Tuesday, June 30, 2020

WHAT LANE? by Torrey Maldonado

Stephen loves to be compared to Stephen Curry and Black Panther. He loves comics and hanging with his friends. At the moment Stephen's closest friends are white, but that doesn't really matter. Wes is black, but they haven't been hanging out lately.

What Stephen is discovering is that not everyone is in the same "lane." A few of his friends seem to be pushing the boundaries. He isn't sure about things the night they suggest breaking into an abandoned factory. He reluctantly joins them, and soon realizes the dangerous situation they face. One wrong move and someone could have been hurt. But, when everyone is doing it, it is difficult to turn away.

On a trip to the high school, Stephen has his eyes opened to young black kids shot and killed by police. He begins to connect his What Lane? philosophy with Black Lives Matters. Talking with his parents gives him two perspectives since his mother is white and his father is black. Is Stephen ready to deal with these tough topics? Is he ready to make tough decisions about who his real friends are and who he needs to steer clear of?

WHAT LANE? by Torrey Maldonado is the perfect quick-read for middle grade readers looking for a story relating to Black Lives Matter and current racial events. At just over 100 pages, WHAT LANE? works as a read-aloud that is sure to stimulate productive discussions.

Monday, June 29, 2020

BRAVE FACE: How I Survived Growing Up, Coming Out, and Depression by Shaun David Hutchinson

BRAVE FACE is a memoir by author Shaun David Hutchinson. He is truly brave as he shares his story of growing up in Florida. Beginning in the early 1990s, Shaun tells of being a tall, skinny kid with buck teeth struggling to make friends and find himself.

A self-confessed Nerd, Shaun wasn't into sports or other physical activities. He preferred video games, reading, writing, music, and movies. In high school he got into drama. Performing in school plays and/or working behinds the scenes helped him find a place where he felt accepted. He also found he had a talent for the debate team and was a hit at off-the-cuff speaking.

Shaun's grades were subpar mostly because he skipped school as often as he attended. When it was time to go to college, he dreamed of going to acting school in NYC, but wasn't accepted. He was sure if he could get away from Florida, he could find his true self. Instead he attended a community college where he tried to fit in and find friends.

Around that same time, Shaun was coming to terms with the fact that was gay. Many failed relationships with girls lead him to the conclusion, but finding his place in the gay community was more difficult than he anticipated. He didn't feel like the stereotypical homosexual. He wasn't flamboyantly gay. He wasn't like the gays he saw in movies, and he definitely wasn't into drugs and sex. He was just gay.

Readers of BRAVE FACE will quickly fall in love with Shaun and cheer him on and grieve for him as he attempts to navigate a decidedly unfriendly world. They will learn that his parents didn't hate him for being gay, but they weren't a big help either. His few friends were supportive, but again not a big help. Shaun takes readers on the roller coaster ride that was his early life. From sexual experimentation to a suicide attempt, Shaun bares it all. BRAVE FACE is a book that may be just what some struggling teens need to give them the confidence to deal with the fact that the tough stuff does exist, but that tough stuff can be survived.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

STAMPED: RACISM, ANTIRACISM, AND YOU by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi

Popular YA author Jason Reynolds has created a "remix" the award-winning STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING by author Ibram X. Kendi. Reynolds takes the subject of racism vs antiracism and makes it relatable to teens and anyone else looking to better understand what has gone on regarding race over the past 600 plus years. Readers' eyes will be opened and the truth about issues revealed. I know my thinking is much clearer after reading STAMPED.

Reynolds begins in 1415 with what he explains is "The Story of the World's First Racist." From that he moves on to the Puritans and then the framers of our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Many of the historical facts we have grown up with and come to believe as truth are shattered by Reynolds as he shares the lesser known motivations for how Blacks have been seen and treated through the centuries.

Don't worry, Reynolds reminds readers throughout the book that it isn't a history book, at least not a history book we may remember reading in school. Yes, he says there are names and dates, and even a war or two. His purpose is to connect the past with what is happening today. 

Using a vocabulary of terms like racist, assimilationist, and antiracist, Reynolds lays out the effects of these ideas through the years and, maybe more importantly, today. What sometimes seemed like good intentions turned out to be more harmful than helpful in the evolution from slavery to the current day views of Blacks in America. I was able to recognize that my mindset on the issues may at times border more on assimilationist than antiracist. Now that I know this, I will continue to educate myself on being truly antiracist and hopefully spread the word through actions and deeds.

STAMPED is a must read for anyone trying to piece together an understanding of what it takes to be informed about race today.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE by Lisa Moore Ramee

Shayla is getting ready to start 7th grade, but she isn't worried because her two best friends Isabella and Julia will be by her side. For years they have called themselves the United Nations. Julia is Asian, Isabella is Latinx, and Shayla is Black. Together, they will face anything.

Shayla is proud of the fact that she avoids trouble. Her itchy hands always warn her something bad is headed her way. Unfortunately, 7th grade seems to be nothing but trouble. She's assigned to be science lab partners with Bernard. He's huge and loud and flings his chair whenever he's angry. Her crush on Jace seems to be going nowhere. He smiles at her but seems more interested in her beautiful friend Isabella. The worst happens at the first school dance when Tyler approaches her and kisses her on a dare related to an annoying game everyone is playing except for Shayla. Now everyone thinks she and Tyler are an item.

There's tension at home as Shayla's sister attends Black Lives Matter protests and her family waits to hear the verdict in the case of a black woman killed by police. Shayla worries about her sister's safety as she tries to determine exactly how she feels about the racial tension filling their city.

Author Lisa Moore Ramee creatively connects to the current conflicts in our country. She captures the frustrations of unfair treatment and protests condemned by those who don't understand. A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE is the perfect for helping middle grade readers think about the events of past and today and to stimulate productive discussions for change.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

SEVEN CLUES TO HOME by Gae Polisner & Nora Raleigh Baskin

Don't miss this tender middle grade new release by authors Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin. They have collaborated to create this beautiful nod to friendship, love, and loss that had me in tears but left me uplifted and positive despite the chaos in the world at large. Best summer read so far!

One year ago Joy lost her best friend in a needless accident. Today is her thirteenth birthday, but it won't be the same without Lukas. The past year she has refused to mention him even though memories of him fill her every thought. How can she go about life as if nothing has changed?

In honor of Lukas, Joy decides to open the clue he left her on this day last year as part of their annual birthday scavenger hunt. As she opens the clue and reads it, she knows she must try to find the rest of the clues to complete this final hunt in his memory.

Joy heads to Vincent's Pizza where the first clue takes her. Things have changed at their favorite eating spot since last year. but she is amazed to find clue #2 taped to the underside of their favorite table. Now on to find clue #3. Could all the clues still be exactly where Lukas hid them? Joy is determined to follow the trail as far as it takes her.

SEVEN CLUES TO HOME is told in alternating voices so readers can follow Lukas's last day as he hides his clues and remembers his best moments with Joy, and as Joy clings to her memories of Lukas and the last words she spoke to him on that fateful day a year ago. At just under 200 pages, this precious book is sure to charm middle grade readers and more.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020


Life in the oceanside town of Ewing Beach with her two dads fits Alberta well. She gets to surf any time she wants, and when she's finally thirteen, her dads will even let her compete. Her best friend Laramie isn't into surfing, but they have a lot of other things in common. Despite the fact that Alberta is the only black girl in her grade, live is good.

As the new school year, seventh grade, is about to begin, Alberta's dads reveal a surprise. There are new neighbors next door planning to open the old Bed & Breakfast. That's not anything special, but when they introduce Alberta to the new owners, she is thrilled. Edie is going to be joining Alberta in seventh grade and she's black! 

Edie and Alberta hit it off fairly well. In fact since Laramie seems to be ignoring Alberta in favor of a nasty eighth grade girl across the street, Alberta is grateful to have a new friend. While settling into her attic room in the B & B, Edie discovers handwritten journals dating back to the 1950's. They are written by a woman named Constance. Added to the excitement of the new school year, the journals have opened up a mystery Alberta and Edie are determined to solve.

Life becomes complicated as Laramie continues to hang out with the older, popular crowd, Edie sinks into a funk when she is unable to connect with her father, and Alberta's biological mother comes to stay. Why is Laramie suddenly so mean? Will Edie get over the fact that her parents' divorce may have been her father's fault? And, will having her pregnant biological mother make Alberta uncomfortable? All these questions and more will keep readers on their toes as Alberta shares her story.

Author Brandy Colbert does an excellent job of communicating the ups and downs of growing up. Alberta is about to discover that friendships are tricky, not everyone grows up at the same rate, and families can be complicated. THE ONLY BLACK GIRLS IN TOWN is perfect for middle grade readers looking for something a little bit different.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020


Michael is looking for answers. Raised by a loving mother in London, he wants to be able to embrace his real self. He knows he is a mix of Greek and Jamaican. He knows he is gay. What he isn't sure about is exactly how this fits into the person he wants to be.

Teased while in grade school and taunted by the sporty guys in his upper school years, Michael poured out his feelings to his best friend Daisy. They were assumed to be a couple by most until the day at age fifteen when Michael blurted out that he was gay. His mother and sister acknowledge and accept his announcement. Others seem to take it in stride, but some relationships become strained.

Heading off to university, Michael is sure he will find his people. He searches the clubs for the best match, assuming it will be the LGBT group, but he's surprised to find himself drawn to the DRAG group. He loves to sing and has always enjoyed movies and drama so he attends a meeting. It seems a comfortable fit, and he even begins to create a DRAG identity - The Black Flamingo.

What follows is an adventure in self-discovery. Losing his virginity, cultivating new friendships, experimenting with looks and personalities are all involved as Michael continues to search for what makes him feel real. 

THE BLACK FLAMINGO is UK poet Dean Atta's first YA novel. Written in verse and featuring many of his own separately written poems, this Stonewall Book Award-winning book will speak to many YA readers as they experience their own personal searches for individuality.

Thursday, June 4, 2020


Zoe is looking forward to summer, sort of. Her friends Maya and Jasmine won't be around, and since she is mad at Trevor, he won't be someone to hang around with either. He's more interested in his creepy basketball friends anyway. Hopefully, she'd have time to practice her baking skills so she can apply for the Kids Baking Challenge sponsored by the Food Network. 

Two things do happen to occupy her time. One is an internship at a local bakery. Her mom talked to Ariana, the bakery's owner, and promises Zoe if she gets a good recommendation from Ari, she'll help Zoe apply for the baking challenge. Now at least every Monday Zoe will be doing something she loves.

The other development happens when Zoe receives a birthday card in the mail with the return address for her biological father who is in prison for murder. As scary as that might seem, Zoe can't believe how nice he sounds when she reads the letter. According to him, he has been sending letters to her for years. Where are they? How come she never got to read any?

Zoe decides to write him back. Knowing her mother would not approve, Zoe enlists the help of her grandmother. She and Marcus begin exchanging letters and even talk a few times on the phone. What Zoe learns is that her father insists he is innocent. Zoe's new summer mission is to prove it.

Author Janae Marks has created a likable character in Zoe Washington. Readers will be pulling for her as she defies authority to get to know her imprisoned father and possibly help him prove he didn't commit the crime. Her adventurous capers are sure to entertain many middle grade readers.