In the past two weeks, I read the following books:
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Lu (Track #4) by Jason Reynolds
Not long before that I read;
Blended by Sharon Draper.
What these books all have in common is simple. They deal with kids of color.
But what I imagined as I read the books was kids - just kids. I imagined their skin was darker than mine and I imagined that their lives were way different. But the authors of these books are that good, that any reader can pick up these books and see themselves in these characters - even as they learn just how different their experiences are from the lives of these characters.
And that is important. These books are not strident or pontifical. The kids in these books have kid problems. A parent is missing in action. Or parents don't get along. Or the main character learns that his or her adult role model has faults - a problem that plagues us all. Or the family moves to a strange and different neighborhood.
Finding Langston takes place before I was born, right after World War II. Langston and his father move far away to a big city after Langston's mother dies. The city is a confusing, noisy and crowded place. Langston is left to manage on his own as his father works to support the family in the South. Taking refuge in the library, a wonderful place free to all "colored" people, Langston learns where his name comes from and discovers beautiful words. He helps his father come to terms with grief.
In Blended, the main character is caught in a police action and ends up in the hospital. She seems so typical, almost boringly normal, that when that happens, the reader - if the reader is white - is stunned. It got my attention.
In Harbor Me, one of the kids in the special group is white. His friends, because they ARE all friends, try to explain why he is privileged. He is. When the main character sees what happens to that white boy as he walks home from school, the group doesn't let their friend walk home alone.
The other kids in the group have bigger problems,; the threat of deportation, a father in prison, fear of being found guilty because of skin color. They make sure that their friend is protected. That's what friends do.
I can't even begin to explain what Lu (Track #4) is about because it is ALL the THINGS! Lu has to face a new challenge in track, accept the disturbing pasts of people he loves and admires, and face, again, the dangers of living in his neighborhood. Also, a camel made of kiwi fruit and bananas??? And a new baby? How did the author get all that into such a skinny book?
I have read other, more pointed books that describe the pervasive atmosphere of discrimination that anyone who doesn't fit the White Privileged mold lives in. The books I write about today offer vignettes of different lives, without calling anyone out - except perhaps the mean kids. Those different lives are are relatable and real.
They help young readers consider how very different each of our burdens are. Underneath it all, we each offer something special to any tribe we belong to. Underneath it all, kindness, honesty and acceptance can make friends of us all.
I am white. I am a woman. I am privileged. I love these books, without exception.