Tag Archives: Renee Watson

New Releases – February 2015

The Many Faces of Josephine Baker: Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy by Peggy Caravantes (Chicago Review Press)

“An honest, revealing portrait of the famed entertainer and activist who was born into extreme poverty and became an international iconic star of the Jazz Age. … This warts-and-all portrait reveals that Baker was a complex, enigmatic personality who could be as selfish as she was generous, as mean-spirited as she was compassionate, and as inconsiderate as she was thoughtful. A fascinating, compelling story of a remarkably resilient woman who overcame poverty and racial prejudice to become an international celebrity.” — Kirkus

The Oathbreaker’s Shadow by Amy McCulloch (Flux)

“In a fantasy world with the flavor of the Central Asian steppes, Raim is a 15-year-old nomad determined to join the elite forces of the Khanate. Since he was a child, he’s been best friends with the Khan’s heir, and if he passes his tests he’ll be young Khareh’s most trusted fighter. He need only make an Absolute Vow, an oath sworn on a knot. If the maker of a knotted promise is forsworn, the knot burns a hideous scar on the oathbreaker’s body, and a grotesque shadow appears, haunting the breaker of the promise and causing his countrymen to drive him into the wilderness.” — Kirkus

Soulprint by Megan Miranda (Bloomsbury)

“Miranda (Vengeance) introduces a heroine with a strong voice and a thirst for freedom, thrust among a vividly delineated supporting cast with competing agendas. In a future where reincarnation can be scientifically tracked, 17-year-old half-Hispanic Alina Chase has spent her life isolated, allegedly for her own protection. She carries within her the soul of a charismatic and destructive whistleblower turned blackmailer, June Calahan. … The beauty of Miranda’s latest novel is in watching Alina, unused to human relationships, fall in love, earn trust, and form fast friendships in a high-adrenaline atmosphere, as she and her companions fight to stay ahead of the authorities while following the trail left by June.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Third Twin by CJ Omololu (Delacorte)

“Twins Lexi and Ava have been playing a game since they were little girls: they have created an imaginary third twin, Alicia. … Now as teenagers, the sisters vicariously imagine the free-spirited Alicia indulging in the wilder side of life. … Then the game begins to have dangerous consequences. … This compelling story filled with serpentine twists and turns will leave readers guessing at every step, and breathless at the climactic conclusion. Hand to readers who crave suspenseful, plot-driven thrillers.” — School Library Journal

When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez (Bloomsbury)

“This realistic novel invites readers into the lives of two high schoolers, Elizabeth Davis and Emily Delgado, as they struggle with unrelated painful events, reacting in ways as different as their personalities. … Latino culture, and bicultural and gay family relationships are woven easily into the story; popular culture references and some romance will also resonate with adolescents. Overall, this text provides important insights into the various stressors that can lead to depression and suicide, as well as the type of support required to move toward potential healing.” — School Library Journal

Hold Me Down by Calvin Slater (Dafina)

Book Description: Xavier Hunter’s dreams of graduation and college are even more crazy-impossible this sophomore year. Flipping on his former BFF has put more than one target on his back. And thanks to vicious baby-daddy lies, his dream girl Samantha Fox has quit him for good. The only person who seems to understand what he’s going through is Nancy Simpson. She’s a gorgeous chance to make things right—but she’s more dangerous drama than Xavier has ever seen.

Samantha isn’t going to let heartbreak break her. Maybe Xavier wasn’t the down-deep-decent guy she thought. And maybe what they had wasn’t as true as she hoped. But there’s something about his new boo, Nancy, that’s screaming bad news. And exposing what’s real means she and Xavier must face some hard truths—and survive.

Feral Pride by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick)

“A battle pitting a group of werepeople and their vampire compatriot against demons in disguise concludes this trilogy that began with Feral Nights (2013). … As in previous volumes, the wickedly funny, quickly paced style is anchored by the novel’s underlying theme of the marginalization of people and its effects, both those obvious (”Our legal rights are slippery,“ explains Kayla) and more insidiously subtle. … A final episode that is witty, smart and moving—sure to satisfy those who’ve been following the series.” — Kirkus

This Side of Home by Renée Watson (Bloomsbury)

“The summer before Maya and Nikki’s senior year of high school brings new challenges as their previously all-black neighborhood becomes attractive to other ethnic groups. The twins, while still close, have been changing in recent years and now find they have very different views about the changes. … Maya’s straightforward narration offers an intriguing look at how families and young people cope with community and personal change. Maya and her friends are well-drawn, successful characters surrounded by a realistic adult supporting cast.” — Kirkus

Home Is a Complicated Place

By Renée Watson

watson-thissideofhome“Wow, there are black people in Oregon?”

“Are the people in Portland really like the characters in Portlandia?”

These are the questions I get when I tell people where I’m from. I grew up in Portland, Oregon, which means I know the necessity of carrying an umbrella at all times. It means I know the beauty of majestic mountains in my rearview mirror as I drive through the city. It means I know the sour taste of huckleberries and the smell of marionberry cobbler baking in an oven. It also means I know the evils and violence of Skinheads, how to swallow my tears when a white teacher is surprised at how smart I am because I live “over there” on the northeast side of town. It means home, like for so many others, is a complicated place. People know Portland to be a haven for hippies and cyclists. It’s known for its clean air and rolling mountains, but the painful parts, the experiences of blacks in Oregon — our arrival, treatment, and contributions — are often missing.

For Maya Younger, the main character in This Side of Home, home is complicated because everything she’s known is changing. Abandoned storefronts are being renovated, houses are getting facelifts and new faces — white faces — are showing up more and more in her community. Maya isn’t so sure these changes are for the best, but her twin, Nikki, is all for the urban renewal that’s taking place.

I see myself in both twins. I started noticing changes in my neighborhood my junior year in high school. Gentrification was not a word I knew at fifteen but I knew the feeling of not belonging. There was something about the changes that made it seem like they weren’t for the people who already lived there but for the people who were coming. Yet, even with that feeling, I still wanted to go out and enjoy these new places. So for me, I have both of their perspectives — I want the change, appreciate it even, but I question the push out that often comes with it.

I also question the silencing of a people’s story. No one ever talked with me about how African Americans got to Portland, or how The Vanport Flood impacted the black community. When I was in the fifth grade, Skinheads beat an Ethiopian man to death with a baseball bat. Only one of my teachers talked about it in class. I wanted to talk about all of it — needed to know my history, my story. I needed a space to process what was happening in my neighborhood.

In high school, my English teacher, Mrs. Christensen, introduced me to myself through novels and poetry. We read Zora Neale Hurston, BeBe Campbell Moore, Alice Walker, and Lorraine Hansberry.  We studied the poetry of Martín Espada and Sherman Alexie, Gwendolyn Brooks and Lucille Clifton. We watched excerpts from Eyes on the Prize and learned about the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. I was able to connect the dots and see the bigger picture of the world I was living in. I was able to see myself on the continuum of social change. I learned about white allies and had meaningful conversation with white classmates about race and class.

In our English class, books were not just something to read for entertainment, not something to skim through just enough to be able to write a book report or pass a quiz. Books became essential to our growth as human beings. They were the catalyst for debates and discussions. They were mirrors, sometimes showing me my world, validating its existence. Sometimes books were windows, giving me opportunities to learn about someone else’s experience. I hope This Side of Home does for students and educators what the books I read in Mrs. Christensen ’s class did for me.

It is my hope that readers of This Side of Home not only learn about Portland but that they investigate and find out about their own home towns, that they celebrate and critique the places and people they were raised by, that they tell their stories and learn the stories of others.

Maya learns the history I wish I’d known when I was her age. She gives us all permission to ask questions, to find our beginnings, to hold on to our story.


reneewatsonRenée Watson is the author of This Side of Home (Bloomsbury 2015) and Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills (Random House 2012). Her work has received several honors including an NAACP Image Award nomination in children’s literature. Her novel, What Momma Left Me, (Bloomsbury 2010), debuted as the New Voice for 2010 in middle grade fiction. Her one woman show, Roses are Red Women are Blue, debuted at the Lincoln Center at a showcase for emerging artists. One of Renée’s passions is using the arts to help youth cope with trauma and discuss social issues. Her picture book, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen (Random House, 2010), is based on poetry workshops she facilitated with children in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and was featured on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. Renée has worked as a writer in residence for several years teaching creative writing and theater in public schools and community centers through out the nation. Her articles on teaching and arts education have been published in Rethinking Schools and Oregon English Journal. Renée has given lectures and talks at many renowned places, including the United Nations Headquarters and the Library of Congress. Renée grew up in Portland, Oregon and currently lives in New York City.

This Side of Home is now available.