CLEAN GETAWAY – Nic Stone
Summary | William, better known by his nickname “Scoob,” is in hot water with his dad. Luckily, a road trip with G’ma sounds like the perfect way to escape his troubles. What Scoob doesn’t know, however, is that this trip with G’ma is going to be anything but normal! Together, the two travel from state to state as Scoob learns about the history of the South. But what could G’ma be planning?
Genres | Realistic Fiction, Middle Grade, Coming of Age, Contemporary, Adventure
Reading Level | 6th grade & up
Themes | Family Relationships, Redemption, Masculinity, Regrets, Last Wishes
Review | Although going on a road trip behind your strict dad’s back with your cool grandma (or “G’ma,” in this case) sounds like a dream come true, it isn’t long until Scoob starts to feel like there’s something strange going on. With Scoob as the narrator, author Nic Stone introduces complex social topics in a voice that students will understand. Masculinity is discussed through Scoob’s strained relationship with his dad, and we see a clear example of the criminal justice system’s racism. The book doesn’t talk down to students, nor does it stay too above them. Clean Getaway is a great book for middle school readers who will appreciate Scoob’s sense of humor and honest vulnerability, while parents can rest assured that Stone packs in a strong lesson about personal growth and grappling with your family’s complicated history.
More About the Author | Nic Stone is the author of several well-known young adult books, including her debut novel Dear Martin. Stone’s books center the voices of Black teens and explore how their race is inextricable from their experiences growing up. Aside from her novels, Stone has also written essays, short stories, and has been featured on a variety of podcasts.
Other Books: Dear Martin, Odd One Out
See more on Nic Stone’s website.
OUT OF MY MIND – Sharon M. Draper
Summary | Melody is a brilliant girl whose brain races a mile a minute – if only other people could hear what she has to say! But because of her cerebral palsy, Melody can’t walk or talk. Even worse, everyone from adults to classmates thinks this means that she can’t think either. But Melody is determined to finally make herself heard, and a new machine might give her the chance she’s been waiting for.
Genres | Realistic Fiction, Young Adult, Middle Grade, Contemporary, Coming of Age
Reading Level | 5th grade & up
Themes | Growing Up, Disability Advocacy, Standing Up for Yourself, Compassion, Self-Empowerment
Review | One of the pitfalls of books about disability is that there is a need by “able bodied” authors to turn disability into something “inspirational” or “solve” the “problem” of the protagonist. These approaches to talking about disability are not only unrealistic, it can do harm to disabled people who become more misunderstood. Disability advocates fight for accommodations, but they also fight to live as themselves. What stands out about Out of My Mind is that the people who want to “fix” Melody (to make her less disabled) are clearly the ones who are in the wrong. Melody does not need to be changed, just given more options. It is the responsibility of the other people in her life to “fix” their prejudiced attitudes – and that includes her own parents who try their best but also fail to fully understand their disabled daughter. If you have a student who enjoyed a book like Wonder, this is a good companion piece once they have gotten a little older!
More About the Author | Sharon M. Draper is an “award-winning author, educator, speaker, poet, and national teacher of the year” . Draper taught English to middle and high schoolers for over two decades and was awarded National Teacher of the Year before retiring to focus on writing. A life-long reader, she writes books for teens because she knows what the power of a good book can do for a young mind .
Notable Books: Copper Sun, Stella by Starlight, Tears of a Tiger
See more on Sharon M. Draper’s website.
FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON – Janae Marks
Summary | On her twelfth birthday, Zoe Washington receives a letter from her imprisoned father, Marcus, who she’s never met. When he claims that he’s innocent, Zoe is determined to uncover the truth even if she has to do it in secret. But Zoe has more on her mind than just Marcus’ conviction. She wants to be a star baker and auditioning for the Kids Bake Challenge might be her ticket to success. The problem is, how is one girl going to do both?
Genres | Realistic Fiction, Coming of Age, Middle Grade, Mystery
Reading Level | 5th grade & up
Themes | Doing the Right Thing, Social Justice, Criminal Justice System, Family Relationships
Review | There comes a time when a child’s view of the world needs to become more nuanced and complicated. That’s where books like From the Desk of Zoe Washington come in. Author Janae Marks challenges young readers to redefine what their idea of “justice” is and how we think about people who are imprisoned. With growing discussions about prison reform and changing how we, as a society, look at crime, this book is a great introduction to these topics. From the Desk of Zoe Washington is a great tool to spark discussions about race, systematic oppression, the injustice of the “justice” system, and more in a way that is approachable to students who are just learning that the world can be very unfair. And after all of that, there’s even a recipe for Zoe’s Fruit Loop cupcakes ready on Marks’ website.
More About the Author | Janae Marks is a life-long writer – from kindergarten to adulthood, she’s always been writing. But it wasn’t until she was in college that she knew that her future was in writing as well. After earning a MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis on writing for children, Marks worked in publishing before penning her debut middle grade novel From the Desk of Zoe Washington. Since then, she’s written a sequel (On Air with Zoe Washington) and another novel titled A Soft Place to Land. Marks is also part of the writers’ groups “Black Creators HQ” and “Renegades of Middle Grade.”
Notable Books: A Soft Place to Land, Hope Wins
See more on Janae Marks’ website.