WOKE: A YOUNG POET'S CALL TO JUSTICE by Mahogany Browne, with Elzabeth Acevedo & Olivia Gatwood, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, foreword by Jason Reynolds, 56 pp, RL 4

WOKE: A YOUNG POET'S CALL TO JUSTICE
illustrated by Theodore Taylor III
Foreword by Jason Reynolds
Review Copy from Roaring Brook Press

WOKE: A YOUNG POET'S CALL TO JUSTICE is a gift to the world, especially those of us who are just waking up. Jason Reynolds begins this collection with a poem and a piece about the freedom to talk back, citing his mother who encouraged him to talk back, with respect and conviction and a voice she could hear, "'cross the room / 'cross the world / over all this noise." To Reynolds' mother, justice is the freedom to talk back, to use your own voice and that is exactly what Reynolds tells readers - "the future poets" - to do. With her introduction, Browne gives readers a clear definition of the idea of WOKE, writing, "To be WOKE is to understand that equality and justice for some is not equality and justice at all. We must ask hard questions. We must stand for what is right - even when it is difficult and scary."
Each poem in WOKE has a title as well as descriptor at the bottom of the page, in small print, next to the page number. While the titles of the poems and their subject matter are clear, I appreciate condensing them into one word that informs readers to the many facets of being woke. Arranged alphabetically, the poems in WOKE address Activism, Abelism, Ally, Body Positivity, Community, Empathy, Equality, Forgiveness, Freedom Fighters, Gender, Immigration, Intersectionality, Individuality, Joy, Justice, Prejudice, Privilege, Protest, Resistance, Resourcefulness, Silencing, Stereotyping, Volunteering, and Woke. 
Every poem in WOKE moved me, made me think and see things from a new perspective. I would love to write about every single poem, but am going to limit myself to poems that touch on issues I have not seen often or at all in the world of kid's books. "The Good Body," by Elizabeth Acevedo touches on the many things bodies can do and be, how your body can make you feel, reminding readers, "Your body is always a good body / because it carries the good in you." Browne and Gatewood's poem, "What is an intersection?" takes on this layered subject, giving examples, telling readers that "Intersectionality means / paths crossing one another with respect. / we are all happening, we are all supporting / each other." 

In "What's In My Toolbox?" Gatewood explains privilege, calling it a toolbox some people are born with, "hammers and nails that make it easier for them / to walk through the world because the world, / in all of its beauty and excitement and variety, / can still be a very hard place to live." Noting that the toolbox of privilege is not chosen, but that it "makes it feel easier for some people" to live in the world, Gatewood tells readers that we can choose to use our toolbox to "help people who don't have what we do." If we have privilege, we must listen because when we "understand each other, we can build a house that fits everyone. / We can use our tools to build the house together. / In this house, the door is always open - / Come in." Gatewood's poem, "Me-Shaped Box," explains stereotyping with a perfect metaphor, telling readers that we create "imaginary boxes" where we put people "based on what we've learned / from our families / or what we see on TV." But these boxes keep us from getting to know people for who they are, so "resist the box!"
The poets of WOKE give readers the reason and the inspiration for becoming socially active and aware of injustices by showing them the many, sometimes subtle, ways that discrimination and oppression happen in the world. And, they show readers how to consider using their voices, their connections and their community to make a change. As I said at the start of this review, WOKE is a tremendous resource, one that can be partnered with so many of the other great books about social justice and social activism, civil rights and human rights, that are being written for kids.

More books by Mahogany L. Browne

Books by Elizabeth Acevedo


By Olivia Gatewood



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