Reviews: Chapter 510’s New Youth-Written Books Full of Imagination and Creativity

An African American boy sits on stage reading from a book he wrote with a smile on his face
Photo by Robbie Sweeny courtesy of Chapter 510.

Some Oakland Voices correspondents read and reviewed newly published books by Chapter 510, a literary nonprofit based in Old Oakland. The youngest writers were 8 years old when they wrote their books. The published books include illustrations by diverse local authors, bringing their stories to life.

The organization offers free writing programs for Oakland youth, and also partners with OUSD classrooms and teachers. An example is a novel-writing club at Westlake Middle School with teacher Tiffany Golden, leading to six published chapter-books.

Chapter 510 will be at the Youth Creative Expo this Saturday, April 15 in Old Oakland from 12-6 p.m. People who attend the block party can participate in writing a poem at the Chapter 510 booth or visit the organization’s storefront. The books featured here, and other books, can be purchased from Chapter 510’s online store or by visiting their Department of Make / Believe storefront in Old Oakland. The reviews below are part one. Stay tuned for part two of our reviews of these youth-written books!

A wooden bookshelf inside a bookstore in Oakland with colorful books on the shelf
One of the bookshelves at the Department of Make / Believe storefront in Old Oakland. Photo by Sara Langer Rowley.

Dunkin’s Bravery

By Danielle De La Peña, illustrations by Betsy Streeter

A sweet and gentle story about finding bravery when you need it, the story of Dunkin and her supportive pal Jenga teaches a great lesson. Sometimes courage comes from the kindness and persistence of a good friend, and that’s the kind of uplift we all need. Danielle De La Peña shows remarkable insight in what it means to be brave. And the setting at the “animal school” is adorable, too, thanks to Betsy Streever’s expertly-crafted and lovely illustrations. -SR

a wall is covered with framed book covers written by young people
A wall with framed photos of book covers. Photo by Robbie Sweeny courtesy of Chapter 510.

The Seven Elevens

By Micah Jamison Turner, illustrations by Vanessa Mora Méndez

Zombie apocalypse? Don’t worry, all you need are some good friends and a little ingenuity! Micah Jamison Turner’s writing will make you smile with hilarious descriptions of the zombie-infested world and the great characters in it. The Seven Elevens are a group of kids living together with no parents, in a sort of clubhouse-meets-science lab. Each kid has a unique personality, showing a real maturity of the author. They take on zombie hoards (and health inspectors?) in this imaginative story, illustrated brilliantly by Vanessa Mora Méndez. -SR

Too Many Taxes by Simbha Shiromi. Photo by Robbie Sweeny courtesy of Chapter 510.

Too Many Taxes

By Simbha Shiromi, illustrations by Lawrence Lindell

A town is plagued by a greedy mayor, the “Tax Queen,” and only one person is brave enough to stand up to her! The hero of this story, Colin, takes on city hall with a promise to release the residents from authority that’s gone out of control. Lindell’s art shows every emotion on the characters’ faces in this story of bravery. Any reader can feel that Simbha Shiromi has a strong sense of social justice– it’s inspiring to see a young mind find strength in speaking truth to power. -SR

What About UR Friends

By Catherine Wallace, illustrations by Tiffany Golden

Sasha is a typical 8th grader, with a tight group of good friends, and a boyfriend Jake that seems great…until a misunderstanding leads to her finding out he’s not as perfect as he seems. Sasha navigates the scandal that plays out at school, home, and in social media as the weeks go on, as the author Catherine Wallace masterfully reveals Sasha’s emotional journey. At an age where friendships matter more than anything, a bad interaction can devastate a young person for weeks–but Sasha realizes her voice can make a powerful difference. The illustrations by Tiffany Golden really capture the drama of this teenage love story. -SR


By Mattie Chukwudebe, illustrated by Daniel Camacho

A magical realist story about a child named Fortis who goes to an enchanted island. In the story, Fortis is sent by his mom to visit a long-lost grandfather that he have no relationship with, and that he is not thrilled to meet. Soon, the child enters a world that includes a dragon and a Tiger Monster, where young Fortis has to sum up his bravery to save the day. Chock-full of action, Magicon will delight readers of all ages. -MC

Chapter book covers showing diverse characters
Chapter books with a mystery focus written by Chapter 510 youth in collaboration with Westlake Middle School. Photo by Momo Chang

Coco Learns from Ava

By Sophie Cho, illustrated by Julia LaChica

Coco Learns from Ava is story about a young woman named Coco Chanel who tires of being a seamstress and overusing her hands, and moves to Hollywood to ask director Ava DuVernay for advice on becoming a filmmaker. Some chaos ensues, but through trial and error, Coco is able to finish a film. The book ends with “to be continued,” perhaps part two about Coco teaching Ava how to sew as the book suggests! -MC

A young girl wearing glasses holds up a book she wrote
Sophie Cho with her book, Coco Learns from Ava. Photo by Robbie Sweeny courtesy of Chapter 510.

Just a Game 

By Jamara Mabrey, illustrated by Serafina Medina

This chapter-book Just a Game features a young adult detective who ends up in a bind while on the job—kidnapped with a group of kids by an evil leader in the school. Throughout the adventurous ordeal, the kids stick together and use their bravery to survive. -MC

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Editor’s note: Oakland Voices Alumna Marabet Morales Sikahall is a staff member at Chapter 510 and worked on the books.

Author Profile

Sara is a proud resident of the Clinton/East Lake area of Oakland, where she enjoys her current gig as a stay-at-home mom. She grew up in Minnesota and Colorado before moving to the Bay Area in 2006. She has a background in art and worked as a graphic designer for many years. She feels her connection to the community is best held by exploring new places, asking people about their stories, and bearing witness to the changes surrounding us all.

Author Profile

Momo Chang is a freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the Oakland Voices Co-Director. Her work focuses on healthcare, immigration, education, Asian American communities, food and culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Momo has received journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for investigative reporting and the Asian American Journalists Association, among others. Her work has appeared in the East Bay Express, San Francisco Chronicle, Wired, and The New York Times. Momo is primarily a print journalist who also produces audio and visual stories for documentary film and radio. She is a Senior Contributing Editor for Hyphen and formerly the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM).

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Evaluations: Chapter 510's New Youth-Written Books Stuffed with Creativeness and Creativity - Bayzine
  2. Reviews: Chapter 510’s New Youth-Written Books Full of Imagination and Creativity (Part 2) - Oakland Voices

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