ummary: Gabrielle is a 10-year-old girl who suddenly must make a quick shift in life. She not only experiences the newness of living without her parents, but she will also explore what seems like a whole new world. The leap from Haiti to Brooklyn, New York includes moving with relatives she is unfamiliar with and learning how she fits in or not. Along the way she encounters unusual friendships and the pit of bullying. She is also met with a chance to make three wishes. What will they be? Will she overcome the frustration of her newfound home, or will she give in to things that are not good for her?
Strengths: The story plot is a wonderful way to infuse two cultures that experiences many of the same obstacles.
Weaknesses: There are no weaknesses and although it supports cultural relevance parents might stray when they hear that the good vs bad in the story is portrayed through the voice of a witch.
Thoughts: This story is a perfect example of how the transition to an unfamiliar environment can be troublesome. The key to overcoming such obstacles is to stay true to oneself and to remember what is important in life even at a youthful age.
Summary: The joys of the teen years do not come easy for Delbert"Del" Rainey Jr. While it is not unusual that at some point everyone has a secret crush, he has been eyeing Kiera since Kindergarten. The problem is several other high school male juniors have identified her beauty and are all on a mission to see who gets to her first. The Purity Pledge has Del questioning his integrity versus the curiosity of his male ego. All the daily thoughts that run through his mind is a blazing portrait of sin and is the opposite of what he should be thinking based on what he was being taught at “First Missionary House” church in his weekly” PP” classes. Del and his mother have been attending church regularly while his father on the other hand is encouraging Del to test the waters of premarital sex. Although, the “PP” classes are designed to keep him focused, he comes up with a plan to try to win Kiera over. During what is supposed to be a fun evening of teen socialization running parallel to a group of parental conversations, several inappropriate gestures, comments, and acts are made. Is this a one time event? Is Del a part of this negativity? Is he able control himself in the presence of the girl who he is mesmerized by? Has he even inquired how Kiera feels about any of this?
Strengths: This book crossed many challenges that teens face but are often swept under the rug until a crisis occurs. Although, several details are missing regarding the insinuations of sexual assault and harassment, the underlying actions are presented. These are strengths because they are real uncensored issues.
Weaknesses: Not necessarily a weakness, but this book can either help or trigger a teens experience. It is so relevant that it serves as a source of information but also a reality for many.
Thoughts: More books like this are becoming in the sense they are educational and relatable for the reader.
Summary: This story takes you through the joyous time a little girl experiences when she is with her cousins. There is nothing more that warms her heart as she looks forward to spending time with them every year for a great portion of summer vacation. There is just one problem, everyone has a nickname except for her. They are not just meaningless nicknames but names that identify who they are, and what they do well. This summer she is hoping that she makes her mark and receives a name that represents her strengths. Will this happen for her? Will her pinky finger bring her good luck?
Strengths: This story is a representation of the bond that cousins have in families all over the world. The relationships in this story paint a picture of how families connect and demonstrate their love for one another. It shows how each relationship has a profound impact on the family dynamics.
Weaknesses: There are no weaknesses. Although, the story focuses on a family gathering in the summer, it can easily be applied to anytime a family partakes in a celebration.
Thoughts: If you are a part of a family with strong emotional bonds and relationships you are bound to giggle. When introducing new stories to students it is always the hope that a connection will be made. This is one of the stories where the illustrations really make you reflect on how the community is utilized to help cultivate memorable moments that impact relationships.
Summary: Frederick Joseph does a phenomenal job on telling and speaking the truth in “The Black Friend on Being a Better White Person”. The structure of the book is in a conversational narrative format that breaks down his point of view and experiences throughout various phases of his life. He methodically conducted interviews with numerous individuals that openly share their similar experiences dealing with class, race, and sexism. Joseph holds nothing back in displaying his encounters with blatant, institutional, and subtle racism including implications of countless microaggressions. He fluently speaks from the perspective of a black man on provoking issues that continue to haunt him while "living" black in America in the present day.
Strengths: This book is an easy read intended to educate white people on the black experience in their perception of being “that” friend. The perspective is relatable to the life stories of black people across America.
Weaknesses: This is not the experience of every black person who has established a relationship with a white person. However, there are areas within each life scenario that has brushed the lives of so many.
Thoughts: This book is highly recommended for people of all races. While reading this book I found myself loudly agreeing with the highlights in the format of call and response. There were several chapters that I could relate to directly to from past and present experiences.
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.
Summary: Your voice is one of the most important things in the world. It does not matter if it is small or tall. It can roar like a lion or show its strength in a stream of mighty sound like a trumpet. It gives you the power to ask, tell and learn. It also allows you to wonder. Wow! Your voice speaks to others it tells how it feels using endless words. Did you know the power of the voice creates a beautiful song? Everyone uses their voice in a unique way. How do you use your voice?
Strengths: This book is full of vibrant illustrations that sets the tone for the reader. Each page draws your imagination into the descriptive words that makes the pictures come to life. The theme encourages students to be who they are and use the power of their own voice. The diversity of the characters creates an all-inclusive atmosphere that exaggerates the message that there are no exclusions.
Weaknesses: There are no weaknesses, but I would have loved to see this story written in a series. Perhaps this would be the first of the series.
Thoughts: Students love this book. It empowers them to like themselves and respect others. It promotes several character traits that are a focal point in elementary school.
Summary: Have you ever wanted to change something about yourself, but you couldn’t figure out exactly what? Trinity is a young girl who loves her mother, siblings and her pet pig, Peter Porker. She is also good at using her imagination to create and role play with her dolls. Trinity soon discovers something about herself as a transgender girl on the autism spectrum. She finally figured out that her cropped short hair does not resemble her identity and lifeless plain hair is not part of her vocabulary. What will come next? Will she solve this problem on her own or will her family support her colorful vision on how her crown represents who she is as a person?
Strengths: This story is enlightening and has a different spin for the LGBTQ community. It not only promotes individuality, but it recognizes that persons with disabilities are prevalent in all walks of life including transgender.
Weaknesses: It would have been nice if there were more indications of how Trinity functions in the home as a person with autism. Young readers thrive off being able to make an audio and visual connection.
Thoughts: The mother in this story is aligned with the needs of her children. Her character has been written in a manner that shows that parental involvement is a priority. Trinity’s brother, Lucien also embraces her needs and is supportive. The positivity and love demonstrated throughout the story depicts the vibrant rainbow that is a representation of Trinity’s cheerful personality and gender identity.