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Updated by Valley Libraries Radio Reference on Mar 26, 2021
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February 17 - 19; 24 - 26, 2021: Black Voices

February is Black History Month, and we want to celebrate Black voices with you, listeners! This week on Valley Libraries Radio Reference, our focus is on some incredible titles by Black authors.

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Sarah's nonfiction selection

Sarah's nonfiction selection

Natasha Trethewey was named the US Poet Laureate in 2012. Her recently released Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir is written in prose, but captures that poetic approach to writing in a precise and devastating way. Memorial Drive chronicles Trethewey’s adolescence, growing up amid racial strife as a child of an interracial couple in the Deep South up through her late teenage years when she experiences the trauma of her mother’s murder. Trethewey’s book is heartbreaking, intimate, and totally absorbing - you will feel the love for her mother and her subsequent grief emanating from the pages. Local libraries own both Memorial Drive and collections of her much-lauded poetry.

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Sarah's fiction selection

Sarah's fiction selection

I delved into reading the teen fantasy novel Song Below Water by Bethan Morrow without any idea what it was about, and I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it! Morrow takes a contemporary US setting - complete with systemic racism and the Black Lives Matters movement - and infuses it with fantasy elements: sirens, sprites, and much more that further reveal prejudice and privilege in the world she creates. Main characters Tavia and Effie's relationship is beautifully crafted, as is their way of communicating in a world that is too dangerous for Tavia - a siren - to sometimes use her true voice. The audiobook features two narrators who gave engaging and natural performances to bring the teenage girls to life. This is a poignant and relevant fantasy novel that offers a refreshing alternative to medieval style fantasy tropes or other contemporary fantasy settings.

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Ginny's nonfiction selection

Ginny's nonfiction selection

I can think of no better way to mark Black History Month than with the memoir of a giant we lost this past year. More fascinating still, at 73, Congressman John Lewis decided the best way to tell his story was in graphic novel form. The 3-volume March written by Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell is a first-hand account of the modern civil rights movement. Thoroughly intertwined with the story of the movement, Lewis’ own story compels our attention. From his sharecropper childhood through seminary to the freedom rides; from the 1963 March on Washington though through the Freedom Summer to the nearly fatal beating he incurred while crossing the Pettus bridge John Lewis’ determination to make something better for himself and his people shines through. With intricate, absorbing illustrations, John Lewis’ indomitable spirit engages from start to finish.

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Ginny's fiction selection

Ginny's fiction selection

Homegoing By Yaa Gyasi is the fascinating story of two sisters follows their offspring through seven generations. One sister is sold into slavery and her line follows in America. The other sister remains in Ghana and is married to a white slaver. With intricate and compelling structure, the story weaves back and forth across the ocean and down the generations. The myriad characters are artfully crafted, and Gyasi shows how the stain of the slave trade taints the Ghanians and the dehumanization of slavery haunts the Americans. This widely acclaimed first novel delivers a searing reading experience.

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Jamie's nonfiction selection

Jamie's nonfiction selection

For a broader history, I honestly can't recommend Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America highly enough. Kendi's narrative traces racist and anti-racist thinking through American history, focusing on five major thinkers who were emblematic of their era: Puritan minster Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois, and Angela Davis. He looks at how, across different eras, different racist ideas cropped up in order to rationalize and defend the inequalities built into American society, and how anti-racist activists fought against them. It's an in-depth treatment of a weighty subject, and you'll need to set aside some time for it, but Kendi's work is brilliant and absolutely worth spending time with.

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Jamie's fiction selections

Jamie's fiction selections

If you haven't been paying close attention to the picture book world in the last couple of years, you might have missed author-illustrator Jessixa Bagley.

She made her debut in 2015 with Boats for Papa, a sweet and emotional story about missing a loved one.

Then came Before I Leave, which gets right to the heart of that universal childhood experience of a best friend moving away.

Laundry Day is a cute, lighthearted story about having the desire to be helpful, but maybe not the skills, and Vincent Comes Home follows a ship's cat as he looks for a home of his own.

Most recently, Henry and Bea is a touching and realistic story about grief and the importance of having a best friend. Bagley's work is consistently charming and emotionally affecting, and if you haven’t taken a look, you should! I'm excited to see what she'll do next.

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Find these at your local library.

You don’t have to wait until next February to keep discovering and reading more Black Voices. You can call your local library for help or visit the online catalog at ValleyLibraries.org to place these and many other fabulous titles on hold.