Monday, May 03, 2021

MMGM- Uncomfortable Conversations and Across the Tracks

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Acho, Emmanuel. Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Boy
May 4th 2021 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this young readers' edition of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, Mr. Acho uses his perspective as a second generation Nigerian American who grew up in predominately white schools to explore issues of race, racism, implicit bias and other topics in an instructional way. I especially liked how introduced a topic and had consistent chapter elements like "Let's Get Uncomfortable", "Let's Rewind" (talking about the history of a topic), and "Talk It, Walk It". I think that's a helpful format for younger readers trying to unpack these weighty concepts. One particularly important topic was the debate about whether the term African American or Black (which is not capitalized in this book, but which current convention usually capitalizes) should be used. While Black seems to be the most commonly accepted term, Mr. Acho opines that the final determination of use should be up to the individual. The We Need Diverse Books Movement is mentioned (this started in 2014, but has been taken more seriously after the summer of 2020. Finally.), and Mr. Acho has a good blend of current news stories, personal anecdotes, and history to illustrate his points. There is an excellent bibliography at the back. In general, this book is a good overview of topics from these other books presented in a way that is a bit more linear than Kendi and Reynold's Stamped. Certainly, both books are essential in middle school library collections. I haven't read the adult version, so I don't know if that would be more appropriate for high schools. This could certainly be used in elementary classrooms, but I don't deal with younger students enough to know how younger readers would process this on their own. 

My only hesitation about this book is something I have questioned for a while: while I certainly cannot complain about the use of the term "Karen", since my own privilege shields me from it causing any real harm to me (disclaimer: my given name is, in fact, Karen), I do wonder if using stereotypes like Karen is a bad practice because it normalizes the use of stereotypes, and children might pick this up and go on to use harmful ones against BIPOC or other people. At the beginning of the school year, another teacher and I called out our principal and assistant principal (a Black man and a white man, respectively) on the fact that they joked with our school resource officer (a white man) about policemen eating doughnuts. It didn't bother the officer, but what message does it send? There are other concerns; this Australian Buzzfeed article includes this thought: "But, by making light of the term, we overlook the damaging impact the real "Karens" have had and will continue to have on people of colour.(sic)"

My voice is not the one that needs to be heard about such topics, but I would certainly be glad to have an uncomfortable conversation of this if it keeps young readers from engaging in using stereotypes. 

Alverne Ball, Stacey Robinson (Illustrations), Reynaldo Anderson (Contributor), Collette Yellowrobe (Contributor)
Across the Tracks: Remembering Greenwood, Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre May 4th 2021 by Abrams ComicArts - Megascope 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This graphic history tells the story of the thriving community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After the forced removal of Native Americans, many Blacks moved from the South into the area. Booker T. Washington encouraged residents to encourage Black ownership, and the area was incorporated in 1901. There were a full complement of businesses and service providers, all Black, which kept the money in the community and helped create a thriving area known as "the Black Wall Street". The planned lynching of a young Black man caused the citizens to band together; unfortunately, the resistance they met was brutal, and the area was badly damaged. There is a great time line of events, and an essay that provides additional information. 
Strengths: Graphic novels are a great way to get middle school readers to pick up historical information, and this does a nice job of showing the type of clothing people wore, what the area looked like, and offering a really vivid depiction of this vibrant community. I haven't read any account of the Tulsa Race Massacre, and am glad that there is information on it, especially since the summer one hundred years after 1921 showed so little progress in the treatment of people of color. The illustrations are well done, and the text offers enough information to explain what occurred to encourage readers to do further research. 
Weaknesses: While it is important to learn about traumatic events in Black history, I would also like to see more books that highlight accomplishments and triumphs of the Black experience. Also, I would REALLY like to see a historical novel set in Greenwoods that doesn't necessarily center on the destruction. It would be sort of like a Black Little Town on the Prairie, and I have a lot of readers who would LOVE that. 
What I really think: This is an excellent addition to any middle school or high school history collection, and I am going to look for a somewhat more detailed title as well. Since 2021 is the centenary of these events, I hope to see several other good titles. 


  1. I'm glad to read about both books & will look for them. You've made good points about both the 'Karen' issue & the need for positive stories about Black neighborhoods and people, too.

  2. Both books are excellent choices. I am really ignorant about the "Karen" issue, but I recognize the need for people to not use stereotypes. Your own experience at school was interesting.
    I am delighted to see a MG novel on Greenwood. I'm reviewing a PB for readers 8-12 in two weeks about the Tulsa Race Massacre, which devotes half the book to Greenwood. And, like you I'd love to see a story about thriving Greenwood and the triumphs of that community and its residents, but I don't know if that would be possible without at least a mention about what occurred May 31-June 1.

  3. Both of these look like they are great books. I always appreciate your thoughts on these books.
    I read a bit about The Tulsa Race Massacre after Jacqueline Woodson's Red at the Bone. I'm afraid to read this graphic novel. Have you read Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, a nonfiction picture book about this?

  4. I'm definitely going to buy both for my library--thank you for highlighting them.

    Happy reading :)

  5. Thanks for letting me know about Across the Tracks. Just requested it.

  6. These both sound like incredibly valuable reads, and I really appreciate you bringing them to my attention! I appreciate and agree with your point about the idea of Karens—I don't understand why important and real ideas like White privilege can only be comprehended by the general public when turned into oversimplified, semi-problematic stereotypes themselves. Thank you so much for these thoughtful reviews!

  7. Both of these books sound excellent. I'm putting them on my TBR list. Thanks for telling me about them. You make some excellent points in your discussion of stereotypes, things we should all think about.

  8. I just bought Uncomfortable Conversations. As a white woman, I still have so much to learn and it takes me a long time to really process and understand such a big topic. It's books like these and the others you mentioned that help me. The more I can speak to the topic, the more comfortable I am in having those conversations with kids.