MG – When Winter Robeson Came

Woods, Brenda. When Winter Robeson Came. Scholastic, 2022. 978-1-524-74158-7. $16.99. 176 p. Grades 4-7.

The Coal family from 103rd Street, just west of Figueroa, not too far from Watts, is expecting a special visitor, Winter Robeson from their old hometown, Sunflower, Mississippi. The most excited person is aspiring composer, Eden Louise Coal, who hasn’t seen her country cousin since the move to the great metropolis of Los Angeles two years ago. An affable Winter has come with an agenda and a plan: on his list is visiting the happiest place on earth, Disneyland; but his priority is finding his long-lost father, J.T. who has been gone for ten years. Eden joins him in his search, and together they spend two weeks of the summer of 1965 getting closer together and closer to the truth of Winter’s father’s disappearance. As they try to trace J.T.’s whereabouts, they dance to the vinyl records with the neighborhood kids; win the hearts of the gracious friend, Winona; and meet Miss Betty West, owner of a Steinway baby grand piano. Told in verse and narrated by Eden, When Winter Robeson Came is an uplifting story of a family reunited and a close knit community surviving on the edges of the violent Watts riots and police brutality. Eden and Winter bond in genuine friendship and concern to make each others’ lives a bit brighter. That magnanimity extends to their neighbors and even virtual strangers when the need arises. The pair offer aid to the elderly, respect their parents, and kindly tolerate even friends with irritating habits. This brief, positive book offers a comforting tale against the backdrop of a tragic historical event.

THOUGHTS: This easy to read book fits lower middle grades best with its emphasis on family and its optimistic outcomes, despite the setting of the Watts riots. Perceptive students will pick up on the discrimination and racism toward people in neighborhoods in and around Watts. However, the children in this novel are nurtured and joyful. They make connections with older people and keep focused on an important task even if it puts them in danger. Pair this book with Karen English’s It All Comes Down to This to compare and contrast the same historical event.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – And We Rise

Martin, Erica. And We Rise. Viking, 2022. 978-0-593-35252-6. 153 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

And We Rise is a debut poetry collection that centers on the Civil Rights Movement. The first poem focuses on 1877 and Jim Crow Laws, and goes through both small and large moments that happened in the Civil Rights Movement. There is an author’s note, as well as a timeline of the whole Civil Rights Movement. There is also a source list with some further reading included. The author also chose to put Martin Luther King Jr’s, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in full at the end of the book. The poems use the physical layout to tell the story as well as the poems themselves. 

THOUGHTS: This was an extremely powerful poetry book that is a must read for every middle school student. This book is highly recommended for every middle school collection. 

808 Poetry          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
323.1 Politics

YA – This Wicked Fate

Bayron, Kaylnn. This Wicked Fate. Bloomsbury, 2022. 978-1-5476-0920-8. 307 pg. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

This Wicked Fate starts right where the first book (This Poison Heart) ends, with Briseis trying to find a way to rescue her mother. However, that means that Briseis needs to put together the pieces of the Absyrtus Heart plant, which is deadly. Throughout this book, Briseis gets to know her relatives that she has never really met while there are others who want the heart. What will Briseis do in order to save her mother, as well as those she loves? Will she be able to rescue her mother, or is this a mission that is doomed to fail no matter what?

THOUGHTS: This was a great ending to this duology!! The way the author delves into the family dynamic as well as the interpersonal relationships between these characters is done spectacularly. The character arcs are very well done, and everything feels very natural. This duology would be great for fans of mythology or fans of a fantasy series. 

Fantasy            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy 

YA – Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice

Smith, Tommie, Derrick Barnes, and Dawud Anyabwile. Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice. Norton Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-324-00390-8 . 208 p. $22.95. Grades 8-12.

In graphic format Tommie Smith shares the story of how he came to stand on the podium during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics as the gold medal winner in the 200-meter sprint. Together with bronze medalist John Carlos, Smith stood wearing black socks, and the two raised their black-gloved fists to protest racial injustices. But long before that pivotal moment, Smith came from a hardworking family of sharecroppers in rural Texas. Seeing their children’s education as an opportunity for a better life, Smith’s parents moved the family and Smith’s speed eventually was noticed, giving him more opportunities than they could have imagined possible. Smith attended schools that were being desegregated and a predominantly white college, facing many life-changing obstacles that shaped him into the activist he became.

THOUGHTS: Showing how great platforms come with great responsibilities, this graphic memoir deserves a place in secondary libraries looking to update their sports and/or nonfiction graphic novel collections.

Graphic Memoir          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
796.42 Track & Field

 

Elem – Sweet Justice: Georgia Gilmore and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Rockliff, Mara. Sweet Justice: Georgia Gilmore and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Random House Studio, 2022. 978-1-524-72064-3. $18.99. Grades 2-4.

Georgia Gilmore was cooking away when the news broke that Rosa Parks was arrested because she would not let a white man sit in her seat on the public bus. The outrage was loud, with radios urging people to boycott the bus on December 5, 1955. Throughout the protests and concerns, Georgia continued to cook and feed the protesters and raise money for support. Even when Georgia herself was fired, she continued to cook to do her part to help support the movement that was so critical to her and many Americans.

THOUGHTS: A nicely illustrated biography about Georgia Gilmore and the help and support she gave throughout the bus boycott. She personally met Martin Luther King Jr. and received support from him throughout this important part of American history. Overall this book is a great view of the bus boycott of Montgomery through the eyes of a person readers may not know about.

323.092 Civil Rights Leaders          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD
Biography
Picture Book

Elem. – The Year We Learned to Fly

Woodson, Jacqueline. The Year We Learned to Fly. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2022. 978-0-399-54553-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Stuck inside on a rainy day, an African American brother and sister follow their grandmother’s advice to let their imaginations take them away to another place. Soon, they are able to use their minds to fly away from all of the challenges life throws at them. When they’re mad, they fly away from the anger. When they move away and their new neighbors look at them funny, they fly away from the judgment and skepticism. Their grandmother tells them this ability to free their beautiful, brilliant minds and rise above adversity comes from their ancestors who, many years ago, overcame the challenges of slavery in a similar manner. 

THOUGHTS: This is a remarkable story about strength, resiliency, and the power of one’s imagination. An author’s note honors the ancestors who suffered through the horrors of enslavement and acknowledges the influence of Virginia Hamilton in this story (and other stories). This would make an excellent introduction to a unit on slavery, or it could be paired with Hamilton’s The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales (1985). It can also be given to children who lack confidence to encourage them to believe in the power of their dreams. An uplifting and inspiring story, this book belongs in every elementary library.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

MG – Moonflower

Calendar, Kacen. Moonflower. Scholastic Press, 2022.  978-1-338-63659-8. 272 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

The dreamy scenes and atmospheric tone of this novel contrast sharply with the depression and anxiety that plague the main character, a child named Moon. Moon has trouble sleeping, speaking, and attending school with other kids, and instead they choose to get lost in a world of magical realism where they feel more “real” than they do in real life. Their mother is clearly distraught and although she tries to help, Moon’s mental health is not something she can cope with well on her own. Eventually, Moon’s therapist and a cast of metaphorical guides they find on their journeys to the spirit realm help them realize that all people are worthy of love, and that life is full of pain, but also of great beauty and joy.

THOUGHTS: Moon’s struggles throughout this book are highlighted by vivid descriptions of depression and suicidal thoughts that might be triggering for some people. Despite the pain that Moon endures, and the sometimes didactic internal dialogue we hear from them during their various encounters with antagonists, teachers and friends, the story ends on a tremendously hopeful note that centers around the idea that everyone deserves love.

Fantasy          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – It’s the End of the World and I’m in My Bathing Suit

Reynolds, Justin A. It’s the End of the World and I’m in My Bathing Suit. 978-1-338-74022-6. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Eddie is rocking summer vacation. He has managed to weasel out of doing his laundry, his agreed-upon summer chore, by methodically wearing every piece of clean clothing until he’s down to his swim trunks. This is when the plan falls apart; mom discovers the odorous closet stuffed with dirty clothes, and grounds Eddie, on the day of the big beach bash. He is home alone with a load of wet clothes in the dryer, and another load in the washing machine when the power goes out. As Eddie pokes around the deserted neighborhood, he encounters four friends and learns not only is their power out, too, but the kids seem to be the only people in their neighborhood. So what do you do when all the grownups are gone? Eat junk food!! But when no one can reach their families at the beach, a frisson of worry interrupts their unsupervised glee. The friends pool their knowledge and come up with a credible plan to stick together (it involves entering neighbors’ homes to search for useful items like flashlights, sleeping bags, food, and deodorant). Reynolds provides a lighthearted dystopian story (that’s probably an oxymoron) that will keep readers wondering what happened until the very last page and its cliffhanger ending. The kids, all Black, are an engaging group who realistically swing between joy at being on their own, and worry for their family and the long-term outlook. The one possible drawback to the book is Reynolds’ unusual choice for narration. Written in first person, from Eddie’s point of view, the story is basically a monologue, with Eddie addressing the reader. While the story feels more natural when the friends are conversing, Eddie is an entertaining, honest narrator who openly discusses his ADHD, thoughts about being in therapy and his new step-dad (whom he calls WBD – Wanna-Be Dad.) 

THOUGHTS: Some readers may be thrown by the lengthy interior monologue, but others may be captivated by the conversational tone of the writing. The lack of resolution and the cliffhanger ending will leave fans anxiously awaiting the sequel. 

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD
Dystopian

YA – Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman

Lee, Kristen R. Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman. Crown, 2022. 978-0-593-30915-5. $18.99. 326 p. Grades 9-12.

Savannah Howard is the golden girl of her poor Memphis neighborhood. Through hard work and focus, she earned a full scholarship to Wooddale, a prestigious Ivy League college. As one of the few Black students on campus, she makes friends quickly with upperclass students Natasha (Tasha) Carmichael, a light-skinned, well to do fashionista and aspiring lawyer; and Benjamin (Benji) Harrington, a local wealthy “high yellow” young man. Benji is a childhood friend of fellow student, Lucas Cunningham, a walking epitome of white privilege. One of the first incidents on campus Savannah witnesses is the vandalism of a statue of the only African American past presidents of the college. The non reaction of the university leaders to the blatant act of racism motivates Savannah to put in motion a campaign on social media, the school newspaper, and student forums to bring down the instigator and perpetrator of this racist behavior, Lucas Cunningham. Though she enlists the support of one of her African American professors as well as Tasha and Benji, the daily grind of uncovering the truth, being harassed – and even assaulted – by Lucas and his crew, and being snubbed by other classmates is exhausting. She grapples with Benji’s romantic attentions and his sometimes ambivalent actions toward her nemesis and, perhaps more importantly, with her decision to go to a predominantly white institution. The novel by Kristen R. Lee spans Savannah’s freshman year recounted with her own authentic voice. After she gives an interview on her professor’s podcast relating the injustices prevalent on campus and accusing the Cunninghams of manipulating the college admission process, she moves off campus to a toney neighborhood to board with the elderly widow, Mrs. Flowers, a self made entrepreneur. Lured back by students from a historically Black college to lead a peaceful protest, Savannah comes full circle, confident that she has stood for what is important and acknowledged by the university’s African American woman president. Her goal being reached, Savannah makes a critical decision for her future.

THOUGHTS: This novel takes on white privilege, racism, and microaggressions with which students of color can identify and white students can gain perspective. Author Kristen R. Lee has created a strong, female character who speaks her mind because she sees no alternative. She is ambitious and savvy, yet vulnerable and often scared. Her friends and the people who support her are all African American, but it is a small circle. The white students she forms acquaintances with turn out to be druggies, self-serving, deceitful, or racist (or any combination of those negative qualities). Save for Dr. Santos (the African American professor), the college’s administrators are weak, not enough, or oblivious. At the end of the book, Savannah gets called to Wooddale College president’s Architectural Digest-worthy home. The president is a Black woman; she informs Savannah she will be honored, and all the racist and unjust acts that happened during the year will be properly addressed. Savannah asks why the president didn’t come out earlier and confides her desire to leave Wooddale to attend a historically Black college. The president tells her that she has had to make some concessions to achieve what she has. That answer falls flat with the idealistic Savannah. Reading this book as a white person is uncomfortable–not a bad thing. To quote an old phrase, Lee “tells it like it is,” a truth to be embraced by every reader.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke School District of Philadelphia

YA – Love Radio

LaDelle, Ebony. Love Radio. Simon & Schuster, 2022. 978-1-665-90815-3. $19.99. 310 p. Grades 9-12.

Danielle Ford’s romantic mother has a big wish for her only child, to experience a great love story. That wish struggles to come true in Ebony LaDelle’s, Love Radio, a debut novel that is as much a homage to the great city of Detroit as it is to first love. High-achieving senior, Dani has been shut off from her friends and dating after a traumatizing sexual encounter with a college boy the previous summer. Keeping this secret from her besties and devoted parents, she buries herself in writing the perfect college essay to get into her dream school, New York University (NYU). When she has an awkward meeting in the library with classmate, Prince Jones, a popular teen disc jockey and local radio personality (DJLove Jones) who mixes love advice with music, she makes an assumption she regrets and wants to rectify. Told in alternating voices, the romance between Prince and Dani is enchanting. Prince shows a maturity beyond his years, perhaps because he has accepted much of the responsibility of taking care of his seven-year-old brother Mookie and household duties since his single mother received her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Prince has fallen hard for the guarded Dani and is determined to make her fall in love with him in five dates. After inviting himself over to her comfortable home to take out her braids, he plans two movie-worthy dates to a roller rink and bookstore. Dani starts to open up, reconnect with her friends, and dissolve her writer’s block. When she reciprocates with one equally perfect date to the Motown Museum, though, their intimacy triggers bad memories and she breaks it off with Prince. As Dani faces her trauma, she has the support of loving parents and patient friends as well as the therapy of writing unsent letters to her literary idols, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. Prince, too, acknowledges his need to suppress his dreams because of his home obligations and, with help, makes a plan for his future. Both characters come to realize that they are surrounded by a network of loving people who will support and help them achieve their goals. Characters are African-American.

THOUGHTS: Students in the mood for a dreamy romance will eat up this book. The author has an ear for teen dialogue and is from Michigan. Any readers familiar with Detroit will recognize the branding of different places (if I am ever in Detroit, I’m heading for that Dutch Girl Donuts) and the description of the neighborhoods. Dani and Prince are so wise; the thoughtful dates are out of this world; the child to parent relationships are so close. Though the romance doesn’t play out physically much, Dani’s traumatic encounter occurs when she a friend takes her to a frat house where she barely escapes date rape. After several dates, Dani leads Prince to her bedroom and encourages a sexual encounter, but Prince is reluctant to proceed. The portrayal of family is warm and loving, especially the way Prince helps out his sick mother. Though the letters to literary idols seem to be a critical link to Dani’s recovery from trauma, the book names Dani’s idols as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Roxane Gay, Jesmyn Ward in the beginning chapter, but she only focuses on Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. One of Dani’s friends is sick of appropriation and plans a hair fashion show. Lots of references to music. Some bad language. For those who are sticklers, the timeline is a little wonky: would college kids be on campus in the summer? (maybe).

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia