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You don’t have to be a long time reader to know that I grew up in the South. With a capital “S.” Living my formative years in Louisiana has shaped many parts of me. I teach my kids to call adults Miss or Mr. We eat lots of southern food. My accent comes out when I’m excited. I love all these parts of me.
Growing up in the south has also taught me plenty about racism and class. These are not lessons I’d want anyone to learn the way my husband and I did. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Southern life is a unique experience that encompasses all the things we love. It’s just as important to discuss the delicious food culture and southern hospitality alongside the race and class issues that still plague us.
We like to think of these issues as something from the past, but books such as Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming remind us that they exist. Woodson’s Newberry Honor book shares her experience growing up in South Carolina and New York City. If you haven’t read it, add it to the top of your list. Read it with your child and and discuss it with them.
After you and your child devour Brown Girl Dreaming, you’ll want more. There are other authors who have shared what it’s like to grow up as a person of color in the south. I wish these had existed when I was a younger. I hope you pick up a copy and read it with your kids.
Diverse Chapter Books About Growing Up in the South
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson: Beautifully written. There’s no surprise why this book has receive all the awards and accolades it has. Written in prose, the book is semi-autobiographical about growing up in South Carolina and New York during the 1960s and 1970s. It’s told through a young girls eyes, but we adults can fill in a lot of the blanks, especially relating to the Civil Rights Movement and Jim Crow laws. (Ages 10 and up)
Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly: Twelve-year-old Apple wants to be a rockstar, but she feels very different from her classmates. She and her mother moved to Louisiana from the Philippines–her friends find everything about her too weird. Apple turns to music to find herself and new friends. (Ages 8-12)
Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick: Zane is a mixed race 12-year-old boy who is visiting his great-grandmother in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hits. He becomes separated from his family and are rescued by an elderly musician and a young girl. The book is based on true facts from one of the worst hurricanes to hit Louisiana. (Ages 9-13)
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhhà Lại,: Several friends have recommended this book to me. This Newberry Honor book and National Book Award winner is inspired by Lai’s childhood. Along with her family, she fled Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon in 1975 and they immigrated to Alabama. I can only image the culture shock. This book is also written in free verse. (Ages 8-12)
Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia: A summer in the rural South? The Gaither sisters are city girls who adjust to a summer in Alabama to visit their grandmother. The book is also a Coretta Scott King Award Winner. (Ages 8-12)
Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall: Lupita, the oldest of eight siblings, is terrified when her Mami is diagnosed with cancer. Lupita tries to keep her Mexican-American family together in their small Texas town while she juggles high school. (Ages 12 and up)
The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis: Nine-year-old Kenny and his family travel from Flint, Michigan to visit his grandmother in Birmingham, Alabama. They happen to be in town when Grandma’s church is blown up. (Ages 8-13)
What books would you add to this list? I’d love recs for books with characters of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent living the south.
I’m excited to be a co-host of Multicultural Children’s Book Day, which is January 27, 2016. We’re spreading the word about diverse books across the blogosphere, including a Twitter party on January 27 from 9-10pm EST. Join the Twitter party for a chance to win 1 of 12 book bundles. Prizes are handed out every 5 minutes!
A big thanks to our MCBD sponsors:
Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors! #ReadYourWorld
Make sure you check out all the bloggers who are participating in Multicultural Children’s Book Day (link will be live Jan 26):