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YA Lit Reviews
Special Topics

Nye, Naomi Shahib.  1999. Habibi. Simon Pulse.
ISBN: 0689825234
Ages 9-12
Palestinian American Liyani Aboud's story begins in her home in St. Louis, but very quickly moves with the family to her father's home in Jerusalem. She struggles with language barriers, cultural and customary barriers, and even a forbidden relationship (she is Arab American, he is Jewish. Through Habibi we readers are exposed to a culture that many people really know nothing about. We travel the streets of Jerusalem as Habibi explores them, and are introduced to long-term tensions between Arab and Jew.
Nye does a great job introducing those with no knowledge into Arab culture. Habibi's grandmother Blesses Her, and trills out her traditional cry, welcoming Habibi and her family home. The experience is full of family members all there to greet the family and begin with a meal together. We learn that Public kissing is not okay, nor is a relationship  with a Jewish man, but Habibi will not be able to control who she is attracted to, or why.

We get a deep sense of Habibi's loneliness for home, and her growing appreciation for the ancestral home of at least part of her family, and what Habibi learns, we learn as well.
Amazons Links including reviews from School Library Journal and New York Times Book Review.
Voices From The Gap: Biography and information including more links.
Habibi webpage includes brief book talk, author summary, possible classroom activities.

Radin, Ruth Yaffe. 2000. Escape to the Forest : Based on a True Story of the Holocaust. New York: Harpercollins Juvenile Books.
Holocaust Literature
ISBN: 0060285206
Ages 9-12
Sarah, a young Jewish girl around age 8 when the story begins, is living in Poland during WWII.  During Nazi occupation, her family is separated, and Sarah manages to escape Nazi capture. She runs away hoping to join her brother who she knows to be living in the woods. The history of the story refers to a camp set up by Tuvia Bielski, who set up a base camp and conducted his own freedom fighting units. Unfortunately the reader does not learn a whole lot about this group, because you don't actually experience it until almost the end of the story.
This book gets mixed reviews. While the story does mention the camp, its history may be lost on young readers who have no background information on Poland's occupation of Russians and Germans, or Bielski's story.  Sarah's escape and journey is fraught with danger, but while she is afraid, she cannot turn back because there is nothing left but to move forward toward her brother. In the end, he is there at the camp and they reunite, but one might wonder if that contrivance serves the story. Sarah's growth on the journey, is balanced with the negative experiences she has. This book tends to be on accelerated Reader lists.

Duane, Diane.  1992. Deep Wizardry. Yearling Books.
Feminist Literature
ASIN: 0440406587
The main character is a child. She is also a wizard. She is also very flawed but courageous. She is chosen to help keep a great darkness from entering the world. 

Deep Wizardry is the second of the Wizard books series by Diane Duane. Some general background about the series needs to come from the 1st book aptly entitled: So You Want to be a Wizard. In this first book the main characters Nita Callahan and Kit Rodriguez find this book in the library and thinking it is a joke, check it out to read it. A variety of odd things happen, but what they learn is that here on earth, there are Wizards who exist, who are guardians, caretakers of the earth. They have great power, but also have that equally great responsibility to carry out their duties, despite what they may feel about what they must do. Both characters learn in the first book that they may be wizards, and that they have roles that they need to play.
Within this second, and some say best early book of a large series, Nita and Kit find out that they aren't just playing a game. They are on active status and whenever the earth is endangered, they may be called on to complete certain tasks. In this story, they must keep a darkness from getting closer to humans, and when the call for help is sent out by sea creatures, Nita and Kit must take part in an ancient undersea ritual in order to cleanse the sea space and protect their world. As Nita and Kit learn of their roles as part of the Song of Twelve they are introduced to the other participants including the shark as old as the sea: Ed'Rashtekaresket (call him Ed); and the other sea creatures, who don't necessarily like each other.  
Why is Deep Wizardry a feminist work? All of the characters (both human and animal) in this story are very well developed, but the coverage of women is especially impressive. Each character has their strong points, weak points, and flaws. The heroine is not sure she can do what she needs to, yet is very aware of her strengths as well of her weaknesses. Nita relies on others because she knows they all have talents that will be necessary to the success of their joint mission. Also, Nita's little sister Dairine, while originally not taken seriously, contributes greatly to the story, and may even have a little wizardry within her as well.  She finds their book of wizardry, which disguises itself, and can actually read parts of it. The balance in the story between male and female characters is nicely done.
Amazons Link to the out of print version that was read. Includes a review from Publishers Weekly.
Young Wizards on the Web. This site is for Duane's Wizard series. It includes a good summary of the book Deep Wizardry, as well as all the other books in the series: So You Want To Be A Wizard, Deep WizardryHigh Wizardry, A Wizard Abroad, The Wizard's DilemmaA Wizard Alone, and  Wizard's Holiday.
Duane's website with biography
Bibliography of Diane Duane's work.

Fleming Virginia. Ill. by  Floyd Cooper. 1993.  Be Good To Eddie. Philomel Books.
Disabilities in Literature
ISBN: 0399219935
Ages 4-8
This story has three main characters that interact with each other, Eddie Lee, a child with Down syndrome, a young girl Christy, and JimBud. While Christy wants to go off to play with Jimbud she is torn between her wishes, and her mothers message: be good to Eddie Lee: He's lonesome. JimBud has a hard time being around Eddie. He calls Eddie Dummy, and treats him like an animal. Christy does say something to JimBud, but still goes off to the woods with him leaving Eddie behind. While they look for Frog eggs, Eddie Lee follows them. Nothing Eddie does makes Jimbud see him in any positive light, but Christy does see Eddies gifts, his gentleness with the Salamander he catches, his great joy at the beauty of lake, his willingness to search for a Lily for Christy. In fact, it is Eddie who leads Christy to a new secret lake in the woods that she never knew about. JimBud simply leaves the two together about two-thirds of the way through the story. He just can't be around Eddie for any length of time, and will not stop ridiculing him. His fear always gets the better of him.
Floyd Cooper did the Illustrations for the story. He says that he visited Hamilton Elementary school in New Jersey and used two of the students from the special education class as models for Eddie (with the school and their parents' permission of course).  Cooper uses a lot of brown to gold throughout the illustrations and the pictures give out a warmth, a glow. His characters are realistically drawn and so are the scenes, from the opening scenes of Eddie eating a popsicle to and watched by Christy, to the final scene of Eddie and Christy from the rear, walking through a field together toward their homes.
Christy is a very strong character to withstand JimBud's constant remarks and stick up for Eddie. Since it is only the three of them, Christy is not teased about it in any way. If the story had been longer, perhaps Christy might have found herself the object of teasing. All it takes sometimes is one strong derisive voice, to make sure no one ever befriends the object of that teasing.
Book reviews for Eddie Lee. At least one person has targeted a stereotype within the book...that the portrayal of Eddie as someone who doesn't care that others are making fun of him may infer that people with Down Syndrome are not bright enough to know that someone is making fun of them.
Meet Floyd Cooper (illustrator of this book).

Garden, Nancy. 2000. Holly's Secret.  Farrar Straus & Giroux.
Lesbian YA Literature
ISBN: 0374332738
Ages 9-12
Nancy Garden is one of a handful of lesbian writers whose work is read by the very young as well as by adults. Her famous early work Annie On My Mind is a classic, but is still controversial due to the issue of age appropriateness. She has many YA books, but Holly's Secret deals with a young girls need to be someone else. She wants to be someone who doesnt have to worry about what people think of her or her family, someone who doesn't have to deal with anyone calling her moms a couple of dykes.  Since she moves to a new place, she changes her name and makes up what she thinks might be an exotic background. But along the way she finds out that she has to keep lying to people about her life.
She feels bad, but can't change the lies, because she has encountered one of those loud mean bullies who is popular because no one else is willing to challenge her. To be part of that group, Holly lies. She hurts herself her family and her friends before she realizes her fantasy to be someone else was a bad idea. She does manage to repair the damage done to her family by the end of the story. 
Holly's story is both new and familiar. The fact that her parents are lesbians is something she will always be called on to deal with in her life, just as other children whose parents are defined as different, also share that burden. With so few stories published for children that deal with lesbian and gay issues, each one you come across stands out. Hopefully this will not always be the case though. It would be very nice to see a lot more picture books showing GLBT characters as part of the world. It might go a long way to erase some of the stigma.
Nancy Garden's website.
Sexual diversity literature for children
Selected bibliography of books for young children and YA 
bibliography for gay teen GLBTRT bibliography

Appelt, Kathi and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer. 2001. Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN: 0060291354
Appelt and Schmitzer tell a story about librarianship that should be well-known but isn't. This is the story of the WPA (Works Projects Administration) program called Kentucky's Pack Horse Library Project. This was often promoted as one of the more successful programs, but people today are very unfamiliar with it. The reason why may be worth looking into for a researcher.
Appelt says that the book largely draws on the story of one woman: Grace Caudill Lucas, a woman who fostered 86 children over the course of her long life. This woman was one of many librarians who took part in the project, and for a salary of $28 a month, provided reading materials for individuals in so rural a community that there were no roads and few paths to follow; where the nearest neighbor may be miles away. The women used creek beds and old paths to get to their patrons, and their patrons went out of their way to get to the librarians. This story in the history of librarianship deserves its place in history, but librarianship itself is known for its ahistorical perspective on the field. Perhaps if this changed, the true history, a history of mostly women might get a larger focus.
Exhibit on Pack Horse Librarians. This is from the New Deal site and has a few photos on it.
This page gives the 1939 yearly statistics on Pack Horse librarians, and gives a brief historical sketch.
An essay on Pack Horse Librarians