I read so many great children’s chapter books in 2021 and one was Take Back the Block Chrystal D. Giles. This reads as a high interest, lower reading level book for me that will appeal to middle grade readers. It has a great plot about stopping gentrification and some memorable, fleshed out child characters, including the main character, stylish and savvy Wes.

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The summary, from Amazon:

“This book made me want to step aside, hand over the mic, and listen to Wes. A must-read.” –Mariama J. Lockington, author of For Black Girls Like Me

Brand-new kicks, ripped denim shorts, Supreme tee

Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That–and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games–is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.

But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are supposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it . . . before it’s too late?

Exploring community, gentrification, justice, and friendship, Take Back the Block introduces an irresistible 6th grader and asks what it means to belong–to a place and a movement–and to fight for what you believe in.

“Filled with hope, friendship, and grit–guaranteed to leave readers feeling inspired.” –Stacy McAnulty, best-selling author of The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

“Timely and penetrating.” –Kelly Starling Lyons, author of Sing a Song: How Lift Every Voice and Sing Inspired Generations

“Chrystal Giles’s sparkling debut will have you standing up and cheering.” –Lisa Yee, award winning author of Millicent Min, Girl Genius and the DC Super Hero Girls novels

“Chrystal Giles really nailed it. I loved this book.” –Linda Williams Jackson, award winning author of Midnight Without a Moon

“Necessary and inspiring. An empowering read.” –Ashley Herring Blake, author of the Stonewall Honor Book Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World

“Wes will welcome middle grade readers into his delightful circle of friends, his strong and loving family, and his powerful community.” –Barbara Dee, author of the ALA Notable Children’s Book Maybe He Just Likes You

Buy Take Back the Block here.

Wes’s parents are always bringing him to protests, and Wes is not interested at all. He’d rather hang out with his friends. But then he finds out that his neighborhood is being sold to real estate developers. Wes becomes drawn to activism to help his community become recognized as a historic district so it will not be sold, despite the fact that some of his friends’ families are on board with selling their homes and moving.

I was immediately drawn to Wes. He reminds me so much of many kids I know. I loved that even though activism wasn’t immediately something he was interested in, and even though he hated public speaking, Wes did what he had to do and went above and beyond to help his neighborhood. I also liked that Wes was cool without touching on tropes of toxic masculinity. He is a vulnerable character who feels no shame over getting teary-eyed about the potential changes in his life in front of his crush, Alyssa.

Overall, I really enjoyed Take Back the Block. I acknowledge the writing is nothing stellar compared to other middle grade contemporaries, but the story was great and I think this has a lot of appeal for children of various reading levels. I rate it 5 stars!

Find out more about how I rate books here.

Take Back the BlockTake Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was immediately drawn into this story – Wes reminds me of SO many kids I know. Great themes of combatting gentrification, pride in and love for your community, friendship, and a complete lack of toxic masculinity. Loved that all of the kids had their own stories.

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Book Club Questions

  1. How is Mr. Baker a good ally?
  2. How is Wes a good friend? Are there times he makes mistakes?
  3. Have you been impacted by gentrification?  How so?

Interested? Buy Take Back the Block.
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