Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Genre: Middle Grade / Young Adult

Summary: Genesis knows that she’s unlikable, she even has a list of 96 reasons not to like her (and counting). Her skin is too dark, she’s always smiling, she gets evicted from her house too often… the list goes on. But it’s during one of the post-eviction moves that lands Genesis in a place where she finally begins to see that part of being accepted by others is accepting yourself.

Sensitivities: Alcoholism, colorism, racism, poverty

Classroom Library: Please. Multiple Copies.

Most Appropriate For: 5th grade and up. Genesis is in middle school, which is apparent in the book, but the way the book is written it does not feel grounded in Middle School, it feels like a kid trying to find her way.

Enjoyability: ★★★★ ★ (5/5)
“I’ll tell you what beauty ain’t. It ain’t some organ hidden on the inside – no one cares about how good your heart is. And another thing, being black like me ain’t nothing to be proud about.”

I haven’t been floored by a book in awhile. The story is full of such raw, and powerful moments that Williams artfully navigates. Ultimately, Genesis Begins Again is a story of acceptance: of wanting to be accepted by others, of learning how to accept yourself, of learning that you can refuse to accept the behavior of others and love them anyway. It is also about a young black girl learning how to feel comfortable in her own skin in a world that tells her she shouldn’t. Genesis’ journey is heartbreaking, and honest. But it’s also funny, and developed, and full of references to Doctor Who. This is the story that every kid, but especially girl, and especially especially black girl, deserves to read.

Teachability: ★★★★ ★ (5/5)
I am already trying to figure out how I’m going to get enough copies of this to use with my students next year. There is so much in Genesis’ story to unpack, there is so much to discuss. I can especially see this story being used in units about change or self-acceptance, but it could also be used to discuss race, or self-advocacy. Most of all, it could be a read aloud book that can be shared with students for the joy of it. The options with this one are limitless.


Miles Morales: A smart, black boy from Brooklyn

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Summary: Miles Morales is just a normal teenager from Brooklyn trying to please his parents, do well in school, get the attention of the girl he likes, and manage being Spiderman, which isn’t always easy when his spidey-sense is alerting him to dangers he can’t see.

Sensitivities: Some violence, discussion of racism

Classroom Library: Absolutely

Most Appropriate for: older, or more advanced readers, or students that know a lot about the marvel universe. This book could be tricky for students who don’t know what they’re walking into.

Enjoyability: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Things I loved about this book: The Sijos, Jason Reynolds’ ability to add mundane details into his stories and normalize characters, the very present parents, the rich and detailed side characters. 

Things I’m struggling with: This story, is obviously, about Spiderman. Throughout the story there is a build up to the battle scene, with Miles’ Spidey sense alerting him and the way too evil history teacher. It felt like all of this build up happened and then the battle scene was 10 pages long and then it was over.

However, the more I think about this, the more I think that it’s done this way on purpose. Being Spiderman is just one part of Miles. He is also a son, and a friend, and a student, and a teenage boy trying to navigate his crush. This story tells one small period of time in his life. Once he has defeated the villain, he still has real life demons to answer to and problems of racism and discrimination that cannot be as easily defeated as the larger-than-life villain.

So while this was unsettling to me when I read it, it forced me ask myself a lot of questions and grapple with why the story was told this way and the answers make the grappling worth it.

tl;dr Jason Reynolds is masterful in his story telling. This is exactly the story Donald Glover was talking about years ago. Spiderman is just a normal, smart black kid from Brooklyn.

Teachability: ★★★ (3/5)
I can see this book being a really interesting addition to a unit about Heroes and the hero story. Examining whether Miles is truly a hero in terms of “the hero’s journey” would be interesting, especially given the arguably more heroic ending. This book could be a catalyst for an interesting discussion about what it means to be a hero. However, it may be challenging to teach without providing students with an origin story. This is included in the book, but subtly and pretty far into the story, which may create frustration for student readers.