moonwalking zetta elliott

For fans of Jason Reynolds and Jacqueline Woodson, this middle-grade novel-in-verse follows two boys in 1980s Brooklyn as they become friends for a season.

Punk rock-loving JJ Pankowski can't seem to fit in at his new school in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, as one of the only white kids. Pie Velez, a math and history geek by day and graffiti artist by night is eager to follow in his idol, Jean-Michel Basquiat's, footsteps. The boys stumble into an unlikely friendship, swapping notes on their love of music and art, which sees them through a difficult semester at school and at home. But a run-in with the cops threatens to unravel it all.

From authors Zetta Elliott and Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Moonwalking is a stunning exploration of class, cross-racial friendships, and two boys' search for belonging in a city as tumultuous and beautiful as their hearts.---from the publisher

224 pages                                 978-0374314378                                      Ages 10-14

Keywords:  novel in verse, historical fiction, diversity, diverse books, friendship, new experiences, fitting in, finding yourself, social class, social issues, neurodiversity, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old, 14 year old, New York


Other reviews:

"This novel in verse, alternately narrated by two boys in 1980s Greenpoint, Brooklyn, one channeled by Elliott and one by Miller-Lachmann, eloquently tackles race, culture and life on the spectrum." ― The New York Times


“Feet they hardly touch the ground

Walking on the moon

My feet don't hardly make no sound

Walking on, walking on the moon”

– The Police (1979)

“...meanwhile down the bloque

B-boys pop and lock

as a boom box blasts beats & rhymes

emcees flow over scratched-up tracks

and bodies bend but never break

kids not much older than me

battle on sheets of cardboard laid over concrete

I watch them wheel their legs like windmills

spin on their skullies

float over the ground as if

they’re walking

on the


“On August 5 [1981], following the PATCO workers' refusal to return to work, the Reagan administration fired the 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored the order, and banned them from federal service for life.”

– Wikipedia “Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (1968)”

“Derived from the Italian word graffio (‘scratch’), graffiti (‘incised inscriptions,’ plural but often used as singular) has a long history. For example, markings have been found in ancient Roman ruins, in the remains of the Mayan city of Tikal in Central America, on rocks in Spain dating to the 16th century, and in medieval English churches. During the 20th century, graffiti in the United States and Europe was closely associated with gangs, who used it for a variety of purposes: for identifying or claiming territory, for memorializing dead gang members in an informal ‘obituary,’ for boasting about acts (e.g., crimes) committed by gang members, and for challenging rival gangs as a prelude to violent confrontations. Graffiti was particularly prominent in major urban centres throughout the world, especially in the United States and Europe; common targets were subways, billboards, and walls. In the 1990s there emerged a new form of graffiti, known as ‘tagging,’ which entailed the repeated use of a single symbol or series of symbols to mark territory. In order to attract the most attention possible, this type of graffiti usually appeared in strategically or centrally located neighbourhoods.”


A year after his striking air traffic controller father is fired by then-President Reagan, JJ Pankowski’s family’s dire financial situation requires his parents to give up ownership of their Long Island suburban house. They move back to Brooklyn, where JJ and his parents are now sharing housing with relatives. His big sister Alina, a private school scholarship student, stays behind and goes to live with her girlfriend’s family.

In his new, majority minority school, Pi catches JJ’s attention:

“...There’s this genius kid

Pierre Velez.

He calls himself Pi

not like the pie that you eat

but the mathematical symbol

that stands for 3.14 and

a whole lot of numbers that follow

that never end.

Pi’s arm shoots up with every question

skinniest brownest arm

like a raised banner

fingers scraping the sky.

None of that timid half-mast maybe.

Let’s give someone else a chance

to answer,’ teacher says

and, yes, these kids

know the answers.

I’m half a

step behind

the backbeat

to a song I've never heard before”

Star student by day, and tagger by night, Pie also comes to notice JJ.

“...there's a new kid in my class–




keeps to himself

not saying I’m Mr. Popular but

I ain’t in the market for any more friends

Manny and Oz are goofballs but they’re good enough for me

and I’m still working up the nerve to talk to Benita

I got too much to deal with at home

to take on a special project at school

but something ‘bout the way that Whiteboy

looked that day in the cafeteria made

me talk to him after class today”

Set during the early 1980s–the Reagan era–MOONWALKING is the coming-of-age story of these two boys, Pie and JJ.

Pie is in a tough home situation. In a single-parent household, he and his little sister are being cared for by his Puerto Rican immigrant mother who is mentally ill. She frequently becomes confused and is unable to hold down a job. The father Pie has never known was from Zaire. His sister Pilar has a different father, Tony who their mother dumped because he was abusive. He occasionally comes around.

Pie is hungry to grow his knowledge of art and grow his own art. He gets an opportunity to attend an extracurricular art program at a museum.

JJ is a struggling student. His art is his music. He’s learning to play guitar and is working on composing punk rock tunes. JJ’s out-of-work father immigrated from Poland with his parents when he was JJ’s age. He is another abusive male.

With problems at home and challenges at school, these two boys become friends. But things are not so simple, and there are interesting twists and plenty to ponder at the conclusion of this gritty-but-hopeful tale for tweens and teens.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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