A Good Kind of Trouble is a middle grade book by Lisa Moore Ramee that I have read a couple of times now. But even though it’s a book written for the younger crowd, I think it’s an important book that educators and anyone who works with kids should read, because there are a lot of life lessons for adults in this book, too. There are also a lot of things even beyond the social justice message, that teachers should think about. First, let me introduce you to the book.
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Blurb from Amazon:
From debut author Lisa Moore Ramée comes this funny and big-hearted debut middle grade novel about friendship, family, and standing up for what’s right, perfect for fans of Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and the novels of Renée Watson and Jason Reynolds.
Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)
But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what?
Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn’t think that’s for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum.
Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn’t face her fear, she’ll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real.
Buy on Amazon (Free for Prime members to borrow)
Read my review at Andi’s Middle Grade and Chapter Books.
Almost right out of the gate, Shay has a message for educators. “There should really be a law against making kids who are going through puberty undress in public.” I was instantly transported back in time to the sheer humiliation of undressing and dressing among my peers and all of the accompanying bullying. I can guarantee it is much worse now.
Then there is Bernard. Shayla tells us that he scares her – not because he is Black, but because he is always angry. But as you keep on reading, you quickly realize that he is an oversized boy who doesn’t seem to understand where his body ends and the rest of the world begins, let alone his own strength. He also just really wants to have a friend, and Shayla in particular.
How many children like him do we see on a regular basis? Reading about him brought back a flood of memories of students I’d had. Some of them ended up in OT and/or PT for body awareness. A few got some extra help with their social skills, too. These are the kids who are too often in trouble – and Bernard is – more because they are misunderstood than for purposeful, defiant, or problematic behaviors.
You have your bullying piece. Bernard is often accused of being a bully. Even worse is the Command game. If you are playing and someone catches you without something crossed, that person gets to make you do something. And usually that thing is something humiliating. It brings back horrible Truth or Dare memories. It can also be very hurtful. It feels like the teachers aren’t aware of it going on.
Another thing some teachers don’t seem to be aware of is how they are treating children of different races. What particularly stood out to me was how Shayla felt singled out, by one teacher in particular, any time Black history or the current racial tensions came up. [As this story unfolds, there is an officer on trial for shooting an unarmed Black man.]
Race also comes into play in the story with Shayla’s friends. Isabella gets into stereotypes of Puerto Ricans and Julia tackles the Asian ones. Not all Latinx cultures are the same, nor are Asians.
This is something that a lot of us almost unconsciously do when talking about race, both in and out of the classroom. It’s something we need to be more aware of, especially if it is making that student – or anyone – feel uncomfortable. There’s a difference between uplifting a race and singling out because of race.
I think teachers reading this, especially white teachers, may better understand the importance of racial identity and friendships. And we have to be aware of current events and what is happening in our students’ lives outside of the classroom. You can’t connect with your students if you don’t know them.
This is one of those books that I love because it inspires a lot of inner reflection. At least it did for me. And I think it would also be a great book suggestion for those upper elementary grades-plus to help them reflect and discuss as well.
Read my other reflections on A Good Kind of Trouble over at Andi Explains It All.