenly finds Timy putting him on the back burner. Will and Tiny have to find a way to balance love and friendship when there is one too many Will Graysons.

Props to John Green and David Levithan for giving an (almost) non-stereotypical look of teen, gay males. Tiny loves musicals and wrote one of his own, and this (almost) stereotype adds to the comedy and bigger than life character of Tiny. Tiny is well-liked by the entire school and he is never made fun of or ridiculed for his sexual preference. His friendship with Will is refreshing, and even though they have problems, Tiny’s sexual preference is never at the center of the issue. The addition of the Other Will allowed the authors to explore issues involving gay teens without having to jam pack them all into one character. The Other Will is almost the exact opposite of Tiny. He is painfully shy, a loner, and through much of the book, in the closet about his homosexuality. There is something in each character with which everyone can identify.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a story about friendship, love and acceptance told with an in-your-face type of humor. (Is bitchsquealer really a word?) Luckily for the reader, we get two perspectives as we shift from one Will Grayson to the Other Will Grayson. Add a sub-plot production of “Tiny Dancer: the Tiny Cooper Story,” and bigger than life characters like Tiny, “Not-so-gay-Jane”, and “Gay Friend Gideon,” you have yourself a hilarious, contemporary look on the young gay male. Recommended for ages 15 and up.

YALSA Best Fiction Nominee for Young Adults, 2010

“Told in alternating chapters from each Will Grayson's point of view (one in lower case, effectively individualizing identities), complete with honest language, interesting characters, and a heartfelt, gritty edge, this quirky yet down-to-earth collaboration by two master YA storytellers will keep readers turning pages.” School Library Journal

“Two superstar authors pair up and really deliver the goods, dishing up a terrific high-energy tale...threaded with generous measures of comedy and savvy counsel.” Booklist

“…a wonderfully campy, sweet, romantic gesture in the spectacular style that readers have come to expect from these two YA masters. Although not entirely unfamiliar—or precisely because of it—Will Grayson will find a fast and adoring audience.” Voya

Levithan, David. 2005. Boy Meets Boy. Knopf Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 978-0375832994

Petrillo, Genevieve. 2007. Keep Your Ear on the Ball. Tibury House Publishers. ISBN 978-0884482963

A young blind boy starts a new school and insists he can do everything himself, regardless of the amount of help his new classmates are offering.

Critical Analysis:
When Ms. Madison introduces a new classmate named Davey, the class thinks he looks like a “regular kid.” He has “medium brown hair and medium brown eyes.” Only after Davey walks around the class touching the door frame, teacher’s desk, bookshelf, fishbowl, and library shelf do they realize that something might be different about Davey. A hush fallsl over the classroom and Davey exclaims, “It’s awfully quiet. I’m blind, I’m not an alien!” The class becomes mesmerized as Davey reads with his hands and complets his homework using a Braillewriter. A classmate offers to hold Davey’s hand as they make their way to the cafeteria for lunch. Davey says, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and finds his way to the lunch table with a tray of food. Throughout the day several classmates ask if they can assistance to Davey, but he always responds, “Thanks, but no thanks.” One day Davey has trouble kicking the ball during a game of kickball. His friends offer to take his place, but Davey insists that he does not need any help. A week goes by and Davey is still having trouble connecting to the ball. His new friends grow frustrated. They want to help Davey, but he refuses. A classmate suddenly gets a great idea; she will blow a whistle when the ball reaches Davey so he can kick it. The trick works and Davey kicks the ball into right field! The first baseman yells for Davey, and he follows the sound of his voice. It turns out Davey needs his friends after all - everybody does.

Davey is not a helpless boy that someone should feel sorry for. He is an average young man who happens to be blind. Davey is proactive, independent, and assertive. Throughout the book, Davey insists he can do everything on his own. His only dialogue, other than his “I’m not an alien” statement, is “Thanks, but no thanks.” He repeats this statement on nearly every page. By the end of the book, we see Davey warm-up to his classmates and accept a small amount of help. Keep Your Ear on the Ball is not a picture book that describes how blind people need others’ help. It is an accurate representation of a child, as well as a child with a disability. There are no heroes to save Davey from his condition (no need), and the book shows others that blind people do not always need the help.

The watercolor illustrations by Lea Lyon are a bit heavy handed, and remind me of picture books from the early 1980s. The overall heart of the story make up for the, sometimes, awkward and rough paintings. (One illustration of Davey kicking the ball makes him look like he has a physical disability as well) Children represent all sizes and nationalities showing a good representation of an average elementary classroom today. Keep Your Ear on the Ball is a good addition for any elementary library and classroom library. Recommended for ages 5 and up.

Moonbeam Award, 2008

“"Bright, energetic watercolors illustrate this excellent example of classroom adaptations that allow for the inclusion of various abilities...affirming text never strays into didacticism." Multicultural Review

“Davey and his compassionate classmates are depicted in full-color realistic illustrations. Based on an actual occurrence, this book will aid children in understanding some of the attributes of being blind.” Children’s Literature

“The story provides excellent insight into the world of a child with visual impairment who has learned many coping skills but continues to meet new challenges.” School Library Journal

Meachen Rau, Dana. The Secret Code. Children’s Press. ISBN: 978-0516263625

Thomas, Pat. 2005. Don't Call Me Special: A First Look at Disability. Barron's Educational Series. ISBN: 978-0764121180