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Catherine is hosting Poetry Friday this week at Reading to the Core. Follow the link for this week’s Poetry Friday offerings!

It’s Poetry Friday!

For the next few weeks, I will be featuring Asian American authors on my blog as part of the annual #AuthorsTakeAction initiative. In each post, I’ll share a recommended middle grade or YA novel by an Asian American author and a read-alongside poem.

Before we get to today’s featured book, though–a quick announcement.

This Sunday, April 25, I am partnering with Nerdy Book Club for a special National Poetry Month livestream (on Facebook). Since Amanda Gorman’s amazing performance at the 2021 presidential inauguration, educators have been looking for resources in teaching Spoken Word Poetry. I’m excited to introduce you to two spoken word performer/ educators who use this form of poetry in the classroom.

Illya Sumanto is a poet, children’s theater director, and educator from Malaysia, currently based in Guangzhou, China. She is co-author of the book From Me to We : Teaching Children Taboo Topics for Empathy through Spoken Word Poetry in Malaysia.

Award-winning poet and performer Ron Kipling Williams is adjunct professor at the Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics, University of Baltimore.

Spoken Word is a form of poetry I want to learn more about. I’m excited to moderate the conversation between these two experts!


On to today’s book and poem pairing…

This week’s featured book is Not Your All-American Girl by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang.

According to Goodreads:

Lauren and her best friend, Tara, have always done absolutely everything together. So when they don’t have any classes together in sixth grade, it’s disastrous. The solution? Trying out for the school play. Lauren, who loves to sing, wonders if maybe, just maybe, she will be the star instead of Tara this time.

But when the show is cast, Lauren lands in the ensemble, while Tara scores the lead role. Their teacher explains: Lauren just doesn’t look the part of the all-American girl. What audience would believe that she, half-Jewish, half-Chinese Lauren, was the everygirl star from Pleasant Valley, USA?

From amidst the ensemble, Lauren tries to support her best friend. But when she can’t bring herself to sing anymore, her spot in the play and her friendship are in jeopardy. With the help of a button-making business, the music of Patsy Cline, and her two bickering grandmothers, can Lauren find her voice again?

Acclaimed coauthors Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang return to the 1980s world of Sydney Taylor Honor Book This Is Just a Test with this laugh-out-loud coming-of-age story.

My take:

There is so much to love about this book. It is laugh out loud funny. (The culture clash between Lauren’s two grandmothers is sweet and hilarious.) But I also learned a lot about how relentless microaggressions and othering can feel to a middle schooler, especially when a teacher has rigid expectations about what “American” looks like.

It’s fascinating to me that real life best friends Rosenberg and Wan-Long Shang co-wrote Lauren’s first person voice! Most of the co-authored books I’ve read are written in alternating points of view. Lauren is a seamless blend of Jewish and Chinese cultures. For someone like me, who was a teen in the 80s, the nostalgia of this book added to its appeal. And, as a former theater mom, I found the rehearsal scenes and relationships between the cast and crew members to be not only believable, but entertaining too.

If you’d like a poem to read alongside Not Your All-American Girl, I recommend “How to Hula Hoop,” by Anya Silver.

How to Hula Hoop
By Anya Silver

Love the ridiculous.
Fear not contortions of the body
nor the vibrations of failure.
Place the hoop on your waist
where your husband puts his hands.
Then gyrate like crazy.
There’s no single method:
make of your hips a swivel stool
and your pelvis a pendulum.
Some will spiral slowly,
letting the hoop rock and swing
like a carousel of pastel horses.
I, graceless, wildly whirl myself
from abdomen to knees.
Normally, the hoop tumbles
down my legs in a minute
or three—but occasionally,
it will stay and settle…

Read the rest at Atticus Review.

Next week, I’ll be featuring the middle grade novel Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park.

15 responses to “Poetry Friday: Not Your All-American Girl”

  1. Linda Baie says:

    This book is on my list, Laura, sounds like one that would be a good read-aloud for a classroom, with lots to discuss! Love the poem & that ending: “Or rather,”

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Definitely a great choice for a read aloud — and a discussion of how stereotypes harm people. My favorite line in the poem is the opening call to “Love the ridiculous.”

  2. Ruth says:

    The book sounds great! I am adding it to my list. And I love that poem.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I enjoyed it. I have to go back and read the first book in the duology, This Is Just a Test, which focuses on Lauren’s older brother.

  3. Linda Mitchell says:

    Thanks for this review! I love the combination of Chinese and Jewish…I have some dear family members that are those two cultures. It’s fabulous for the rest of us. Just this week we enjoyed the Hula Hooping Queen from Storytime with some students at school. I wish I had seen this poem before our time with them. But, it’s not too late to share. Thanks for sharing it here!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I want to know more about the Hula Hooping Queen, Linda! Your students would have a great time connecting that storytime with Wendy and Madelyn’s book.

  4. Oooh, another wonderful book recommendation. Thank you, Laura! (my book spending is getting out of hand! 😉 )

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I promised myself I’d stick to the library or books I already own this year. (It’s a promise I’ve made many times before!)

  5. Another great read, Laura. I will be recommending this to our librarian for sure. And that poem, too! Thank you.

  6. Jullieanne Harmatz says:

    I teach a large population of Asian American girls. Non Your American Girl will be a book they will love. Thank you!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Wendy and Madelyn have created an engaging character in Lauren. I cheered her on as she began to stand up for herself.

  7. Goodness me, my to-read stack is going to be awfully tall! And what better way to open a poem a poem about hula hooping with “Love the ridiculous.”? I’ve made a note to tune in to Nerdy Book Club tomorrow, Laura. Looking forward to it!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I love that opening line, Michelle. Thanks for supporting the livestream tomorrow. I’m excited to speak with Ron and Illya.

  8. Thank you for highlighting this book, Laura. The population at my school is very homogeneous and we’re always looking for books that will broaden their horizons. This sounds like a terrific addition to our collection. And I agree with many others that “love the ridiculous” is the perfect opening line for a poem about hula-hoops. And maybe just good advice in general!

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Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

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