Summary: ZJ is a boy who loves his father. He enjoys the games and family gatherings that accompany the professional football career that he has been exposed to all his life. He always felt on top and possessed a heart of gratitude about what his father Zachariah did for a living. The relationship takes a pivotal turn when his father encounters an onset of illnesses that lead to a diagnosis because of his career. ZJ is often confused and does not know how to interpret the signals or moods that he may experience with his father daily. ZJ refers to his father who he once saw as the world and how he wants to turn that world back around. How will ZJ cope with the ongoing challenges that have changed the lives of his family?
Strengths: Although, this heartfelt book has such a sad undertone the relationships are positive and interwoven throughout ZJ’s support system.
He has a healthy extended family and well-established friendships.
Weaknesses: The book moves quick and is such an easy read that you do not want it to end.
Thoughts: The “verse” style of this book is appealing for the tween reader. This a perfect storyline for those who aspire to be professional athletes. It provides a real perspective on just one of the many illness that often leaves lives unchangeable.
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: A single mistaken moment is all it took for 12-year-old Jerome a Chicagoan, to lose his life. In hindsight his spirit never dies and becomes the voice of reason. The voice of reason turns out to be a ghostly connection to the 1955 historical civil rights’ wrongful death of Emmett Till that took place in Mississippi. Jerome who is a vibrant young boy and son to working class parents meets his fate when he is observed to have a gun. It turns out to be toy gun that unfortunately cost him his life. In the afterlife Jerome develops a relationship with Emmett with whom he has multiple conversations with regarding wrongful death, racism, and law enforcement. The big question is “Will the police officer who killed him confess and be truthful?”. Jerome continues to be present in his ghostly state and recognizes how his family is coping. He also becomes intrigued by his ability to tap into the thoughts of the police officers’ daughter. In the end, how much influence will she truly have on her fathers’ decision to do the right thing?
Strengths: This is a wonderful presentation of “mistaken”. Jerome’s afterlife is the life that truly makes this story memorable as it correlates to the life of Emmett Till.
Weaknesses: It will be helpful if the reader has had prior knowledge on the history of Emmett Till and the incident that took place in Mississippi in 1955. The book gives the reader some idea but the details will give them a better connection.
Thoughts: This is a clever way to engage students to talk about racism. It also very ingenious that both Jerome and Emmett were victims who were born in Chicago, Illinois.