Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

Take Back the Block

Chrystal D. Giles, Author

Random House Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jan. 26, 2021

Pages: 240

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Community, Social Justice, Family, Neighborhoods, Gentrification, Friendship, African Americans

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Brand-new kicks, ripped denim shorts, Supreme tee–

Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That–and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games–is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.

But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived in his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are supposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it before it’s too late?

Why I like this book:

Chrystal D. Giles has written a timely and powerful novel for middle grade students that hits a sweet spot for me — kids making a difference in their communities and fighting for what they believe in. It celebrates the joy of family, friendship and community and will captivate readers from the start.  The plot is daring and hopeful. It is “loosely based on Giles’s hometown.

There is a  delightful cast of characters, with Wes Henderson leading his crew of best friends: Jasper (Jas), Mya, Alyssa, Takari (Kari) and Brent. They live in Kensington Oaks and are typical 6th graders, interested in video games, movies, school and birthday parties. Wes is a lovable and outgoing narrator, who is afraid of public speaking — especially when his social studies teacher, Mr. Bates, assigns each student to research a social justice issue, write a report and do a 10-minute presentation. He’s doomed.

Thumbs up to Wes’s parents for introducing him to social activism. His mother is an active community leader and takes Wes to a peaceful protests so that he understands what is happening in nearby neighborhoods that are being torn down for new shopping areas. This exposure is handy when the Oaks becomes the new target of a development group who wants to build condos and shops. There is no way Wes can leave the only home he’s ever known and holds his family’s history.

While the adults in the community are arguing, some selling their homes and others giving up, Wes knows he has to do something. A fire burns in his belly and he gathers his friends to fight for the survival of the Oaks. They enlist the support of a local group, Save Our City. Suddenly, Wes has his school social justice project, and Mr. Bates proves to give good advise and knows people. He allows Wes and his friends to meet in his classroom after school as they research and strategize each move. No more SPOILERS.

Take Back the Block deals with a topic that I haven’t seen addressed in children’s books — gentrification, the unfair displacement of families in lower income neighborhoods. Development companies buy up homes cheap, tear them down and replace them with high-end housing and shopping areas.  Most families can’t afford to live in the developments and are forced to find housing elsewhere. This is common in many Black communities.

This is an important book for a classroom to read together. Wes and his friends are the new faces of social justice and youth activism, whether it is gun control, climate change and equality. And student interested in social justice issues may gain courage from Wes.

Chrystal D. Giles is making her middle-grade debut with Take Back the Block. Chrystal was a 2018 W Need Diverse Books mentee, and her poem “Dimples” appears in the poetry anthology Thanku Poems of Gratitude. Chrystal lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and son. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @CREATIVELYCHRYS.

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.

Dusk Explorers by Lindsay Leslie

Dusk Explorers

Lindsay Leslie, Author

Ellen Rooney, Illustrator

Page Street Kids, Fiction, Jun.2, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Dusk, Summer, Play, Games, Fireflies, Explore, Nature, Neighborhoods

Opening: “The sun begins to sink. The neighborhood beckons…”

Amazon Synopsis:

It’s that special time of evening, when the hours and the possibilities seem endless: Light is fading. A buzz of excitement and wonder takes over the neighborhood….What outdoor adventures await?

Join a diverse group of suburban kids as they dash and dodge in classic street games like tag and kick-the-can and reconnect with nature’s simple pleasures catching frogs, hunting fireflies, and climbing trees. These explorers play, laugh, and make the most of their own front yards right up until their parents call out that “It’s time to come home!” But when the sun begins to set tomorrow, they’ll be back for more evening excitement!

This ode to the timeless magic of summer evenings spent outside will remind kids of the fun and friends that wait just outside their doors and leave adults smiling with nostalgia for their own dusk explorations.

Why I like this book:

Lindsay Leslie’s Dusk Explorers is a beautiful tribute to magical summer evenings. It is the perfect summer gift book. It will bring back childhood memories for parents and encourage children to explore the outdoors at the special time of dusk. With the pandamic curtailing a lot of play, parents can encourage kids to explore their own yards, play games, catch fireflies, gaze at the stars, and listen to the sounds of nature as darkness comes. There is so much to do and explore.

The text is written in a free-flowing verse that is very lyrical. There is a lovely rhythm that speaks to the  senses and beckons children to come outdoors to play. Each spread begins with: looking, calling, searching, hoping, waiting, longing, watching, wishing, and listening. “Calling for leapfroggers who love to jump over backs and fall down on itchy blades of freshly cut grass …” and “Wishing for firefly catchers who love to fling their nets into the dimming sky sprinkled with diamonds.”

Ellen Rooney’s illustrations are lively, colorful and show an active group of diverse children having the time of their lives. Her artwork is simply breathtaking as we watch the sun lower in the sky, fireflies flicker in the dark and the stars shine brightly above.

Note: I reviewed this book today in honor of what would have been my father’s 99th birthday! I hold so many memories of my favorite time of day as a child — dusk! That meant I’d spend time playing catch or throwing a frisbee with my dad in the backyard. Sometimes we’d water the grass to nudge the worms to the surface and then we’d snatch them for fishing bait. Other times we’d climb the ladder to the roof and gaze at the stars. And the entire neighborhood would become alive with parents and kids enjoying the evening together. I’m sure many of you will find this book very nostalgic!

Resources: Encourage your children to go outside. This could be a fun activity for both kids and their parents as the day cools. I remember playing catch with my dad, throwing the frisbee, riding my bike with friends and mothers around the neighborhood circle, and watering the grass to snatch worms from the grass to go fishing with my dad. Be creative and have fun!

Lindsay Leslie  spent her childhood summers playing all the games found on these pages. Nowadays, she still loves the outdoors, but she love writing too. She is also the author of This Book Is Spinelesss and Nova the Star Eater. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her family and two dogs.

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 website.

*Reviewed from a library copy.