Summary: Shayla seemingly avoids trouble at all costs. She is an independent hard worker who aspires to do something; however, she is unsure of exactly what it is. Middle School is the place where she secretly hopes to start discovering what she genuinely likes and where she fits in. Shayla witnesses a protest on the way home from school while talking to her mother about the possibility of trying out for the track team which her mother finds comical. The protest is the beginning of a turning point for Shayla. In what appears to be worry she begins to ask her mother questions regarding the gathering of people. Is Black Lives Matter involved? What do you think the outcome will be? She also poses several questions about the local police and their views on black people. Shayla becomes increasingly intrigued by the incident, BLM and the history of justice for all and the lack thereof. She is adamant that being involved is something that she is passionate about but also hesitant due to the “trouble” it may cause. In the end, Shayla must make a choice which will define her allegiance and shape who she is becoming.
Strengths: This book speaks to students who may have difficulty understanding the impact and tension between black youth and the police. The language is simple with vocabulary that is challenging enough without creating frustration. It allows the reader to easily follow areas of confusion when considering how the black community negatively perceives the police and vice versa. The main character deals with several age-appropriate challenges. She also demonstrates her leadership skills in a transitional way that is supportive to understanding self.
Weaknesses: Shayla’s character is very hesitant. This may seem like a character flaw, but it truly depicts how middle grade students act and think accordingly.
Thoughts: The timing of this book allows the reader to make real time life connections. In years, to come the hope is that this is a movement that makes strides but for now this is a living in the moment impactful read.
Summary: Africa is a little girl who wants nothing more than to learn how to double Dutch. In fact, she desires to learn so bad that she signs up for a competition without even knowing how to embrace the silently timed pop ups and jumps. As she begins her journey and after trying on her own, she asks several of her friends to teach her how to learn the ropes. Africa searches and searches but cannot find anyone to help. Along the way she encounters new adventures and skills, but will she master the art of double Dutch before the competition?
Strengths: This story is told in a way that embraces the confidence of a young girl who is determined. The reference of “Showing the World” what she is made of sets the tone for the reader. It speaks loud and clear that you must believe in you to achieve your goals.
Weaknesses: There are no weaknesses. The earthtone colors selected by the illustrator are unique. The pink on the cheeks is a different spin on face of the characters. It makes you wonder what prompted the illustrator to select the design with such emphasis.
Thoughts: This story is a great combination of school and the community. The setting(s) allows the reader to visualize how certain aspects of the story are relatable to their own lives. The connection is clear which is important for young readers and listeners.
Summary: This biography is an awakening for Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch. Growing up as a girl who loved the beach the steady waves and soft skies provided her with an abundance of comfort. However, the period of the pre-civil rights movement enabled segregation to keep her from sulking in the sun from just any beach. MaVynee enjoyed spending the joyous moments of watching the harmonious blends of blue and green that she often viewed with her grandfather. He was exhausted and frustrated by the discrimination. Furthermore, he was saddened by its effects on his granddaughter. Surprisingly, one day her grandfather decided that enough had been endured and purchased a beach. That beach became known as “American Beach”. Although, growing up on the beach was a priceless venture with countless memories, MaVynee grew up and pursued her career in opera which removed her from the paradise that soothed her during her childhood. In a constant longing she never stopped dreaming of the beautiful place that was considered a part of “home”. Upon return, what will she discover? How will she react? Will there be challenges? Will she be heard? What will be the end results?
Strengths: This book is beautifully illustrated. King tells the story but the illustrations by Holmes bring this book to life.
Weaknesses: This book would have benefited from a real-life photo of MaVynee in the note section or on the very last page. In biographies, students like to make connections to the real world and photos provide that sense of reality.
Thoughts: This story travels down the steep road that plagued so many. This is still a reality of so many in the land of the free. I can think of another local beach in the state of Maryland where this story parallels the deeply rooted history of “black owned” beaches that barely exists. This story is one that will stick out in the minds of students as they reflect on the history while visiting local and national bodies of water. Kudos to the author and illustrator for this collaborative effort.
Summary: Calvin is a vibrant story based on acceptance, confidence, and self-recognition. Born as a female and raised with loving and embracing parents he is unsure of how he should break the news to his family. Although, he has known for some time he still has reservations. Calvin tried to drop hints to his family through illustrations and his repeated request for low-cut haircuts until one day he blurts it out. How will his family react? Will this ruin his vacation? Will they educate him as he relates to his feelings? Will his family be kind and understanding of his identification as transgender? Will he be accepted at school? Will the opinions of others affect his own confidence and esteem?
Strengths: This story is rich and colorful which reflects the family dynamics. The family is very supportive and reassures Calvin that he is loved no matter what his choices are.
Weaknesses: There are no weakness. This story displays healthy family dynamics. It mutters the ideal family, however today the barriers are screeching with the lack of acceptance.
Thoughts: This is a beautifully written story of love and support. It not only speaks to the transgender community but also to multiracial families. Acceptance of who and what people identify as is such a prevalent issue in society.