A Diverse Walk in the Park

The flowers are all in Balboa Park. This is the "Crown Plant" from India—Calotropis gigantea.

The flowers are all in Balboa Park. This is the “Crown Plant” from India—Calotropis gigantea.

Finally, I’m getting to more of the books purchased at the 2014 SCBWI conference. Since I first read them so long ago, I’m currently rereading for the second and, in some cases, third time. Confession: I tend to gobble when I read. So I’m getting the subtler flavors on the second readings. These dishes are like the recipes I try out and decide to save to cook another time.

They also help me learn how to concoct original meals—how to present the appetizer, pair ingredients, gauge cooking time—how to achieve peak flavor.

I need to stop thinking about food now.

Skin I'm InWhen I finished the second reading of The Skin I’m In, my first thoughts (after “great book”), were “Maleeka had to learn to be brave enough to be who she is” and “Isn’t that what we all have to do in life?”

The ingredients: a protagonist who feels too tall, too skinny, too poorly-dressed and too dark-skinned; a classmate who bullies through “friendship”; a sweet early romance; a character we question, friend or foe. Sharon G. Flake’s story becomes a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.

But don’t just take my word for it. The Skin I’m In, published by Jump at the Sun and reissued in 2007, won the John Steptoe Award for New Talent.

I never really liked hibiscus—such showoffs and I didn't like that pink much, but the zoo has hibiscus that deserve to flaunt it.

I never really liked hibiscus—such showoffs and I didn’t like that pink much, but check out the stamen on this one.

Fake IDFake I.D. Stop before you read past the title. What do you think the book will be about? Wasn’t what I expected.

Even though I already knew what the fake i.d. refers to on this second reading, I liked the book as much as I did on the first read. I’m more aware of the strength of the voice. When Nick cranks up his iPod to drown out his parents’ argument, he says he “fell asleep with a rapper shouting at me. At least his yelling had a good beat.”

And thinking about his specific voice helps me understand more of how to approach it as a writer since we so often hear editors and agents say they

Another one to challenge my previous limited ideas about hibiscus

Another one to challenge my previous limited ideas about hibiscus

are looking for a “unique voice.” Nick’s voice is true to his character which isn’t over-the-top flamboyant or regional or any of the things we might think of as a “distinctive” voice. He is real within his point of view.

Fake I.D., written by Lamar Giles and published by Amsted in 2014, is a young adult coming-of-age, murders (plural)-mystery thriller. If you don’t want any violence in your YA reading, be forewarned, but it’s not a horror book.

When you read it, check out the dedication. Sweetest murder mystery dedication I ever read.Kira-Kira

Kira-Kira, the middle grade novel written by Cynthia Kadohata and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in 2004, won the Newbury Award. That should be enough to write.

But I won’t let that stop me.

Katie is a Sansei child born in Iowa in 1951. She adores her older sister, Lynn, who “always said she would teach me everything in the world I needed to know.” When the family has to move to Georgia, together they navigate the prejudice and struggles their family encounters.

A true case of "if you've got it, flaunt it!"

A true case of “if you’ve got it, flaunt it!”

But some things the heart needs to know cannot be taught. They have to be experienced directly. This heartbreaking and heart-mending story is the kind of book I would have treasured as a child and do as an adult.

A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2010, intertwines two stories, both set in Southern Sudan. In 2008, eleven-year old Nya spends her day obtaining the family water. I don’t know if this character is an actual individual or a composite based on the reality of daily life for many.A Long Walk to Water

The second story is based on the life of Salva Dut, one of the Lost Boys. In 1985, Salva was eleven years old when his teacher told his students to escape gunfire by running into the bush and to not return to his village, which would be a target for soldiers. Silva’s story is gripping and inspiring.

Final thought: The more we celebrate our diversity, the more we find the depth of our common humanity.

While I’m trying to shed more of my possessions, these books are staying to be read again.

One last hibiscus from the zoo. This one is delicate and fading, but still beautiful.

One last hibiscus from the zoo. This one is delicate and fading, but still beautiful.