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

Elem./MG – Troublemaker

Cho, John. Troublemaker. Little, Brown and Company, 2022. 978-0-759-55447-4. 214 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

Jordan feels like he can never compete with his older sister, especially when he is suspended for cheating. Jordan tries to hide this fact from his family, they are preoccupied with worrying about the family’s business. In the background of this novel, which takes place in Los Angeles during the Rodney King trial as well as the shooting of Latasha Harlins, the tensions are high not only with the characters but also with the setting of the novel. Jordan’s father decides to go check on the family store, and Jordan makes a decision to sneak out to try to prove himself to his father. As Jordan and his friend Mike are going through Los Angeles trying to get to his father, they can see how dangerous things have become in the city. Will Jordan and Mike make it to Jordan’s dad, or will they end up needing to be rescued themselves?

THOUGHTS: This is an edge of your seat type read as you follow Jordan through the night as he is trying to get to his dad. This novel does not shy away from important topics either, such as racism, family dynamics, or guns. This is a great middle grade novel!

Realistic Fiction          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – The Black Kids

Reed, Christina Hammonds. The Black Kids. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-46272-4. 362. p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Los Angeles is in flames after the police officers who beat Rodney King senseless are acquitted. These events of the early 90s have an intense, life-changing effect on native Angelinos and upper middle-class African Americans, Ashley Bennett and her older sister Jo. As Christina Hammonds Reed’s relatable narrator, the popular, thoughtful Ashley, nears graduation, she starts to view her childhood (white) friends differently, a situation exacerbated by the local disruptions. Her teenage stresses about college acceptances, parental conflicts, and illicit flirting, pale once the riots start and her rebellious sister Jo drops out of school, marries, and protests the verdicts. Ashley has lived a privileged life pampered by the family’s Guatemalan housekeeper, Lucia, and indulged in every material way. Now, her father’s family-owned business–run all these years by his brother– is in ruin, bringing her uncle and her cousin to the Bennetts’ doorstep. When Ashley connects with the kind, charming basketball star, LaShawn Johnson who attends the elite prep school on scholarship, and the off-beat Lana Haskins who is possibly a victim of physical abuse, she questions her friend choices and wonders why she has no Black friends. When Ashley inadvertently starts a rumor at her school that gets LaShawn suspended, she finds it difficult to rectify the situation; but it makes her reflect on the inequity in the lives of people of color. Her sister’s mounting militancy finally gets her arrested and sentenced, though she was just one of the crowd of protestors when someone threw a Molotov cocktail setting a fire. Ashley becomes accepted by the Black kids at school and discovers she can widen her circle of friends. More importantly, the Bennett family grows better at communicating with each other and, in doing that, they realize they care deeply about each other. Christina Hammonds Reed takes a coming-of-age story set in the early nineties against the backdrop of the Rodney King beatings to a new level. The relationships, tension, and plot development as well as the cultural references and dialogue draw in the reader. In particular, Reed’s writing style is fresh and exact, giving a unique take on the typical high school tropes—mothers vs. daughters, siblings, popularity, the future, romance, self-discovery –thus making The Black Kids a compelling read.

THOUGHTS: Recommend this title to high school students who liked Karen English’s middle grade novel, It All Comes Down to This that told of the Watts riots, and lead them to Ana Deavere Smith’s one-woman show featuring the players in the Rodney King beating and its aftermath, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Activism and passivity are shown in the two sisters and students can discuss these divergent characters. The difficulty separating from childhood friends or the desire to be seen in a different light as one matures is a strong theme in this book. Though the elements of the story are not uncommon, Reed’s gifted writing style pulls you into to the book.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Step back into the early nineties in LA for a coming of age story that could easily situate itself into the current landscape of America (without social media and cell phones). Main character, Ashley lives a pretty posh life, removed from the hardships her parents faced growing up and even from a lot of the current events. She attends a private school with a lot of white friends and lives in a respected neighborhood. When the Rodney King trial and subsequent riots take over the city, Ashley’s world starts to shake, and she’s forced to reckon with questions of identity. From the shift from child to adult, Ashley’s experience provides the foreground to the city of Los Angeles during a fragile moment in US history.

THOUGHTS: This book should replace some of the dusty “classics” taking up room on high school shelves. Although suitable for high school students, there is mention of drugs, alcohol, and self harm.

Historical Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

MG – Iconic America (Series NF)

Iconic America. ABDO Publishing, 2020. $23.00 ea. $138.00 set of 6. 48 p. Grades 5-8.

Burling, Alexis. Hollywood. 978-1-532-19090-2.
Kallio, Jamie. The National Mall. 978-1-532-19091-9.
Decker, Michael. New Orleans. 978-1-532-19092-6.
Ventura, Marne. New York City. 978-1-532-19093-3.
Decker, Michael. US Route 66. 978-1-532-19094-0.
Ventura, Marne. Walt Disney World. 978-1-532-19095-7.

Walt Disney World is the history behind not only Disneyworld and Disneyland but also the history and story of Walt Disney himself.  This book follows Walt Disney from growing up until he came up with the idea for the amusement parks, as well as how the parks have grown and changed over the years from the time it was created until today. The book features photos with clearly labeled captions, as well as further evidence sections where students can go to a website to find more information. The further evidence sections also ask the students questions related to what the chapter was about, which can be helpful to assist the students in continuing their research. The book features a timeline, a stop and think section, glossary, as well as online resources and an index.

THOUGHTS: Overall this is a great book for students to use for research. The information is clearly laid out and easy to follow along with additional information found throughout. Highly recommended for students.

791.06 amusement parks    Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy