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Sunday 19 January 2020
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Two inspiring discoveries

I HAVE never been one of those people who wanted to go back in time, but I would consider it if I could take an armload of current books for my teenagers to read back then. There are now so many books, which now fall within the category of Young Adult (YA) literature. These books offer edgy – sometimes shocking – stories with all the best features of adult novels.

Relevant themes about personal, ethnic and cultural identity and conflicts that include social injustice resonate with teenagers. Both fiction and nonfiction tackle sexuality, protesting, police brutality, abandonment, abuse and displacement in meaningful ways for teens. Biographies, history and murder mysteries written with teens in mind abound.

I am lucky be a school librarian with the time and money to search for books that target teens. These books keep teenagers passionate about reading.

Here are two of my favourite books among my latest discoveries:

1. Beryl McBurnie by Judy Raymond – Hollywood has been creating important movies about the struggle women have endured throughout history to be leaders. Movies like On the Basis of Sex (the biopic of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg) and Mary Queen of Scots about the pressure Mary and her sister Queen Elizabeth faced as queens functioning in a man’s world capture that admirable struggle.

When I watch these movies or read books that tackle an important subject like this, I always feel sad that we don’t have comparable stories in the Caribbean – at least not ones written for teens to enjoy. Now, thanks to Raymond’s biography on dancer Beryl McBurnie, we have the Caribbean equivalent of an inspiring woman’s story.

Written with the excitement and vivid imagery that exceptional journalists use to create biographies, Raymond presents McBurnie as a trailblazer – not just as a dancer or founder of the Little Carib Theatre. Raymond shows how an independence movement must have a cultural movement as well as a political movement, and she presents a compelling argument that McBurnie gave the tradition of dance back to the people.

In just 97 pages (most biographies are over 500 pages long), Raymond packs an incredible amount of exciting history and explores McBurnie’s mystique, creating a tinge of mystery at an exciting time.

This University of the West Indies publication would appeal to readers of all ages, but it is especially important to secondary students who haven’t traditionally had access to such exciting, reader-friendly biographies and history. Beryl McBurnie reads like a novel yet offers teens a model for writing. It’s a lesson in footnoting and bibliographies as well. Beryl McBurnie can be used in a history or literature class to analyse character and conflict.

2. We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World by Malala Yousafzai – Malala’s autobiography, which reveals how she was shot by the Taliban for pursuing her education, has been written for different levels so that children, teens and adults can appreciate her story of bravery.

In this book, that specifically targets teens, Malala weaves together stories of six young teens who fled their countries and became refugees before settling in the US, Canada, Italy or another African country. These are unimaginable stories of survival and resilience.

Sexual trafficking and rape are mentioned in age-appropriate language and content. You may cringe as parents, but we live in a world where teens need to know about these subjects. Teens discuss the pain of fleeing their homes. One story chronicles the journey of a teenager and her family fleeing poverty in Iscuande, Colombia and settling in Cali, Colombia. Each story features a teenage girl fighting for an education and struggling to find a sense of self in another country.

This book is filled with uplifting stories about hopes and dreams that especially touched me because my mother and grandparents were displaced immigrants before World War II.

The greatest challenge with teen literature today is for parents to understand the importance of edgy, well-written literature that tackles tough issues and problems that parents have traditionally wanted to protect children and teens from.

In this volatile world defined by the internet, teenagers need to be aware of problems like sexual trafficking and online predators. They need to know their history and the current events that shape us so that they can feel well-grounded and passionate about tackling the injustices of this world.

Next week: Tackling sexuality, protests, murder mysteries and abuse in a fresh, new way

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