Yes, We Need Diverse Books

Everyone deserves to be seen. As a librarian, I have the opportunity to work with children, teens and adults on a daily basis. One of my goals as a public servant is to make each person I interact with feel seen no matter who they are. However, being seen goes beyond just being acknowledged in our daily interactions with others. Another component of my job is working with youth of all ages and connecting them with books that will enrich their lives and help them reach their full potential. Books are an important way to help young people feel seen. Not only do they see themselves reflected in stories and images, but they also become familiar with the experiences of others. I touched on this briefly in my blog post last month.

Connecting kids with books in which they are reflected can be problematic because there is an imbalance of representation in which a large percentage of children’s and young adult books only reflect the mainstream white experience. The current publishing industry does not reflect the rich diversity of the children in the United States. There are strides being made by such groups as We Need Diverse Books and an increase in the amount of books being published by people of color. There is a lot more progress that needs to be made and KT Horning discusses this in great depth on the Cooperative Children’s Book Center blog.

The recently published children’s and young adult books highlighted below are a celebration of diversity and capture the experiences of immigrants and their children, African Americans, the LGBTQ community, indigenous women and more. They just skim the surface of the diverse books that can be found within our collections at the Everett Public Library.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi


This beautifully illustrated Caldecott honor book is based on an experience that Bao Phi (a prominent performance poet) had as a child. It captures him and his father fishing in the early morning hours in Minnesota where his family settled after leaving Vietnam. They are fishing for food, not just enjoyment. The story captures a simple, yet poignant experience shared by father and son. Through this experience we learn about some of the struggles his parents faced in America along with some of the trauma they experienced in Vietnam. The story is illustrated by Thi Bui who also came to America from Vietnam as a young girl.

A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary/illustrated by QinLeng


O’Leary captures almost every kind of family in this picture book that begins with a classroom discussion in which each child shares why their family is special. A little girl in the class does not want to share about her family because she is afraid they are too different. The students start to share about their families and the girl begins to see how many different kinds of families there are: families with a mom and dad, families with two moms or two dads, families with adopted children, mixed families, blended families, divorced families, single parent families and families where grandma is raising the grandchildren. Eventually we learn that the girl is a foster child who happens to be very loved by her foster mother.

Love by Matt De La Pena/illustrated by Loren Long


“And the face staring back in the bathroom mirror—this, too, is love.” This is just one sentence from award winning writer Matt De La Pena’s most recent picture book. The story is both an exploration and meditation on love told through the lens of a child growing up into young adulthood. It is not just one child but many different children at various points in their lives. The children are comprised of a diverse group that includes one in a wheel chair, African American children and a Latinx family. The story portrays the complexity of love even when it feels absent and how it can be found again. The book reads beautifully like a poem and leaves the reader with much to ponder.

Sparkle Boy by Leslea Newman


Casey wants to be like his sister when it comes to wearing sparkly skirts, nail polish and bracelets. Gender stereotypes are challenged in this story about a family who is mostly accepting of Casey’s love of all things sparkly. His sister is the exception and she grows increasingly angry as he shows interest in sparkly things that are permitted by the adults in his life. Her feelings change when they are at the library and a group of boys start teasing Casey because he is wearing a sparkly skirt. She stands up for her younger brother who is visibly hurt and she challenges the boys’ views of what is acceptable attire for boys.

As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman


This young adult graphic novel tells the story of Charlie, an African American Christian teenager who identifies as queer. She has been sent to Three Peaks summer camp which happens to be an all-white Christian camp. She struggles with different aspects of the camp, especially some of the thoughtless comments or microaggressions made by the head counselor. She also has a crush on the head counselor’s daughter who assists her mother at the camp. Charlie befriends one of the other campers named Sydney and discovers they have more in common than she thinks.

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed


Maya is a Muslim Indian American who lives in a small community outside of Chicago. It is Maya’s senior year and she is increasingly caught between her parent’s expectations and her dreams of moving to New York and pursuing a career in film. Her parents came to the United States from India as a young couple and expect Maya to attend college close to home and find an acceptable Muslim young man to marry. Maya has secretly applied to NYU and is falling for Phil, a popular football player at her high school. Her world changes dramatically when a courthouse in Illinois is bombed, killing hundreds of people. The community where she has spent her entire life becomes engulfed in fear and hate, much of it directed towards Maya and her parents.

Black Girl Magic: a Poem by Mahogany L. Browne


This poem is written to African American girls and challenges the many destructive messages they receive from society. Mahogany Browne has shared it widely through spoken word and now she has partnered with Jess X. Snow to depict the poem visually.

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green


There are lots of changes about to happen in Macy McMillan’s life including her mother’s upcoming nuptials to a man with twin daughters. The story is written in verse and highlights Macy’s deafness but it is not the focus of the story. Instead we see a beautiful relationship develop between Macy and her older neighbor Iris. This hopeful book highlights family and friendship with vibrant characters.

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz


Betty Shabazz is most well known for being the wife of Malcom X and an activist. Her daughter has written this work of historical fiction along with renowned author Renee Watson. The story chronicles Betty’s beginnings with a neglectful mother and her eventual adoption by a middle class couple at her church. She volunteers for an organization called the Housewives League and this is the beginning of her work as an activist. Not only is the reader exposed to the challenges that Betty faced as a young person but they are also given an introduction to the roots of the Civil Rights movement.

#Not Your Princess: Voices of Native American Women / edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale


This powerful book is a compilation of poems, essays, photography and art by indigenous women throughout North America. There is a lot of pain and anger manifested in this book because of the mistreatment and erasure of indigenous people. However, this book will educate teens and give them perspective on a subject that is often ignored. It is at least a start in letting the voices, feelings and strength of these women be heard and seen.

Did You Know? (Salary Edition)

That the word salary came from soldiers being paid in salt?

I found this information on page 63 in the book Salt: a World History by Mark Kurlansky. This is also where we get the saying “worth his salt.”

I’m not sure about you, but I prefer my salary to be paid in money! I doubt that I have a single creditor that would take a payment in salt. Salary Tutor by Jim Hopkinson will help you get the most pay possible for your position. While most of the information relates directly to getting a new job, there is a chapter dedicated to helping you get a raise from your current employer.

I remember when I was young, overhearing the adults talking about salaries and wondering why they were talking about celery! I’m not certain that this would be any better than getting paid in salt. I suppose if you had an abundance of celery lying around, you could try the recipe for braised celery in Martha Stewart’s Vegetables book.

While it may not be braised like Martha makes, Amor y apio/ (Love and Celery) is a book about healthy eating while pregnant. This is one reason you would be glad to eat celery!

But, back to ‘green’ that isn’t vegetables. Let’s assume you are actually getting paid in money and not salt….or celery. We have many books on investing, saving and creating a budget with your money. But you have to be careful where you are putting those hard-earned wages! The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to do about It by Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig has financial advice we can all use.

You know it’s never too soon to start planning! Kid Millionaire by Matthew Eliot is a great way for young people to get started earning, saving and investing. There are great tips for start-up jobs and games and apps that kids (or adults) can play or use to learn to track their money.

Some Light Reading for the End of the World

I get a kick out of a story that can combine world-changing, terrifying, and sometimes supernatural events with a fairly traditional, mundane coming of age story. This is one of the many things I love about Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle. Shaun David Hutchinson also showed his skill with this kind of work in We are the Ants and he doubled down in his latest novel, The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza.

At first glance, Elena Mendoza is similar to lots of teenage protagonists. School can be rough – she isn’t exactly popular, but she has made her own community. She loves her mom and younger siblings but hates her loser stepdad. I can keep going: her job sucks, Freddie, the girl she pines for, seems to have no clue she exists, inanimate objects often speak to her and she is the product of a virgin birth. Like I said, pretty typical.

81G6+tEFWqLSo about that virgin birth thing. Despite being shouldered with a “miracle child” moniker, there is a scientific explanation for Elena’s situation. She is the first proven human case of parthenogenesis, a form of reproduction involving an unfertilized egg. Other than some cruel classmates who nicknamed her Mary, Elena has largely been able to shed any spotlight that might come from the unique circumstances of her birth. Time heals all wounds and brings enough sensational news stories each day to allow hers to fade away.  

The voices Elena hears are a little harder to explain, but truth be told they give her advice that usually proves helpful so she has learned to live with them and hide them from the surrounding world, even from her mother and her best friend, Fadil. Then one day while at work she witnesses a classmate shoot Freddie and is told by the logo on a Starbucks cup to save Freddie’s life. Though it defies explanation, Elena is able to heal Freddie and her reputation as a miracle girl comes storming back, bringing Elena a mess of unwanted attention.

To make matters worse, the boy who shot Freddie disappeared in a ray of light right after Elena performed her “miracle.” The voices tell Elena that she must heal more people to save the world. Fadil, a devout Muslim, tells her to trust in God and plenty of others tell her she is either crazy or a fraud. For her part, Elena is sure there must be some sort of scientific explanation and she is reluctant to use her powers. But with so many people suffering around her, how can she resist? Unfortunately, every time she heals someone, people disappear in strange beams of light. And as her profile grows, more people seem to want to use her, from her selfish stepdad to shadowy government agents. So Elena is left with quite the needle to thread: save the world, avoid manipulation, solve this rapture mystery and figure out if Freddie likes her or resents her for saving her life. No sweat?

Hutchinson packs a lot into this book and in less capable hands this story could have gone off the rails or veered into religious speculation that just isn’t my taste. Yet Elena is a sensible, compassionate, and delightfully wry narrator who manages to keep this wild novel somewhat grounded. I loved her mix of optimism and pragmatism and her quick banter with Fadil, Freddie, and her ex-boyfriend Javi.  

More than anything else, however, I appreciate the way this book handles identity. I read a lot of YA fiction that features queer characters and I appreciate the thought and care with which so many authors today write about questioning or discovering sexuality, coming out, facing bigotry, and finding acceptance. I also believe, however, that we need stories like this one. Elena has lots of insecurities but is perfectly open and comfortable with her bisexuality. And that is also how she is treated by Hutchinson. Her identity is only addressed as it pertains to the story. It’s a fact of life, not a plot point. The same could be said for the treatment of Fadil’s religion and Elena’s Cuban-American heritage. Hutchinson’s matter-of-fact approach to diverse representation not only makes for great writing but creates a world that I want to live in. Even if it is on the brink of apocalypse.

Danger, Will Robinson!

Most popular music consists of both music and words. I find that I respond almost entirely to music, seldom paying too much attention to lyrics, which is probably just as well since most lyrics are drivel. This is not opinion, it’s science.

When I’m reading music reviews, the reviewer often will quote lyrics that he finds especially moving or clever. I almost always find these examples to be spectacularly inane, which leads me to wonder if when I share lyrics that are incredibly meaningful to me, everyone else finds them stupid.

Don’t get me wrong; clever lyrics can be amazing. But most folks who write rock songs are content to rhyme home and roam, wife and life, booze and lose. The little grey cells are not stretched much to come up with these expressions of creativity.

So, I set out to find strange, meaningful, beautiful lyrics. And let me tell you, it was not an easy journey. I finally arrived on my own doorstep, so to speak, with the album Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone? by Seattle’s own Harvey Danger. Here we find clever, quirky lyrics that are coated with a fine sprinkling of pathos and powdered sugar.

Hear the voices in my head
I swear to God it sounds like they’re snoring
But if you’re bored then you’re boring
The agony and the irony, they’re killing me

Flagpole Sitta contains some of my favorite lyrics in songdom, yet if asked to explain the song’s meaning I would be largely guessing. If one looks at forums discussing this very topic, one will be highly amused by the extreme variety of responses. Ultimately, as with all great art, the lyrics mean whatever you want them to. That aside, I’m attracted by the waggish wordplay. In the above example the narrator is apparently suffering from auditory hallucinations, but at the same time has such low self-esteem that he feels he’s putting his hallucinations to sleep. Sad if true, but in the context of song lyrics quite amusing.

The chorus is short and poignant.

 I’m not sick but I’m not well
And I’m so hot ’cause I’m in hell

This gives some insight into the narrator’s mind: Not sick but not well, suffering as from the fires of hell. Not a happy person. But he’s still able to find humor in the idiocy of others.

Been around the world and found
That only stupid people are breeding
The cretins cloning and feeding
And I don’t even own a TV

Carlotta Valdez is another jocular song on this album, featuring lyrics that should have won a MacArthur Genius Award.

Everything’s subjective
Nothing lasts for Johnny O
K-Kiss Kim Novak where the redwoods grow

These lyrics refer to the movie Vertigo, which has a plot that’s insanely difficult to explain. Picture Jimmy Stewart, people falling off buildings, a femme fatale (played by Kim Novak) who Stewart becomes obsessed with, and a bad case of vertigo. Carlotta Valdez is a long-dead woman who is possibly related to the femme fatale.

Jimmy Stewart follows Kim to where your portrait hangs on a wall
Such a haunting vision, he forgets his partner’s fall

The words are actually a clever plot synopsis, far more succinct than any I could provide.

Go up the mission stair
I’ll follow anywhere — that is, until you climb too high

So the lesson today? Good lyrics do exist, but it can be a hunt to find them. And, choosing music based on the lyrics rather than the genre can be a good way to expose yourself to new things. Like Harvey Danger.

Spot-Lit for March 2018


These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

 Notable New Fiction 2018 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Underrated Reads

Every so often a book blips across my radar and I recall how freaking awesome it was to read it for the first time. Then, because I’m a cataloger and I live for our database and its statistics, I will take a peek at our checkout stats. Imagine my disbelief and sadness when gems I adore have low checkout numbers. How can this be? Don’t people realize how amazing this book is?

No. No, they do not!

For whatever reason some books that we library folk hold near and dear seem to have missed getting the spotlight. So with that in mind I asked my colleagues to recommend some of the best books they’ve read that don’t seem to be getting the love and attention they deserve. Read on for recommendations from Jennifer, Mindy, Ron, and Susan, as well as a few of my own. One piece of advice: get your library cards ready now. You’re going to want to put these on hold ASAP.

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson is one of those books that seemed to slip into my hands without much decision-making on my part and quietly became one of the best books I read last year. As you might recall if you read Serena‘s rad post recently, Piecing Me Together is the 2018 recipient of the Coretta Scott King author award. It’s the story of Jade, an African-American teen in Portland who struggles with the different pieces of her identity as well as being put into a mentoring program for “at-risk” girls, a program that Jade feels disillusioned with when she can’t seem to click with her mentor. I loved​ everything about this book. Jade is a complex and dynamic character whose unique voice is still in my head long after I closed the book. Love, love, love.

Shortly before traveling to Europe I read Gospel by Wilton Barnhardt. Among other things, the story is about a professor and his assistant traveling across Europe in search of an apocryphal gospel. Although fictional, it was a beautiful introduction to the old country. Intrigue, bad guys, excessive drinking… all you could want in a tall tale! Barnhardt is not prolific or well known, but he is a talented writer well worth checking out.

Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge is one of those novels that has stuck with me because, while I can’t remember the specific details, I do remember how deeply it made me feel. Set in Budapest and Paris, it is the story of Hungarian Jewish family during the rise of anti-Semitism and the eruption of World War II across Europe. The Invisible Bridge is historical fiction at its finest—an emotionally riveting plot, richly detailed setting, and compelling characters who struggled to survive and build human connections in the face of unbearable tragedy. Eight years later, I’m still hoping the author writes another novel. If you loved All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, I recommend checking out The Invisible Bridge.

Small town with a big problem? Teen girl going to quietly start a revolution to topple the kings of this dumpster fire? Sign me up! I was definitely ready for a revolution when I read Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu. As a way to resist the status quo at her conservative Texas high school, Viv takes a page from her mom’s past as a Riot Grrrl and starts a zine called Moxie. I absolutely loved how the Moxie movement became more than just one girl’s way of dealing with the bullying, misogyny, racism, and favoritism in her high school. Others used the spirit of Moxie to give them the courage to stand up for themselves against their adversaries. Part romance but mostly a quiet girl coming to understand her voice and herself, this insightful, relatable, and quotable book will get readers fired up! MOXIE GIRLS FIGHT BACK!

Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis, while being a science fiction book featuring time travel, is really a look at life in Europe during the plague. In fact, upon reading this incredible historical novel, you will feel like you’ve lived through plague times. It’s a stunning journey into a time that we can hardly imagine, yet Willis imagined it in perfect detail!

I first picked up volume one of Bandette, Presto!, by husband-wife team Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover from the library after cataloging it. I was completely charmed by the Parisian setting and the moxie of the title character. Bandette is a warm-hearted teenage thief, sort of like a modern-day Robin Hood. She hangs out with other French kids, lobs friendly taunts towards the bumbling local police detective, and has both an alter ego and an arch nemesis (though sometimes they join forces for the greater good). I dare you to read Presto! and not pick up volumes two and three as well.

Critics panned The Colorado Kid by Stephen King because the ending was neither happy or tied together. It left a lot of readers upset when they reached the ending and it didn’t explain anything. But that genius King knew what he was doing and I think a little part of him wanted to make people left unsatisfied with no answers.

I think sometimes the books of new authors are underappreciated just because readers haven’t discovered them yet. Two new authors I discovered last year that I like very much are thriller writers Nick Petrie and Steve Cavanagh. Petrie’s second book, Burning Bright, was published last year and I loved it. The hero, Peter Ash, is a super competent military vet with an interesting form of PTSD. His first book, The Drifter, is also worth a read. The third book in this series, Light It Up, was just published in January. Cavanagh is a new Irish writer whose first book, The Defense, was recently published in the US. It’s a legal thriller set in New York and I liked it a lot. His second book, The Plea, was just published on February 13th.

I started reading I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez at the same time that it was announced as a finalist for the National Book Award. It’s a realistic coming-of-age story centered around Julia, her dead sister Olga, and the secrets Olga left behind that threaten Julia’s future before it has even begun. As Julia chafes against her over-protective parents and tries to uncover just what Olga was hiding when she died, Julia will travel from her home in Chicago to Mexico and back again, exposing herself to a family history she may not want to accept and an uncertain future where she wants desperately to make her own path. The writing is exquisite: achingly real, brutally honest, a total gut-punch of a book that I could not put down until long after the last page was read.

The World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, fascinates me as an early example of cultural exchange, of the world becoming a smaller place, of the industrial revolution’s amazing accomplishments. Imagine this backdrop as the setting for a murder mystery involving the world’s most imminent detectives! Steve Hockensmith has done just this in the hilarious World’s Greatest Sleuth, another Amlingmeyer brothers adventure. Read on as the two cowpokes match wits with the wittiest crime solvers on earth in a detection contest. Who will win? Who will survive?

We hope you find something here to love, or at least give a chance. What are some of your favorite underrated reads? Let us know in the comments below, because if there’s anything we love more than giving book recommendations it’s getting them!

Madame Luella Boyer

February is African American History Month. Libraries, archives, museums, and other organizations around the country observe this month as a way to recognize and honor the rich and challenging history of African Americans. In honor of this occasion, I am sharing the story of one of the most fascinating individuals I’ve come across in my work in the Northwest Room at the Everett Public Library— Luella Ruth Brown Boyer Brent, aka Madame Boyer. Boyer was a successful African American businesswoman in early Everett at a time when few economic opportunities existed for African Americans or women.

1908 Everett City Directory listingMost of what I know about Madame Boyer I learned from local historian and genealogist, Margaret Summitt of the Mukilteo Historical Society. She painstakingly examined decades worth of genealogical records, newspapers, and city directories to reconstruct Boyer’s life story.

Luella was born in Iowa in 1868. Her father’s lineage traces back to the first slaves brought to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Her parents had moved to Iowa, a free state, from Missouri, a slave state, in 1864 while the nation was still engulfed in Civil War. Her father worked as a laborer and her mother worked as a domestic servant. Neither could read nor write, yet they worked to ensure their children could achieve more. Luella’s brother, Samuel, became an attorney, civil rights activist and NAACP leader in Des Moines, Iowa.

The available historical records only reveal bits and pieces of Luella’s life. We know that by 1900 she was married to John C. Boyer, a barber, and living in Lewiston, Idaho. They moved to Everett around 1902 and became part of the black community in this region. Around the time they moved to Everett, Luella began marketing herself and her professional services—hair care products—as “Madame Boyer.” She was likely inspired by Madame C.J. Walker, a self-made millionaire and wildly successful African American entrepreneur with a popular line of hair care products. (Walker was the Oprah Winfrey of her generation.) The couple adopted a daughter in 1903 and separated around 1905.

Even as a single mother, Boyer’s career flourished during these years. She promoted herself not just as a hair dresser, but also a dermatologist by 1908.

Boyer remarried in 1910 to Bertrand Brent at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church. Mr. Brent was white and employed as a waiter and a janitor at Everett Public Library.

Luella was a trailblazing entrepreneur during a time when few economic opportunities were available to black women. But she is also notable for her contributions to Everett’s cultural life and as a leader on issues of race and social change.

In May 1902, Madame Boyer and her husband went to a theater performance in Seattle by Bert Williams and George Walker, pioneering black entertainers. Boyer—who also made ends meet by working as a housekeeper for the Everett Opera House for $1 a night—is thought to have been a key player in bringing Williams and Walker to perform their landmark musical “In Dahomey” to Everett in 1905.

Receipt from 1905 for Luella Boyer

Madame Boyer’s social activism was well-documented in the Seattle Republican, an African American  newspaper. She participated in the newspaper’s Sunday Forums regarding social issues, submitted discussion questions, and addressed the forum twice. She offered one talk on racial discrimination and another on prostitution and gender inequality. She died from diabetic complications in 1912, at age 44.

Although we may know a lot about when, where, and what Boyer did in her life, I am more intrigued by all that we don’t know. What did she look like? (There are no known photos!) Why was she in Idaho and Washington at a time when 90% of the country’s African American population still lived in the South? What motivated her to move here, and what hardships did she endure? What inspired her business, civic, and familial decisions? What was it like to be an African American woman in Everett in the early 20th century, a rough-and-tumble mill town?

Related readings:

book coverAfrican American Women Confront the West: 1600-2000 by Quintard Taylor

In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West, 1528-1990 by Quintard Taylor

The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District, from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era by Quintard Taylor

Seattle’s Black Victorians, 1852-1901 by Esther Hall Mumford

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson