What it’s about: The neighborhood oak and all the stories she has witnessed and watched over in her 200 plus years.
What made me pick it up: I’d seen it recommended on Twitter.
My favorite parts: I love that it’s from the point of view of a tree. This is such a sweet story of friendship and community and how things so simple, like friendship and acceptance, are so difficult for humans to attain sometimes. It also has a wonderful theme of environmental conservation and protection. Not only is the tree character great, but there is a whole menagerie of wild animals to meet as well including one very precocious crow. I also enjoyed that this book is fairly short and quick, being middle grade. An excellent reminder to all ages to build bridges and foster appreciation.
Who it’s great for: Middle grade readers on up, especially fans of The Giving Tree.
What’s it about: The life, death, and legacy of Erica Garner – the man whose death at the hands of the Staten Island police made headlines with the release of a video of his dying words; “I can’t breathe.”
What made me pick it up: I was already thinking about reading this, but I made it my top priority after his daughter, Erica, passed away in late December.
My favorite things: Though at times it feels a bit voyeuristic, Taibbi dives deeply into the lives and histories of numerous people involved in or impacted by Garner’s death. He is very thorough in his reporting in order to paint a more complete picture of exactly how and why Eric Garner dies.
Who it’s great for: True crime readers. Those interested in the human stories involved in racial profiling, police violence, and systemic discrimination.
What’s it about: A thorough history of the ways in which the government – local, state, and federal -created and has maintained segregated communities in the United States.
What made me pick it up: A colleague read this and recommended it.
My favorite things: Rothstein is incredibly thorough. He delivers a lot of informative content in an accessible way and uses a lot of evidence to back up his claims. There is a FAQ section at the end where he addresses questions that might still linger.
Who it’s great for: Readers interested in racial justice. Those interested in US history, discrimination, housing law, or civil rights. I’d recommend reading it with Desmond’s Evicted.
I read a lot of books this year and enjoyed many of them. It’s hard to choose favorites, so I narrowed it down to only those books that were released during 2017. These books all received five out of five shells in my reviews.
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia
Rita Williams-Garcia is an incredible author whose middle-grade fiction always handles difficult subjects with ease and gentleness. Her newest release is no different. I loved going on an adventure with Clayton as he discovered truths about himself and his family through the power of music.
Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley
I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me at the beginning of the year that a book about yoga would make my best-of list, but here we are! Beyond just making yoga more accessible, the biggest take away from this book is that no matter who you are and what your physical limitations may be, your body and mind deserve to be nourished and prioritized.
Hunger by Roxane Gay
This was one of my most anticipated reads for the year and it exceeded all of my expectations. I still feel it in my chest when I reflect on the experiences Roxane Gay shares in this heartbreaking memoir.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This book deserves every ounce of praise that it’s received this year. It’s a stunning YA debut about police violence and the movement for black lives. You definitely need to pick it up if you haven’t already read it. Do it!
Looking back on 2017 (with the help of Goodreads, of course) I see that I liked and really liked a lot of books. But the ones that got five stars from me were these:
Princess Hair by Sharee Miller
This wonderful picture book spreads the message that everyone is a princess and therefore their hair is princess hair. Then it details exactly how princesses can wear all the varieties of African American hairstyles. I loved its premise and its focus on African American girls. It’s all empowerment and positive message and inclusion and you should get it for all your littles, whether of color or not.
Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera
As I talked about in my review this picture book is hilarious in its absurdity about animals and their underroos. I loved it so much I bought it for my almost three-year-old niece for Christmas.
Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky
Vibrant colors and illustrations with a powerhouse of information on notable women you may have heard of and some you likely haven’t. I was inspired and to this day want to share it with everyone (just ask Abby what my reaction was when I saw her reading it.). Ignotofsky’s next book, Women in Sports, came out in July and is one of my most anticipated reads for 2018.
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman
It’s no secret I adore Backman’s whole catalog but this novella hit so close to home. If you’ve ever had a loved one deteriorate from Alzheimer’s this will likely make you cry the entire time, like it did me. About a grandfather trying to come back to reality for his grandson even though he can’t quite find the way.
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
I’m still in awe of the mastery of this novel by Picoult and I try to get everyone to read it in the hopes of fostering dialog about race and race relations in America. It’s so easy to say “oh no, I’m not racist” without realizing all the little ways you maybe are. I stand by my one word review of “wow”.
My favorite things: While this doesn’t dip into the supernatural they way that Sing did, it still traces similar themes that I was hoping to find. Each character experiences specific manifestations of systemic racism unique to their era but undeniably tied to those of the other generations. The lines between each are clear, with the desperation escalating in younger characters. The people missing from each character’s life have almost as much of an impact on their stories as do those who are present.
Who it’s great for: Fans of family histories that trace multiple generations. Readers looking for writers telling complex stories of the African-American family; fans of Jesmyn Ward, Tayari Jones, and Angela Flournoy.
What it’s about: Baldwin writing a letter to his young nephew, telling him how it is to be a black man in America.
What made me pick it up: Abby mentioned it was very short, and I’d been meaning to read it so I checked it out. We both finished it in one sitting.
My favorite things: This really reminded me of Between the World and Me (as it should, since that is structured similarly and inspired by this) — beautiful writing, and unfortunately timeless observations about the treatment of black people in this country. I wish this weren’t still so resonant, but that is not the case. Baldwin talks about the difficulties of maintaining relationships with people of all colors during the distrust of the black power movement and his hopes for a more equal standing for African Americans in future America. I also learned a fair amount about the Nation of Islam and the empowering effect the Muslim religion had on African Americans in the 60s.
Who it’s great for: Anyone reading voraciously on the themes of racial justice.
What it’s about: A modern southern gothic story set in a contemporary rural Mississippi Gulf Coast community chronicling a family’s struggles with poverty, addiction, incarceration, and the ghosts of past injustices.
What made me pick it up: I read Ward’s early novel Salvage the Bones last year and was excited to pick up her newest work.
My favorite things: Sing, Unburied, Sing is beautifully written and almost painful to read from the first page. The climax, however inevitable, left me stunned and heartbroken – but I’m here for it. The saddest parts of Ward’s stories don’t feel like cheap shots or emotional manipulation the way writing sometimes comes across. Instead, it feels honest and necessary. I love the way she seamlessly incorporates ghosts and spirits into the fabric of this family’s life.
Who it’s great for: Southern gothic readers; fans of Beloved.
What it’s about: An 11-year-old African-American girl named Stella growing up in a small North Carolina town in the 1930s and all the challenges she and her family and other African-Americans in her town face.
What made me pick it up: It came up when I placed another book on hold as a suggestion, but I can’t remember what that book was anymore. I’ll pick up almost any title with racial justice themes these days, so I think that may have played a role.
My favorite things: The language in this book is beautiful. I liked how just because it’s a children’s book it didn’t shy away from brutality and injustice to favor a happy ending. The depictions of bravery by young children like Stella, and family and community are very heartwarming and heart wrenching all at once.
Who it’s great for: Anyone interested in the poor treatment of African-Americans in the south during the Jim Crow era.
What it’s about: A teen girl watches her oldest friend as he is murdered by the police. She contemplates Tupac’s concept of THUG LIFE (The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everyone) while struggling to stand up for her community.
What made me pick it up: This has been getting crazy good press so I scooped it up as soon as I could.
My favorite things: Starr’s voice is genuine and her heartbreak palpable. Thomas captures the essence and urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement without exploiting or forgetting the real lives that have been lost. The current movement is tied to the past through more than Tupac’s words; reminiscent of the response by Bloods and Crips to the Rodney King verdict, local opposing gangs band together to protect their communities and join in protest against the violence they face at the hands of the state. The overall effect is both breathtaking and devastating.
Who it’s great for: Teens and adults looking to understand and process the violence faced by communities of color in our society.