Tag Archives: African American

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. September 5, 2017. Scribner, 285 p. ISBN: 9781501126062.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 840.

An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Racial taunts, Discrimination, Violence, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Criminal culture, Clinical description of slaughtering an animal

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (July 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 21))
Jojo, 13, and his 3-year-old sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, while their mother, Leonie, struggles with drug addiction and her failures as a daughter, mother, and inheritor of a gift (or curse) that connects her to spirits. Leonie insists that Jojo and Kayla accompany her on a two-day journey to the infamous Parchman prison to retrieve their white father. Their harrowing experiences are bound up in unresolved and reverberating racial and family tensions and entanglements: long-buried memories of Pop’s time in Parchman, the imminent death of Mam from cancer, and the slow dawning of the children’s own spiritual gifts. Ward alternates perspectives to tell the story of a family in rural Mississippi struggling mightily to hold themselves together as they are assailed by ghosts reflecting all the ways humans create cruelty and suffering. In her first novel since the National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones (2011), Ward renders richly drawn characters, a strong sense of place, and a distinctive style that is at once down-to-earth and magical.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2017)
Ward (Men We Reaped, 2013, etc.) follows her excellent, National Book Award–winning novel Salvage the Bones with her third book-length work of fiction, a searching study of all the ways in which people damage each other, sometimes without meaning to.Leonie, a young African-American woman, lives in the eternal childhood of addiction and dependency; her life revolves around trying to escape from herself, which is no help to her children, one a toddler named Kayla, the other a 13-year-old boy named Jojo. The three live with Leonie’s parents, the gruff but tender grandfather a font of country wisdom (“Goats is mean and pigs is smarter than you think. And they vicious too”), the grandmother steadily being eaten alive by an aggressive cancer. “Each time Leonie told me something mean, Mam would tell her to leave me alone,” a grateful Jojo recounts, devastated to see his mother hollowed by her illness. Clearly the older couple cannot take care of the children, but when Leonie’s white boyfriend is released from prison—Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm, no less—things go from bad to worse. It’s not necessarily that the drugged-out couple is evil, but that they can’t take care of themselves, much less anyone else, leaving the children to their own resources—and, as the story progresses, Ward makes clear that those resources are considerable, just as Leonie, who is haunted by the ghost of her dead brother, realizes that she has been dealt a hand that, while tragic, is simply part of the business of life: “Growing up out here in the country taught me things,” she thinks. “Taught me that after the first fat flush of life, time eats away at things: it rusts machinery, it matures animals to become hairless and featherless, and it withers plants.” Time doesn’t improve most people, either: it leads them into adulthood, makes them mean and violent and untrustworthy, all lessons the kids must learn the hard way. Though rough and cheerless, Ward’s book commemorates the resilience of children, who, as in the kindred film Beasts of the Southern Wild, are perforce wise beyond their years. Not as strong as its predecessor, but expertly written all the same, proving Ward’s position at the forefront of modern Southern letters.

About the Author

Jesmyn Ward is the author of Where the Line Bleeds, Salvage the Bones, and Men We Reaped. She is a former Stegner Fellow (Stanford University) and Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. She is an associate professor of Creative Writing at Tulane University.

Her work has appeared in BOMB, A Public Space and The Oxford American.

Teacher Resources

Sing, Unburied, Sing Reading Guide

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Patina by Jason Reynolds

Patina by Jason Reynolds. August29, 2017. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 233 p. ISBN: 9781481450188.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.6; Lexile: 710.

Patina, or Patty, runs like a flash. She runs for many reasons—to escape the taunts from the kids at the fancy-schmancy new school she’s been sent to since she and her little sister had to stop living with their mom. She runs from the reason WHY she’s not able to live with her “real” mom any more: her mom has The Sugar, and Patty is terrified that the disease that took her mom’s legs will one day take her away forever. So Patty’s also running for her mom, who can’t. But can you ever really run away from any of this? As the stress builds up, it’s building up a pretty bad attitude as well. Coach won’t tolerate bad attitude. No day, no way. And now he wants Patty to run relay…where you have to depend on other people? How’s she going to do THAT?

Sequel to: Ghost

Part of Series: Track (Book 2)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

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Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 5-8. When Patina “Patty” Jones, the fastest girl on the Defenders track team, comes in second place in a race—a fact she finds unacceptable—her rage is so intense that she mentally checks out. In an effort to make her into a team player, Coach assigns her to the 4×800 relay race and makes the relay team do hokey things like waltz in practice to “learn each others’ rhythms.” Pfft. Meanwhile, Patty feels completely out of place at her rich-girl academy. And then there’s the really hard stuff. Like how her father died, how her mother “got the sugar” (diabetes) and it took her legs, and now Patty and her little sister live with their aunt Emily and uncle Tony. Reynolds’ again displays his knack for capturing authentic voice in both Patty’s inner monologues and the spoken dialogue. The plot races as fast as the track runners in it, and—without ever feeling like a book about “issues”—it deftly tackles topics like isolation, diverse family makeup, living with illness, losing a parent, transcending socioeconomic and racial barriers, and—perhaps best of all—what it’s like for a tween to love their little sister more than all the cupcakes in the world. The second entry in the four-book Track series, this serves as a complete, complex, and sparkling stand-alone novel.

Horn Book Magazine (November/December, 2017)
Back for the second leg of the Track series relay, the Defenders team has passed the baton to title character Patina, nicknamed Patty. First introduced to readers in Ghost (rev. 11/16), Patty has been forced to grow up quickly. After her father dies suddenly, Patty’s role in raising her younger sister Maddy grows larger as their mother gets ill and ultimately becomes a double amputee due to complications from diabetes. While moving in with their godparents, who have adopted them both, has relieved some of the pressure, Patty is not always certain how to relinquish her role as caregiver. She takes it upon herself to braid Maddy’s hair (as opposed to letting their adoptive mother, Momly, do it) because “ain’t no rule book for white people to know how to work with black hair.” Patty pushes Ma in her wheelchair to and from church on Sundays. She does all the work on her group project at school, and angrily counts her second-place ribbon at a track meet as “fake.” At some point, Momly reminds her, “Folks who try to do everything are usually avoiding one thing.” Those words ring true when an almost-tragedy strikes the household and Patty is forced to face the “thing”–the loss she feels at the death of her father–and start to trust others. For his first book featuring a female protagonist, Reynolds has done an excellent job of providing insights into the life of an African American middle schooler. Track scenes (and drama) are interspersed with home and school scenes (and drama); and as the new girl at an elite academy, Patty’s interactions with her vapid “hair-flipper” classmates, especially, are both humorous and authentic. eboni njoku

About the Author

After earning a BA in English from The University of Maryland, College Park, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where you can often find him walking the four blocks from the train to his apartment talking to himself. Well, not really talking to himself, but just repeating character names and plot lines he thought of on the train, over and over again, because he’s afraid he’ll forget it all before he gets home. His website is www.jasonwritesbooks.com.

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Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorarfor. October 3, 2017. Viking Books for Young Readers, 477 p. ISBN: 9780670785612.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

A year ago, Sunny Nwazue, an American-born girl Nigerian girl, was inducted into the secret Leopard Society. As she began to develop her magical powers, Sunny learned that she had been chosen to lead a dangerous mission to avert an apocalypse, brought about by the terrifying masquerade, Ekwensu. Now, stronger, feistier, and a bit older, Sunny is studying with her mentor Sugar Cream and struggling to unlock the secrets in her strange Nsibidi book.

Eventually, Sunny knows she must confront her destiny. With the support of her Leopard Society friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, and of her spirit face, Anyanwu, she will travel through worlds both visible and invisible to the mysteries town of Osisi, where she will fight a climactic battle to save humanity.

Sequel to: Akata Witch

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Underage drinking, Smoking, Language, Hazing, Bullying, Racial slur

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 7-10. This highly anticipated sequel to Akata Witch (2011) begins a year after Sunny unearthed secrets pertaining to her heritage and joined the secret Leopard Society. Plagued by strange dreams, Sunny endeavors to increase her magical powers by studying with her demanding mentor, and she continues to grapple with secrets that lie within her peculiar and wondrous Nsibidi book. However, the fate of humanity rests on her shoulders and time is not a luxury she has. Soon, she must step into her destiny and fight a looming, apocalyptic battle. If she loses or isn’t up to the task, it will spell catastrophe for all. While the story’s beginning is a bit jarring and doesn’t immediately sweep you away, the feeling is fleeting. A few chapters in, the reader gets tangled up in Sunny’s journey in the most delicious of ways. The lush world and high-stakes plot are fun, imaginative, timely, and authentic. Sunny as a character is beautiful, strong, and resilient, and her host of friends and allies are well-drawn and compelling, adding to the magic of the story. Okorafor’s novel will ensnare readers and keep them turning pages until the very end to see if and how Sunny fulfills the tremendous destiny that awaits her.

Horn Book Magazine (September/October, 2017)
Ekwensu, the supernatural “masquerade” whom Sunny and her coven defeated in the first installment in this contemporary Nigeria-set fantasy series (Akata Witch, rev. 5/11), is pushing back through into this world, and when she does, she ruthlessly rips Sunny’s spirit face away from her. Separated from their spirit faces, most Leopard People would die, but Sunny’s visions of a city of smoke guide her and her coven to a place in Lagos where the living world and the wilderness (the spirit world) coincide. There Sunny and her now-independent spirit face, the ancient spirit Anyanwu, can take on Ekwensu before she destroys the earth. Although the plot reaches its destination by a circuitous route, each episode works on its own, and the detours do eventually tie into the story arc. Sunny, who endures discrimination because of her albinism, grows stronger physically and emotionally in this volume, showing off new soccer skills and choosing to break Leopard Society rules for a greater purpose. Reader assumptions about Nigeria will be broadened by details showing, yes, traditional ceremonies but also flat-screen TVs, while the centuries-old (but-still-new-to-most-readers) West African mythological foundation will satisfy fans eager for more of Okorafor’s signature brand of magic. anita l. burkam

About the Author

Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian American author of African-based science fiction, fantasy and magical realism for both children and adults and a professor at the University at Buffalo, New York. Her works include Who Fears Death, the Binti novella trilogy, the Book of Phoenix, the Akata books and Lagoon. She is the winner of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards and her debut novel Zahrah the Windseeker won the prestigious Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature.

She lives with her daughter Anyaugo and family in Illinois.  Her website is www.nnedi.com

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Akata Warrior on Amazon

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42 Is Not Just a Number by Doreen Rappaport

42 Is Not Just a Number by Doreen Rappaport. September 5, 2017. Candlewick Press, 128 p. ISBN: 9780763676247.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 6.9.

An eye-opening look at the life and legacy of Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball and became an American hero.

Baseball, basketball, football — no matter the game, Jackie Robinson excelled. His talents would have easily landed another man a career in pro sports, but such opportunities were closed to athletes like Jackie for one reason: his skin was the wrong color. Settling for playing baseball in the Negro Leagues, Jackie chafed at the inability to prove himself where it mattered most: the major leagues. Then in 1946, Branch Rickey, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, recruited Jackie Robinson. Jackie faced cruel and sometimes violent hatred and discrimination, but he proved himself again and again, exhibiting courage, determination, restraint, and a phenomenal ability to play the game. In this compelling biography, award-winning author Doreen Rappaport chronicles the extraordinary life of Jackie Robinson and how his achievements won over — and changed — a segregated nation.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Racism and racist language

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 1))
Grades 5-7. Early on, young Jackie Robinson was taught to fight back when faced with racial slurs and prejudice, and he did, first as one of the few black kids in his neighborhood and later as one of the few black officers on his army base. But those injustices and the indignities he endured while playing for Negro league baseball were dwarfed by the hostility shown by many white players and fans when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. While children’s books on Jackie Robinson are plentiful, this well-researched, concise biography clearly shows the extraordinary burdens he carried and recognizes his significance as an agent of change within American society. A Dodgers fan as a child during the Robinson years, Rappaport offers an engaging account of the man’s life and presents enough background information about American racism during the 1930s and 1940s to help young readers understand the depth of his courage and the magnitude of his achievement as “a one-person civil rights movement.”

Kirkus Reviews (June 1, 2017)
A tribute to a man who spoke out forthrightly against racial injustice—until, on a larger stage, he let his deeds do the talking.Beginning with a childhood exchange with a neighbor (she hurls the N-word at him thrice; he responds with “cracker”), Rappaport focuses on her subject’s refusal to stay silent in the face of prejudicial treatment in youth and during his military career. This has the effect of underscoring the strength of character he displayed in controlling his reactions to the vicious provocations of fans and fellow players once he broke professional baseball’s color line, setting readers up for a nicely contextualized understanding of his career. Unfortunately, she ends her account with the 1947 World Series and in a cursory summation barely mentions the rest of Robinson’s achievements in baseball and after. This, along with the lack of photos or even a stat box in the backmatter, gives the profile a sketchy feel next to Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America, by his daughter, Sharon Robinson (2004)—a title that is included in the perfunctory list of suggested further reading—or any of the several more complete, better packaged appreciations of his life, times, and legacy available. A pinch hitter, at best, behind a strong lineup of competitors. (timeline, endnotes, index) (Biography. 10-13)

About the Author

Doreen Rappaport is the author of more than fifty books for children, including Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust; Lady Liberty: A Biography, illustrated by Matt Tavares; and Martin’s Big Words, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Doreen Rappaport lives in upstate New York.

Her website is dorreenrappaport.com

Teacher Resources

42 Is Not just a Number Discussion Guide

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42 Is Not just a Number on Amazon

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The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore. September 19, 2017. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 304 p. ISBN: 9781524701253.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.8; Lexile: 650.

A boy tries to steer a safe path through the projects in Harlem in the wake of his brother’s death in this outstanding debut novel that’s been described as a “fast and furious read in which we meet some amazing people, people that stay with us” by Newbery Honor and National Book Award–winning author Jacqueline Woodson.

It’s Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren’t celebrating. They’re still reeling from his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly’s always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward.

His path isn’t clear—and the pressure to join a “crew,” as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape—and an unexpected bridge back to the world.

David Barclay Moore paints a powerful portrait of a boy teetering on the edge—of adolescence, of grief, of violence—and shows how Lolly’s inventive spirit helps him build a life with firm foundations and open doors.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Negative attitudes toward differing mental abilities, Racism and racist language, Homophobia and homophobic language, Murder, Suicide

 

Video Review

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 15, 2017)
Multicultural Harlem lives again in this daringly diverse tale of growing up against the odds and the imaginative, healing possibilities that we can create through the choices we make. Moore turns his back on the newly whitewashed Harlem, taking readers to the St. Nick projects to meet brown-skinned West Indian (Trini, to be exact) Wallace “Lolly” Rachpaul, full of contradiction and agency. Moore surrounds Lolly with a grand ensemble of characters that echo the ample cross sections and cultural milieus of the big city. There’s Lolly’s mother, who has embraced her queer sexuality with toy-store security guard Yvonne, who becomes a secondary caregiver after the tragic loss of Lolly’s older brother, Jermaine to the drug-hustling crew underworld of Harlem. Lolly hopes that he and his dark-skinned Dominican best friend, Vega, can resist its allure. Mr. Ali is the veteran social worker with marginal resources and a big heart, refashioning his little basement space to unravel the traumas and difficult choices that could lead astray the black and brown youth he serves. And don’t forget Big Rose (who doesn’t like to be called Big). Then there are Lolly’s Legos, which, block by block, help him imagine a healthy future. These characters are vibrantly alive, reconstituting the realness that is needed to bring diverse, complicated stories to the forefront of our shelves. A debut that serves as a powerful instructive for writing from and reading the intersections—125th Street–size intersections for all readers to enjoy. (Fiction. 10-14)

Publishers Weekly (July 10, 2017)
Wallace “Lolly” Rachpaul, 12, is still reeling from the murder of his older brother, Jermaine. The only thing that makes him feel better is building with Legos, and after his mother’s girlfriend, Yvonne, gives him two trash bags full of loose Legos for Christmas, he lets his imagination soar. When Lolly’s creation outgrows his West Indian family’s Harlem apartment, he moves it to the rec center. Encouraged by the facility’s director, Mr. Ali, Lolly and Big Rose, a girl with autism, begin to build “the alien metropolis of Harmonee.” Outside the safety of the rec center, life for Lolly and his best friend Vega is getting more complicated. Two older boys, Harp and Gully, are hassling them, and their menacing presence escalates into an act of violence. Debut author Moore delivers a realistic and at times brutal portrait of life for young people of color who are living on the edge of poverty. At the same time, Moore infuses the story with hope and aspiration, giving Lolly the chance to find salvation through creativity. Ages 10-up.

About the Author

David Barclay Moore was born and raised in Missouri. After studying creative writing at Iowa State University, film at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and language studies at l’Université de Montpellier in France, David moved to New York City, where he has served as communications coordinator for Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and communications manager for Quality Services for the Autism Community. He has received grants from the Ford Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, Yaddo, and the Wellspring Foundation. He was also a semi-finalist for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. David now lives, works, and explores in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Her website is www.davidbarclaymoore.com

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It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English. July 11, 2017. Clarion Books, 368 p. ISBN: 9780544839571.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.4; Lexile: 680.

It’s 1965, Los Angeles. All twelve-year-old Sophie wants to do is write her book, star in the community play, and hang out with her friend Jennifer. But she’s the new black kid in a nearly all-white neighborhood; her beloved sister, Lily, is going away to college soon; and her parents’ marriage is rocky. There’s also her family’s new, disapproving housekeeper to deal with. When riots erupt in nearby Watts and a friend is unfairly arrested, Sophie learns that life—and her own place in it—is even more complicated than she’d once thought.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Racism and racist language, Sexist language

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (April 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 16))
Grades 5-8. Bookish, quiet Sophie lives in a mostly white, middle-class neighborhood in L.A. with her class-conscious parents and older sister, Lily, who can pass for white. Life seems fairly easy, though she’s certainly no stranger to the cruelty of racism. But in the summer of 1965, as the Watts riots fill the news, several changes shake up Sophie’s world: she finds evidence of her father’s infidelity; her sister starts dating a darker-skinned man, whose experience of being black is much different from theirs; and she personally sees the unfairness of widespread racism when she auditions for a play at the community center. Amid classic middle-grade topics, English deftly weaves a vivid, nuanced story about the complexity of black identity and the broad implications of prejudice. The Watts riots appear mostly in the background, but English stirringly highlights how black anger isn’t localized solely among victims of police brutality. Rather, rage simmers everywhere. Even Sophie, whose most aggressive move is defiantly shouldering past a white girl in the library, thinks to herself, “Gosh, that was a wonderful feeling—being colored and liking to fight.” Through Sophie’s first-person narrative, readers will gain an insight into her struggle to puzzle out her identity, particularly when what she knows about herself is at odds with the expectations and assumptions of the various communities she inhabits. Thoughtful and well wrought, this novel is compassionate, pointed, and empowering.

Horn Book Magazine (July/August, 2017)
The daughter of an art gallery-owning mother and a lawyer father, twelve-year-old Sophie has advantages most children her age do not. However, the summer of 1965 in Los Angeles brings challenges no amount of money can fix. Sophie must navigate her older sister preparing to leave for college, her parents’ continual arguments, and the family’s overly critical housekeeper. Not to mention that Sophie’s is the only African American family in an otherwise all-white neighborhood. In response to her friends’ query about what it feels like to be “Negro,” Sophie answers, “You remembered what you were all the time. All the time.” From learning about Emmett Till to witnessing an innocent man’s arrest, Sophie is forced to face a reality different from that of those around her. As much as budding author Sophie tries to focus on writing her novel and auditioning for the starring role in the community play, these issues are a constant presence, coming to a crescendo with the Watts rebellion. How Sophie reacts to these challenges, and what she learns in the process, results in a true coming-of-age story. The perspective of an upper-middle-class African American family is an unusual and welcome one; and Sophie’s interactions with her white best friend make for a particularly honest dialogue. Fans of Rita Williams-Garcia will enjoy this moving, frank novel. eboni njoku

About the Author

Karen English is a Coretta Scott King Honor Award-winner and the author of the Nikki and Deja and The Carver Chronicles series. Her novels have been praised for their accessible writing, authentic characters, and satisfying storylines. She is a former elementary school teacher and lives in Los Angeles, California.

 

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It All Comes Down to This on Amazon

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Chasing Space: Young Reader’s Edition by Leland Melvin

Chasing Space: Young Reader’s Edition by Leland Melvin. May 23, 2017. Amistad, 240 p. ISBN: 9780062665928.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.6; Lexile: 1020.

Meet Leland Melvin—football star, NASA astronaut, and professional dream chaser.

In this inspiring memoir, adapted from the simultaneous version for adults, young readers will get to learn about Leland Melvin’s remarkable life story, from being drafted by the Detroit Lions to bravely orbiting our planet in the International Space Station to writing songs with will.i.am, working with Serena Williams, and starring in top-rated television shows like The Dog WhispererTop Chef, and Child Genius.

When the former Detroit Lion’s football career was cut short by an injury, Leland didn’t waste time mourning his broken dream. Instead, he found a new one—something that was completely out of this world.

He joined NASA, braved an injury that nearly left him permanently deaf, and still managed to muster the courage and resolve to travel to space on the shuttle Atlantis to help build the International Space Station. Leland’s problem-solving methods and can-do attitude turned his impossible-seeming dream into reality.

Leland’s story introduces readers to the fascinating creative and scientific challenges he had to deal with in space and will encourage the next generation of can-do scientists to dare to follow their dreams. With do-it-yourself experiments in the back of the book and sixteen pages of striking full-color photographs, this is the perfect book for young readers looking to be inspired.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racism, Hazing, Murder

 

Book Trailer

Author Talk

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (June 1, 2017)
Memoir of an astronaut whose road to space took an unusual twist—through the National Football League.Rewritten for younger audiences, this version of Melvin’s simultaneously publishing memoir for adults not only retraces his development from “a skinny black kid” who wanted to be the next Arthur Ashe to an engineer who flew on two space-shuttle missions, but is even capped with a trio of science projects. Though he pushes the conventional platitude that “hard work and dedication are all you need to succeed,” his experiences point more to the value of being ready to take full advantage of second chances when they come along—which they did in his (brief) NFL career, in college after he was suspended for (inadvertent, in his view) cheating, and later at NASA in the wake of a training injury that left him partially deaf. He has also enjoyed a second career as a speaker, educator, TV host, occasional poet, and songwriter with Pharrell and other musicians. Religious faith and racism sound occasional notes in his account, the latter underscored by a picture of his otherwise all-white astronaut class in one of the two photo sections, but he devotes warmer attention to tributes to his mentors, colleagues, role models—and, oddly, his dogs, whose lives and deaths make up much of what he has to say about his adult private life. A detailed picture of astronaut training and work, threaded on a decidedly unusual storyline. (Memoir. 11-14)

About the Author

A former wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, Leland Melvin is an engineer and NASA astronaut. He served on the space shuttle Atlantis as a mission specialist and was named the NASA Associate Administrator for Education in October 2010. He also served as the cochair on the White House’s Federal Coordination in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Task Force, developing the nation’s five-year STEM education plan. He is the host of the Lifetime show Child Genius and a judge for ABC’s BattleBots. He holds four honorary doctorates and has received the NFL Player Association Award of Excellence. He lives in Lynchburg, Virginia.

His website is www.lelandmelvin.com

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Chasing Space on Amazon

Chasing Space on Goodreads

Chasing Space on JLG

Chasing Space Publisher Page

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. February 28, 2017. Balzer + Bray, 444 p. ISBN: 9780062498533.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 590.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Mild sexual themes, Racially motivated shooting, Discussion of racist jokes, Marijuana

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist starred (December 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 8))
Grades 9-12. Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two very different worlds: one is her home in a poor black urban neighborhood; the other is the tony suburban prep school she attends and the white boy she dates there. Her bifurcated life changes dramatically when she is the only witness to the unprovoked police shooting of her unarmed friend Khalil and is challenged to speak out—though with trepidation—about the injustices being done in the event’s wake. As the case becomes national news, violence erupts in her neighborhood, and Starr finds herself and her family caught in the middle. Difficulties are exacerbated by their encounters with the local drug lord for whom Khalil was dealing to earn money for his impoverished family. If there is to be hope for change, Starr comes to realize, it must be through the exercise of her voice, even if it puts her and her family in harm’s way. Thomas’ debut, both a searing indictment of injustice and a clear-eyed, dramatic examination of the complexities of race in America, invites deep thoughts about our social fabric, ethics, morality, and justice. Beautifully written in Starr’s authentic first-person voice, this is a marvel of verisimilitude as it insightfully examines two worlds in collision. An inarguably important book that demands the widest possible readership.

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 15, 2016)
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is a black girl and an expert at navigating the two worlds she exists in: one at Garden Heights, her black neighborhood, and the other at Williamson Prep, her suburban, mostly white high school. Walking the line between the two becomes immensely harder when Starr is present at the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Khalil’s death becomes national news, where he’s called a thug and possible drug dealer and gangbanger. His death becomes justified in the eyes of many, including one of Starr’s best friends at school. The police’s lackadaisical attitude sparks anger and then protests in the community, turning it into a war zone. Questions remain about what happened in the moments leading to Khalil’s death, and the only witness is Starr, who must now decide what to say or do, if anything. Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor. With smooth but powerful prose delivered in Starr’s natural, emphatic voice, finely nuanced characters, and intricate and realistic relationship dynamics, this novel will have readers rooting for Starr and opening their hearts to her friends and family. This story is necessary. This story is important. (Fiction. 14 & up)

About the Author

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.

Her website is www.angiethomas.com

Teacher Resources

The Hate U Give Discussion Guide

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The Hate U Give on Amazon

The Hate U Give on Goodreads

The Hate U Give on JLG

The Hate U Give Publisher Page

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden. May 30, 2017. Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 241 p. ISBN: 9781599903194.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

She wanted to stay awake, wanted to see what freedom looked like, felt like at midnight, then at the cusp of dawn.

Freedom. Mariah has barely dared to dream of it her entire life. When General Sherman’s march through Georgia during the Civil War passes the plantation where she is enslaved, her life changes instantly. Joining the march for protection, Mariah heads into the unknown, wondering if she can ever feel safe, if she will ever be able to put the brutalities of slavery behind her.

On the march Mariah meets a young man named Caleb, and a new dream takes root—one of a future with a home of her own and a true love by her side. But hope often comes at a cost. As the treacherous march continues toward the churning waters of Ebenezer Creek, Mariah sees that the harsh realities of her and her peoples’ lives will always haunt them.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial taunts, Discrimination, War, Violence, Implied sexual assault, Mutilation

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 11))
Grades 8-11. Award-winning Bolden’s latest takes readers back to 1864, the waning days of the Civil War. In rural Georgia, recently emancipated Mariah hides in the root cellar when Sherman’s troops sweep into town. Joining the march, she meets Caleb, a young black man whose manner of dress and comfort with the white Union soldiers raises an eyebrow among Mariah and other formerly enslaved people. As they march toward Ebenezer Creek, Caleb develops feelings for Mariah, while she struggles to believe in her newfound freedom and plan for a future for herself and her younger brother, Zeke. Caleb and Mariah both harbor secrets and pasts that shape their worldviews, but they’re starting to warm to each other when the unthinkable happens. Chapters alternating between Mariah’s and Caleb’s points-of-view lay bare the differences between the experiences of a free black man and those of an enslaved woman. Caleb’s journal entries, for instance, signal a desire to publish or own a newspaper, while enraged Mariah laments, “colored lives don’t matter.” With keen insight, Bolden mines a lesser-known historical event and brings the human cost vividly to life. In particular, the moment when the freed men and women are abandoned by the creek as Confederate forces descend will surprise and horrify many readers. Bolden’s trenchant, powerful novel is a strong testament to the many lost lives that certainly did—and still do—matter.

Horn Book Magazine (March/April, 2017)
In late fall of 1864, Sherman’s March to the Sea is underway, and while the Union army wreaks havoc throughout the South and stamps out Confederate defenses to win the war, thousands of enslaved black people find themselves suddenly, disorientingly, freed by the army as well. Mariah, a young black woman in Georgia, can scarcely believe that her dream has come true when she is liberated along with her little brother Zeke and joins the march as it heads toward Savannah. She wants nothing more than an acre of her own ground, with the memories of death and cruelty behind her—nothing more, that is, until she meets the kind but inscrutable Caleb, who helps her and her friends adjust to life amidst the army. Caleb returns Mariah’s feelings and relishes planning a bright future with her and Zeke, but he is also wary, aware that tensions are rising as the march continues, as the previously enslaved confront despised black slave drivers, and as Union soldiers begin to see the black civilians as a burden. Mariah and Caleb’s relationship develops a little quickly for two such cautious and responsibility-laden young adults, but their shared trauma and fragile hopes are breathtaking in their authenticity as tragedy inevitably engulfs them. Alternating between Mariah and Caleb’s perspectives, Bolden fleshes out a small, harrowing historical betrayal, weaving an unforgettable story and capturing both the frailty and resilience of hope. An author’s note tells more about the December 1864 drownings and massacre at Ebenezer Creek; a list of sources is also appended. anastasia m. collins

About the Author

Tonya Bolden is a critically acclaimed award-winning author/co-author/editor of more than two dozen books for young people. They include Finding Family which received two starred reviews and was a Kirkus Reviews and Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year; Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl, a Coretta Scott King honor book and James Madison Book Award winner; MLK: Journey of a King, winner of a National Council of Teachers of English Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children; Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty, an ALSC Notable Children’s Book, CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, and winner of the NCSS Carter G. Woodson Middle Level Book Award. Tonya also received the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC’s Nonfiction Award. A Princeton University magna cum laude baccalaureate with a master’s degree from Columbia University, Tonya lives in New York City.

Her website is www.tonyaboldenbooks.com

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Crossing Ebenezer Creek on Amazon

Crossing Ebenezer Creek on Goodreads

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Crossing Ebenezer Creek Publisher Page

Strong Inside (Young Readers Ed.) by Andrew Maraniss

Strong Inside: The True Story of How Percy Wallace Broke College Basketball’s Color Line (Young Readers Edition) by Andrew Maraniss. December  20, 2016. Philomel Books, 272 p. ISBN: 9780399548345.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1170.

The inspirational true story of the first African American to play college basketball in the deeply segregated Southeastern Conference–a powerful moment in Black history.

Perry Wallace was born at an historic crossroads in U.S. history. He entered kindergarten the year that the Brown v. Board of Education decision led to integrated schools, allowing blacks and whites to learn side by side. A week after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Wallace enrolled in high school and his sensational jumping, dunking, and rebounding abilities quickly earned him the attention of college basketball recruiters from top schools across the nation. In his senior year his Pearl High School basketball team won Tennessee’s first racially-integrated state tournament.

The world seemed to be opening up at just the right time, and when Vanderbilt University recruited Wallace to play basketball, he courageously accepted the assignment to desegregate the Southeastern Conference. The hateful experiences he would endure on campus and in the hostile gymnasiums of the Deep South turned out to be the stuff of nightmares. Yet Wallace persisted, endured, and met this unthinkable challenge head on. This insightful biography digs deep beneath the surface to reveal a complicated, profound, and inspiring story of an athlete turned civil rights trailblazer.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial taunts; Discrimination; Violence

 

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Reviews

Booklist starred (January 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 9))
Grades 7-10. This is the inspiring true story of Perry Wallace, a member of Vanderbilt’s basketball team and the first black basketball player to play in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) during the 1960s civil rights era. The road was far from easy: he received aggressive fouls that went unchallenged, was kicked out of a church, lost his mother to cancer, and his best friend and teammate, also black, was forced to quit. Readers in today’s racially troubled times will recognize Wallace’s plight and the isolation and loneliness he experienced. But Wallace never gave up. After his signature slam dunk was outlawed, he forced himself to become a better player. Author Maraniss doesn’t shy away from the difficulties, not wanting to whitewash history by editing away the ugly epithets that plagued Wallace throughout his career. An author’s note about Wallace’s life after graduation, a bibliography, and black-and-white photos are all included (final source notes and index not seen). This moving biography, a young readers’ edition of Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South (2014), is thought-provoking, riveting, and heart-wrenching, though it remains hopeful as it takes readers into the midst of the basketball and civil rights action. Readers will celebrate Wallace’s refusal to back down, and cheer as he succeeds in paving the way for future players.

School Library Journal (January 1, 2017)
Gr 7 Up-Vanderbilt University made a strong statement in 1966 when they recruited Perry Wallace, a local teen basketball star who was African American. Students may not be familiar with Wallace, but after reading this poignant biography, they will not forget him. Readers meet him as a child whose loving family provided him with the care and attention he needed to thrive academically, then follow him onto the court, where he yearned-and then learned-to dunk. Maraniss speeds through Wallace’s senior year at Pearl High, in Tennessee, where recruiters from schools across the country were eager to add him to their rosters. His years at Vanderbilt, where he broke the color barrier in the Southeastern Conference, receive the most attention, with great sports writing meeting heartfelt interludes of Wallace’s efforts to bring about change for his fellow black students. Maraniss does not shy away from the ultimate truth: Wallace experienced vicious racism and countless death threats as well as racial slurs, discrimination, and unfair treatment on and off the court. Wallace is quoted abundantly throughout the text, and the bibliography is packed with primary sources, offering ample research opportunities for those compelled to dig deeper into the civil rights struggle of Wallace and other black athletes. VERDICT This portrait of the fortitude of a young athlete will make a huge impact on teens and is guaranteed to spark serious discussion.-Abby Bussen, Muskego Public Library, WI

About the Author

Andrew Maraniss is a partner at McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations in Nashville, Andrew studied history at Vanderbilt University as a recipient of the Fred Russell – Grantland Rice sportswriting scholarship, graduating in 1992. He then worked for five years in Vanderbilt’s athletic department as the associate director of media relations, dealing primarily with the men’s basketball team. In 1998, he served as the media relations manager for the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays during the team’s inaugural season, and then returned to Nashville to join MP&F. Andrew was born in Madison, Wis., grew up in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas, and now lives in Brentwood, Tenn., with his wife, Alison, and their two young children.

His website is www.andrewmaraniss.com.

Teacher Resources

Supplement to Strong Inside

Around the Web

Strong Inside on Amazon

Strong Inside on Goodreads

Strong Inside on JLG

Strong Inside Publisher Page