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Middle Grade Monday – Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth

A large percentage of my student population is either African American or Multiracial with African American family members. Sometimes as many as 70% of my students can claim African American heritage. Finding books that appeal to these students’ sense of self can be difficult. Every year, I purchase more copies of books by Sharon Draper, Angela Johnson, Jacqueline Woodson, Walter Dean Myers, Sharon Flake, Christopher Paul Curtis, and Rita Williams Garcia (I know I’m leaving some out…) But it’s not enough. Many of these amazing books are historical fiction, which can be a difficult sale for some students. Many of these authors write YA, which is essential for my collection, but it misses some of my sixth graders. There is a definite need for more contemporary middle grades African American fiction. Cut to me finding out this summer that Coe Booth had written a contemporary MG novel:

And let me just tell you – it does not disappoint.

It’s the summer after sixth grade, and Jarrett’s normal summer plans of hanging out at the Center with his friends, playing basketball, taking classes, and working on his movie trailer with his BFF Ennis are interrupted by summer school. Jarrett didn’t pass the end of year test for sixth grade, so he is spending several weeks in class before he has the opportunity to take the test again. If he doesn’t pass the second time, he’ll have to repeat sixth grade. Reading and writing are not Jarrett’s strong suits, although he is obviously bright enough. Some of his troubles with school work are due to the absences cause by his severe asthma attacks, which sometimes land him in the hospital.

Jarrett is an only child, but his mother takes emergency short term placements of foster babies, and he has grown up helping her take care of them as they pass in and out of his life. This summer, however, Jarrett’s mother agrees to take a 2 year old named Treasure and her twelve year old brother, Kevon, who will be sleeping in the bottom bunk in Jarrett’s room. Jarrett has some of the typical problems you’d expect from a kid sharing his space for the first time, but he overcomes them quite well. He has had a lot of exercise building his empathy skills over the years helping his mother with the babies she takes in who have often been neglected or abused. It’s not just his room e has to share, though, as Kevon begins going to the Center and interacting with Jarrett’s friends. Jarrett and Kevon also clash over Kevon treatment of Jarrett’s mother.

Even though Jarrett has never known his father, he has regular, healthy interactions with adults other than his mother. His mother’s boyfriend is a regular presence in his life, encouraging Jarrett and helping him study for his summer school class. There are also adult males at the Center who teach classes and run groups where Jarrett gets to ask questions in a judgement free environment. After a disturbing incident where one of the older teen boys is subjected to a ‘stop and frisk’ by the police just outside the Center, a counselor spends an afternoon training Jarrett and his friends in how to respond appropriately to the police.

There is just so much going on in this detailed and complex telling of a very engaging story. My favorite part is when Jarrett decides to join in a yoga class at the Center in order to be near the girl he has a crush on. He discovers there is a reason his mother insists that he put on deodorant every day and bathe regularly. He also discovers that all of that bending and twisting can lead to your body leaking gases.

I am so excited for this book to come out August 26th. I know it is going to be an easy sell that will hook many of my students on reading.