The best walk-a-mile in my shoes books

Bibi Belford Author Of Crossing the Line
By Bibi Belford

Who am I?

I estimate I’ve taught over a thousand students to read—and recommended books to all those readers. So, you can believe me when I say I know a good book. I wrote my first book, Canned and Crushed, because my student couldn't find a book about boys from Mexico who play soccer. Learning about historical events also inspires me to write. As a kid I hated history, but now I imagine the people who lived during different time periods. Historical fiction has become my favorite genre. I hope the books I write and the books I recommend help make history come alive for readers. 

I wrote...

Crossing the Line

By Bibi Belford,

Book cover of Crossing the Line

What is my book about?

“People think if everybody stays on their side of the line, we’ll get along fine. But sometimes, to do what’s right, you gotta cross that line.” Crossing the Line is an award-winning middle-grade novel inspired by the true events of the 1919 Chicago Race Riots.

“Readers of all ages will be pulled into this strong, warm, and important coming-of-age story, seen through the eyes of an innocent boy trying to make sense of a racially violent world around him. Blending honesty and humor with history isn't easy, but Bibi Belford has hit all her marks with courage and conviction.” ―Randall Platt, author of Incommunicado 

The books I picked & why

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The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963

By Christopher Paul Curtis,

Book cover of The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963

Why this book?

This book is an oldie but a goodie. Set in 1963 and told through the point of view of nine-year-old Kenny, it tells the story of a black family from Flint, Michigan who travel to Birmingham because Kenny’s brother needs his Southern grandma to straighten him out. I grew up in the sixties and my father’s family lived in Flint, Michigan, so I immediately connected to the book. During their time in Birmingham, Kenny witnesses the aftermath of a bombing at a nearby church. The actual bombing death of the four girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama during the Civil Rights protests is an indelible memory in my life. I wish there had been a book for me to read in my childhood to reassure me that a family’s love has the power and strength to withstand tragedy. 

The War That Saved My Life

By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley,

Book cover of The War That Saved My Life

Why this book?

Some of my favorite adult books are historical fiction set during WWII, so it’s a no-brainer I picked this middle-grade book to recommend. My grandma’s name was Ada, so from the start my heart broke for the main character who was treated horribly by her own mother. Despite that situation, I still worried when Ada and her brother Jamie were torn from the only home they knew to escape the bombing in London. I can’t imagine how they felt, forced to live with a stranger, especially since Ada didn’t believe anyone could truly care about her. And yet, Ada and Jamie triumph against all the odds stacked against them. I think it’s the resilience of the human spirit in this book, that brings so much hope to me. 

Prairie Lotus

By Linda Sue Park,

Book cover of Prairie Lotus

Why this book?

All of Linda Sue Park’s books are fantastic. She’s a master of imagery and character development and her writing is poetic. I’ve heard her speak at writing conferences and the amount of time she spends editing her books to make them perfect is amazing. In Prairie Lotus, Hanna and her father flee the racism and violence against Asians in California in 1800. But nowhere is safe for Hanna, even the Dakota Territories. It’s important to always remind ourselves of the harassment and murder of people of color that happened in our country so we can keep fighting to end it. 

Beyond the Bright Sea

By Lauren Wolk,

Book cover of Beyond the Bright Sea

Why this book?

What would it be like if I knew nothing about my past? And what would I do to try to find out about my birth parents? I love the internal emotional struggles the main character, Crow, faces in this book. She’s unable to connect emotionally with outsiders yet worries her adoptive parent will be angry she’s researching the clues she thinks lead to her birth story. I was fascinated that two islands off the coast of Massachusetts could be so different—Cuttyhunk, a local tourist destination—and Pekinese, a leper colony. Since I live in the Midwest, reading about life surrounded by water teaches me an unfamiliar perspective.

Finding Langston

By Lesa Cline-Ransome,

Book cover of Finding Langston

Why this book?

When I first moved to Chicago from the suburbs a few years ago, I felt the same way the boy, Langston, in the story felt—scared, bombarded with noise, and missing the open spaces and country roads. My home is close to where his apartment was, and even though he lived in 1946, we each found respite in the Chicago Public Library. We both love poetry—especially the poetry of Langston Hughes. The best news about this book is that if you love it, and you will, there are two more in the trilogy. Lisa Cline-Ransome is a prolific author with other great books—biographies and historical fiction, many of which I have in my library.

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