From the Desk of Zoe Washington


“Music is a world within itself

With a language we all understand

With an equal opportunity

For all to sing, dance, and clap their hands”

-- Stevie Wonder, “Sir Duke” (1976)


On her twelfth birthday, Zoe finds a letter in the mailbox. It’s addressed to her and is from the biological father, in prison for murder, whom she’s never met nor previously heard from:


“To my Little Tomato,

Happy Birthday. I can’t believe you’re twelve years old. Wow. Do I sound like a broken record when I say that you’re growing up so fast? Do you even know what a broken record is? Everybody used to listen to CDs when I was growing up, but my dad--your grandpa--kept a record player in the corner of the living room. He always says that music sounds better coming from a record player. He might be right. His favorite singer is Stevie Wonder. Have you ever heard any of his songs? He has a pretty great voice. There’s this one song called ‘Isn’t She Lovely.’ You should look it up sometime. Stevie’s saying exactly how I feel about you, my baby girl. Well, you’re not a baby anymore, but I know you’ve gotta be pretty lovely at this age.

I wish I could give you a hug and see your smiling face on your big day. I’m sorry I can’t be there to celebrate with you. I know your mom is doing something special. She was always good at knowing how to celebrate birthdays when we were together. Even if you never reply to these letters, I’ll keep writing them. Though I hope you’ll write me back one day. In the meantime, I want you to know that I think about you every day.



In reaction to the letter, there are a number of questions which readers may ask:

It seems clear that there have been previous letters to Zoe from her incarcerated dad Marcus. Why has her mother intercepted them? What did they say? Has her mother kept them or disposed of them?

What are the circumstances surrounding the murder that led to Marcus’s incarceration?

When Zoe begins corresponding with her biological father, keeping it a secret from her mother, how will it affect Zoe’s relationships with her mother and stepfather--the only father she’s ever known? What will happen if her parents learn about her correspondence with Marcus?

What caused the schism between Zoe and her next-door neighbor and now-former best friend Trevor? If what Trevor did was such a big deal to Zoe, why does Trevor seem clueless about the cause of Zoe’s anger toward him?

Will Zoe be successful in her summer internship at the local bakery? Will she get the opportunity she wants, to audition and be chosen as a contestant on the Food Network’s TV show “Kids Bake Challenge?”


Thanks to that letter from Marcus, and the unexplained estrangement from Trevor, I was immediately intrigued and engaged by Zoe’s story. I read on, in search of clues, wondering whether this young woman would be able to make her dreams come true and renew her friendship with Trevor.


But the tale quickly takes a turn when, in response to Zoe’s questioning him about the crime for which he was convicted, Marcus writes back that he is innocent. Zoe’s first reaction is to conclude that Marcus must be a liar, because if he were innocent, he wouldn’t be in prison.

But then she does a bit of research and quickly discovers that a lot of innocent people are incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. This is particularly true for black people like her and her father. She learns about the work of the Innocence Project, which helps free unjustly-convicted Americans when there is potential DNA evidence to help exonerate them.

She wonders whether Marcus is, in fact, innocent and whether there is anything she can do to get his conviction thrown out.


FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON is a captivating contemporary read that blends the summertime idyllism of Zoe apprenticing in the bakery with her tense quest to obtain justice for the father she’s never known. Will this determined twelve-year-old get her father freed? If she fails, Marcus will be stuck in prison for at least another thirteen years before he becomes eligible for parole.


FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON is a stellar introduction to the Black Lives Matter movement and the messy truth about liberty and justice in America.

304 pages                                      978-0-06-287585-3                        Ages 9-13

Keywords:  mystery, social justice, social activism, African American, incarceration, prison, racism, family, justice, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, truth, letters, father/daughter, African American author, diversity, diverse books

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

See more of his picks:


From debut author Janae Marks comes a captivating mystery full of heart, as one courageous girl questions assumptions, searches for the truth, and does what she believes is right—even in the face of great opposition. A perfect book for fans of Front Desk and All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook!

Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime?

A crime he says he never committed.

Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge.

But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.---from the publisher

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