Margin Notes



Author Brandy Colbert best known for her YA novels The Voting Booth, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph, Little & Lion, Finding Yvonne and soon to be released Black Birds in the Sky has debuted her first middle grade novel The Only Black Girls in Town. Set in the small California surfing town of Ewing Beach, our protagonist Alberta is one of only a few seventh grade black students in her local middle school and while her long-time best friend Laramie is like a sister, there are still some things she doesn’t “get”.  To make things more complicated Laramie is striking up a new friendship with the “popular” eighth grader Nicolette McKee, who also just happens to be Alberta’s worst nightmare. So, when the bed and breakfast next door is bought Alberta is of course curious.  When she learns the family is black and has a daughter Alberta’s age she is beyond excited. Alberta and Edie (the new girl) soon become friends and of course this leads to misunderstandings and complications with Laramie.

As Alberta and Edie begin to navigate their new friendship they make an unexpected discovery of some long-lost journals in Edie’s new bedroom (the attic of the B&B). The journals belonged to the mysterious Constance. The girls soon begin to try and unravel the mystery of who Constance was and how her journals came to be in the attic of the bed and breakfast?

Against this backdrop the Alberta and Edie deal with microaggressions from classmates, first time crushes, and mean girl culture and begin to understand that while being the only black girls in town can be difficult, life for black people a few decades ago was much more difficult and even dangerous.

I loved The Only Two Black Girls in Town. It surprised me with complicated themes that I did not expect. I highly recommend this book for all middle grade classrooms.

To learn more about author Brandy Colbert visit here.









Kathleen Glasgow’s newest title, You’d Be Home Now, exposes the tragic outcomes when children feel unseen and unheard, and the lengths they will go to escape these feelings.

Emmie Ward is someone most would call privileged. White, wealthy, intelligent, and a dancer on the school team – she appears to have it all. But she also has two parents too busy to notice her, a brother struggling with addiction, friendships that have been broken, a neighbor who offers an escape that only leads to a broken heart, a body broken by a car accident and the grief of the death of an innocent bystander to all of this. So, while privileged in some ways, Emmie is carrying more than anyone should have to.

When her brother goes missing after a relapse, Emmie is determined to find him. Somehow her strength and determination and love for her brother awaken something in her parents and they finally seem to see what is happening to their family, and more importantly, what they can do to save it.

With themes such as parenting, addiction, slut-shaming, and the bond between siblings wrapped into a story that is deep and beautifully written, this title is one that will be passed from student and to student and leaves its readers with the understanding that just because you’ve heard stories about someone, it doesn’t mean you know them. In Emmie’s words…

I’m a girl on a stage and I have nothing beautiful for you.

I’m a girl on a stage and you think you know my story.

But how can you know my story

when I haven’t written it yet

When I haven’t had a chance to live it yet.

How can you know my story

When you don’t even know me



The Other Talk: Reckoning with My Our White Privilege takes the knowledge that BIPOC people (Brendan Kiely uses Tiffany Jewell’s term Global Majority) are forced to have “The Talk” about racism and survival in a way that white folks have the privilege of avoiding.  

In his author’s note, Brendan Kiely says that he “heard so many people of the Global Majority asking white people to get more involved – to listen more, learn more, and to speak up more about racism and white privilege – and [he did] not want to dodge that call [he’d] heard so loud and clear.” 

This book is one of his responses. 

Brendan uses a conversational tone that is welcoming to young people as he revisits his past and reflects on his learning about being anti-racist. He shares raw stories of when he got it wrong, so that his readers can see their own privilege and learn how to do better. His reflection invites the reader to think about their own experiences without shame or guilt, but with a desire to learn. 

Brendan weaves in history and information but tailors it to a YA audience by explicitly connecting the history and the narrative in a way that is easy to follow. The impact of systemic racism is continually referenced to clearly explain how it is rooted and continues to influence the present.  

He borrows a quote from Kyle Korver who says: 

As white people, are we guilty of the sins of our forefathers? No, I don’t think so.   

But are we responsible for them? Yes, I believe we are. 

And I guess I’ve come to realize that when we talk about solutions to systemic racism . . . it’s not about guilt. It’s not about pointing fingers, or passing blame.  

It’s about responsibility. 

This book belongs in your classroom library because it is accessible and guides the reader through the history and importance of anti-racism, using the lens of a white man examining his own privilege. Brendan covers the topics of systemic racism, stepping in vs listening, staying in the discomfort, guilt, white passing and more. 

We need to have “The Other Talk” about white privilege. As Brendan leaves the reader,  

Now is the time to take action! 

Join that tradition and be part of shaping that future. 

Show up. Speak out. 

Do something. 

You can. 




Ernesto Cisneros’ debut novel, Efren Divided, is a must have for all middle level classroom libraries.  This powerful and moving, but often humorous story of undocumented immigrants in California sheds important light on the hardships faced by individuals striving to provide a better life for their children. Through the eyes of Efren Nava, the oldest son, Cisneros paints a vivid picture of Efren’s life in middle school with his best friend, David, and in the poor working-class neighborhood.

As the oldest son of the Navas, undocumented Mexican immigrants, Efren accepts and understands why his parents need to work as hard as they do to provide for himself and his twin siblings, Max, and Mia. He knows they do not have the resources to provide a great deal, but he is never hungry, and his mother’s love and affection is never in question.

It is against this backdrop that Efren must find the strength and resiliency to grow up much faster than either his Ama (mother) or Apa (father) wanted and when Ama fails to return home one day, the family eventually learns that she has been deported. This news sets in motion a chain of events that requires Efren to put family first, school second and embark on a dangerous journey in the hopes of reuniting his family.

Efren Divided is a heartbreakingly realistic depiction of life for many immigrant families.  I shed many tears as Efren shared his story and hope that Cisneros will soon provide the next chapter in Efren’s life.





In Case You Missed It by Sarah Darer Littman


Sammy Wallach is feeling the pressure of looming AP exams and wondering if Jamie Moss is going to ask her to Junior Prom.  Things aren’t much better at home.  The bank where her dad is CEO has been targeted by protesters and that’s creating tension for everyone.  On top of all that, her best friend got tickets to see their favourite band, but Sammy’s parents have forbidden her from going.

Things quickly get far worse than Sammy ever could have expected when one of the protest groups hacks into the Wallach family’s private cloud and posts everything online—texts, emails, and, worst of all, Sammy’s diary.  Not only are Sammy’s innermost thoughts exposed to the world, but she also becomes privy to email conversations between her parents that they never meant for anyone else to read, especially their children.

In Case You Missed It invites us to reflect on how we differentiate between our public (more…)

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman


Inside a now/then/now/then chronological order, we follow Ingrid as she was then: a child travelling all over Europe with her opera star mother where life was, “beautiful and bright, and everyday soared with music” to now, where she is 17 and on a summertime wilderness survival trek for at risk teens: addicts, runaways, and her.

In a series of letters she writes to her mother while trying to survive in the wilderness, Ingrid reveals the secrets of her life and comes to terms with the trauma she has experienced. With the help of an eclectic group of wilderness campers, Ingrid slowly finds both her voice, and a purpose in the experience. Near the end of her 21-day camp experience, she writes to her mother: “I get it now. Peak Wilderness is geared to breaking down your barriers – physical, psychological, mental. Bringing you face-to-face with the best and worst of yourself, teaching you things you didn’t know about yourself, facing your demons. My demon is you.” (more…)