For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington

For Black Girls Like Me

Mariama J. Lockington, Author

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Fiction, Jul. 30, 2019

Suitable for Ages:  9-11

Themes: Idenity, African-American, Interracial adoptions, Family problems, Mental illness, Moving,

Opening: “I am a girl but most days I feel like a question mark. People throw their looks at me. Then back at my mama sister and papa. Who are all as white as oleander. Then they look back at me. Black as a midnight orchard.”

Bookjacket Synopsis:

Makeda June Kirkland is eleven-years old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much Keda often feels left out. When Keda’s family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena — the only other adopted black girl she knows — for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Keda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore, and at school, she can’t seem to find one true friend.

Through it all, Keda can’t help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me? Keda has a constant dialogue in her head with the birth mother she never knew.

In this deeply felt coming-of-age story, about family, sisterhood, music, race, and identity, Mariama J. Lockington draws on some of the motional truths from her own experiences of growing up with an adoptive white family. For Black Girls Like Me is for anyone who has ever asked themselves: How do you figure out where you are going if you don’t know where you came from?

Why I like this book:

Mariama J. Lockington has penned an intimate and emotional debut novel that will touch reader’s souls. It is about a girl being adopted into an interracial family. The author uses many of her own personal experiences to share Keda’s inner turmoil of feeling both “loved and lonely” in her white family. This rarely-told story is long overdue and will resonate with many transracial adoptees.

There is beauty in Lockington’s book.  She is a very lyrical writer, so there are many poetic turns of phrases. Her writing tone is rich and and is enhanced with Keda’s musical lyrics, poems, letters, and a journal that carries her heart back and forth through the postal mail to Lena, her bestie. The journal is a lifeline and bond for both. It’s a creative inclusion in the narrative. The plot is multilayered and courageous.

The characters are authentic and complicated. Keda is deeply sensitive, observant and curious about her birth mother. At school she dislikes the never ending questions about her hair, her adoption, and her biological mother. Most of all, she doesn’t like the accusations of being “too proper” and “talking so white.” Keda’s life may feel complex, but she is resilient.  She is a talented song writer and her music is her freedom from  lonliness and hurt. She finds a soulmate in singer Billie Holiday’s blues music.

Making friends is easy for Eve, Keda’s older white sister. Eve is popular and distant, leaving Keda without a friend. Their family is musical. Mama is a prodigy – a talented solo violinist who left the stage when she started a family. Papa is a talented celloist, who heads out on a worldwide concert tour after their move to New Mexico. However Mama’s mental health issues emerge and spiral out of control. The sisters are thrown together to grapple with big decisions.

For Black Girls Like Me raises timely questions about race, identity, and mental health issues that will foster excellent classroom discussions. It is an outstanding work of fiction and belongs in every school library. Keda’s life may feel messy but it is full of courage, hope and promise.

Favorite Quotes:

“So you’re like Obama? An Oreo!” / Kinda. Wait. What’s an Oreo? / “You know when you’re all black on the outside but really white on the inside?” (Page 37)

Questions I have for black girls (with hair) like me: Who decides what kind of hair is beautiful? Do you ever just want to tell your mom: “White lady stop! You don’t know what you’re doing!” Do you remember the first black woman to ever washed your hair? What did it feel like? Did it hurt? Or did it feel like home? (Page 134)

“I am a girl becoming a woman. People throw their puzzled looks at me and I know they’re wondering: Who does she look like? But I am learning to say: Me. I look like me. I am a girl becoming a woman.” (Page 317)

Mariama J. Lockington is an adoptee, writer, and nonprofit educator. She has been telling stories and making her own books since the second grade, when she wore short-alls and flower leggings every day to school. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and journals, including Buzzfeed News Reader, and she is the author of the poetry chapbook The Lucky Daughter. Mariama holds a Masters in Education from Lesley University and Masters in Fine Arts in Poetry from San Francisco State University. She lives in Lexington, KY with her partner and dapple haired dachshund, Henry.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Before I Leave

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Jessixa Bagley, Author and Illustrator

Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press, Fiction, Feb. 16,  2016

Suitable for Ages: 2 – 5

Themes: Moving, Hedgehogs, Anteater, Animals, Friendship, Saying good-bye, Hope

Opening: “I found out we’re moving. Mom said I needed to pack”

Synopsis:  Zelda’s hedgehog family is moving far away. They pack boxes and prepare for their move.  She doesn’t want to move away from her best friend, Aaron, the anteater. Before Zelda moves, she wants to spend one last day with Aaron doing all of their favorite things together as if nothing is changing. They play tetherball, swing together, sail in a boat, build forts and eat ice cream cones. They bid each other a sad farewell and Zelda isn’t so sure about her future…until she arrives at her new home.

Why I like this book:

Jessixa Bagley has packed many sweet and tender moments into this story, which is less than 100 words. Each phrase is short and perfectly communicates Zelda’s anxiety and sadness about moving away from Aaron in a touching way. The author balances the sadness with the determination of the best friends to make lasting memories with each other before they say goodbye. Bagley weaves in the notion that best friends can survive moving away in a hopeful and memorable manner.  The ending is endearing. With minimal text, Bagley cleverly tells the story through her beautiful watercolor illustrations. They are expressive, warm, colorful and show the two friends having fun together.

Resources: This story is a great resource for parents to help explain the concept of moving and saying goodbye to a friend. It is also a gentle way to help a child share their feelings. Visit Jessixa Bagley, author of Boats for Papa, at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

The House on Dirty-Third Street

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Jo S. Kittinger, Author

Thomas Gonzalez, Illustrator

Peachtree Publishers, Fiction, 2012

2013 Christopher Award and the Social Justice Literature Award

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Moving into an older house, Repair and reconstruction, Neighbors, Hope

Opening:  Mom said starting over would be an adventure, so I imagined a tropical island with palm trees and buried treasure.  Not thisAll the houses on Thirty-third Street were old and run down, but the one with the For Sale sign was the worst.  I’d call the whole place “Dirty-third Street.”

Synopsis:  A mother and daughter work to turn a hopeless, rundown, and dirty old house into a loving family home with hard work, faith, hope and the support of their new friends and neighbors.

Why I like this book:  This is a moving story by Jo S. Kittinger that taps into the deep disappointment a girl feels when she has to move into a house that is falling a part. It is a timely story for children about moving, and starting over after the loss of a home due to divorce, job loss or weather events like  floods, fires, tornadoes and hurricanes.  It also is a story about hope,  faith and community.  Thomas Gonzalez captures the girl’s disappointment on the book cover as she peers through a window into the house.  His beginning illustrations are drab and somber sketches with hints of pale pastel blue against the pen and ink sketches.  The girl’s expressions are priceless.  However, as neighbors and church members lend a hand to fix the house, color subtly appears in the illustrations.  The House on Dirty-Third Street is an excellent collaboration between author and illustrator. Visit Jo Kittinger at her website.  It is also a great book to share with kids during World Habitat Week.

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Resources:  The United Nations has declared the first Monday of October World Habitat Day , which will be celebrated Oct. 7.  It is a time to recognize the basic need for adequate housing worldwide.  Habitat for Humanity will sponsor activities Oct. 6-12, 2013.  This is a wonderful opportunity for families to understand, sign up and participate in building and renovating homes in their local community.   Lesson plans and activities can be found at Habitat LearnsFormer President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn will focus their work projects in California, Colorado,, New York and New Jersey.  The Carters have participated for 30 years.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Little Daisy’s Worst/Best Day

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Kathleen Edick and Paula Johnson, Authors

Wee the People Publishing, LLC, 2012

Suitable for ages: 3 and up

Themes:  Moving, Leaving Family, Friends and Pets, Starting New Schools, Making New Friends

Opening “We’re at Grandma and Grandpa’s house today.  Mommy’s home packing; We’re moving away.  This is the Worst Day I’ve ever had.  I don’t want to move?  It’s making me sad.” 

Synopsis:  A sister and brother are moving far away and leaving behind their dog, Daisy, who they’ve had since she was a puppy.  One day an older couple comes to take Daisy home with them to their big farm.  It is Daisy’s WORST DAY ever.  She won’t eat, play, and ignores her new family.  Then one day the new owner feeds her a bowl of spaghetti.  And the farmer takes Daisy for a ride through the fields in the back of his truck.  Daisy discovers a whole new world of digging, exploring and chasing rodents.  At the same time the children learn similar lessons and make new friends.  And they keep in touch with their grandparents by writing letters until they are reunited during vacation.

Why I like this book:  This charming book is part of the “We Serve Too!” series written in verse for military children by two loving grandmothers, Kathleen Edick and Paula Johnson.  The characters remain the same in all four books.  Relocation and moving is a theme shared by both military and civilian children.  And this is a true story about the author’s real-life “Daisy Dog,” who comes to live on their farm when a family moves.  The authors are very clever to use Daisy to help children express their feelings about moving.  This beautiful story will help ease the fear and anxiety of moving.  It offers hope that things will work out.  The illustrations are colorful and show a lot of love and emotion.   Visit the Wee Serve Too! website.

And, I want to give a shout-out for the other three Wee Serve Too! books I’ve reviewed:  A Child’s Deployment Book, A Child’s Reunion Book, and The Homecoming Box.  These are quality books that have helped many military children through tough times.  I have donated all the of my books to my local library.  They were thrilled to receive them and ordered another set for the other branch.

Resources:  The authors have a free discussion guide that can be downloaded free from their website.  Just click on Little Daisy’s Worst/Best Day to get access to the guide.  This book  is a great tool for discussing a move with any child.

This book has been provided to me free of charge by the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review of the work.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.