Review: Kinda Like Brothers

I’m going to be reviewing some older books for a while. While I am always reading new books, ARCs, and what’s coming straight off the press, I find myself pouring back over some reads that have been on my TBR list for a while lately. So today, I present you with a children’s lit book that I think is pretty darn impressive.

First off, lemme extol the virtues of children’s lit. As a former middle school teacher, I believe it’s important to give kids access to all varieties of literature for their success. Not only is literature important for cognitive skills, it’s where I believe that kids first learn to really truly appreciate culture–not just theirs, but others’ as wellIt’s also where we develop emotional intelligence around life events such as death, tragedy, happiness, etc.

So I’ll never stop reading kid’s books. I find them fascinating, because many of them ‘teach’ the values that kids learn. It’s like coming home full circle for me.

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Review for "Kinda Like Brothers" by Coe Booth (2014)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This is a really great book–not just for its intended audience of children’s/middle grades readers, but for adults as well.

“Kinda Like Brothers” is the story of Jarrett, an 11-year-old from Newark, NJ, whose mother routinely takes in foster children. While they are often babies in need of dire care after being removed from abusive homes, Jarrett is shocked when a special needs infant named Treasure arrives with her 12-year-old brother, Kevon. Immediately, Jarrett is angry that he must share his room with a stranger and irritated that he isn’t privy to the reason why these children have come into his family’s lives. Kevon is highly guarded over Treasure at first, but slowly begins to let Jarrett’s mother physically care for her. In time, the boys form an unsteady truce.

Jarrett’s life is also beset by other problems. He doesn’t read very well and must take a remedial summer reading program in order to pass the 5th grade, which brings him embarrassment among his peers. He secretly wishes that his mother would stop taking in foster children and spend more time with him. He also has a crush on a classmate, who barely knows he’s alive or that he’s failing the 5th grade. His best friend is hiding a secret from him and has been acting strangely since his return from a trip home to Jamaica. Jarrett is also taken with his mother’s boyfriend, who also wishes that Jarrett’s mom would stop taking foster children too. All of these things swirl around in the story until the end, when Jarrett’s meddling into Kevon’s family situation brings bad consequences.

I thought this book very realistically portrayed the life of an urban youth, who are very often dealing with multiple sensitive issues at once (foster families, school failure, etc). I also liked how everything wasn’t necessarily ‘solved’ at the end, because, let’s face it, many of the problems that Jarrett has cannot be safely tucked away by the end of a book. In Jarrett’s world, having a foster brother and sister sharing your small apartment is not just a temporary problem, it’s part of reality. There are also discussions about homosexuality and police brutality that are very well constructed and presented in this book.

I’d read this again and again. Definitely 4.5 stars.

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Review: Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish

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Review for "Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish" by Pablo Carteya (2018)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ah, I liked this book. It’s a great junior high/middle grades story of family, culture, and dealing with adversity. It’s also a love letter to the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, which I had the chance to visit back in 2016 before the hurricane. Because this book conjured up so many great memories for me, naturally I gravitated to this novel.

Marcus Vega is an 8th grader who is 6 feet tall. He uses his size to walk bullied kids to and from school, to impose a littering tax, and keep kids’ cell phones during the day–for profit. He lives with his single mom who works long hours at the local airport, and cares for his younger brother Charlie, who has Down Syndrome. When another student at school makes a comment about his brother, Marcus attacks him and is suspended from school. Marcus’ mom uses the break from school to visit family in Puerto Rico, the place where Marcus was born. Marcus, who came to the mainland as a young child, does not speak Spanish. He also barely remembers any of his family there, particularly his father. He becomes interested in traveling to the island to meet his dad for the first time.

Once the family is in Puerto Rico, Marcus discovers an entire culture, language, and way of seeing his world that he previously knew nothing about. While I won’t reveal the ending of this book, I did feel that the ending was satisfactory, though bittersweet. All in all I loved the scenery of this novel: the colorful streets of Old San Juan, the music, the culture, the chirping of the coqui, the language. Much of the Spanish spoken by the characters isn’t translated, which is ok. This is Puerto Rico’s story.

I highly recommend this book.

Top Five Book Moments

Ahh, memories. This is a good topic this week…

Certain books will always remind you of the past and the time period of your life you were in when you read it. I’ve listed a few that make me a bit nostalgic for that special moment.

Top Five Books That Are Linked to Special Moments in My Life

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Frog and Toad Are Friends – Arnold Lobel
This is one of the very first books I remember reading when I was a kid.
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“I Can’t,” Said the Ant – Polly Cameron
Another book that makes me misty-eyed. I remember my Dad used to read this book to me and my younger sister every night before we went to bed. He used to do different voices for each character, and we both thought that was the greatest thing in the world.
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Hamlet – William Shakespeare
Hamlet has always been my favorite Shakespeare play, ever since I read it in high school. I remember reading this out loud when I was pregnant with my son, hoping he would “hear” it and the words would soothe him during the evenings when he would kick me like crazy. He is now a teenager and he loves to read, so I think that this book was an excellent choice.
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Ariel – Sylvia Plath
I first came to know about Plath when I was in 7th grade. I remember reading one of her poems (ironically entitled “Spinster”) and at that moment being really, really moved by it. I went to the library and looked up some of her other poems, and from there it became an obsession. I did my undergraduate thesis on Sylvia Plath. I’m very proud of that work.
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The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s first book. This was the book that truly “awakened” me to the world of Black literature (before this point my reading was mostly White/European authors) and women’s literature. I read this book and thought: this is what I want to read and write about for the rest of my life. And it’s still the topic that I’m writing about today.
The ID Channel calls,
Kellan

Review: Ghost Boys

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Review for "Ghost Boys" by Jewell Parker Rhodes (2018)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“All children, except one, grow up.”
-Peter Pan

Jerome is a likeable 12 year old boy living in Chicago with his parents, grandmother, and sister. He is bullied at school, so a friend gives him a toy gun to brandish for protection. During a visit to a local park to play with the gun, Jerome is shot and killed by a police officer, who felt as if Jerome was a “threat” to his life.

Once dead, Jerome remains in the world of the living, watching his parents grieve and visiting places he used to go. No one sees him, until he encounters the young daughter of the police officer who killed him. They strike up an unlikely friendship. Ghost boys, we learn, are young Black boys killed by racially motivated violence. Emmett Till, Tamir Rice, and Trayvon Martin all make appearances in this book. We’re told that there are hundreds of ghost boys, walking around in the world of the living, making sure we don’t forget them.

This is a sad, heartbreaking book. I will admit that I went into the reading of this book angry on the subject matter. I won’t say I liked it either, because it deals with an all-to-real horror that I, as the mother of a 14-year-old Black boy, hope to never, ever encounter. Yet mothers are still dealing with the pain of their children shot dead by police with no consequences, legal or otherwise. Ghost boys continue.

This is geared toward middle grades readers. I’d definitely use it with that age group to discuss issues of empathy and racism.