You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P – Middle Grade Book Recommendation

Title: YOU DON’T KNOW everything, JILLY P!

Author: Alex Gino

Publisher: Scholastic, March 2018

Ages: 9-12

Themes: LGBTQIA+, lesbians, bigotry, racism, deafness, online communities, families, micro-aggressions, white privilege, ableism, ASL, hearing loss, police brutality


The house smells of homemade tomato sauce when I get home from school, a sure sign that dad is cooking dinner. Mom lies on the couch, her laptop propped on her knees. A line of belly-white skin stretches between the bottom of her shirt and the waistline of her pants. My baby-sister is inside, just waiting to join us out here. Mom has shoulder-length copper hair, a small nose, and light brown eyes. I look a lot like her, but my hair is longer an I’m not pregnant.


Jilly thinks she’s figured out how life works. But when her sister Emma is born Deaf, she realizes how much she still has to learn. 

A big fantasy reader, Jilly connects with another fan, Derek, who is a Deaf Black ASL user. She goes to Derek for advice but doesn’t always know the best way to ask for it and makes some mistakes along the way. Jilly has to step back to learn to be an ally, a sister, and a friend, understanding that life works in different ways for different people, and that being open to change can make you change in the best possible ways. (publisher)

Why I like this book:

Alex Gino is up front about some of her goals for this middle grade novel in an author’s note at the end of the book where they stat that it “is consciously written for white people as a catalyst to talk about modern racism and police violence in the United States.” This novel certainly addresses some hard issues such as ableism, micro-aggressions, police brutality, white privilege and ‘innocent’ assumptions. That is a lot to tackle in one novel, but Gino adds warmth and humor to soften the tougher parts of the book. The author uses interactions between Jilly P and other users of an online fantasy-fan community to address many issues, which I think works well, though some readers may find it a little contrived and didactic.

Jilly’s baby sister Emma is born deaf in the opening chapters. As Jilly researches deafness and speaks with her deaf online friend, and as she observes some of the micro-aggressions within her own family to non-white members, she realizes that the world treats people like baby Emma and her two black cousins and their black mom (married to her dad’s white sister) differently than her. Her online crush, Derek happens to be a very secure black and deaf twelve-year-old who isn’t afraid to call Jilly out on her privilege and insensitivity. Very cooly, he lets her figure out what needs to change. 

I will say I have to agree with other reviewers that Jilly sounded more like my 5th graders than my 7th graders, i.e. like the protagonist George in Gino’s amazing MG debut. But she owns her mistakes in a pretty damn mature way, and bravely confronts the racism that exists in her family. She even gently challenges her not-racist parents for their passivity toward the family racism. I love that he takes practical steps to vocally combat local racism when a young black teen is shot in nearby Oakland, CA.

The protagonist definitely has a great story arc. A big heart of the story for me is about how words and names belong to the people who use them; how the things we say have impact beyond our control. After many clumsy errors, Jilly recognizes, “I’ve learned that what you say matters, and that you can hurt people even when you don’t mean to. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to help someone start a rough conversation, even if that person is an adult. Even if those people are your parents. I’ve learned that racism is still around today….And I’ve learned there’s no such thing as being done with learning.” (215)

Jilly P. is important book that would make great book club reading, I think, to start conversations with the young people about their own privilege, and hopefully invite them to action.


Please check out the author’s website for a video on how you sign Derek in ASL. (after you have read the book!)

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So Tall Within – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: So Tall Within – Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk To Freedom

Written by: Gary D. Schmidt

Illustrated by: Daniel Minter

Published by: Roaring Brook Press, 2018

Ages: 8-18

Themes: slavery, freedom, civil rights, Sojourner Truth, mighty women, emancipation, leadership

Genre: biography






was a
to be

Isabella lived in a cellar where the windows never let the sun in and the floorboards never kept the water out.


Sojourner Truth was born into slavery but possessed a mind and a vision that knew no bounds. So Tall Within traces her life from her painful childhood through her remarkable emancipation to her incredible leadership in the movement for rights for both women and African Americans.  (publisher)

Why I like this Book:

This legendary story is told with lyricism and power, and brought to life by stunning fine art. This combination of talent is just right for introducing this legendary figure to a new generation of children.  Modern day parallels in the text and artwork bring the past powerfully into the present for our students. Schmidt brings this larger-than-life woman alive on the page with such beautiful language and imagery that will echo in your mind long after you have closed the book. And the repetition of the title and this metaphor rings powerfully across the pages. In a number of illustrations, Minter depicts Isabella and unnamed slaves semi-translucent against the backdrop of nature, including the trees that are the story’s symbol of growing hope. The slaves represent the countless people for whom the story is true. 

So many slavery stories focus on the south so it is fascinating for me to read about this woman’s history in New York and other northern states in which slavery was never le

The illustrator (and art editor perhaps) was so inspired to highlight the thematic pages by inserting a vertical panel alongside a larger-print phrase of text on the left. The textual and illustrative imagery is most certainly Caldecott  worthy in this stunning and moving biography.


The back matter includes a biographical note, a bibliography, and a note from the artist. I wouldn’t hesitate to use this in a middle school or high school lesson as well as in an elementary classroom. Don’t miss the artist’s note at the end too.

Metaphors abound: “In Slavery Time when Hope was a seed waiting to be planted…” combined with symbolic illustrations, they create a poetic narrative. If followed, just those pages of metaphors could inspire rich conversations and could be used as mentor texts for students to write their own.

This post is part of a series by authors and children’s literature bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

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MCBD 2019 Book Recommendation – LILY by Sandra Smith

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2019 (1/25/19) is in its 6th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. I love participating each year in this movement.

Title: Seed Savers, Lily

Author: Sandra Smith

Publisher: Flying Books House, 2018

Ages: 9-12

Genre: Dystopian

#2 in Seed Savers series

Themes:  gardens, seeds, friendships, resistance, corporate power, diversity, politics, Japanese-Americans, eating fresh produce, secrets, betrayal, love


My name is Lily. When I first heard Clare and Dante were missing and presumed runaway, I couldn’t believe it. Clare is my best friend, after all, and her brother Dante like the brother I never had. Hadn’t I just seen them? Didn’t I see them practically every day?


When her friends disappear under mysterious circumstances, thirteen-year-old Lily sets out to discover more about the secret organization with which they had become involved. Her investigation unearths a disturbing secret from her own past, unsettling her world even more. In the meantime, Lily makes a new friend and falls for a mysterious young man, even as she remains unsure about whom she should trust. As her world crashes down around her, Lily struggles to decide what to do next.

Lily is volume two of the Seed Savers series but can easily be read out of order. It is a suspenseful and reflective book with themes of self-empowerment, trust, acceptance of diversity, gardening, and politics. (publisher)

Why I like this book:

#2 is a series, but reads well as a stand-alone (I haven’t read the first but will now about Clare and Dante!) This is an action and secret packed adventure story for 5th to 7th grade. It is a fast, fun dystopian with a refreshing focus on gardens and seeds. Because of its length and pacing, I actually think it would make a great class read-aloud (which I hope you are still doing even in middle school!)

The premise of this series is intentionally scary because it is something that could really happen and links well with many environmental food-source issues we are discussing with our children.  In this book, Lily, a Japanese-American 13-year-old who was left behind when Clare and Dante escaped to Canada, knows she need to find out the truth about her father whom she thought was dead, and she knows she’s got to be even more involved in the seed saver movement. I enjoyed the mentor character, Anna, who entrusts these children with teaching, contraband seeds, and a few illegal books. Making new friends and commitment to old friends is also explored in this novel. Lily has her first crush and starts to have to learn to make decisions independent of her friends. And she contemplates the power and conflict inherent in secrets. Lily tries to figure out whom she can trust and which lies are true. 

The text offers wonderful incidental opportunities for readers to learn much about gardening, preservation, conservation, cooking with fresh produce, all of which happen to be passions of mine. This content can definitely offer teachers opportunities for extension activities in the classroom.

She has to grapple with her commitment to the cause and her new lifestyle. Seed Savers is about questioning the world around, problem-solving, becoming involved in making the world a better place, and our consequent personal growth.

Arc provided by Author

Resources/Info MCBD:

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Posted in Book recommendation, Diverse Children's Books, diversity, middle grade, Middle Grade novel, Multicultural Children's Book Day | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment