A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon (9780374307417)
This poetic picture book takes a deep look at emotions that hide inside. The emotions wait there, until the boy has the strength to look. Inside, he finds a mix of emotions, positive and negative. There is joy and happiness that “shines delight on everything I see.” There is sorrow like a watery grave for those who have been killed. There is fear that wakes him up at night. There is anger and fury. There is a hunger to be free. There is a pride in being a Black American. There is also peace, compassion, hope and love to carry him forward in making a difference.
Elliott’s poetry is marvelous, using imagery that children will understand to express all of these complex emotions, laying them clear and bare. The complicated mix of negative and positive allows readers to see their own emotions not as contradictory but as valid and important in the world that we live in. The clear use of Black Lives Matter throughout the book and the focus on race makes this an ideal read for our time.
Denmon’s illustrations are vibrant and powerful. Focused on the emotions, they convey those particularly well with body language and movement. They also capture critical moments in our modern times, including protests, police officers, murders. At the same time, they also show the beauty of an urban neighborhood filled with murals, people and homes.
Strong poetry that calls for social justice while exploring valid emotions. Appropriate for ages 5-7/
Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.
Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (9780062996480)
Amal is an artist and a poet. He’s also a Black teen. So when he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time and makes a poor decision, his life is turned upside down. With a white boy left in a coma from the fight, Amal is wrongly incarcerated, accused of beating the other teen almost to death. Sent to prison, Amal must figure out how to survive incarceration without his anger at his situation changing him and his future forever. Amal must find a way to stay in touch with his inner artist, to write the words that come to him, to insist upon being seen as more than a convict. He must face the racism of the system, of his community, and of the people around him in prison. It’s a system set against him and it takes real courage and humanity to stay alive and whole as it grinds you down.
Told in verse, this is a powerful book that insists that readers see how the system actually works, its inherent racism, and the way that Black youths, particularly boys, are seen by white communities and white teachers. It is unflinching in showing the grueling nature of prison, the way that teens are treated in detention, the beatings and the inevitable protection in finding a group to belong to. Yet through it all there is hope, solely because of who Amal is and the fact that he is innocent but needs help proving it.
The book reads with such honesty about what life is like for an innocent person incarcerated that it is clear that Salaam offered so much of his own experience to this verse novel. As one of the Exonerated Five, he lived through what Amal does in the story, what so many Black men and boys in our communities do.
This powerful verse novel demands that we see the reality of what we are doing to generations of Black men and boys. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.