graphic novels, middle grade, science

Middle Grade Must-Read: The Leak

The Leak (First Second)
Written by Kate Reed Perry
Illustrated by Andrea Bell

We are in year nine of the Flint, Michigan water crisis. This event has existed through the Obama and Trump presidencies and now into the Biden administration with no sign that the federal government will help these people or even hold state leadership responsible in any meaningful way. The result of providing the citizens of Flint with lead-contaminated water has been an increase in birth defects and a marked increase in the number of children needing special education services in public schools. Flint is a showcase of the complete failure of the system to protect the people. It’s no coincidence that a majority Black city is getting neglected and allowed to suffer. It’s essential for there to be voices speaking up for these people, not letting the rest of us become complacent & ignoring this gross inequity.

Ruth Keller is thirteen years old and already passionate about journalism. Her school doesn’t have a student-run newspaper, so she has made her own newsletter she mails out online to mostly family, some friends, and a couple of teachers. A recent trip to the dentist leads to an argument about how Ruth isn’t taking care of her teeth. But she is and can’t explain all the new cavities. Later, Ruth goes to the local lake with her crush and notices strange black slime. She scoops some up with a jar and takes it to her science teacher to test. This substance is highly toxic, which people across town have been exposed to. Ruth learns the power of journalism & speaking truth to power. She also discovers how nasty the powerful can be when caught harming the people and how these powers attempt to discredit people like her to bury the real story. 

This book is very straightforward and presents a relevant contemporary issue in a way that upper elementary/middle school students will understand right away. It’s also an important book in that it encourages students to speak out against injustices even when the adults around them either are cowed by fear of authority or are the authorities themselves threatening punishment. So often, the lesson we teach our children is to accept a decline in quality of life as a “natural.” That’s why the planet is now on the precipice of an extended period of climate catastrophe and the eventual extinction of many species, including ours. That is, if we continue to refuse to act. I don’t want to leave the burden of our mistakes & the generation before us on the children, but there is increasingly little other option left. The least we could do is make sure our children are educated & informed instead of sending them blindly into collapse.

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