Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

Book Recommendations

on May 31, 2020

In April, I got to attend the virtual Everywhere Bookfest. It was absolutely fabulous to hear various authors speak about their upcoming new releases.

Over the last month I have been working my way through some of those books–some are not out until later this summer. I signed up for Overdrive at my library so I could download ebooks. Even though my own books were first published with digital first publishers, I am still more of a “in the hand” book fan. But with COVID-19 I didn’t have much choice. I did use some of my gas money, that wasn’t going into my car, to buy a few books from Powells, I knew I couldn’t buy all the books I consume on a regular basis!

In light of what is currently going on, I have chosen to specifically feature black children’s authors who tell powerful stories and are career children’s writers.

Here are a few of my favorites I have read recently:

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The first book I read by Jewell Parker Rhodes was Ninth Ward a middle grade novel which takes place during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Black Brother Black Brother is her newest YA book and it didn’t disappoint. Two brothers–one white, one black, attend a private prep school in Massachusetts. They are from a biracial family where their black mother is a lawyer and works on civil rights cases.

Trey, the white brother excels in school. Donte is one of the few black students and seems to be always in the Principal’s office. Mostly due to the fact that a white boy, Alan, is picking on him and Donte is getting blamed. The book opens when Donte is unfairly treated and the cops are called and he is hauled off to the police station. He is not arrested but he does have to appear in juvenile court during the book. The story is about how Donte learns to control his anger by learning how to fence with a mentor, a black man who was a former Olympic fencer. The book draws attention to how fencing is a white sport at predominantly well to do prep high schools. I learned a lot about fencing and appreciated the attention drawn to the systematic racism at prep high schools. I would recommend this one to 7th, 8th, and 9th graders.

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I discovered Renee Watson when Salem, Oregon chose her YA book Piecing me Together to read for the city wide read this year. I was thrilled to see a YA book chosen for a city wide read!

Renee Watson grew up in Portland, Oregon and often sets her stories in Portland. This is her version of Ramona by Beverly Cleary. Like Ramona, Ryan Hart lives in a NE Portland neighborhood but she has to move when her Father who works at the post office loses his job and the family moves in to a smaller “cozy” rental house. Ryan knows how to make the best of no matter what life throws at her, just like her Grandmother who is a great supportive adult character in the story. 

Renee Watson often sets her stories in Portland neighborhoods and shows the racial inequalities in Portland housing. In this story, Ryan’s best friend moves to Lake Oswego and it’s contrasted to Ryan’s home and friends.

I really enjoyed the positive outlook Ryan brought to her story and the first chapter about names would make a great read aloud for a writing lesson on our names. Upper elementary kids in grades 3rd-5th will enjoy this one as well as adults who like middle grade!

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Look Both Ways is a fun read for middle graders. The stories are linked short stories which all take place on one neighborhood after school when kids are walking home. The opening story is about boogers.and include stories about a girl whose skateboard is tossed into the street, and a club of kids whose parents are all undergoing cancer treatment and they use a con candy lady to help them buy ice cream for one of the boy’s moms.

The stories are beautifully written and capture the middle school walk home very well. I’m not sure kids would want to read the whole thing but I think they would enjoy some of the short stories and it’d be a fun book to use when teaching adult writers with the prompt, “Your walk home from school.”

At the Everywhere Bookfest, I attended two virtual panels in which Jason Reynolds was one of the speakers. I first heard of Jason Reynolds this past year while subbing in a special education high school classroom. We were reading a magazine that had a profile article about him. Immediately, I was hooked and I had the kids looking up You Tube videos of who this author was and what he wrote. I don’t think the kids were as interested as I was in that lesson!

From Jason Reynold’s website, “Born in Washington, DC and raised in neighboring Oxon Hill, Maryland, Reynolds found inspiration in rap to begin writing poetry at nine years old. He focused on poetry for approximately the next two decades, only reading a novel cover to cover for the first time at age 17 and publishing several poetry collections before he published his own first novel.”

Jason Reynolds is the 2020-2021 National Ambassador for young people’s literature. “Reynolds will visit small towns across America to have meaningful discussions with young people. Through his platform, “GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story,” Reynolds, who regularly talks about his journey from reluctant reader to award-winning author, will redirect his focus as ambassador by listening and empowering students to embrace and share their own personal stories.”


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