A Solid Beginning
Arnaud “Arna” Wendell Bontemps was born on October 13, 1902, in Alexandria, Louisiana, a child of middle class parents of mixed racial heritage—what is sometimes called Creole. His father, Paul Bismark Bontemps, was descended from French plantation owners living in Haiti and their slaves. After coming to the United States, the Bontemps family lived free in Louisiana for decades, and the many of the men worked as skilled brick and stone masons for generations. In addition to working his trade, Arna’s father also played music with a popular band. Arna’s mother, Maria (pronounced Ma-rye-ah) Carolina Pembrooke was descended from an English planter and his Cherokee wife. Maria taught public school and enjoyed creating visual art.
Theresa, better known as Tree, is just at the age when guys are starting to notice her. She doesn’t have any time for them, though. She’s got to get home after school. With her mom working and living somewhere else and no dad they can remember, it’s up to Tree to look after her brother Dab. Dab might be older in years than Tree, but he’s younger inside. Always been that way.
No, Tree doesn’t have time for the boys and men who call her name on the street—until she sees the finest looking young man ever. He doesn’t call her name. He doesn’t say anything at all. The truth of the matter is, Brother Rush, for that is his name, is a ghost.
Growing into womanhood is a very hard experience for Shabanu and her beautiful sister Phulan. They belong to a nomadic culture in Pakistan where it is absolutely normal for 12- and 13-year-old girls to be married off to older men.
In El Deafo, author Cece Bell loses her hearing at age four. Despite this sudden tragedy, Bell's graphic novel memoir is an inspiring and even entertaining look at her childhood. Most importantly, it clearly explains navigating life in ways that would not occur to hearing people.
This author has had enough wild, true-life experiences to fill an entire shelf of books. She grew up helping her parents run a hotel in a part of Yuma, Arizona where all kinds of shady characters hung out. As a kid, she was brilliant, brave, and very sure of herself. Nancy didn’t care for school much. Indeed, she was dyslexic (and undiagnosed) and failed two grades because of it. But as she got older, she did read all the classics in the hotel library. One day when ditching school, Nancy discovered the cool spaces and amazing stories at the public library. Reading took hold of her and never let go.
"It's a horrible day," said Will Stanton. "It's creepy somehow."
In Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising, Will’s words prove to be every bit a true prophecy. On the day before his eleventh birthday, Will and his brother escaped from their noisy, happy house into the quiet English countryside. A black wind was blowing just a bit of snow, but there was more to come, snow and blackness both, for the Dark was rising across the land. They stopped to get some hay at Dawson's Farm—an ordinary errand. The farmer took Will aside. "The Walker is abroad... and this night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining."
The guy hanging car doors at the GM plant in Flint, Michigan, for 13 years was taking home a decent wage, but he wanted much more out of life than that. There was another side to Christopher Paul Curtis—a creative side. On his job breaks, he kept a journal and wrote stories. The first of those, he said, were “just plain bad,”* but he got better. A lot better. His second wife encouraged him to keep writing, so he quit the job at the plant, moved the family just a little way to Canada, took other jobs that were less mind-numbing, as well as courses in creative writing. Ten years later, his first book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963, won the Newbery Honor, the Golden Kite Award, and the Coretta Scott King Award.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, is a gentle, wondrous Chinese fantasy book for children. Set in a long-ago times, it follows a brave and bright girl named Minli who lives with her parents in a poor farming village. There is barely enough rice to keep them fed and certainly not any for luxuries. Most all the people are downtrodden and worried about their daily lives, but not Minli. She does not like the hard work in the sticky, muddy rice fields, but every evening she can look forward to stories told by her beloved father.
These tales fill her heart and her mind in such a way that she becomes the most radiant and hopeful young girl living near Fruitless Mountain. Indeed, she is so hopeful that when a peddler comes to their village with bowls of lucky goldfish, she takes her small savings to buy one, with high expectations. But when no luck seems to come and her father starts sharing his small supper with the hungry fish, Minli knows she must let it go. Releasing it into the Jade River, a river created according to legend from the body of a grieving dragon, she is surprised when a sweet, high-pitched voice—the goldfish!—offers to help her find her fortune by telling her the way to Never-Ending-Mountain where lives the Old Man of the Moon. The Old Man knows all things, including how her family’s fortune might be changed.
In the far-off days when the Picts and the Scots were dividing the ancient land of Scotland and fighting amongst themselves to decide who could get hold of the most of it, there came good men from over the seas to settle the land.
--“The Drowned Bells of the Abbey”
Firelight and drumbeat were the original backdrop for these tales, true and added to and some imagined altogether, that are retold in Sorche Nic Leodhas’ award-winning book, Thistle and Thyme.
In his autobiographical novel for young people, Bad Boy, Walter Dean Myers wrote of a world--1940s Harlem--that was markedly different from that of today. Most families were tightly-knit as was the community itself. Even so, it wasn’t a perfect place. As he grew up his family struggled to get by, and, as he became a teenager, he became more aware of racism and how it could affect his future.
But during his early years, he didn’t think too much about race. He had friends who were white and black, and the woman he thought of as his mother was of German and Native American ancestry. The man who raised him, though not his biological father, was African American. Herbert and Florence Dean took Walter and his half-sisters in to be fostered when they needed a loving and caring home.