February 8, 2021
2021 ITM Press Release
Contact: Sabrina Carnesi, In the Margins Book Awards Committee Chair
In addition to reading and discussing a multitude of book titles published over the previous 18 months of the award year, a unique selection experience of the committee is the input received from young adults who have also read and directly shared their opinions on the same book titles. Incorporating the enthusiastic response from youth who live the experiences of our charge is a vital component to generating this annual reading list which was originally intended as a selection tool for librarians who service youth in juvenile detention facilities throughout the North American continent, and has since spread to community outreach programs and schools throughout North America.
Accessing books for 2021 consideration during the past year’s quarantine was the committee’s greatest challenge. With our charge requiring direct feedback from youth who are members of underrepresented groups, we faced numerous roadblocks. The greatest being the closure of youth facilities and the stoppage of distribution from the warehouses. Once businesses throughout the nation began to move out of quarantine, we used friends, family, neighbors, and community youth we found access to for feedback. In one particular situation, a local barber shop proved to be a saving grace, providing feedback from black males ages 6 to 70 or older. Of particular interest to this group was one book on our Social Justice Advocacy List that documents the black American barber shop as a space that promotes voice and agency for black American males whose voices have been historically silenced. Another saving grace was the outreach we received from independent and major publishing houses in both the United States and Canada, as well as the self-published authors and small presses that went the distance with us when we hit the brick wall. Their efforts made it possible for our lists to truly reflect not only the worlds of the youth who are members of the underrepresented in our North American Diaspora, these efforts have made it possible for our lists to provide a mirrored documentation of the past year’s struggled demands for long-overdue changes to the social injustices that have historical been denied, avoided, overlooked, and silenced. With that as background, our top title selections in each category for 2021 are deeply rooted in the issues and demands that were voiced in the streets of this nation. Those titles are:
Illegal, written by Francisco X. Stork, published by Scholastic Press (2020), won Top Title for Fiction (YA).
In this follow-up to Disappeared, this second installment makes use of the parallel storylines of siblings Sara and Emiliano Zapato who escape to the United States in a desparate attempt to avoid the crime and horror from the local Mexican cartel’s human trafficking activity. When the siblings are separated after crossing over, one is in a detention facility and the other is trying to evade American immigration authorities and members of the cartel that have followed in an attempt to stop the siblings from reporting their activity. The siblings soon discover what they thought was truth is no longer a reality due to the United States’ newly policy and practice applied to the horrific mistreatment of the undocumented in this land of the free. Members of the committee strongly believe this title “speaks loud and strongly against the hundreds of thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW) who face murder rates over ten times this country’s national average.” This legacy of invasion against the lives women Indigenous to this land can be traced back to the initial acts of colonization and is rampant in our border towns. Sabrina Carnesi, committee chair, shares the committee’s position that “not enough on this issue can be written.”
Badass Black Girl: Quotes, Questions, and Affirmations for Teens written by M. J. Fievre, published by Mango Publishing (2020) won Top Title for Nonfiction (Young Adult).
Written in the style of journal entries, black girls and femme-identifying youth are provided with daily affirmations to help them tackle issues of friendship, identity, school, career, bullying, and stereotypes so they can push past the barriers that prevent them from turning their dreams into a future reality. Many of the passages are from well known black female leaders, writers, and celebrities, as well as historical figures. Part celebration, part spiritual wish, part memoir, Fievre incorporates her Haitian roots into the book’s text by ending each chapter with Kempe, a Creole word of encouragement that can be interpreted to mean hold firm or be strong. After reading the book, the committee came to a consensus that “while the book is written for black girls, girls of all diverse backgrounds will be able to gain insight from the advice, as well.”
When the Alphabet Comes: A Life Changed by Exposure written by Jerome Allen, published by Nobel and Arch (2019), won Top Title for Advocacy and Social Justice.
An in-depth look at how the legendary basketball great Jerome Allen shares the timeline that counts down from his federal charges and conviction due to the Varsity Blue college admissions scandal as head coach of the Men’s Basketball team at the University of Pennsylvania in 2018. Before involving himself in a bribery deal to secure the admissions into his university by-way-of the men’s basketball team, Allen’s integrity could not be matched. After the scandal broke, however, Allen’s action: put the basketball program on a two-year probationary ban; cost him his position as head coach at UPenn; and banned him from actively participating in any NCAA affiliated basketball program until the year 2035. Allen uses this autobiographical narrative as an opportunity to provide guide posts to those who need to find a pathway out of the shame and despair into the triumph. The committee strongly believes this memoir serves as a strong tool of advocacy against the ways in which “entitlement, privilege and status obsession is used by the wealthy to manipulate the odds” for getting their children into some of this nation’s most elite colleges. Carnesi adds that readers can’t help but “wonder how such pre-pandemic behavior would be received had the exposure occurred during the pandemic, and whether our nation’s post-pandemic mindset will abide with such blatant acts.”
This year’s Top Ten List highlights the 25 titles that comprise the fiction, nonfiction, and advocacy lists which are posted on the book awards list website. In the Margins Official 2021 Top Ten titles are as follows:
Fievre, M. J. Badass Black Girl: Quotes, Questions, and Affirmations for Teens. January 2020. Mango Publishing. $16.95. Paperback. 208 pages. 9781642501728. Young Adult and Older Teens. Written in journal style, this book provides the reader with daily affirmations to help tackle issues of friendship, identity, school, career, bullying, and stereotypes.
Gale, Heather and Mika Song. HO’ONANI: Hula Warrior. October 2019. Tundra Books. Hardback. $17.99. 40 pages. 978-0735264496. Picture Book for Older Readers. Based on the true story of an 11 year-old Hawaiian girl who wished to play the male role in a traditional school presentation and her teacher, a transgender, whose identity is embraced and held in high esteem by Hawaiian people and the Aloha culture of acceptance for gender identity. A variety of documentaries are available online as resources for this picture book for all ages.
Khan-Cullors, Patrisse and Asha Bendele. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Story of Black Lives Matter and the Power to Change the World. September 2020. Wednesday Books. $18.99. Hardback. 272 pages. 9781250194985. Young Adults. A young adult version of the original text by one of the creators of the Black Lives Matter movement. Chronicling the author’s beginnings of being racially profiled by police while growing up in Van Nuys, California through current times. The reader is privvy to the author’s lifetime experience with stress due to the racially aggression climate in this country. Resources for helping youth cope with a variety of mental health needs is provided.
Passage Academy Students at Belmont. Everything I Been Through. August 2020. Divinity Publishing. $15.00. Paperback. 273 pages. 9788676358005. Older Teens and Adults. A unique glimpse into the life of youth who were enrolled in a New York JD facility, as told in their own words. The series of poems and short stories show their resiliency and will to move forward, despict what they have had to face in their young lives.
Piccolo, Normandy D. Why is Kristyn a Kutter? June 2019. Normandy’s Bright Idea. $15.00. Paperback. 273 pages. 9788676358005. Older Teens. Instead of talking about her problems, Kristyn’s rebellious spirit and self-hate has lead to episodes of depression and self-mutilation when things go wrong. It didn’t help that her best friend committed suicide, having her wonder if she will end up the same way. Resources for crisis intervention through national centers and online support is available.
Price, James. THE COMEBACK: I Raised These Streets. August 2020. Divinity Publishing. $15.00. Paperback. 273 pages. 9788676358005. Older Teens and Adults. Choosing the streets over a full academic ride to an Ivy League college, Ricky Thomas, Jr. follows in the path of his drug dealing father. Clashing with Steven Brown over who will rule the streets and gain the affection of the girl, without losing their life in the process.
Robertson, David A., Scott B. Henderson, and Donavan Yaciuk. THE RECKONER RISES: Breakdown (Volume 1). August 2020. Highwater. Paperback. $21.95. 64 pages. 9781553798903. Young Adults. Cole and Eva in a serious state of transition after events occurring on their reservation almost completely wiped out their entire nation of people. Now in this graphic sequel to The Reckoner trilogy, Cole is beginning to receive terrifying visions and Eva’s new abilities is pulling them both towards the inevitable, as the reader follows their morph into the super heroes of Indigenous ancestry.
Spock, Francisco X. Illegal: A Disappeared Novel. August 2020. Scholastic Press. $18.99. Hardcover. 304 pages. 9781338310550. Young Adult and Older Teens. In a follow-up to Disappeared, this second installment makes use of parallel storylines, a brother and sister as they flee to the US for a safer life away from the violence of drug cartels. Upon arrival, however, new challenges emerge centered around the horrors of the American immigration nightmare, which treats new immigrants as something less than human.
Waters, Michael W. and Keisha Morris. For Beautiful Black Boys Who Believe in a Better World. September 2020. Flyaway Books. $18.00. Hardback. 40 pages. 9781947888081. Children. A picture book for old readers that seeks to dispel the pretense behind the constant shooting of unarmed black men and boys by people of authority. The deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Edwards are included in this narrative of hope.
The 2021 committee is composed of juried and nonjuried members librarians and library academics currently work with youth who experience the challenging circumstances of marginalized issues represented in the selected titles. Members of the 2021 juried committee are:
Sabrina Carnesi, University of Washington, Seattle, WA;
Marvin DeBose, Philadelphia Free Libraries, Philadelphia, PA;
Raemona Little-Taylor, Marin County Free Libraries, San Anselmo, CA.; and
Dr. Rae Anne Montague, Chicago State University, Chicago, Illinois