Ryan, P. M. (2004). Becoming Naomi León. Scholastic. 256 pages.
Audience: Grades 4-7
Kayla Hlad (she/her)
MLIS Student, Kent State University iSchool
When their mother suddenly turns up after years without contact, quiet and perceptive Naomi and her ever-optimistic brother (Owen) have their lives turned upside down. They have been lovingly raised by their great-grandmother and have built routines of comfort and relationships of trust. Although their mother reassures the two children that she has gotten the help she needed to turn her life around, Naomi, her grandmother, and the reader have increasing doubts as the story progresses.
Fortunately, love and stability is still in store for Naomi and Owen. Their grandmother ultimately decides to take the two children on a journey to connect with their father‒an estranged, but loving caregiver.
Ryan portrays the complications, characteristics, and love of family beautifully. The use of figurative language, the all-too-realistic plot turns, and a well-crafted first-person narrative from an admirable and dynamic twelve-year-old character all aid this difficult task. Further, the depiction of familial struggles manage to be sensitive to younger audiences while still being true to the real experiences that many young readers share with the León family. Appropriately, this work received a Pura Belpré Children’s Author Award Honor Title in 2006. In addition, Ryan received the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for Multicultural Literature in 2010.
The cover art itself (which comes in multiple versions) isn’t particularly striking or telling, so rather than feature this title in a display, librarians should consider bringing this quality middle grade chapter book back to light with a booktalk. Consider a booktalk in the first-person style that briefly communicates the complexity of Naomi’s emotional response to her mother’s return (hope, anxiety, fear, loyalty and protection towards her brother) and alludes to the uncertainty in front of Naomi. Rest assured, you’ll still find plenty of interested tweens for this read.
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