“So, was your father Pashtun?” someone recently asked me at an SCBWI conference. I had to say that I don’t really know. My father, born in Peshawar, Pakistan, was my only window into my Pakistani heritage. And it was a cloudy window, unreliable, streaked with wishful thinking and invented memories. Growing up I searched the mirrors in our house as well, seeking the story of my ancestors in my own image. I found only warped shards of mirror, cursed to reflect an immigrant’s dream to start over in America, never the old world left behind. For people like me, daughter of an immigrant and mixed marriage, what allows us to know ourselves and understand where we come from? What encourages the people of this country to know and understand each other?
The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign has jolted the world of writers, readers and makers of books into the realization that the books on our shelves offer only an incomplete view of the world to children. When the dominant culture and our own families fail to expose us to the realities of ourselves and others, where can we turn for this truth? Glass both reflects and refracts. The images we find in windows and mirrors slip sideways and don’t show reality exactly as it is. But a looking glass, like a good story, allows readers to slip into a view that, although not real, retains the power to connect us with ourselves and with one another.
This Windows/Mirrors Book Review series documents my own journey through children’s literature, in search of better ways to be myself, better ways to connect with others and better ways to write a good story.
I hope you enjoy some of these books as much as I have.
Ruby on the Outside, by Nora Raleigh Baskin, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015
“There are consequences for accidents, too.”
Ruby on the Outside weaves complex layers into a simple, beautiful thread with page-turning tension: Ruby’s coming of age as she wrestles with family secrets and the desire to trust her new friend Margalit. Ruby has never had a friend, because she doesn’t feel she can tell anyone that her mother was incarcerated when she was just a little girl. Ruby doesn’t know the truth of the night her mother was arrested; she only knows that it’s time to ask the question. What she discovers may threaten her growing friendship, and leads to a confrontation with her mother that transforms the way Ruby moves through the outside.
Read this book because it tells the truth about the cycle of abuse from a flawless middle grade perspective. Add this book to your collection because it tells a story with heart and hope about the child of an incarcerated mother, describes with humanity the indignities of prison, and reveals the complicated and enduring bond between a parent and child.
Other books by this author include:
- The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah
- Anything But Typical
- The Summer Before Boys
“And I make a little sound….It comes from a place that is so deep, so old, and so wounded. It just escapes your heart without your consent. Like finding a piece of your own body that was broken off and now, there you see it.”
Check out the YouTube video of Nora Raleigh Baskin speaking about Ruby on the Outside here.
Buy the book here.