Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Tough Call and The Only Black Girls in Town

Blair, Kelsey. Tough Call
March 3rd 2020 by Lorimer Children & Teens
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Malia is in ninth grade and plays basketball. Her younger sister, Flo, is in seventh grade and also wants to play, but the fees for the two of them are really high. When Malia's coach tells them about an opportunity to make money working as referee, she spends many weeks getting trained, and then starts to work games. The problem? She occasionally has to ref for Flo's games. There is a bitter rivalry between the girls East Side school and the Boundary, and Malia is accused of helping her sister's team. She is approached by East Side kids, but always refuses to have the conversations, although a girl with whom she refs, Gloria, often tweaks tough calls to side with whomever she likes. Malia tries very hard to be fair with all of her calls, no matter what team they favor, and she even takes her reffing knowledge to better her team's defensive game. Malia has made friends with a boy who goes to Boundary, Carlos, and even brings him to a party to try to get her friends to see that Boundary kids are just as friendly as East Side ones. Flo gives Malia a hard time until she begins to understand why Malia has begun to referee, and she then appreciates her sister's hard work.
Strengths: This had so much good information about basketball and game strategy, and the referee training was fascinating. I loved that Malia took responsibility to earn money in order to play. It was realistic that because she couldn't drive, she was assigned games at her own school. It was interesting that she had never thought about WHY her school was rivals with Boundary, and after she makes friends with Carlos, she asks around, and comes to the conclusion that the kids there are just the same. There's just enough family and friend drama to move this along, and it's great the the characters are a little bit older. Lorimer does really awesome sports stories, and I love the cover. Check out the purple nail polish!
Weaknesses: Poor Priya, Malia's friend. She's trying to do soccer, cross country AND basketball? Are those all in the same season in Canada? That would never fly in my area-- it's almost impossible to do just cross country and soccer.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing this, and making sure this author's Pick and Roll gets checked out today.

Colbert, Brandy. The Only Black Girls in Town
March 10th 2020 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Alberta has always lived in Ewing Beach, California, a town that is almost all white, with her Dad and her other dad, Elliott. She's used to being the only black girl in her grade, so she's excited when new black neighbors move into the house that was Mrs. Harris' bed and breakfast. She imagines all of the different ways she can imagine the new girl, but Edie doesn't look like any of her ideas! Coming from Brooklyn, Edie dresses in a Goth fashion, complete with black lipstick, and doesn't even know how to swim, much less participate in Alberta's passion, surfing. Alberta and Edie get along fairly well, but Al is a little miffed when her best friend, Laramie, takes to Edie so quickly. Seventh grade is starting soon, and Alberta's problem with Laramie only grows when her friend starts hanging out with another neighbor, 8th grader Nicolette, who has always given Alberta a hard time and is very racist. There are a lot of things going on in Alberta's life, and soon she is dealing with the fact that her biological mother is going to live with her family for a while, since she is pregnant and her husband has to work away from home, and also with a pile of journals that she and Edie find in Mrs. Harris' attic. The journals are full of black history from 1955, and also an intriguing mystery. Alberta tries to navigate friend drama, problems with microagressions, personal identity issues AND the mystery of the woman named Constance who wrote the journals.
Strengths: My suburban students have asked for years for books with black characters who don't live in the inner city, and that's been an easier request to fill over the last several years. Alberta has a similar socioeconomic setting to Renee Watson's novels, although my students will be amazed that Alberta is the only black girl in her grade! (We are just shy of 25% African American students.) There are a lot of intriguing and well developed characters in the book, and I really appreciated the fact that Alberta and her dads were very serious vegetarians. Having Denise stay with the family gives Alberta a chance to connect with her. The mystery is surprisingly intricate, given everything else that is going on in the book, and the journal entries are just long enough to provided information without getting boring. I really enjoyed reading this one, and it's the sort of thing that I would have loved as a middle grade reader-- someone's ordinary life that is very different from mine. The surfing alone would have sold me!
Weaknesses: This would almost have been better as TWO books. Alberta's problems with friends, family, and her surfing would have made a perfectly captivating book all on their own, as would the mystery with the B& B. I enjoyed this so much that I would have been very happy to have two books.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and my students will be glad to have another great book with "drama" (a frequent request) that also includes some issues with race as well as black history.

At one point, a teacher asks if Edie is Alberta's cousin, and on the first day, another teacher calls Edie by Alberta's name. I know this is an issue also addressed in Craft's New Kid, and it's something I'm very conscious of. There are two black 8th grade girls in my building who are cousins, and I have such a hard time telling them apart. There are also some girls who wear hijabs with whose names I struggle. I was thinking about this, and the students I mistake for each other most often are actually 6th grade boys. There are a lot of white boys who are the same size and have similar blondish hair and wear the same type of clothes and are all named Liam and Noah! This is an important topic, though, and I'm glad that Ms. Colbert made me think about it. Now if I could just stop calling two brunette 8th grade girls (who are best friends and must borrow each other's clothes!) each other's names, I wouldn't owe them pencils every time I do.

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