Readers of Kim Johnson and Angie Thomas will likely enjoy Kneel by Candace Buford. Set in Monroe, Louisiana, Kneel follows the story of the Jackson Jaguars high school football team and their two star players: Marion LaSalle and Russell Boudreaux. Football is the two athletes’ ticket out of Monroe and out of poverty. Marion is possibly the best quarterback in Louisiana, and Russell is a regionally ranked tight end. For both, their bodies are their greatest assets. Although Russell is no slouch in the classroom, the field is the only place where Marion is on top. However, that is taken from him when he isRead More →

With the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 having recently been commemorated, we all might wonder whether we have progressed as a nation in the last two decades. We might ask ourselves if we treat others better today than we did in the days and months after the attacks. Because today’s school age youth were not yet alive in 2001, they may wonder why September 11 carries the motto, Never Forget. They may wonder why history is so important.  Saadia Faruqi’s novel Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero will guide middle grade readers to understand these complicated questions with their layered answers. Readers will learn that historyRead More →

Justina Ireland explores the notion of unfairness in her novel for middle grade readers, Ophie’s Ghosts.  Readers will accompany Ireland on this justice-seeking journey as she asks important questions: How do we live, survive, and thrive in a system that is unjust? How do we remain strong and unbent, willing to do the right thing, even when it puts our own comfort and lives at risk? What are we willing to put on the line in the name of justice that is denied to us? How do we grieve when the ghosts of our loss appear in the everyday suffering of those around us? AsRead More →

Readers of Zara Hossain Is Here accompany driven, intelligent, community-minded social justice advocate, Zara Hossain on her mission to bring awareness to the sacrifices and struggles that immigrants face in the United States. In response, I vacillated between tears, anger at the injustice that brown, non-gender conforming individuals endure, and the occasional sense that some generalizing was taking place under the influence of Sabina Khan’s pen. Without wanting to minimize the challenges faced on a daily basis by someone who experiences otherness, I—a white, heterosexual, cisgender female—couldn’t help but say, “I don’t belong to that hate group, and I am always appalled that people’s coreRead More →

Betita is a nine-year-old girl with a loving family in modern-day America. She enjoys learning new words, spelling, drawing, and playing with other kids her age. What appears to be a rather normal life quickly begins to unravel into fear and uncertainty when her Papi doesn’t pick her up after school one day. After failing to reach her father, the principal drives Betita home. While her mother tries to hide her worry, Betita knows something is wrong, and she soon finds out that the almost-worst has happened. Her father has been deported, leaving her mother, who is newly pregnant, and Betita to fend for themselvesRead More →

Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam have teamed up to co-author Punching the Air, an important book about the cycle of racial injustice that continues to plague this country, especially in regards to the unfairness of our criminal justice system. Readers of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo will likely be fans of this book. Punching the Air features Amal, a sixteen-year-old art student who dreams, writes poetry, draws, paints, and rides his skateboard. On a fateful night, he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, choices and circumstances that completely upend his life. A fallen angel, Amal—whose name coincidentally means hope—hasRead More →

Kim Johnson’s debut young adult novel is a stunning work of realistic fiction. It joins the ranks of stories written by Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds, and Jesmyn Ward.  With This Is My America, Johnson uses art as a tool to inspire social action. Drawing on the idealism, perseverance, and passion of her protagonist Tracy Beaumont, Johnson encourages us to use our voices to demand justice and to become advocates for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Rooted in United States history, where we have inherited a legacy of racial segregation and hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, this narrative reminds us that the past is alwaysRead More →

Like a tower built from Jenga blocks, eleven-year-old Piper Trudeau’s former life in Cypress Point, Texas, all comes crashing down after a series of unfortunate events: her parents’ job hours cut, lost jobs, unexpected medical bills, car trouble, bills piling up, and eventually an eviction.  Now, she and her family are homeless and living in a shelter in Idaho—experiencing new places and new people and learning that a rough patch can seem like a “football field full of briars” (39). But this is only one plot thread in Stay by Bobbie Pyron, a novel targeted for middle grade readers that alternates between the story ofRead More →

Jacqueline Woodson’s recent middle-grade novel, Harbor Me imparts how story holds the power to heal because it helps us make sense of the world.  Woodson tells a tale about rising from tragedy and how tragedy not only takes away but bestows gifts. Similar to other novels that use trees as metaphors for survival and interconnected relationships—novels like Hidden Roots by Joseph Bruchac, Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith—Woodson’s book alludes to Ailanthus trees with their extensive root systems that help not only to ground them but to lend endurance in harsh conditions. Set in Brooklyn, the native landRead More →