Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

Hello, Chrystal D. Giles! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. THANK YOU so much for stopping by to discuss your phenomenal middle-grade novel, Take Back the Block. Imagine you are celebrating books with 200 5th graders. What would you tell them about Take Back the Block?

Chrystal D. Giles: The conversation would start something like this…tell me all about your personal style. Are you into multi-colored nail polish? The newest sneakers? Are your locs dyed red, or blonde, or pink? Then I’d show them a picture of me as a young person…they’d likely laugh at my fashion (or what I thought was fashion at that age).

Then I’d introduce them to Wes Henderson, the best dressed kid in sixth-grade, who is on a journey to save his neighborhood from a powerful developer. I’d invite them to get to know Wes and his neighborhood, the Oaks, his crew of friends, and learn what it means to belong—to a place and a movement—and to fight for a cause you believe in.

Thank you! What planted the seed for Take Back the Block?

Chrystal D. Giles: The idea of Take Back the Block was born from two separate things that my mind wouldn’t let go of. The first, was a deep desire to see more Black kids standing in the center of and being heroes of their own stories.

The second, the worry of what happens to children and families when their communities are transformed and they are displaced. My hometown of Charlotte, NC is experiencing gentrification at levels so high that we have very little affordable housing left in the city. While this is not a new problem, it is a problem that is often glossed over or just coined a task too monumental to take on. So, I set out to write a story with a Black boy at the center who takes on (albeit reluctantly) the fight of keeping his neighborhood whole.

Please finish the following sentence starters:

Wes Henderson is a regular kid. He loves video games, basketball, and puzzles. He isn’t the best student but he has great ideas and is very determined!

I hope Take Back the Block inspires young people to speak up and speak out about injustices happening around them. It doesn’t have to be a huge, weighty issue just something they think is important. The voices and creativity of our youngest citizens will carry us closer to being a just nation.

Thanku: Poems of Gratitude is a beautiful poetry anthology that features my first piece of published work, a poem called Dimples.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how much fun I had writing this story! So many scenes cracked me up (and honestly still do, the Halloween scene gets me every time). This book is so often spoken about in terms of its importance or timeliness and while those things are true, I don’t want people to miss the pure joy the characters experience. I have no doubt that Wes will have readers cracking up too.

Thank you, Chrystal! 

Photo credit: Bryan Bazemore Photography

Chrystal D. Giles is an own voices writer, with a strong focus on creating stories that bring the hopes and hurdles of African American children to the mainstream children’s book market. She is a member of SCBWI and was selected as a 2018 We Need Diverse Books Mentee. She lives with her family in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Borrow Take Back the Block from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.


Popular Posts