Seven Books to Get and Gift in a Post-Election World

As we process and prod the results November’s US election, we begin to search for a way forward. What can we do now? How can we work for change? We need a plan of action in an uncertain world.

Trump’s campaign fueled division and fear. He told Americans: immigrants are dangerous. People who pray a different way are a threat. Women are lesser than. Facts don’t matter.

He told us the world is a scary place. He told us we need a strong man on our side.

There’s a lot we can do––must do––to combat this hateful logic. And one of our greatest weapons will be something as simple as it is powerful: knowledge.

So, as we’re looking for gifts and a path to healing this holiday season, here’s a list of books from all sections of the library to help make sense of, and make change in, a post-Trump world.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de le Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

The United States elected a man whose central boast is that he has a lot of money––much of which he seems to have made on the backs of others, through deceit, unfair

last-stop-on-market-street
LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET––PUBLISHED BY PENGUIN BOOKS

business deals, and tax laws favorable to the rich. Meanwhile, a large part the anger and uncertainty in the country comes from the loss of economic stability, decreased wages, and hard financial times for the working class.

Where does this leave us? And what do we tell the kids?

The Last Stop on Market Street, the 2015 Newbery Award winner, is a good place to start. In this gorgeous picture book, CJ and his nana ride the bus across town. CJ wonders aloud why they don’t have a car, why they have to wait in the rain, and why a man on the bus can’t see. His nana gives him an education in appreciating the little things, in finding the music and poetry in an imperfect world.

Nana tells CJ, “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.” There’s a lot of work ahead. CJ’s nana has shown us how to begin.

The Muslim Next Door: The Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing by Sumbul Ali-Karamali

This book is from 2008 and continues to be relevant today. In friendly, flowing prose, Ali-Karamali delves into common misconceptions about Islam and provides a refreshing

the-muslim-next-door
THE MUSLIM NEXT DOOR––PUBLISHED BY WHITE CLOUD PRESS

counterpoint to prevalent myths.

Though no single perspective can represent the entirety of a diverse, global religion, this book offers a great introduction. It includes chapters like “Everyday Islam: How Muslims Practice Their Religion”; “Women in Islam”; “Jihad and Fundamentalism: Not the Same”; and “Who’s Who in Islam: From Ayatollahs to Whirling Dervishes.” In a Trump-led country, we’ll have a lot of misinformation to fight. Read this book, then pass it along to a friend.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Rape and sexual assault have come to the forefront this election, and much of the discussion has been

exit-pursued-by-a-bear
EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR––PUBLISHED BY DUTTON BYR

painful for survivors. This Shakespeare-inspired YA novel brings us Hermione Winters, a cheerleading captain and outspoken role model who’s drugged and raped at her summer cheer champ.

As Hermione searches for a way to regain control of her body and life, the story explores politics, abortion, friendship, rape culture, identity, and faith. It offers a blueprint for supporting survivors. And it will make you want to hug all the women and girls in your life––and believe them and trust them, always.

George by Alex Gino

George is an award-winning, heartwarming middle grade novel. Its central message is even more important in a Trump-threatened world: BE WHO YOU ARE. (I wrote about what this book can teach writers here.)

George wants to be Charlotte in the fifth-grade play. George also knows she’s a girl––but everyone thinks she’s a boy, and boys can’t be cast as Charlotte. As the story progresses, George gains confidence, learns about what it means to be transgender, and finds an ally

george by alex gino
GEORGE––PUBLISHED BY SCHOLASTIC

who helps her stand up for who she is.

This book brilliantly dramatizes the reality of growing up trans. This simple, sweet story can, and should, be read and enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate by Naomi Klein

It’s easy to become numb to climate change and environmental disasters. It’s easy to think the problem is either so big, or so slow, that we may as well ignore it––especially now that the US will have a president who’s unlikely to make great strides against this vast global tragedy.

this-changes-everything
THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING––PUBLISHED BY SIMON & SCHUSTER

But Naomi Klein knows that we can’t ignore it. And in This Changes Everything, she refuses to look away.

This is a scary book. But it’s also hopeful, and adds some context to current events like the efforts at Standing Rock Indian Reservation to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. Klein offers up a game plan for rallying the left, for allying with indigenous groups and marginalized people worldwide. She shows us the future can be better, if we’re willing to take unified action to save the world and save ourselves.

The Rise by Sarah Lewis

A book about “creativity, the gift of failure, and the search for mastery” may seem like an odd addition to this list. But Lewis’s book is a lovely antidote to the misguided, racist idea that white people are the main source of American greatness. (Someone may want to put it in Steve King‘s stocking.)

In writing about how failures and “near wins” are an essential part of success, Lewis’s anecdotes include Frederick Douglass and the abolitionist movement, as well as MacArthur Fellowship–winning psychologist Angela

the-rise-cover
THE RISE––PUBLISHED BY SIMON & SCHUSTER

Duckworth. Finally, her premise––that failure is simply another step on the path to success––is heartening as we make our way through a challenging time.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This is a novel about the end of civilization as we know it. That doesn’t sound particularly uplifting. But hear me out.

In a post-collapse world, Kirsten forms part of the Traveling Symphony, bringing Shakespeare and classical music to the tiny villages dotting a violence-ridden landscape. At one point, after the Symphony faces the kidnapping of some of its members, Kirsten finds these words on a folded piece of paper:

A fragment for my friend––

If your soul left this earth I would follow and find you

Silent, my starship suspended in night

station-eleven
STATION ELEVEN––PUBLISHED BY KNOPF

Kirsten is “impossibly moved” by this poetry, reminding us: even in a world where people struggle to find food, to stay warm, to stay alive, poetry matters. Theater matters. Music matters. Amidst struggle, art sows hope. And if we feed it, tend to it, care for it, that hope will continue to grow.

The pain is still raw. The confusion still fresh. But we must always, always remember: knowledge trumps fear. Love trumps hate.

And we will read and learn and fight our way to a better tomorrow.


Find me on Twitter: @beckererine.

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The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
THE CROSSOVER––PUBLISHED BY HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS

At SCBWI-LA over the summer, I had the pleasure of hearing Kwame Alexander speak in a keynote and a very inspiring session on poetry. Hearing Alexander in person reminded me how great The Crossover is––and how this novel in verse has a lot to teaching aspiring kidlit writers about their craft.

Here are three things writers can take away from Alexander’s breakout book, winner of last year’s Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award.

1. Rhythm is everything.

Alexander comes to kidlit by way of poetry. Here, he borrows the quick, agile rhythm of a basketball game to drive this fast-paced, playful novel about two basketball prodigy brothers growing up and growing apart. Josh Bell and his brother Jordan live for basketball, and live their lives like a basketball game: with rivalries, competitions, and strict rules, all cultivated on the court. Josh’s quick-witted narration keeps the story moving like a fast break to the basket, and his flashy wordplay matches the fancy footwork of a star guard, showing off his moves.

In The Crossover, the novel-in-verse form fits the story perfectly, and the breakneck rhythm of a basketball game drives the plot forward from beginning to end. It’s a great example of “form follows function” in action––and it’s just fun! Like watching a basketball game between evenly matched rivals, reading The Crossover keeps you on the edge of your seat until the final buzzer, holding your breath, waiting for the final shot.

2. Sibling relationships are tough.

Alexander digs deep into the profound ups and downs of sibling––and in the case, twin––relationships. He has a keen eye for the overwhelming love and, at times, intense hatred that emerge from the super-close relationship with that one person who knows you better than anyone else.

His exploration of twins coming of age and growing apart echoes that of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl––except here, we have two middle school boys instead of two college-age young women. The central issue is much the same, though: Josh feels deserted when Jordan gets a girlfriend. Here, Josh lashes out in the only way he knows how: on the court.

It’s refreshing to see a sibling rivalry portrayed with the same depth of emotion usually reserved for a romantic one. Using Alexander’s example, we should push ourselves to treat family relationships––and platonic ones––with the same intensity as first crushes and young love. Because sibling love and friend love is love, after all. For many kids, it’s an even more important kind than that romantic stuff, which isn’t always relevant to their day-to-day life.

3. Sports books can be so much more than just that.

Writers can fall into the same trap as readers when it comes to sports. There are sports books, and there’s everything else––and you’re either a reader (or writer) of one or the other…right?

Not quite. The Crossover proves that a book with a basketball on the cover can transcend that category. Even non-sports-loving readers can find a lot to love about this book, with its complex portrayal of family life and Alexander’s passion for language, which oozes off the page.

Yet the basketball element here is neither a ploy to “attract boy readers” nor a quick way to throw in some more action. It’s an integral element of Josh and Jordan’s lives and their relationship with their father, each other, and the world around them. It’s also a dead-on portrayal of so many American families that live for sports––families that take the lessons they learn on the court and apply them to life.

Kwame Alexander has a lot to teach us about writing. And if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, I highly suggest you do!

Want to chat more about The Crossover, or writing in general? Find me on Twitter at @beckererine.