Guest Blogger Post: FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON
Serious books are not always funny, and funny books don’t always incorporate serious topics, but when it is done right a book can really shine. FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON by Janae Marks is one of those books. This book shows us Zoe’s life as a preteen. She has all the usual issues from growing and changing friendships to dreams that she wants to pursue. But she has the added layer of not knowing her biological father because he is incarcerated.
Janae Marks chooses to weave together Zoe’s internship at the local bakery and her practice for the Kid’s Baking Challenge audition with letters from her incarcerated father and trying to prove his innocence. By presenting the story in this way, Janae Marks makes this story feel very real and approachable.
The choice to tell this story in the first person makes it intensely personal; readers are put directly into Zoe’s head and are able to learn with her and solve the puzzle of her father’s innocence right along with her. While many very serious issues are addressed in this novel including the unfair and biased treatment of Black men in the criminal justice system as well as the Black Lives Matter movement and the Innocence Project, this book never feels heavy.
The frame of letters from her father and his song recommendations help to slowly introduce the idea that Zoe’s father is a person, not a cartoon villain, to both Zoe and the reader. As Zoe’s preconceptions about both her father and the criminal justice system are slowly broken down, the reader also begins to see the whole picture.
As far as Newbery criteria are concerned, I think FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON really stands out in terms of both themes and presentation of information.
Guest blogger Courtney Hague has worked with youth in public libraries 9 years in 3 different library systems. Once she was a Youth Collection Development Librarian for two years where she got to really dig into her passion for all things related to children’s literature. She is currently a Youth Librarian in St. Louis, Missouri, where she lives with her husband, who is also a librarian, their 3 year old son, and two cats.
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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