The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

Cover image for The Black Kids

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed (9781534462724)

Set in Los Angeles in 1982 during the Rodney King riots, this teen novel deals directly with racism and class. Ashley lives in a wealthy part of LA, attends a private school, and has only white friends who she has known since childhood. They spend lots of time around the pool drinking, flirting and planning their prom. As the protests engulf LA though, race becomes a part of everyone’s focus, something that Ashley has tried to ignore, including all the comments one of her friends keeps making. Ashley finds herself becoming closer with LaShawn, a Black kid at school who is a star athlete and whose home is threatened by the protests. He has gotten into Stanford while Ashley has been placed on the waitlist. Ashley makes a comment about his new shoes to her white friends and suddenly becomes a rumor, leading to LaShawn punching another student and potentially losing his place at Stanford. Ashley must figure out how to make things right and also what side she is on.

Reed takes a historical moment in time that continues to resonate today. Remarkably, this is a debut novel. Written with such assurance and clarity, the book allows Ashley to find her own way, something that is often not clear as she continues to make mistakes based on her friends and her class. Reed keeps from becoming didactic at all, instead giving us the perfect character to learn alongside, to hope realizes what is truly happening, and to empathize with and get really angry at.

This book doesn’t duck away from anything. Reed takes on micro and macroaggressions around race and class. She explores how wealth does not protect Black Americans from being targeted, treated differently in our justice system, or stopped by police at gun point. She shows readers this with such power and straightforward honesty that it is impossible to rationalize it away.

Beautifully written, this historical novel is powerful and gripping. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Simon & Schuster.

Parachutes by Kelly Yang

Parachutes by Kelly Yang

Parachutes by Kelly Yang (9780062941084)

Claire and Dani could not be more different from one another. Claire comes from Chinese wealth in Shanghai. When her father decides that she should go to school in the United States, she is quickly moved to California and into Dani’s house. Dani lives there with just her mother. She attends the same school as Claire, but as a scholarship student. Dani loves to debate and enjoys the attention her debate coach shows her. As the two girls navigate high school in parallel but separate social spheres, they both encounter sexual harassment and assault. Both of them shut down, lose sight of themselves, and tell almost no one what has happened. But as they get angry and refuse to be silenced, the two discover that they may just be the person the other one has needed to be their champion.

Yang tells the story of Chinese parachute students who come to the United States for high school. Their experience is fascinating and unique. Sent to a foreign country alone as a teenager, often from very wealthy families, these teens must learn in a new language and figure out a different society. There is so much to envy here, from the clothing to the handbags to the cars. The expectations for someone like Claire are huge, the pressure form her family immense, and the situations very adult.

Against that wealth and shimmer, Dani’s story is set. She is Filipino, she and her mother work as cleaners in the large homes. She goes to school with wealthy kids, but is known as a scholarship student. She is bright and ferocious, defending her friends along the way. Yet when her teacher sexually harasses her, Dani loses her voice and must regain her passion and anger to find a way forward.

The pairing of these two different girls is phenomenal, their journeys linked but separate in many ways. Powerful, wrenching and insistent, this novel is a rallying cry. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.

Review: New Kid by Jerry Craft

New Kid by Jerry Craft

New Kid by Jerry Craft (9780062691200)

All Jordan wanted to do was go to art school, but instead his parents decided to send him to a private school full of opportunities for his future. Starting the school in seventh grade on financial aid, Jordan is also one of the only students of color there. Jordan is soon trying to figure out how to navigate from his Washington Heights neighborhood to the Riverdale Academy Day School. As he travels to school, he steadily changes his outfit to fit in more. He also does code switching to fit in better. Still, with some teachers it doesn’t work at all and they continually get his name wrong as well as that of other kids of color. As Jordan’s frustration grows, it shows in his art as he creates pointed social critiques of a school he is starting to really enjoy though he wonders if he will ever fit in.

This is one of the best books for middle school age that deals with microaggressions, bias, privilege, and racism. Given that it is a graphic novel too, that makes it all the more appealing as a source for discussion. Craft takes on all of these issues with a forthright tone, frustration and a willingness to engage. He doesn’t make all of the white people clueless, but many of them are just like in real life. Jordan’s struggle to codeswitch and fit in is beautifully conveyed in the art and story line.

Jordan serves as a catalyst in the school, crossing lines to make new friends, avoiding the school bully, and having serious conversations with other kids. At the same time, the book is filled with humor, which offsets the serious tone about racial and biased incidents which are never laughed off.  The inclusion of all sorts of pop culture references makes the book all the more fun to read.

A strong and compelling work of graphic fiction. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from library copy.


The Cat from Hunger Mountain by Ed Young


The Cat from Hunger Mountain by Ed Young (InfoSoup)

On Hunger Mountain, there lived a great lord who was wealthy and had anything he ever dreamed of. He lived in the tallest pagoda, had his rice washed in the stream, ate only the first half of his food, and wore the most beautiful fabrics. Then drought came to his land, yet the lord did not stop his consumption. A second year of drought and famine came and the others left his land. The lord finally realized he would starve alone in his pagoda so he left the mountain and tried to find food. When he met two beggars, they told him of a generous monk who would give others food. The monk gave the lord food and the cat realized that this was lovely grain and some of the best he had ever eaten. He asked the monk where he had gotten the rice and was told that it was washed down the river from Hunger Mountain where a wealthy lord had wasted it.

Young writes this story with real precision. He keeps his prose short and child-friendly with a tone of a storyteller who offers just enough detail yet keeps the pace brisk. Young allows the story itself to stand, not adding judgment in the text about what should be learned from it.

The illustrations are the opposite of the pared down text with a rich opulence built from layered collage. Some of the collage is patterned paper while others are photographs of fur, water or mountains. They have a serious energy to them, filled with motion and expression.

A vibrant picture book that looks at waste, consumption and humility. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.



Sivu’s Six Wishes: A Modern, Traditional Tale


Sivu’s Six Wishes by Jude Daly

A retelling of an old Taoist tale, this is the story of Sivu, a stonecarver.  Sivu could make amazing things from stone but despite his skill, he never made a lot of money and turned bitter.  One day, when carving a statue for a wealthy man, Sivu dreamed of how great that man’s life must be.  Suddenly, Sivu was the wealthy man.  He had plenty of power and wealth, but everyone despised him.  Then Sivu was stopped by the mayor’s procession and he dreamed of being the mayor with all of his power.  Suddenly, Sivu was the mayor.  But again, everyone hated him.  Sivu looked out over the gardens and saw the sun.  He wished he could be the sun, and he was.  He shone down, far too fiercely, and created a drought.  Then a storm cloud came over the sky and Sivu the sun could not move it.  He wished he could be the powerful rain cloud, and he was.  Now he rained too harshly and caused a flood.  Eventually, the wind blew him out to sea.  Sivu wished he was the wind, and he was.  He blew and blew, until one day he came across something that he could not move.  He wished he could become that, and he did.  He was a huge rock, completely unmovable until one day…

This is a story that makes the themes of power, wealth, and desire come alive.  Daly has created a very readable text that moves briskly from wish to wish, examining each one and then going on.  She has set the story in the present day, making it all the more accessible to modern children.  This is both an old story and a new one, vibrant across time.   Daly has illustrated the book with modern illustrations that are bright colored and busy.  They convey both the hustle of the modern day and the timelessness of the story with ease. 

Recommended as a way to get children talking about envy and contentment, need, wealth and power, this book leaves nothing to wish for.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans.