Before Coe Booth was a writer, she was a caseworker with child protective services in New York City, where she worked with teenagers and families in crisis. She was, at times, responsible for removing children from their homes and placing them with foster families. The foster parents would often have children of their own.
"I was always wondering: What would it be like for those kids to have these new kids come and leave and come and leave and not want to attach to them?" she tells Tess Vigeland, guest host of NPR's weekends on All Things Considered.
Booth's latest book for middle-grade readers, Kinda Like Brothers, explores that question from the kids' points of view.
The novel starts with the arrival of a new set of foster children in the home of 11-year-old Jarrett. He's been through this many times before, but always with babies. This time, a young girl named Treasure is brought to his house late one night, along with her 12-year-old brother, Kevon.
The book follows Jarrett and Kevon as they grow from being strangers to sort of enemies — and then, kind of like family.
On getting the mind of her characters and writing for young boys
I think in every grown woman, there is an 11-year-old boy. No, I'm just joking! ... I don't know, I have nephews that ... they don't know it, but I've been spying on them while I was writing this book and a lot of my book is set in a community center much like the community center that my nieces and nephews go to. I would just hang out there for a little while. I was the creepy lady like writing notes as the kids were running around ...
But as I continue writing, he just becomes a person, so I'm able to kind of just let go of fear that I'm not portraying boys accurately.
On a scene where young boys at the community center receive advice on what to do when stopped by the police
That scene begins with Jarrett walking up and seeing a counselor at the center getting stopped and frisked for no reason. And it really disturbs him; he's just really angry. That afternoon a guy comes over to the center ... and he just tells them, "I'm going to keep it real with you guys, you black and Latino boys are going to get stopped a lot. And it doesn't matter what you do, or what you didn't do. It's just because of who you are. And in the meantime, I need to teach you what to do when the cops stop you — not if, when."
I think any parent or anybody who is dealing with young black boys — as is what's happening at the community center in this book — I think every single community center has had this conversation with their boys. And it's just so sad that we have to do this, but we do, and I hope that changes. I don't know if what's going on in Ferguson will change that, but I do hope it at least continues that conversation, because it's just exhausting that this is still going on in 2014.
On the intended audience for the book
Everybody — but particularly, I want kids who see themselves in this book because it's hard to find books that are for them and about them. It's not a fairy tale, it's a reality and it's, you know, it's complicated. But I hope it's true.