Hi Chrystal, and welcome to Fast Forward Friday! I recently had the chance to read your debut MG book, TAKE BACK THE BLOCK (releases January 26, 2021), and I thought it was such a great read. Can you tell our readers a little bit about it, please?
Hi Kathie, thanks so much for having me! And thank you for reading TAKE BACK THE BLOCK, I am so glad you enjoyed it. It is my debut middle-grade novel about an eleven-year-old boy named Wes who makes activism personal when his neighborhood is targeted by a powerful developer. Readers will follow Wes on a journey of trying to save his home and navigate his changing friendships.
Your story takes place in a place called Kensington Oaks, which is a predominantly Black neighborhood. I love how you bring it to life with details like the slideshow with pictures of special memories from events held there. Is it based on a real place, and if not, how do you make it feel so real?
I am so glad the Oaks came alive for you! The Oaks is not a real neighborhood and I can not say it is directly based on a real neighborhood. It is however based on a combination of neighborhoods in my hometown of Charlotte, NC. I really wanted readers to be enveloped by Wes’s surroundings. For the Oaks to resonate it needed to feel real, almost like a character itself–so that was my goal, to introduce the Oaks and have readers get to know it, little by little. I slowly revealed small components of the neighborhood throughout the story just like I did with the other side characters.
This is such an important time in kid’s lives because of changing friendship dynamics, and Wes has not only emotional but physical distance from his tight-knit group. Which relationship was the most challenging for you to write?
I love this question. I’m tempted to say Kari and Wes’s relationship was the most challenging to write, but I will go with the relationship between Wes and Brent. In the opening of the story, Wes and Brent were very close (best best friends) and then transitioned into a bit of a back-and-forth before things took a turn for the worse. Creating those small cracks in their relationship was challenging for sure. We know that friendships don’t always go through change on a consistent path, so highlighting the ebbs and flows was difficult at times (and fun too).
There’s a very strong theme of social activism that runs throughout this story, which I found very inspiring. What do you hope your young readers will take away from your story?
In short, I hope readers walk away with the knowledge that their voice matters! I would say directly to readers: “You can create change. YES YOU! It doesn’t take a huge cause or a large group–it takes one person, one voice. Speak up, speak out, take action!”
I really loved that your book is a great length, with short chapters, and it has an appeal to a wide audience range. Is that something you purposely tried to do, or did the story just take shape that way?
I’d love to say I had a master plan, but I didn’t. I like to read shorter middle-grade novels so I naturally wrote a shorter novel. My earlier drafts were even shorter than the version that will be published; it was beefed up a bit during each edit. After listening to educators, I have learned that books under 250 pages with shorter chapters are a need in the middle grade space and I am happy TAKE BACK THE BLOCK can help to fill that need.
OK, what is one question that I haven’t asked you but that you would like to answer?
I’d like to talk a little about how fun this book is. TAKE BACK THE BLOCK will inevitably be coined as timely and important, which is true but I would like to emphasize the humor and everyday realness of the characters. I tried really hard to balance the tough topics with levity. Wes and crew have moments of just hanging out, playing video games, and super funny banter–I hope readers will remember those moments too.
Are you working on another writing project right now, and where can our readers go to connect with you?
Yes, I have another stand-alone middle-grade novel that will be published in 2022 by Random House. Readers can find me on Twitter @creativelychrys, on Instagram @chrystaldgiles, and at my website, www.chrystaldgiles.com.
I’m so glad we had a chance to chat today, Chrystal, and thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.
Thank you again, Kathie, for having me and for asking incredibly thoughtful questions!
Chrystal D. Giles is a children’s book author and champion for diversity and representation in children’s literature. She is making her middle-grade debut with, Take Back the Block, a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. Chrystal was a 2018 We Need Diverse Books mentee, and her poem “Dimples” appears in the poetry anthology Thanku: Poems of Gratitude (Millbrook). Chrystal lives outside Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and son.