No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row
Susan Kuklin
ISBN: 0-8050-7950-5
Henry Holt and Company, 2008
Grades 10-12
Non-Fiction/Crime/Incarceration/Biography

It’s a world where teens are sentenced to death row…it’s your world. Read the true story of four boys who are given death sentences.

Summary:

After hearing a talk given by Bryan Stevenson, a defense attorney, about the death penalty, author Susan Kuklin decided to write a book about the death penalty. At first the book was to focus on individuals who had been released from death row, but Kuklin decided to change her approach. No Choirboy explores the lives of four men sentenced to death as teens, two of whom Stevenson represented (Mark and Roy). these accounts are followed by the Jenkins family story; William Jenkins was murdered as a teenager, after his death and during his killer’s trial William’s parents became staunch opponents of the death penalty.

Roy Burgess, Mark Melvin, Nanon Williams, and Napoleon Beazley were all convicted of murder and sentenced to death row, Napoleon Beazley was executed in 2001. Kulkin delves into the past, present, and future of the inmates. She explores inequality in the justice system, the mere existence of death sentences for teens, prison life, and the home and social lives of the teens before incarceration. Kuklin’s final chapter concerns the continual healing process experienced by Williams Jenkins’ family, particularly his younger brother and sister, after his murder.

Critique:

Kuklin is not light with her feelings about the death penalty and the justice system. As many reviewers noted, No Choirboy can feel a little heavy handed. However, as an individual who agrees with Kuklin’s views, I was not overwhelmed by her feelings. No Choirboy is an engaging and emotional glimpse at the lives of those involved in crimes that result in death row sentences. As the prisoners try to move on with life while incarcerated they are faced with depression, violence, etc. These men and the Jenkins family try to move beyond the trauma of the past. Nanon Williams became an author after his sentencing, writing about legal injustices, while Mark Melvin is a resident artist in his prison.

Curriculum Ties:

No Choirboy could find a place in a Political Science curriculum or in a Journalism course. This could be a useful text for a Creative Non-Fiction lesson.

Controversy:

Violence, particularly murder; sexual assault; crime; incarceration/prison life.

Refer challengers to reviews or other materials about the prison system.

Awards/Reviews:

American Library Association’s Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2009

“Her [Kuklin’s] latest title, about individuals who received death-row sentences while they were teenagers, is another direct, compassionate, and eyeopening inquiry….[I]t is a searing and provocative account that will touch teens’ most fundamental beliefs and questions about violence, punishment, our legal and prison systems, and human rights.” – Booklist
“…[W]hile the book is neither comprehensive nor balanced in its treatment of the issues, it is remarkably successful at putting human faces on them, while raising the point that punishment often has as much to do with race, class, prejudice, and compromise as it does with justice. This eye-opening account will likely open minds and hearts, too…” – The Horn Book Magazine

Booktalking:

Roy’s reflection on having a death sentence as a kid, pages 4 to 6.

About the Author:

Susan Kuklin is the author of nine non-fiction books for young adults, and many others for children. Intending to be an actress, Kuklin attended NYU’s acting school. Then she began taking photographs, leading her to photo journalism, where she got her start as children’s author. After working on numerous children’s books, Kuklin began thinking about issues that were current for young adults. She has examined the justice system, AIDS, child slavery, suicide, and human rights.

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The First Part Last
Angela Johnson
ISBN 0-689-84922-2
Simon & Schuster, 2003
Grades 6 to 12
Urban Fiction/Parenting

When Bobby learns his girlfriend, Nia, is pregnant his emotions are mixed. Now that he has Feather, he has nothing but love for her, but daily life is a struggle as a sixteen-year-old single father.

Summary:

Kids raising kids. Sixteen-year-old Bobby learns about the challenges of parenthood sooner than expected when his girlfriend, Nia, becomes pregnany. Bobby struggles to make it to school, stay awake in class, and be a man after his daughter Feather is born. Bobby is the sole care-taker of Feather. Although he lives with his mother, she gives little support and the baby’s mother and maternal grandparents are absent. Bobby’s story is told through passages highlighting the differences between “then” (before Feather is born and Nia was in his life) and “now”. The chapters describe how Bobby and Nia (and their parents) dealt with the news of the pregnancy, their decision to put the baby up for adoption, and finally an explanation of why Bobby has Feather. Due to complications in her pregnancy and the birth of Feather, Nia is in a persistant vegetative state.

Critique:

The First Part Last is a touching look at what teenage fatherhood must be like. Bobby is a frank and honest narrator who lets the reader in on the bad as well as the good. Every sentence echoes with his love for his daughter and the journey he is on to become a man. Johnson also shows the hurt and love felt by Nia and Bobby’s parents and friends after they announce the pregnancy.  I read this short book in one sitting and loved every moment of it. Simply put – incredible. Bobby wishes that he could begin life wise and finish innocent and pure, like his daughter, a valuable sentiment for other kids who feel like they are growing up too fast.

Curriculum Ties:

This book should simply be included in English classes because it is so beautifully written.

Controversy:

Premarital sex, illegal activity, teen parenting.

Refer challengers to reviews, ask them to read the entire book.

Selection Rationale:

This is such a touching and elegant book, it warrants inclusion without question. It is also important for its portrayal of a teen father stepping up and loving his child.

The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, 2004

“…from the first page, readers feel the physical reality of Bobby’s new world: what it’s like to hold Feather on his stomach, smell her skin, touch her clenched fists, feel her shiver, and kiss the top of her curly head. Johnson makes poetry with the simplest words in short, spare sentences that teens will read again and again. The great cover photo shows the strong African American teen holding his tiny baby in his arms.” – Booklist

“…any flaws in the plot are overshadowed by the beautiful writing. Scenes in which Bobby expresses his love for his daughter are breathtaking.” – School library Journal

Booktalking:

Read the first two pages aloud (Bobby wants the first part to happen last).

Read the section in which Bobby wishes he could ask for a doctor’s note to get out of parenting, page 25.

Read the final chapter, ‘Heaven’, about Bobby and Feather’s new beginning, pages 130-131.

About the Author:

Angela Johnson was born in 1961 in Tuskegee, Alabama. She has written more than ten books for young adults, and is a recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award.

Homeboyz
Alan Lawrence Sitomer
ISBN 978-142310030-0
Hyperion, 2007
Grade 9 and up
Urban Fiction

Violence is a part of life when you live in T-Bear’s neighborhood, but when the street hits close to home and he decides its time for pay back, T-Bear’s life start to unravel.

Summary:

T-Bear’s little sister, Tina, is the victim of a drive by shooting. Everyone thinks it’s a case of RP, RT – wrong place, wrong time. The only thing on T-Bear’s mind is revenge on the gang that committed the crime. T-Bear is a computer genius who has no interest in gangster politics, but getting back at the people who took his sister away from his family. T-Bear comes up with a foolproof plan, but a storeowner gets in the way and T-Bear gets caught. He ends up on probation under the supervision of Officer Mariana Diaz, a product of the tough streets herself. Diaz is implementing a mentoring component as a part of her rehabilitation program and T-Bear is assigned to twelve-year-old Micah, an aspiring gangster. T-Bear pretends to play along with his probation program, all the while he is designing his revenge via computer hacking. Micah and T-Bear begin with a tense relationship, but make great strides as T-Bear realizes the obstacles Micah faces. Impoverished and held back by dyslexia, Micah struggles with hunger, discomfort, and reading difficulties. Micah and T-Bear’s relationship ends up growing, Micah spends time with his family, proving to be the balm that winds up healing the grieving group.

Critique:

I greatly enjoyed this read, I found it thoughtful, sad, engaging, and ultimately, uplifting. Sitomer’s characters are often complex and invite the reader to care about them. The language was appropriate and helped to evoke the mood of the story. The emotions felt real.

Curriculum Ties:

Use in discussion about the juvenile justice system.

Controversy:

Language, violence, gang activity, illegal activity.

Refer challengers to reviews, and ask them to read the whole book. Note how T-Bear undergoes changes in his point of view. Also, his books are backed by Disney!

Selection Rationale:

This book will find popularity with a wide variety of readers. Many will find themselves able to relate so some element of the story.

ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2008

“…Sitomer uses lean, mean street-speak and dark urban landscapes to emphasize the cycle of violence that Teddy is on the verge of getting caught up in. For the most part, true-grit reality takes precedence over an occasionally preachy subtext, and readers will find themselves riveted with every turn of the page. A frighteningly real story of survival, brotherhood, and friendship.” – School Library Journal

“In this decidedly unsubtle sequel to Hip-Hop High School (Hyperion, 2006), sullen computer wiz Teddy sets out for revenge after gangbangers gun down his sister, Tina, in a drive-by shooting… Still, the tale’s violent, rough-hewn plot and street inflected language supply sufficient intensity to carry the heavy agenda.” – Booklist

Booktalking:

Is revenge the answer? Reflect on using violence to get revenge from T-Bear’s point of view.

Discuss T-Bear and Micah’s relationship from Officer Diaz’s point of view.

About the Author:

Alan Lawrence Sitomer is an inner-city high school English teacher and professor of Education at Loyola Marymount University. He is the author of four young adult novels and two non-fiction books.

Tyrell by Coe Booth

August 7, 2009

Tyrell
Coe Booth
ISBN 978-0-439-83880-1
Push/Scholastic, 2007
Grade 9 and up
Urban Fiction

Will homelessness destroy all that Tyrell values?

Summary:

Tyrell is the story of one teen’s fight to survive with no support from his family. When Tyrell’s dad lands in jail, his family is shortly evicted from their apartment. They wind up in shelter housing, broke, hungry, and surrounded by roaches, he struggles to survive as a homeless teen. Tyrell’s girlfriend Noveesha is his opposite in many ways. Her mom pays the bills and puts food on the table. Noveesha is a good girl, with plans for college. At the shelter, Tyrell meets Jasmine, a girl who seems to be more on his page. Scrounging for money isn’t working for Tyrell anymore, a giant party is the answer to all his problems. Tyrell enlists the help of his father’s friends to plan his first party. Held in an illegal space, with pimps selling sex, Tyrell’s friend selling drugs, the threat of police is real. But Tyrell pulls off his party with nary a hitch. With his money problems resolved for the moment, Tyrell must focus on his girl problems and his return to school.

Critique:

I really wanted Tyrell to succeed. He is a sympathetic, if imperfect character. After getting knocked down again and again, Tyrell is still caring and struggling to do right and survive. The relief I felt went Tyrell’s party goes off without an arrest was immense. Readers will root for Tyrell and his little brother. I enjoyed the characters in Tyrell, they are diverse and compelling. There is no tidy conclusion to Tyrell’s story, a sequel would be welcome.

Curriculum Ties:

None.

Controversy:

Drug, alcohol, and tobacco use. Criminal activity, teen sex, violence, language.

Ask challengers to read the entire book and focus on Tyrell’s views of many of the activities going on around him.

Selection Rationale:

An easy, engrossing read.

ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2007

“Despite the grim setting evoked by the sensory prose, this isn’t a story of street violence and drugs; rather, it concerns the more intimate deprivations (and moments of connection, like Tyrell’s play in the snow with little Troy) of  living poor.” – Horn Book Magazine
“Booth, a writing consultant for the NYC Housing Authority, clearly understands how teens living on the edge–in shelters, in projects, on the street–live, talk and survive. It’s the slick street language of these tough but lovable characters and her gritty landscapes that will capture the interests of urban fiction fans.” – Kirkus

Booktalking:

Booktalk by Dr. Joni Bodart available at http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/collateral.jsp?id=1494_type=Book_typeId=4462

Write a diary entry about Tyrell from Novisha’s point of view. Contrast this with something from Jasmine’s point of view.

About the Author:

Coe Booth grew up in the Bronx. After graduating from college in 1996, Booth worked with families in crisis. Tyrell is her first novel; her second, Kendra is available now.

Ball Don’t Lie
Matt de la Pena
ISBN 0-385-73232-5
Delacorte, 2005
Grade 9 and u
Urban Fiction/Sports

Sticky is at his best on the basketball court. There, it isn’t about his dead mother, his shoplifting habit, or even his girlfriend.

Summary:

Sticky has been bouncing from foster home to group home and back again for the past ten years, ever since his drug addicted mother committed suicide. As an aspiring basketball player in a poor neighborhood, Sticky is a white boy living in a world of black men. At 6′ 3″ with an OCD diagnosis, he has a tendency to stick out. Sticky plays for his high school team and spends a lot of time playing ball at a local rec center. This is where Sticky thrives. Over time Sticky has become one of the guys in this diverse group. Sticky’s greatest wish is to play basketball professionally.

Sticky is also a shoplifter, but after a lifetime of poverty who can blame him when he just wants a new pair of khakis? He meets his girlfriend An-thu while trying to lift some pants from the store she works at. Sticky struggles to be a good boyfriend to An-thu, navigate socially, and do his best at basketball. Being broke doesn’t help and an attempted molestation by one of the guys he plays ball with is majorly disruptive. Sticky almost loses it all when he robs the wrong guy at an ATM, trying to get the money to buy An-thu a present. Although Sticky ends up in the hospital, he doesn’t get arrested and the wound in his hand heals. At the novel’s end, Sticky is being recruited by college basketball teams.

Critique:

Boys and girls alike with find something to love about Sticky and Ball Don’t Lie. With romance, basketball, violence, drama, and humor, this book should find universal appeal.  I found the dialogue and language authentic and adored the characters. This book felt real.

Curriculum Ties:

Use Ball Don’t Lie to examine develop different voices in a writing unit.

Controversy:

Teen sex, language, shoplifting, violence, child neglect, suicide.

Refer challengers to the strong reviews of this book.

Selection Rationale:

This is such an honest and heartfelt book it deserves inclusion on any YA list; it is also a unique addition to the urban fiction genre and is sure to appeal to boys.

“Pena’s debut tells a riveting story about Sticky’s struggle to secure a college basketball scholarship and deepen his relationship with his girlfriend… Teens will be strongly affected by the unforgettable, distinctly male voice; the thrilling, unusually detailed basketball action; and the questions about race, love, self-worth, and what it means to build a life without advantages.” – Booklist

“Basketball has an urban fan base, and de la Pena does an excellent job of combining the streets with the sport. Gritty and mesmerizing.” – Kirkus
“Realistic dialogue, interesting characters, and a unique voice keep this novel from being just another story about inner-city life, lifting it into the realm of good literature.” – Library Media Connection

Booktalking:

Read aloud one of the many basketball scenes.

Read aloud the section where Mico burns Sticky with a cigarette, pages 64-65.

Read a scene from Sticky’s hospitalization and his observations of Anh-thu, pages 264-274.
About the Author:

Matt de la Pena is also the author of Mexican Whiteboy (2008) and We Were Here (2009). He has an MFA in Creative Writing from San Diego State University. He loves basketball and attended college on an athletic scholarship.

Additional Information:

Ball Don’t Lie was adapted into a movie .

Bang by Sharon Flake

August 7, 2009

Bang
Sharon G. Flake
ISBN 078681844-1
Hyperion Books for Children, 2005
Grade 8 and up
Urban Fiction

BANG! It seems like everyday the count gets higher on Mann and Kee-Lee’s running tally of neighborhood deaths. In an attempt to save the boys when the odds are stacked against them, Mann’s father sends the two alone into the “jungle”, emulating an African tradition.

Summary:

Mann’s younger brother was killed two years ago, an innocent bystander in a shooting. The family is having a difficult time healing from the loss; the process isn’t made any easier by the constant threat of violence and death in their neighborhood. Mann  is a good kid who enjoys riding horses at a rundown stable and painting, but Mann and Kee-Lee’s innocence is threatened more and more every day.

As a last resort to save his son and his friend from the dangers that surround them, Mann’s father sends the boys on a survival quest of a sort, abandoning them in the woods to find their way home. After days of thirst, hunger, humiliation, frustration, anger and sadness, the boys make their way back to the city. Unwelcome in their own homes, the pair finds a place at Kee-Lee’s aunt’s house. There, they find themselves even more wrapped up in illicit dealings, as they become the aunt’s errand boys and are rented out as house painters to earn their keep. Through their trials art keeps them sane. Ultimately, Mann and Kee-Lee become victims of their environment when Kee-Lee is shot in a devastating moment. Mann flees the scene. He has a decision to make: continue on his downward spiral or learn the meaning of his name and reclaim his life.

Critique:

Bang caught me off guard. Significant elements of this book confounded me: a stable in ‘hood or a father sending his son on a quest to become a man with no warning? I didn’t buy these plot devices, more the stable than anything else. Mann’s father is so broken by his son’s death that his seriously insane act of desperation is almost plausible. Despite the odd decisions about the plot, Flake’s writing style and characters really shine through. Bang was heartbreaking, I had to put this one down. Flake beautifully conveys the torment that Mann’s family daily experiences as a result of their family member’s death.
Curriculum Ties:
Bang would be an interesting inclusion in a World Culture’s unit exploring various traditions where boys and girls are initiated into adulthood.

Controversy:

Child abuse, violence, illegal activity, language.

Ask challengers to read the entire book if they have not already, refer them to reviews and awards won by the author.

Selection Rationale:

This is a very unique story in which everything is not tied up neatly, a realistic quality that many readers will appreciate.

ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2006

“This disturbing, thought-provoking novel will leave readers with plenty of food for thought and should fuel lively discussions.” – School Library Journal

Booktalking:

Page 291, Mann begins his “Last Supper” painting of all the men lost to the streets.
In Mann’s voice, reflect on the quest your father sent you on.

About the Author:

Sharon Flake has written six books for young adults, has a degree in English and has lived in Pittsburgh for thirty years. Her books have received two Coretta Scott Kind Awards.

Bronx Masquerade
Nikki Grimes
ISBN 0-14-250189-1
Puffin, 2002
Grade 9 and up
Urban Fiction

What happens when eighteen students decide to give up the masquerade?

Summary:

Mr. Ward, a high school teacher in the Bronx develops open mic days in his classroom. The opportunity for self-expression and exploration is empowering for many students. Some students were already poets, some write for the first time. Through their poetry, the students break down barriers and destroy stereotypes. They explore self-esteem, body image, abuse, ethnicity, stereotypes, friendship, and art. These are teens who are daily participating in the Bronx masquerade and ready to break out of the box. Their experience culminates in a newspaper article, (finally, one that focuses on teens in a positive light), and a school assembly where the students read their poems.

Critique:

The format of this book is interesting and will appeal to readers. Grimes is an excellent writer, successfully developing eighteen distinct voices in Bronx Masquerade. Many readers will find themselves inspired by this positive story.

Curriculum Ties:

Incorporate Bronx Masquerade into classroom units on poetry or drama; excellent read aloud option; would be great for a drama class.

Controversy:

Addresses issues of sexuality and abuse in a non-explicit manner.

Refer challengers to reviews and awards won by Bronx Masquerade, as well as Nikki Grimes’ reputation as a young adult author.

Selection Rationale:

This nontraditional format will interest readers and provide lots of fodder for discussion. The story has a positive tone and really shows the importance of portraying teens in a positive manner.

ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2007

ALA Quick Picks for Young Adult Readers, 2003

“This inventive literary format encourages expression and just might have students begging for an open mike in their own classrooms.” – School Library Journal

Booktalking:

Select any of the poems written by Mr. Ward’s students to read aloud.


About the Author:

Nikki Grimes grew up in New York and has been writing since the age of six. She is a poet and novelist, although she claims the title “poet” more readily. She has written many award winning books, including three novels for young adults.

Ride Wit’ Me
Katina King
ISBN 0-9724003-8-9
Young Diamond Books, 2006
Grade 9 and up
Urban Fiction

Mercedes’ father forbids her from seeing Dalvin. Why are the two being forced apart? What lengths will the teens go to to be together?

Summary:

In this modern day, ghetto, Romeo and Juliet, Mercedes and Dalvin find themselves in a doomed relationship. The children of two prominent Chicago crime families, their romance is forbidden by Mercedes’ father. Dalvin’s family is the enemy in his eyes. Mercedes lives a life of wealth and privilege, unaware of her father’s true profession. Mercedes’ father is a major gangster, controlling half of Chicago’s streets. Dalvin and his father control the rest. An old fued drives Mercedes’ father to forbid her relationship with Dalvin. He goes so far as too bring his crew into Dalvin’s parents’ home, threatening them with guns. The whole thing nearly ends in a shootout, luckily Mercedes gives in to her father and agrees to stop seeing Dalvin. Although she doesn’t like the decision, it is preferable to having everyone she cares about killed. Mercedes starts seeing Jacon, who her parents love. Everyone gets a lesson about judging people when Jacob attempts to rape Mercedes. Dalvin discovers the two and saves Mercedes. The tension between families is resolved when Jacob’s true nature comes to light. Dalvin and Mercedes plan to get married with their parents’ blessing.

Critique:

Although this wasn’t my favorite selection, I really enjoyed the story. This is an accessible story and there are lots of elements for teens to identify with. The writing is not perfect, Ride Wit’ Me has a number of spelling and grammatical errors. But this is an engrossing and fast read that will get teens reading and show the importance of sticking with your beliefs.

Controversy:

Language, descriptions of oral sex and intercourse, glorification of illegal activities

Ride Wit’ Me and all of its trappings are representative of the genre. Point the book’s popularity with students, encourage parents and other challenger to engage readers in discussions about the pros and cons of Mercedes and Dalvin’s lifestyle.

Curriculum Ties:

Compare and contrast with other tales of star crossed lovers such as Romeo and Juliet.

Selection Rationale:

This is a book written for teens that is much more in the vein of traditional urban fiction than most of my other selections; it is sexy, gritty, explicit, glorifies wealth, and a life of crime. It is fabulous. This will book attract readers.

“Following in the footsteps of books like Sister Souljah’s The Coldest Winter Ever (S & S, 1999), this title is a much lighter account of street life… A fast read, the story might appeal to fans of Deja King’s adult books, and is a good addition to libraries looking for more urban popular fiction without the raw street language that goes with so much of it.” – School Library Journal

Booktalking:

Read aloud the section on mo’ money, mo’ problems. Pages 1-2, up to “But, baby girl, you’re worth it.”

Write a monologue from the perspective of Dalvin about his life.

About the Author:

I believe Katina King is a pen name of author Joy King, co-owner of Young Diamond Books, who writes urban fiction for adults under the pen name Deja King. Young Diamond is a new publishing company specializing in street lit for young adults, Ride Wit’ Me is their first publication.

Additional Information:

Katina King intends Ride Wit’ Me to be the first book in a series.

Forged by Fire
Sharon Draper
ISBN 0-689-81851-3
Simon Pulse, 1998
Grade  7 and up
Urban Fiction

Gerald knows fire. A fire saved him from a terrible life once, how will he free himself and his sister this time?

Summary:

Gerald accidentally sets a fire when left home alone as a young child. He is taken away from his drug addict mother, finally finding safety and stability in his aunt’s home. Gerald’s aunt dies suddenly and his mother, half-sister, and her father re-enter his life. Jordan is dangerous and abusive; he beats up Gerald and molests Angel, (Gerald’s half-sister and Jordan’s daughter).

Gerald tries endlessly to protect Angel, even getting Jordan sent to jail. After he’s released, Jordan’s ire is even worse. Gerald and Angel’s parents tumble deeper into drug and alcohol addiction. A car hits Monique, the kids’ mother, and life takes a turn for the worse. Monique is a shell of her former self – she forms an addiction to painkillers. Then Gerald’s best friend dies in a car crash. Angel is nearly raped by Jordan. Luckily, a fire starts in the apartment. Gerald gets home just in time to rescue Angel, but Jordan meets his end. The two feel a glimmer of hope as they ride away from the flames in an ambulance.

Critique:

This short, quick read is accessible in language but deals with many harsh realities. Draper is direct and unflinching in her dealings with abuse, addiction, co-dependency, death, friendship, and family. Gerald’s mother and step father are not the most complex characters, but the issues they face are real and many readers will be able to identify with Gerald and Angel’s experiences.

Curriculum Ties:

Examine the first chapter of Forged by Fire (initially submitted as a short story) when studying short stories in an English class.

Selection Rationale:

This is a moving account of a young teen’s experience of abuse and his attempts to salvage his family. Young adults will find many issues to identify with in Forged by Fire.

ALA Popular Paper Backs for Young Adults, 2002
“…Forged by Fire is a grim look at an inner-city home where abuse and addiction are a way of life and the children are the victims. There’s no all’s-well ending, but readers will have hope for Gerald and Angel, who have survived a number of gut-wrenching ordeals by relying on their constant love and caring for one another.” – School Library Journal
“…Draper faces some big issues (abuse, death, drugs) and provides concrete options and a positive African American role model in Gerald.” – Booklist

Booktalking:

Contrast life with Aunt Queen and life with Mom and Jordan.

About the Author:

Sharon Draper, and educator as well as author, has been honored as the National Teacher of the Year and is the recipient of five Coretta Scott King Awards.

Additional Information:

Forged by Fire is the sequel to Tears of a Tiger.

After Tupac and D Foster
Jacqueline Woodson
ISBN 978-0-399-24654-8
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008
Grade 6 and up
Urban Fiction
Brought together by Tupac and double dutch, three young girls in Queens try to discover their Big Purpose.
Summary:

D Foster discovers Neeka and the unnamed narrator one afternoon while they jump rope on the block in Queens. Narrator and Neeka have been friends forever. D Foster, a girl of mystery, quickly insinuates herself in the two other girls’ friendship. This is not a fast paced story, in the 150 short pages of the book, the girls essentially start growing up and embarking on personal discovery. Although the three girls are all eleven when the book begins, there are differences that make for meaningful interactions. Neeka and the narrator come from relatively stable homes, while D Foster is is in foster care (her mother is a drug addict). The girls meet while Tupac is still alive, and they are motivated and moved by his music. As the girls grow they become closer, but they also discover there is much they don’t know about eachother. Tupac forms a central theme in After Tupac and D Foster; he is a symbol of their lives, they identify with his music and his past. Tupac’s shooting is a sign of the pain in their lives. When D Foster’s mother re-enters the picture, D Foster slips out of Neeka and the narrator’s lives as quickly as she came.

Critique:

This is practically a period piece. Woodson effortlessly evokes the sounds, sights, and news of the 90’s. The development of D Foster,  Neeka, and our narrator are interesting studies in girlhood. Woodson addresses a slew of tough issues in this slim book, but it never feels forced or unnatural.

Curriculum Ties:

None.

Controversy:

Drug use, homosexuality, incarceration, violence.

Have challenger read the book, these  issues are dealt with in an age appropriate and tasteful manner. Point out positive reviews and awards earned by this book and the author.

Selection Rationale:

This is an award-winning book that I think will appeal to a wide age group.

ALSC Notable Children’s Book, 2009

Newbery Honor Book

“Walkmans and bootleg tapes solidify the setting of the previous decade, bringing added authenticity to Woodson’s satisfying tale of childhood friendship.” – Kirkus

“There are so many positive aspects to this work including the portrayal of loving, stable African-American families. One of the troubling points is the adoration the girls have for Tupac. Having said this, I still think that the strong portrayal of family and friends makes this a thought provoking and exalting read.” – Library Media Connection

Booktalking:

Read the lyrics to one of the Tupac songs D Foster loves.

About the Author:

Jacqueline Woodson, born in 1963, has written nine books for young adults and many others for children. Her young adult novel Miracle’s Boys was adapted into a TV miniseries. Woodson has won many awards including the Caldecott Medal, the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the Newbery Honor Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the National Book Award.