When Stars Are Scattered


When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed. Grades 4-8. (Dial Books, April 2020). 264 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher. This book comes out on April 14 - pre-order today! 


"What's your Plan B?"

The camp is supposed to be temporary. Most people at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya dream of moving somewhere else - to America or Canada to start new lives. But not Oman. All Omar wants is for the war in Somalia to be over so they can go home. To find their mom. To become a farmer like his dad was. To get back to their lives.

Now they've been at the camp for seven years and Omar is offered a spot at the school in the camp to get his education, but he doesn't see the point. He doesn't need a degree to be a farmer like his dad. And going to school would mean leaving his little brother for hours at a time. The two of them haven't been separated since they arrived together at the camp, separated from their mother who is still missing. Omar's not sure how Hassan would do without him and it's Omar's responsibility to take care of him. They might be the only family each other has left.

Why go to school when the war could end any day and he might go back home? If he could get back home, it would be worth the nights tossing and turning from bad dreams. It would make up for the days of empty bellies when their food ran out. He would be so happy to see his mother's smiling face again.

But what if that's never going to happen?

Attending school would mean leaving Hassan for just a few hours each day and then coming right back.

But then, their mother thought she was coming right back, too...

This is a true story about a kid growing up in a refugee camp. Refugee camps are supposed to be temporary, but with many refugees needing new homes, it's possible for people to spend a long time waiting in a camp. This riveting graphic novel memoir shares the day-to-day life of people living in a refugee camp and the unforgettable story of one man who grew up in a camp and went on to make life better for many refugees. 

My thoughts:

Okay, I don't know why I'd never thought about this, and this sounds terrible, but it honestly never occurred to me that there are people living whole lives in refugee camps. This is a book that definitely opened my eyes and I think it's going to do that for a lot of readers. It's an incredibly moving story and so well done by Mohamed and Jamieson. It doesn't shy away from the terrible realities of being forced from your home and having to make do as you wait for better opportunities, but it presents it all with a kids-eye-view that makes it very accessible to young readers.

Omar's emotions come through so readily in the graphic novel format and I think that's a format choice that's going to capture the interest of a lot of readers. Reading this book, I put myself in Omar's place, missing his parents so much, feeling torn between taking care of his brother and pursuing opportunities to give them a better future, and the constant fear that those opportunities might never come. Omar sees adults who have given up on any hope of a different future. The process of being granted asylum in another country is cumbersome and selective and some people are just never chosen.

This is an inspirational story written with a lot of heart and I loved getting to know these characters. This is a book that's going to put this issue at the forefront of a lot of minds and it's definitely one to know about and to purchase for your library shelves. 



The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Little, Brown, 2014. While The Red Pencil is a novel in verse and When Stars Are Scattered is a graphic novel, both portray child refugees in Africa with an immediacy that doesn't shy away from horrific events but makes them accessible to young readers. Both stories are ultimately hopeful. 

Six New Picture Books to Celebrate African American History Month


How are you celebrating African American History Month this year? Reading or sharing a book is a great way to celebrate and today I'm highlighting six new picture books that would make great choices for reading with a child or putting on display at your library.

Big Papa and the Time Machine by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Shane W. Evans. Ages 5-8. Harper, 2020. When a little boy is nervous to start school, his grandfather not only tells him to be brave, but takes him back in his time machine to show him moments in his own life where he had to be brave. With whimsical illustrations and stirring words, this is a heartfelt tribute to everyday triumphs and the enduring love of family.

Brave. Black. First.: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World by Cheryl Hudson, illustrated by Erin K. Robinson. Grades 3-7. Crown, 2020. Each spread in this new collective biography features an influential African American woman with a portrait and a brief biography. This book is published in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison. Grades 2-5. Here's another great choice if you're looking for collective biographies. This one features African American men. With cute illustrations, this one skews a bit younger than Hudson's collection above. Harrison has published several similar collective biographies to check out: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History and Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World

Mamie on the Mound: A Woman in Baseball's Negro Leagues by Leah Henderson. Grades 1-4. Capstone, 2020. Finally! A picture book biography of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, African American baseball player who played in the Negro Leagues (yes, with the boys!) for three years in the 1950s. Sprightly text matches a sprightly personality in this biography that's perfect for young sports fans and women's history. Chapter book readers may also be interested in Michelle Y. Green's A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, which was published in 2004 and is a great read.

Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome. Grades 1-5. A girl and her family make their way north via the "Overground Railroad" as part of the Great Migration in the 1930s. In free verse poem and with striking mixed media illustrations, the Ransomes portray this journey, taken by so many, in a hopeful tone. I love the play on the Underground Railroad in the title; this book would make a great compliment to any book you're reading about the Underground Railroad since it portrays another era of history that is maybe less talked about.


Patricia's Vision: The Doctor Who Saved Sight by Michelle Lord, illustrated by Alleana Harris. Grades 1-5. Sterling, 2020. This handsome picture book biography depicts the life and innovation of Dr. Patricia Bath, an opthamologist who invented laser treatment for cataracts. This book not only celebrates an achievement by an African American inventor, it celebrates a successful women in a STEM field. This is a great story to know.

5 Picture Books about Love but Not Valentine's Day


Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and this is the perfect time to celebrate love! I know holiday books tend to get checked out really quickly at libraries, so if you've waited until the last minute to put out a display or to visit your library to pick out some books, here are some books that celebrate love without being Valentine's specific (so they might still be on the shelves!). Not into Valentine's Day or already got your books picked out? These are perfect to share anytime.

The I Love You Book by Todd Parr. Ages 2-6. Little, Brown, 2009. C'mon, you knew I was going to put a Todd Parr book on here. I super love his affirming messages, bright childlike illustrations, and moments of humor that keep things really fun. If you don't have Todd Parr on your shelves or in your storytime, you need to fix that right away!

Little You by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett. Ages 0-2. Orca, 2013. This tender board book is all about celebrating love for young children. It's a perfect bedtime readaloud and would make a super new baby gift. I love the muted, cut paper illustrations and the essential message about how important children are to their parents. 

Twosomes: Love Poems from the Animal Kingdom by Marilyn Singer. Ages 5-9. Knopf, 2011. This cute, punny book of short poems imagines love poems animals might share with each other. It has funny, cartoony illustrations and is short enough for a bedtime readaloud or could be broken up into lunchbox poems to send along to school. This one will be a hit with animal lovers and pet owners.


Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato. Ages 4-8. Balzer + Bray, 2016. When two worms fall in love, they want to get married! But who will wear a dress and who will wear a suit? It turns out it doesn't matter because Worm loves Worm (and because scientifically worms are both male and female). This is a really sweet story celebrating love and a relationship where gender is not a factor and a wonderful way to introduce young children to the rainbow of gender and relationships in our world. Or, y'know, a worm can just be a worm.


Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell. Ages 4-8. Atheneum, 2011. This one is a fun readaloud and was a surefire February hit when we'd visit our afterschool groups for storytime. Mortimer is looking for love, but he hasn't met the right lady yet. He goes to the gym, but his arm keeps falling off. He's put up an account on stalemate.com, but no dice. How's a guy supposed to meet a ghoul? This is a perfect choice for young readers who like something a little scary but also funny and for skeptics who think think they're too cool for love stories. And there's a sequel if you like this one: Zombie in Love 2 + 1 (Atheneum, 2014).

Prairie Lotus


Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park. Grades 4-8. Clarion Books, March 2020. 272 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. Pre-order today!


Life on the frontier in Dakota Territory isn't easy for anyone, but for Hanna, who is half-Asian, it's even harder. Hanna dreams of being a dress designer and creating gorgeous dresses for sale in her father's shop, but first thing's first. Now that she and her father have settled in a new Dakota town, Hanna wants to go to school and complete her high school degree, just like she promised her mother before she died. 

But Hanna has to be careful. She knows that many white people don't like living next to people who aren't white. She's determined to find a way to get the people in her new town to see past the surface. And she's determined to help her father's new dress goods shop succeed. She knows that if he gives her a chance to design one dress that she'll impress the town and get her dressmaking business off to a good start. But first she needs the people of LaForge - and her own father - to give her a chance. 

This is a compelling historical read, perfect for readers who are interested in pioneer life and stories like Little House on the Prairie

My thoughts:

Inspired by her own childhood love for the Little House on the Prairie books and the acknowledgement that they have problematic racial content, Linda Sue Park set out to write a reconciliation of sorts. This is a story that celebrates the frontier life of our country's earlier days while acknowledging the people that were displaced to make it happen and the racism that excluded non-whites from sharing the spoils. 

In one of the very first scenes in the book, Hanna is approached by a group of Sioux women who offer her vegetables in exchange for sharing some of her meal with them. I think this book does a wonderful job of acknowledging the tension between Native nations and white colonizers while depicting the Sioux women that Hanna interacts with in a realistic and positive way. 

It's wonderful to get a frontier story that's told through the eyes of a child of immigrants, as well. Hanna's father is white and her late mother was an immigrant from China. Now that she and her father are traveling to find a new place to settle, Hanna is the one experiencing the West as a non-white person, something her father thinks about in reference to her but doesn't have to deal with directly. 

Throughout the book, Hanna encounters racism; many of these incidents were drawn directly from Linda Sue Park's own experiences growing up. Hanna is exhausted after a morning spent completely tense at her school desk wondering what her white classmates think of her. Hanna constantly second-guesses the meaning of her classmates' words and wonders if they would make such comments if she was white. 

This is a must-have for library shelves, particularly where Laura Ingalls Wilder is popular. Make sure your staff know about it and have it ready to hand over alongside the popular Little House books. 


This is a super book to hand to fans of Little House on the Prairie to provide another perspective and a book that is better at navigating the complicated racial landscape of 1880s America. 

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson (Delacorte, 2007) is another empowering story about a teen girl making her way in the American West. Set in 1917 Montana, Hattie inherits her uncle's homesteading claim and has a year to make a home for herself and prove the claim. Tween readers who enjoy spirited girls with big dreams living in the American West may enjoy both of these titles. 

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (Putnam, 2019) is another historical novel about an Asian American teen interested in fashion and trying to make a living for herself. Although The Downstairs Girl skews a little more teen, I think the content is still appropriate for a middle school audience and readers will enjoy both plucky heroines and root for them to make it.