King and the Dragonflies

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What do you do when your brother, the brother you look to for the answers about everything, the brother who leads the way into the world, that brother, dies suddenly on the soccer field of a heart attack. He never got to feel the beginning of stubble on his chin.  He never got that first beard he was waiting for.

What do you do?  For King, full name Kingston, you hang on.  You go back into your journal where you wrote down all the wisdom you got from your brother especially when he was talking in his sleep and seemed to know more about the universe and how it worked than you could ever imagine.

King is pretty sure his brother, Khalid, turned into a dragonfly when he passed to the other world.  So, every day, King goes down to the bayou to find his brother and bring him back to where he needs him to be.

It's called grief. It's called struggling to find and accept yourself,  It's called trying to figure out who you can be even when your brother - knower of all things - denied you in one moment and one sentence.

King has middle school to contend with and the knowledge that his best friend, Sandy Sanders, has a secret and he only told one or two people that secret.  King is one of the few who knows that Sandy is gay.  He's one of the few who notices that Sandy has some ugly bruises.  He's one of the many who knows that Sandy has disappeared.

King's best friend, Sandy, the son of the white sheriff, is missing.  King's family isn't listening to him when he tries to reach to them. King's best friend wants things from him he cannot give.

Acceptance.  Accepting others.  Above all- accepting yourself.  Our children face walls in their families, in their schools, in their communities and in themselves.  This book is about knocking down those walls.

Whoa.... I can tell you this is one deeply felt, powerfully told, exquisitely personal story of standing in the  shoes of a young African American boy who is fighting to claim his identity.

You really feel how painful it is and how incredibly impossible our society can make it for a person to step into who they are, tell the world who they are, be willing to choose to be happy being the way they are.

Kacen Callender writes King's emotional journey brilliantly.  Just brilliantly.  As you read you feel the enormity of the universe, the smallness and the gigantic-ness of your place in that universe, in your town, in your family, in your friendships and at last but most importantly in yourself.

There is permission here .... a permission every single one of us deserves and must be granted.  That's the permission to be safe and comfortable with the self we have been given...the self that is our gift.

Kacen Callender is celebrating their gifts.  Kacen Callender is claiming their voice.  Kacen Callender has opened their heart to welcome thousands, hundreds of thousands and millions who need a place to sit for a while - turn these pages -  come out the other side walking with Sandy and with King- happy to be themselves on this planet in this moment.

This is a 5 wows book!

272 pages                                    978-1338129335                           Ages 9-13

Keywords:  death and dying, finding yourself, acceptance, accepting others, LGBTQ, prejudice, racism, friendship, identity, gay and lesbian, being yourself, grief, loss, helping others, discrimination,

Recommended by: Barb Langridge,


In a small but turbulent Louisiana town, one boy's grief takes him beyond the bayous of his backyard, to learn that there is no right way to be yourself.

FOUR STARRED REVIEWS! Booklist School Library Journal Publishers Weekly The Horn Book

Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. When Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for another to live down by the bayou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.

It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy-that he thinks he might be gay. "You don't want anyone to think you're gay too, do you?"

But when Sandy goes missing, sparking a town-wide search, and King finds his former best friend hiding in a tent in his backyard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abusive father, and the two begin an adventure as they build their own private paradise down by the bayou and among the dragonflies. As King's friendship with Sandy is reignited, he's forced to confront questions about himself and the reality of his brother's death.

The Thing About Jellyfish meets The Stars Beneath Our Feet in this story about loss, grief, and finding the courage to discover one's identity, from the author of Hurricane Child.---from the publisher


“There will come a time when everybody

Who is lonely will be free

To sing and dance and love.

There will come a time when every evil

That we know will be an evil

That we can rise above.”

-- Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention (1968)

“I want to say that no one hates him, but I know it’s not true. I think about the way Camille and Darrell talk about Sandy. I know half the school whispers the same things. No one will sit with him or talk to him, except Jasmine.

Sandy’s right. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say again, louder this time.

I hear my name being shouted. My mom’s calling for me. There’s fear in her voice. Sandy and I both look up at the tent opening like we expect the zipper to magically undo itself and reveal the two of us and our secret to the entire world. My mom shouts my name again

‘I should go,’ I tell Sandy. I get up on my knees and reach for the zipper.

‘I’ll leave,’ he tells me. ‘I’ll find a new hiding spot, so---’ He hesitates, and I think he might be trying to say something like so you don’t have to deal with me anymore. I interrupt him before he can.

‘No,’ I say. ‘Stay.’

He frowns a little, and I have no idea what he’s thinking.

‘Please,’ I tell him. ‘Just stay here. Where else are you going to go?’

He can’t go back home. Even if he won’t tell me what happened, I know that those bruises and that cut on his mouth didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Jasmine and I have noticed the yellow and green bruises on Sandy’s arms before. Jasmine whispered to me once that she thinks Sandy’s dad might be abusive. She said that she wanted to tell a teacher, but she was afraid Sandy would be mad at her.

Sandy shakes his head. ‘I can find another place to hide.’

‘You’ll just get caught.’

He looks up at me through his lashes, a little shyly. ‘You promise you’re not going to tell no one?’

‘I shake my head. ‘Nope. And I’ll keep bringing you food. I can sneak you in the house so you can take a shower. You’ll be safe here.’

We don’t say anything about how he can’t stay here forever. How he might be safe for now, but he might not be safe for much longer. We decide to shake on it, like my dad says proper men in Louisiana agree on things, and that’s that.”

Twelve year-olds Charles “Sandy” Sanders, who is white, and Kingston “King” James, who is black, had been close friends. They trusted and confided in one another, and enjoyed one another’s company. This, despite Sandy’s grandfather being a Ku Klux Klan member, his big brother being at odds with King’s big brother, and Sandy’s father being the local sheriff.

But after King’s beloved brother Khalid overheard Sandy telling King that Sandy is gay, Khalid had demanded that King stay away from Sandy. Otherwise, he told King, people will think that King is gay, too. Which King is coming to realize he actually is.

King had dutifully heeded his big brother’s warning, despite the pain it caused him. He told Sandy they could no longer be friends. Shortly thereafter, Khalid inexplicably died while playing soccer. This left King, at such a pivotal moment in his young life, without either his brother or his best friend.

King found it agonizing to be in the bedroom that he and Khalid had shared. He made a habit of sleeping in a tent in the backyard. The same tent where Sandy and King had shared their secrets with one another. The tent where Sandy first takes refuge when he “disappears” after one of his father’s brutal beatings.

Once again having Sandy at close range, King must figure out what is really right.

There is such power and innocence in this coming-of-age story. Absolutely beautiful writing. You can feel, smell, and taste the bayou country setting. You repeatedly delve into King’s innermost thoughts.

There is so much depth and complexity in this notable, moving, and memorable tale that is pitch perfect for upper elementary readers.

Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California

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