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Nelson Beats the Odds

"Middle school is often a struggle for many kids, but especially for Nelson. Full of life, he considers school a place for socializing, daydreaming, and having fun. At a parent/teacher conference Mrs. Gronkowski suggests Nelson has learning disabilities and wants to refer him for testing. His parents want the best for their son and eventually Nelson is placed in a Special Education class. At first, he is ashamed and doesn’t tell his friends, but with his new teacher, Mrs. T.’s support and guidance, Nelson gains the confidence and skills he needs to shine. Three years later Nelson looks forward to high school and taking classes again with his old friends. However, he is transferred from those and placed back in Special Learning classes. His cousin Jeremy tries to console him by saying he doesn’t need to be with friends who are trying to “act white.” Nelson sets Jeremy straight: they aren’t doing that; they want to go to college and need those classes to qualify. He also believes the two of them need to prepare for college, too. 

Sidney uses his personal struggles with learning disabilities to inspire other learning disabled kids. Van Wagoner’s bold illustrations and graphic novel format brings the text to life. This would make a fine addition to any school or home library." - Linda Boyden  


Tameka's New Dress

"Being the new girl at middle school can be a challenge. For protagonist, Tameka, it is harder because since her father has died, her mother has been battling demons of her own.

The story opens with Tameka in trouble again: not only did she shove another student, but she is also failing Science. When Principal Lopez asks Tameka to explain, she breaks down and pleads not to be suspended and sent home. Tameka’s reaction prompts Principal Lopez to ask if there is a problem at home. Tameka does not confide in her but does to the Guidance Counselor who subsequently must call Child Protective Services (CPS). CPS has no choice but to remove Tameka and her two brothers from the home and get their mother into a rehab facility so she can deal with her drug addiction. Mrs. Ross, the social worker takes the children to live with their grandmother. The move forces Tameka to transfer to Bland Middle School.

There, Tameka is teased by the class bully, Mesha, who assumes because Tameka is light-skinned and has “good” hair that she thinks she is better than everyone else. After school Tameka breaks down and Grandmother consoles her. That night she sews a beautiful African Wax Cloth dress for Tameka. The beautiful dress gives Tameka the confidence she needs to step up to Mesha’s bullying in such a way that helps Mesha adjust her negative attitude.

This second book in Sidney’s Nelson Beats the Odds series presents a realistic look at the middle school experience and offers to young readers a strong female role model who confronts a bully without becoming one herself." - Linda Boyden  


Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One

"Paired graphic novels explore learning disabilities and bullying—and touch on foster care—for middle-grade and YA readers.

In the eponymous and first of these two debut graphic novels, black middle schooler Nelson has a hard time concentrating. There are just so many people to talk to. New glasses help, but he still fights to stay focused. Finally he is diagnosed with ADHD and placed in special education classes. While he detests his new label, Nelson excels and anticipates a reunion with his friends in high school. Disheartened when he is placed in special ed there, Nelson and his parents lodge a protest. He struggles in the regular classroom but manages to graduate. After a few years in community college, he transfers to a university and becomes a social worker. He is encouraged by some supportive teachers, but other instructors motivate him to prove them wrong in their negative predictions for his future. The second graphic novel, Tameka’s New Dress, focuses on Nelson’s black friend Tameka, introduced in the first work. Tameka transfers to Nelson’s school after she and her siblings are removed from their mother’s care and placed with their grandmother. Despite her friendship with Nelson and others, Tameka is the target of bullying because of her light skin. When her grandmother sews her a beautiful dress, making Tameka look like an African queen, the bullying is exacerbated. Tameka confronts the troublemakers—with kindness—and resolves the problem. Both tales are interspersed with relevant facts and quotes from celebrities—ranging from Channing Tatum to Oprah Winfrey—who have experienced the same difficulties as Nelson and Tameka, which should stir readers. Therapist, speaker, and social worker Sidney addresses racial and socio-economic issues germane to the characters’ trajectories but primarily highlights the self-reliance of the protagonists and the crucial positive influences a few caring adults can exert. The author expertly creates characters young readers should relate to and conveys his message and lessons without being heavy-handed. Van Wagoner’s (Cody and Grandpa’s Christmas Tradition, 2016, etc.) simple, colorful illustrations meld seamlessly with the text.

Engaging and inspirational tales for students coping with common problems." - Kirkus Reviews 


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