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RENEE WATSON is the acclaimed author of the teen novel, This Side of Home, and two picture books: Harlem's Little Blackbird and A Place Where Hurricanes Happen, which was featured on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. Her middle grade novel, What Momma Left Me debuted as an ABA New Voices Pick. She lives in New York City. www.reneewatson.net @harlemportland (Instagram)
Renée Watson’s remarkable What Momma Left Me is a wise and nourishing story rooted in themes of resilience, healing and love. With high school on the horizon, African American Serenity is struggling to piece her life back together following the brutal death of her beloved momma and the loss of her dad. Amidst this sensitively evoked maelstrom, Serenity finds hope in the form of her wholesome grandparents, church (where Grandpa is a pastor), brother Danny and new friend and confidante Maria, a bright beam of light who harbours her own bleak secrets. Serenity handles her grief, set-backs and challenging dilemmas with dignity, her grandparents a constant, calming presence as they impart wisdom, such as this nod to Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’ poem: “That’s why we say ‘we rise’, children. There have been lots of things that have tried to keep us down. But we’ve got resilience running through these veins.”Empathetically charting Serenity’s grief, first romance and growing up (what Serenity does to save Maria from an unsafe situation shows strength and wisdom way beyond her years), this huge-hearted novel comes highly recommended for its honesty, depth and engaging readability, along with Watson’s Piecing Me Together and Watch Us Rise (the latter co-authored with Ellen Hagan). Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
In a Nutshell: Be Your Best “Be bold. Be brave. Be beautiful. Be brilliant. Be (your) best”. So resolves main character Jade in this timely, inspirational novel that will surely motivate many young women to do the same. Talented collage artist Jade is a bright teen with her eyes wide open to the world. She wants to learn Spanish “to give myself a way out. A way in. Because language can take you places”, and she has a scholarship to attend a mostly-white private school. While this is a great achievement and will open doors for her, Jade is acutely aware of how different she is from her classmates, not only because she’s black but also “because their mothers are the kind of people who hire housekeepers, and my mother is the kind of person who works as one”. Initially reluctant to accept a place on a programme for “at-risk” girls (she’s fed up of being labeled as someone who needs help), Jade takes it because “girls like me, with coal skin and hula-hoop hips, whose mommas barely make enough money to keep food in the house, have to take opportunities every chance we get”. Maxine, her mentor, takes her out to eat and buys her art books, but clued-up Jade is pretty sure that flaky Maxine could do with learning some life lessons herself, plus she creates some rifts between Jade and her mom. In fact, everywhere she turns, Jade encounters conflict, leading her to wonder “if a black girl’s life is only about being stitched together and coming undone…I wonder if there’s ever a way for a girl like me to feel whole”. But one thing’s for sure, Jade’s not going to let anything distract her from being a success and making a difference. At once moving and motivational, this incisive novel tackles issues of race, class and identity with power and depth, and Jade is one of those extraordinary characters you’d love to meet in real life - we could all learn a lot from Jade. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Ryan Hart and her family live in Portland, Oregon, and her dad lost his job a while ago. He finally got a new one, but it pays less, and he'll have to work nights. And so they're selling the second car and moving to an (old) new house. The Harts are an everyfamily - a family with siblings who bicker, parents who don't always get it right, but a family that loves. A family working hard to make it in tough economic times, a family with traditions and culture, a family that tries new things. This is a black family growing up in middle class America. And Ryan is a girl who has much on her mind - school, family, friends, self-image - but who knows how to make sunshine out of setbacks. Packed with humour and heart alongside meaningful and thoughtful moments, Ryan Hart is the character everyone will want to be best friends with.
From New York Times bestselling and multi award-winning author Renee Watson comes a heartwarming and inspiring middle grade novel about finding deep roots and exploring the past, the present, and the places that make us who we are. 'Some of the places I am still getting to know, some of these places I have known all my life. All of these places made me, are making me.' All Amara wants for her birthday is to visit her father's family in New York City - Harlem. She can't wait to finally meet her Grandpa Earl and cousins in person, and to stay in the brownstone where her father grew up. Maybe this will help her understand her family - and herself - in a new way. But New York City is not exactly what Amara thought it would be. It's noisy, crowded, confusing, and her cousins can be mean. Plus her father is too busy working to spend time with her and too angry to fix his relationship with Grandpa Earl. Amara can't help wondering, even if she does discover more about where she came from, will it help her know where she belongs?