Summary: Principal Jones is determined to engage students despite the COVID-19 pandemic. He is also aware of the stress that the pandemic has caused which prompts him to focus attention on self-care. He begins the morning circle announcements with breathing techniques to encourage relaxation. Principal Jones takes it a step further and offers students a virtual field trip. The trip is intended to visualize the importance of breathing to great lengths as it relates to social justice movements throughout history. He specifically mentions a recent unfortunate incident that had a major impact on the community. The similarities of breathing and believing are compared to each other to mold the mindset that change is possible. During the field trip students have the opportunity to discover ways to get involved to support social justice movements. Following the virtual field trip, the students reflect and take their advocacy further by engaging in student government. The level of engagement by the students ultimately helps them understand that breathing is believing, and change is always possible.
Strengths: This book is an eye opener for students and can help bridge the gap when considering the impact of social justice and the lack thereof. It is a great way to prompt opening, reflective and concluding questions of various historical movements in America.
Weaknesses: This is not a weakness, but this picture book is for higher level thinkers or students who have been directly impacted. The language is simple, but the mindset of students is crucial for comprehension.
Thoughts: I used this story as an introduction to student council for 5th grade students. We had a detailed discussion that ran over the length of time intended. In retrospect, this story is a great way to engage students about taking a stance to make a change, however time is needed to address concerns and questions.
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: The sounds of melodic music in Tyron, North Carolina was a gift identified at an early age for Eunice Kathleen Waymon. Growing up in a home where her father was a jazz musician and mother a church minister made the crossroad of life somewhat challenging for Eunice who later changed her name to “Nina Simone”. Nina attended Julliard School of Music in New York City which created opportunities to showcase her talent in the bustling times of the “Harlem Renaissance”. As a pianist she inherited the great ability from her father and later as a vocalist she became strong on demand in the night club. Nina experiences several upsetting moments throughout her journey which include segregation, discrimination, and sexism. She was known for her aggressive activism during the civil rights movement which played out in her music.
Strengths: This story is well written. The illustrations are beautiful and speak volume.
Weaknesses: The details of this story that have been included are plentiful, however parts of her life are excluded specifically her battle with mental health. Also, there is very little information about her personal life such as marital status, motherhood, and relationships.
Thoughts: This is a colorful biography for intermediate and middle grade students. There was room for “more” regarding the history of Nina Simone however the collaboration between the author and illustrator makes this biography stellar.