(Hannah Agosta/For The Washington Post)

By Karyn Parsons. Ages 8 to 12.

Twelve-year-old Ella has many questions: What happened to her daddy, who disappeared before she was born? And who was he?

Her grandparents say only that he’s somewhere in California. Her older cousin Henry doesn’t know, and he’s worried about his own father, fighting in World War II. Her mother, a jazz singer in Boston, changes the subject.

Life in Ella’s small town of Alcolu, South Carolina, has its good and bad points. Ella loves fishing, picking berries and spending time with Henry, a budding artist. But as is true throughout the segregated South, black people are constantly treated as if they are inferior to whites. There are separate schools, water fountains and bathrooms.

(Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Ella also hates being teased for her light “peanut-colored” skin, when other members of her family and community are much darker. Taunts such as “zebra” and “high yella” sting, whether flung by black or white townspeople.

When her mother invites her to Boston, Ella is thrilled. Finally, she can get away from the insults and maybe learn more about her father.

But Mama has little time for Ella. By day, she helps to build ships in the Naval Yard, and at night, she dons a sparkling dress to sing at jazz clubs, yearning for a big break.

Boston gives Ella a glimpse of something important, though: a place without segregated bathrooms and water fountains. In this Northern city, African Americans are treated more equally. The paintings of a talented black artist are hung in a museum. Henry would be amazed, she thinks.

Ella also finds exactly what she hoped for: a clue to her absent father.

These Boston experiences change the way Ella perceives the world. In grappling with the mystery of her father, Ella learns yet more about racial injustice — and sees its terrible impact on a kind friend named George Stinney.

And in small ways, Ella starts trying to do something about it.

Mary Quattlebaum

Click here to join the Summer Book Club.

You might also like . . .


One Crazy Summer (ages 8 to 12), by Rita Williams-Garcia, in which three sisters travel to California to visit their prickly mother and participate in a summer program run by the activist group, the Black Panthers. The late 1960s is a vivid backdrop for this funny, touching novel.

Young readers should look for Coming on Home Soon (ages 5 to 8), by Jacqueline Woodson. A girl helps her grandmother in their country home as they await news of her mother, who has gone to Chicago to clean trains during World War II.

Next week in book club

WASHINGTON, DC — MAY 15: The (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

The Stars Beneath Our Feet

By David Barclay Moore.

Ages 10 to 14.

Christmas has 12-year-old Lolly feeling lost. His older brother was killed by a drug-dealing crew, and members of another crew in their New York neighborhood are pressuring Lolly and his best friend to join. A gift of two garbage bags full of Legos provides an alternative to seeking revenge for his brother. Lolly can create a world of his own. His troubles don’t go away, however. So Lolly has to figure out how to move forward when both the plastic and the real worlds come with no instructions.

Join the club

The Summer Book Club is open to kids ages 6 to 14. Children may read some or all of the books on our list. (Find blurbs for the eight books at wapo.st/kidspostbookclublaunch2019.) The first 500 kids registered will receive a snap watch. To join the club, children must be registered by a parent or guardian. To register, that adult must fill out our form at wapo.st/kidspostbookclub2019 or send their email, the child’s first and last names, age and address to KidsPost Summer Book Club, The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.