Books I Read in July

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

Rating: 4 out of 5.

360 p. Realistic Fiction African American/Black Teen pregnancy/Grief

Concrete Rose is a prequel set 17 years prior to Hate You Give. Maverick Carter, who is the son of a former gang member, begins selling drugs to help pay the bills. Then his girlfriend becomes pregnant and a close friend is killed, leaving Maverick with some difficult choices to make. It was interesting to see the father from (THUG) in this story as a teenager and how he evolves into a man and father.

“I like to be reminded that beauty can come from much of nothing. To me that’s the whole point of flowers.”

Chapter 7 p. 102 in Concrete Rose

2 books: The Skin I’m In and The Life I’m In by Sharon Flake

Rating: 4 out of 5.

171 p. and 321 p. Realistic Fiction John Steptoe Award African American Authors

Skin I’m In: Maleeka is 13 and is having trouble at school. She is bullied and tormented because of her darker skin, her clothes that her mother makes for her, and her good grades. Then a new white teacher arrives who has a large birthmark on her face and Maleeka is taken by surprise by her attitude and the fact that she seems to love the skin she’s in. Will Maleeka learn to stand up for herself, too?

Life I’m in: Char (who was one of Maleeka’s bullies in the first book) is sent to Alabama by bus after numerous behavior episodes. She gets sidetracked by a girl with a baby and ends up getting pulled into sex trafficking. Char learns to stand up and get herself and the other teens out of this situation. The book discusses the underbelly of the society and the men who target vulnerable girls. It was hard to like Char because she was such a tormenter in the first book. It was interesting to read the author’s afterword and why she wrote this book. Some of it was because so many readers to ask about what happened to Char. She also talks about the power of books and that literature can be a survival tool.

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

Rating: 4 out of 5.

362 p. Realistic Fiction African Americans

This book is set in 1992. Ashley Bennet lives a privileged life in LA along with her friends. Then, the 4 policemen who beat Rodney King are acquitted and the protests and riots occur in Los Angeles. And Ashley is a Black kid although she tries to remain outside of what is happening around her. Then, her older sister is drawn in and is arrested and Ashley betrays a friend, LaShawn. The careful world of her family is beginning to crumble and Ashley needs to decide where she fits in. I thought this was a really good book about a topic that probably not too many kids know about (at least white kids). The author explores family relationships as well as racial inequality.

Don’t Ask me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon

Rating: 5 out of 5.

323 p. Realistic Fiction Latinx/Hispanic Immigration

Liliana lives in inner-city Boston and is attending a new school through the METCO program which desegregates schools. Her home life is in disarray since her dad has been gone for weeks and her mom is listless and increasingly depressed. Nobody will tell her where her father is or when he is coming home. Then, at her new school, she feels ostracized from her mostly white classmates and the racial tensions that exist. I thought this book was written brilliantly and I would highly recommend for anyone but especially those dealing with two cultures and the issue of deportation.

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Rating: 5 out of 5.

386 p. Realistic Novel in Verse SLJ Best Books

Punching the Air is one of my favorite books of the year so far. Amal Shahid is an artist and poet, but at school teachers think he is disruptive and unmotivated. Then, one night a fight breaks out in the neighborhood (that is being gentrified) between Amal and his friends and the white kids. Amal is arrested and convicted of a crime that he did not commit. Amal is full of rage by going to prison for something that he did not do and has a terrible time there. He wants to attend a poetry program but is unable to control his anger at the system and unfairness. Zoboi bases this book on the Central Park Five, now the Exonerated Five, who were unfairly convicted. One of the Five is Yusef Salaam, one of the authors.

I loved Amal’s connections of the prison to being shackled to slavery and being chained in the ships coming to America. It really connects with my soul.

“When you find yourself in dark places, there’s always a light somewhere in that darkness, and even if that light is inside of you, you can illuminate your own darkness by shedding that light on the world.”

― Yusef Salaam from Punching the Air

Flight of the Puffin by Ann Braden

Rating: 4 out of 5.

229 p. Realistic Fiction LGBTQ+ Bullying

A book that is told in multiple voices (4 narrators) including 7th grader Libby who states she comes from a long line of bullies but wants to be different. So she creates a card that shares a positive message and shares that message with others who need a boost. Those others find the courage to do what they want and need. And they continue paying that message forward. The characters all made the effort to learn, change, and connect with others. Could make a good read aloud choice.

Ancestor Approved edited by Cynthia Leiich Smith

Rating: 4 out of 5.

299 p. Story collection Indigenous/Native/First Nation

Smith and 16 other authors/artists collaborated on this short story collection. Each story focuses on a different character and their experience at an intertribal pow-wow in Michigan. There are a variety of types of stories from funny to serious. There is also “Rez Dogs” by Rebecca Roanhorse that tells about a pow-wow from dogs’ point of view. My favorite was Eric Gainsworth’s story “Indian Price” that confronts microaggressions. I would recommend.

Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Rating: 3 out of 5.

359 p. Realistic Fiction LGBTQ+ author from UK Novel in verse

This is a story about a biracial gay teen Michael Angeli who lives in London. This is a coming-of-age story telling Michael’s story growing up. His roots are Jamaican and Greek but he is having trouble finding his place in society. When he goes to University he discovers a drag society and begins his Black Flamingo persona.

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

Rating: 5 out of 5.

244 p. Realistic Fiction Bullying Novels in Verse

Ever since Ellie wore her whale-themed bathing suit at her 5th birthday party she has been bullied by classmates, family members, and even her own mother. Now that she is in 6th grade things have become even worse. Her mother is nagging her about having surgery and her best friend has moved away. However, she has a new neighbor who is becoming a good friend and her dad is on her side and she is seeing a new therapist. With their help she is learning how to stand up to the bullies including her mother. It is told with a lot of feeling and empathy as well as realistically.

More Books I read in June

Fire Keeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Rating: 5 out of 5.

494 p. Mystery

A wonderful book about teen Daunis Fontaine existing in two different worlds: the white world of her mother and the nearby Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) reservation of her father’s family. She feels that she doesn’t quite fit into either world. She is all set to start college when there is a death in the family and she decides to live at home and attend community college. Then she meets Jamie, a new hockey player on the local high school team, and starts to fall for him. But Jamie isn’t quite who he says he is and Daunis becomes entrenched in a mystery that involves her friends and family, drugs, and an FBI investigation in which Daunis becomes a part of.

I liked this book because it is so much more than a thriller, it is also about Ojibwe traditions and culture in a modern setting. It also deals with sensitive topics like drugs and sexual assault. I loved this book and couldn’t put it down once I got into it!

“My girl, some boats are for the river and some are for the ocean.”

― Angeline Boulley, Firekeeper’s Daughter

Red, White, and Whole by Rajani Larocca

Rating: 5 out of 5.

217 p. Historical Fiction, Novel in verse

Like the previous post, this book is about a girl, Reja, who is torn between two worlds: the one at school where she is the only Indian American student, and the one at home with her family’s traditions and expectations. Reja feels very disconnected from her mother and feels misunderstood until she finds out that her mom has leukemia. The scenes where Reja evolves and is involved with her mother’s care and her relationship with her father is beautifully done. Highly recommend.

Take back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

Rating: 4 out of 5.

226 p. Realistic Fiction

Wes faces reality when his beloved neighborhood is going through gentrification and his urban neighborhood is being taken over and now his neighbors are being bough out and moving away. Wes decides to stand up and support his neighbors and gets his friends and classmates involved. A wonderful book about a topic I haven’t seen much in books for teens and great for showing activism. Highly recommend–would be a good read aloud or book buddy book.

The Black Coats by Colleen Oakes

Rating: 4 out of 5.

376 p. Action/Adventure


Thea obviously doesn’t know what she is in for when she joins the Black Coats, which she soon discovers is a vigilante group that exacts revenge from men who have hurt females. At first, Thea believes in the group whole-heartedly, but as the brutality increases, Thea must decide what is right and what is wrong. I could understand the feelings behind the desire for revenge and I thought the topics of trauma and grief were well done, but for me, the violence was a little over the top. I would recommend for some of my students.

Soulevez-vous, femmes de la vengeance…from Black Coats

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

289 p. Realistic Fiction Islam/Muslim Asian Literature (India)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I enjoy books with multiple perspectives, and although this book is categorized as realistic, it also reads like a thriller. After posting on FB about a fire on a train and lack of police response, a young Muslim woman is accused of a terrorist attack on that train where over 100 people were killed. She is charged with the crime and sent to jail to await trial. There are two other people involved in the story’s plot: one a former teacher and the other an aspiring actor. Will these two acquaintances risk their careers in order to help her and tell the truth?

I enjoyed this book because it talks about the inequity in Indian society, the caste system, and how people can be blamed without any physical evidence. Shocking buy yet very realistic. Students may not be aware of how Muslims may be treated in India and how easily that hatred can be stirred up.

“And then, in the small, glowing screen, I wrote a foolish thing. I wrote a dangerous thing, a thing nobody like me should ever think, let alone write.” 

A Burning p. 5

I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

247 p. Action/Adventure

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This story is told in two perspectives: from viewpoint of one Black girl and one white girl. It starts out with the girls at a football game where a racially motivated fight breaks out. Shots are fired; then a protest occurs that finally leads to riots, looting, and rioting. The two girls are thrown together and have to help each other to escape and survive the night. I thought the topic was good but at times it was hard to stay with the ongoing violence and rioting.

The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis

370 p. Mystery/Thriller

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Tress Mentor had a normal life until her parents disappeared and she is sent to live with her grandfather. Now she has become an outcast at her school. The only person who knows something about what happened is her former best friend Felicity who was the last person to see them alive. But Felicity has a mental block and is unable to remember. This book is told in alternating viewpoints from the two girls’ perspectives. A reading of Poe’s short story “The Cask of Amontillado” would be in good order as there are many references to it. And possibly a second book?

Books I Read in June

The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony

Rating: 5 out of 5.

248 p. Narrative Non-Fiction

I enjoyed this non-fiction book about Lawrence Anthony, an animal conservationist who accepts a herd of rogue elephants to keep on his reserve in Africa. Lawrence accepts the animals knowing otherwise they would be killed. If you are an animal lover, you will be sure to enjoy the book. It is a heartwarming and interesting story and I learned much about elephants.

The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

Rating: 4 out of 5.

196 p. Narrative Non-Fiction

An unlikely truce develops between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man during the war in 1967. The Palestinian family had been removed from their home in al-Ramla when Israel was created as a state in the War of Independence in 1948. This book follows the friendship between the two during times of war and peace and seems to endure even as Bashir becomes a freedom fighter and Dalia becomes even more resolute in her defense of Israel.

understanding can only come from a recognition of each other’s history.

The Lemon Tree

Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask by Anton Treuer

Rating: 5 out of 5.

383 p. with index Non-Fiction

This is a very thoughtful book written by author Anton Treuer, who is a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University in Minnesota. His inspiration for writing the book stemmed from encounters he has had and a way for navigating and correcting the misconceptions about Native peoples that occur. That, and the fact that Native Americans are the First people on this land but are so under represented and even educated people are very ignorant of their culture.

Treuer covers topics such as “traditional” Indian fry bread taco, wearing Indian costumes for holidays, mascots, and Dakota pipeline. I appreciated that Treuer states that all humans and nations have dark chapters and things to be ashamed of, but these things must be examined and learned from. The book also has an index which makes looking up topics easier.

The Light of Days by Judy Batalion

Rating: 4 out of 5.

265 p. Non-Fiction

This book relates the stories of women and the role they played in resisting the Nazis during World War II. The author is the child of Holocaust survivors and brings to life the stories of resistors who had would otherwise be forgotten. The women showed such incredible courage and many were not yet 20! They went undercover, stole documents, built bombs, and even killed Nazi soldiers. But often, their stories were not told; here, the author pulls their stories out of her careful research and brings them to the light of day in this book.

Dawn Raid by Pauline Vaeluaga Smith

Rating: 5 out of 5.

217 p. Historical Fiction

Told through diary entries, Sofia Christina Savea shares what life is like during times of political unrest in 1970s Wellington, New Zealand. Sofia has just turned 13, is biracial, and is just becoming aware of the changing world around her. There are protests in her community against dawn raids, which are raids by the police hunting for people who have overstayed visas–mainly people who are Pacific Islanders. She begins learning about civil rights and the Polynesian Panthers which are modeled after the Black Panthers in the United States. She also describes joyful experiences such as purchasing a pair of fashion boots (this is the 1970’s!) and tasting McDonalds for the first time. She is also learning more about her culture such as Maori songs and dances. The book is very readable for middle schoolers and can introduce them to a new culture and viewpoints. I highly recommend!

The Far Away Brothers by Lauren Markham

Rating: 5 out of 5.

297 p. Non-Fiction

Markham tells the story of identical twin brothers, Ernesto and Raúl Flores, who grew up in rural El Salvador in the aftermath of its civil war. In Markham’s look at contemporary immigration and the migrant experience, she provides a nuanced portrait of Central America’s child exodus, and critiques American immigration policy.

Danger had driven the twin brothers from El Salvador which was full of gangs to California where their older brother Wilbur lived. They were so desperate to leave that they made the harrowing journey on their own (93% of unaccompanied minors come from El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala.) In a California high school they meet the author who was the program coordinator at the school. It was also eye-opening to see the emotional toll this situation was for family members. Dealing with poverty, family back home, school, jobs, language, filling out forms, etc. seemed as a whole nearly insurmountable. The book ends on a precarious note with Donald Trump just elected with promises to build a wall.

Sigh, Gone by Phuc Tran

Rating: 4 out of 5.

306 p. Non-fiction memoir

This story is written in a kind-of disjointed style which also represents the chaotic life he was forced into with his family escaping Vietnam and coming to the US as refugees in the 1970’s after the war. Tran and his family spent time in a refugee camp before being relocated to the town of Carlisle, PA. Adjusting to their new life was difficult with his father who was a lawyer in Vietnam now working at a tire store. And with Tran’s first name you can imagine the teasing he would have received in school. Tran identifies with the music he is surrounded with and in school he falls in love with literature, after discovering a copy of The Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman. He attends college on a scholarship and becomes a Latin teacher and a tattoo artist.

We are Not Free by Traci Chee

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Historical Fiction 379 p.  NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST, Printz Honor Book Diversity: Asian, PI; Own Voices

This is a narrative of 14 different voices chronicling their experience of being interred after the bombing of Pearl Harbor for being Japanese Americans. They experience comfort in being together, but at times they explode in rage at their unjust treatment. There are historical photographs to match the text.

I enjoyed reading the 14 different characters’ experiences although it was sometimes difficult to keep track of them. The chart of characters in the front of the book was very helpful. This would be a good book to pair in a history class when talking about World War II and Pearl Harbor.

Grown by Tiffany Jackson

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Mystery/Suspense 371 p. ALA Best Fiction for YA 2021 Diversity: African-American/Own Voices

Wow! What a powerful novel by Tiffany Jackson. I have devoured just about everything she has written, and my students love her books too. This novel could have some very interesting discussions with a book group.

Publisher note: When legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots Enchanted Jones at an audition, her dreams of being a famous singer take flight. Until Enchanted wakes up with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night. Who killed Korey Fields?

There’s a lot in this book to unpack: how women are disrespected, especially black women, how difficult it can be to get away from an abuser, especially a young woman experiencing first love. And, how are boys being raised that their behavior is so often excused?

Kent State by Deborah Wiles

Historical Fiction, Novel in Verse Social Justice themes Vietnam War 132 p.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I thought the format and writing style of this book was very interesting; it is a novel in verse, and Wiles moves the conversation very quickly between the students, the townies, the National Guard, and the protesters. It is a quick read, just 132 p. The font style changes between the 4 groups making it easier to tell which group is speaking. I don’t have many books about this topic so it makes a great addition to the library. Added Note: I think the cover is interesting: the daisy as it is May and spring, and then the gun that destroys the beauty and peace of the day.

Allison, Bill, Sandy, and Jeffrey are the four students killed at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard. Their stories become more personal as Wiles brings them to life by relating what they liked to do, who their friends are, and what their dreams and aspirations are. She shows how chaotic and confusing those days were: the bewilderment of the town folks, how young the National Guard was who were trained to follow orders, students protesting the war, while other students were just trying to get to class but were shot or injured along the way. I think the book would make a great oral interp, drama, or reader’s theater. Also, great for Lit and History classes–what connections can be made to today?

Almost American Girl

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Graphic Novel, Memoir 227 p. South Korean-American

Chuna lives in South Korea with her mother. She loves spending time with her friends exploring the city and reading her favorite comics. Then, her mother announces that they are going on vacation to Alabama in America. But the vacation turns into them staying in America. Chuna is lonely, doesn’t get along with her step-family and misses her life in South Korea. She is also discriminated against in school. The only good thing is that she gets to change her name to Robin. Then her mom takes her to a comic book store and signs her up for a class. She makes many new friends and her English improves. This is a well written and very relatable for teens. I think it will be enjoyed in my library!

Superman Smashes the Klan

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Graphic Novel Science Fiction 239 p.

It’s 1946 when Roberta Lee, her brother Tommy, and her parents move to Metropolis. Their neighbor is Jimmy Olson and they become quick friends, but not everybody is as welcoming. They quickly become the targets of the Klan of the Fiery Cross. Clark Kent is investigating the Klan and meets Roberta and Tommy. Then the Klan leader has a procedure to receive enhance power and Clark Kent (Superman) needs to intervene. A thrilling adventure that involves racism dealing with immigrants. The end of the book has material that describes Yang’s own immigrant experience, along with the history of the Klan.

This book trailer is narrated by the author, Gene Yang.

Three Keys

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Realistic, Historical Fiction 271 p. sequel to Front Desk

I loved Front Desk, but I think this was an even better book. Mia and her parents are still running the Calivista Motel and Mia is now in the 6th grade along with her friends Lupe and Jason. She has a difficult relationship with her new teacher, Mrs. Welch, who is in support of Pete Wilson’s political campaign for governor and the bill, Proposition 187, plus Mrs. Welch doesn’t seem to think her writing is all that good! And, the motel is not earning enough money to satisfy all the investors.

Leading up to the election, there is growing racism with people leaving unwelcome signs and graffiti in school and the motel. Lupe reveals that her family is undocumented which creates a scene of growing fear as her father is jailed with the threat of deportation and family separation looming over their heads. Mia and Lupe learn to use their voices and their pens to fight back.

I loved everything about this book and was very impressed with the author’s research and back notes. Will definitely be recommending to our kids!

Prairie Lotus

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Historical Fiction 261 p. Asian-Pacific American Award Winner

Hannah, age 14, is half-Chinese and half-white. She and her father are seeking a new start in South Dakota after her mother has died. The novel is inspired by the Little House books with a new outlook. Author Linda Sue Park said she wanted  to present a different view of Native Americans than Wilder did. Hannah and her father face discrimination and struggle as they work to start a clothing store and Hannah attends school. Most of the townspeople even refuse to send their children to school once they discover that Hannah is Chinese, but Hannah forges ahead and even makes new friends. Parks well-researched book includes Lakota/Dakota customs, history, and even a few words as Hannah meets a few Ihanktonwan women outside of town and they teach her a new recipe. Eventually, the store is opened and Hannah is even allowed to create a new dress to show at the opening. I loved the book and it felt very true to that era in time.