Publishers' Preview: Diverse Books Spotlight: Five Questions for Chrystal D. Giles

This interview originally appeared in the May/June 2021 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Diverse Books Spotlight, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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When Wes and his family discover that their neighborhood is being threatened by a plan for upscale development, they decide to Take Back the Block.

1. Did you have a Mr. Baker for a teacher?

Mr. McClure, my high-school African American Studies teacher, comes to mind. He was a small man with a large voice, and he was a well of knowledge. He taught his students about Black excellence and challenged us to see beyond the struggle our history books showed us. He always made a point to highlight the greatness we could achieve.

2. How has your own childhood neighborhood changed?

My old elementary school is now sandwiched between a low-income neighborhood and a neighborhood of million-dollar homes. I often wonder how the marginalized students who attend the school feel with those huge homes looming around them. That image is a direct reflection of many communities in my hometown, Charlotte, North Carolina. I’d guess that is also true for many cities across the nation. Shining a light on those disparities was one of my motivations for this book.

3. What book that you’ve read would you most like to give Wes to read?

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia. Not for any special reason other than that it’s one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors!

4. How would you describe your friend group when you were around Wes’s age?

I started fifth grade at a new school where I knew no one. Needless to say, that was a challenge, especially for a quiet girl like myself. I spent most of my free time with my face between the pages of a book. I often say books were my first friends. I am quite thrilled to imagine young readers finding a friend in one of my books.

5. What have you learned from writing your first novel that you can apply to your second?

Specificity is universal. I now know that the more nuance and detail I can pack into my stories, the more people will relate to them. Even if the lived experiences aren’t exactly the same, there’s something about reading someone else’s story and comparing it to your own that makes you feel seen.

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Photo: Bryan Bazemore Photography.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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