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Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks Book Poster Image
Moving interwoven stories of black middle schoolers.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This is a very literary book. The focus is on the interior life of the characters. There is some educational material in the background, such as discussion of financial and other issues families have when parents are ill with cancer.

Positive Messages

Life: It's complicated. Friends can help you cope with hard or anxious times. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The stories are so universal to middle school that many readers will be able to imagine themselves in the characters' shoes. At the same time, the dialect signals that they are black. 

Violence

There are many descriptions of bullying and the pain it causes, with no specific negative consequences for the bullies.

Sex

An infatuation is described, with hopes and preparation for a romantic kiss.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, by Jason Reynolds (Long Way Down, As Brave as You), is a set of 10 interconnected short stories set in the context of kids walking home from their schools. It doesn't follow a conventional structure with a beginning, middle, and end. Each story can stand alone; together they add up to a bigger picture. This could be a good match for readers who get impatient with long chapter books, and also for advanced readers who can appreciate the literary qualities. There are many potentially distressing descriptions of bullying. A group of kids whose families have lost financial footing due to a parent's cancer form an entrepreneurial "gang" to steal change. One girl is grieving the death of her older sister.

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What's the story?

LOOK BOTH WAYS is a set of short stories that add up to a portrait of the lives of a group of black middle school children. Each chapter tells the story of an individual or ensemble on a particular block. And what a cast: a girl skateboarding whiz who's lost her older sister (who was also a skateboarding whiz); a group of kids who wear buzz cuts in solidarity with their parents in cancer treatment; and a boy whose friends help him grapple with the new stink of puberty. The story moves by peeling back the layers of these fascinating characters as they go about the mundane events of their lives.

Is it any good?

This poignant book captures the roller coaster of emotions that go along with middle school life: humor, sadness, and fear all mixed up. Look Both Ways author Jason Reynolds is a gifted poet and novelist, a National Book Award finalist whose other awards include the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent, the John Newbery Medal, and the NAACP Image Award, to name just a few. Though this book is a work of prose, it works like poetry; every word and sentence is so densely packed that the meaning comes to life from images without a lot of action or plot. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the bullying in Look Both Ways. Does it seem realistic to you? How can someone who's been bullied almost become a bully himself?

  • The kids in Look Both Ways are all coping with events in the world that are beyond their control: sick parents, changes in their bodies, a dog that might bite. What character strengths do kids use to handle their troubles?

  • In every chapter, the author weaves in the image of a school bus falling from the sky. Which one was your favorite?

Book details

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