Children of Blood and Bone

81PwjK8tPCLSometimes everything comes together perfectly. When I first heard about Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi it was still several months from release. The description checked a lot of boxes for me and I was excited to eventually read it, but I wasn’t desperately waiting for its release. Then I saw the cover. And, I mean, look at that cover! I was definitely in. Once I saw Black Panther and – like everyone else – was blown away, I reached a new level of excitement for Adeyemi’s work. A new series about magic, oppression, bigotry, and class set in an isolated West African country? Ummm yes, please. Add in a complex and rich backbone of mythology and I never stood a chance. So when I finally had this book in my hand I was elated, but also wary. Could it possibly live up to the hype? You’ll have to keep reading to find out, but I’m writing about it so you can probably guess…

Children of Blood and Bone is set in the fictional kingdom of Orisha. Power in Orisha was once shared between normal humans and Magi, a subset of society gifted by the gods with powerful supernatural abilities. Years before the novel opens, however, these powers mysteriously disappeared and the ruthless King took advantage of the situation, slaughtering the Magi. The scattered and abandoned children of the Magi are known as Diviners and conspicuously marked by their white hair, but unable to summon any powers. Diviners are treated as the lowest caste at best derided, at worst abused and used as slave labor.  

Zélie is one of these Diviners. Forced to watch the murder of her Magi mother when she was just a child she is angry at the Empire, determined to strike back, and more than a little bit rash. Despite being something of a pariah, Zélie, along with her father and her brother, manages to eke out a modest life trading fish for a living and training for the day when she will have a chance to take her revenge on the King and his followers.

Zélie’s impulsivity, however, throws her life into chaos when she rescues Amari, a princess from the royal line who is on the run from her terrible father. The decision to help Amari sends Zélie and her brother on a perilous journey unsure of who they can trust and what terrible dangers might await them. But Zélie is also running towards something – Amari claims she has a scroll that can restore Magi magic. Zélie hopes that this would give her people have a chance to fight back, restore their dignity, and maybe even begin to restore balance to Orishan society. Yet to reach this future Zélie and her companions must first evade Prince Iman, Amari’s brother and heir to the Orishan throne. For his part, Iman is determined to capture his sister and Zélie not just to end the threat of magic but also to finally prove himself to his cruel and demanding father. Beyond the obvious lethal danger the prince poses Zélie and Iman quickly discover they have a strange and unbreakable connection, one that threatens both of their worlds in opposing but equally devastating ways.

There are a lot of glowing adjectives I could use to describe Children of Blood and Bone, but the one that repeatedly comes to mind is refreshing. I’ve read a lot of wonderful YA novels that move in the worlds of dystopia, fantasy, history and mythology, but the vast majority are based off Western or European traditions. Having this wonderfully rich, exciting series build off of African traditions and get the support it deserves from the publishing industry is as welcome as it is long overdue. In Zélie, Amari, and Iman, Adeyemi has created three compelling and complicated narrators who are both eminently likable and, at times, incredibly frustrating. I’ve read some criticism that Children of Blood and Bone reads like an author’s first novel (probably because it is) and drags at times. I understand where this criticism comes from, but it’s also quite simply a thrilling read with a captivating ending that leaves plenty of juicy questions for the rest of the series to tackle.

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

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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

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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

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“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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.