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Mid-Air

Illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff
LIST PRICE $9.99

About The Book

A tender-souled boy reeling from the death of his best friend struggles to fit into a world that wants him to grow up tough and unfeeling in this stunning illustrated middle grade novel in verse “full of vulnerability and hope” (Booklist, starred review) from the Newbery Honor–winning author of Genesis Begins Again.

It’s the last few months of eighth grade, and Isaiah feels lost. He thought his summer was going to be him and his boys Drew and Darius, hanging out, doing wheelies, watching martial arts movies, and breaking tons of Guinness World Records before high school. But now, more and more, Drew seems to be fading from their friendship, and though he won’t admit it, Isaiah knows exactly why. Because Darius is…gone.

A hit and run killed Darius in the midst of a record-breaking long wheelie when Isaiah should have been keeping watch, ready to warn: “CAR!” Now, Drew can barely look at Isaiah. But Isaiah, already quaking with ache and guilt, can’t lose two friends. So, he comes up with a plan to keep Drew and him together­­­—they can spend the summer breaking records, for Darius.

But Drew’s not the same Drew since Darius was killed, and Isaiah being Isaiah isn’t enough for Drew anymore. Not his taste in clothes, his love for rock music, or his aversion to jumping off rooftops. And one day something unspeakable happens to Isaiah that makes him think Drew’s right. If only he could be less sensitive, more tough, less weird, more cool, less him, things would be easier. But how much can Isaiah keep inside until he shatters wide open?

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

Mid-Air

By Alicia D. Williams

About the Book

Isaiah is still reeling from the loss of one of his best friends, Darius, when his other friend, Drew, starts to pull away from their friendship. Despite Isaiah’s efforts to keep things the same, he feels himself struggling to fit into his changing world and to accept these big, hard emotions that come with growing up. Sometimes it feels like nothing he does is ever good enough, not for Drew, or for the rest of the world. If he could be less sensitive, would things really be easier? But how much can he keep inside before he shatters completely?

Discussion Questions

1. What do you think the title of the book, Mid-Air, conveys about the story?

2. How is the theme of self-acceptance portrayed throughout the novel?

3. Which characters struggle with self-acceptance, and how do they overcome it? Take some time to describe some of the biggest challenges these characters face to working on their self-acceptance.

4. What role does Isaiah’s beanie play for him? What type of protection or power does it provide?

5. Discuss several ways you think the characters try to fit in. Are they successful in fitting in? Do you think fitting in is important? Why or why not?

6. What do you think drives the characters’ pursuit to set world records? Was this a safe endeavor? What could be considered unsafe and what could be considered safe decisions?

7. What are some examples of how Isaiah and Drew coped with Darius’s death? Consider why Drew came to sleep over at his friend’s home, and Isaiah’s nighttime pacing. What are some of the pros and cons to the examples of coping mechanisms displayed in Mid-Air around Darius’s death? What kind of repercussions could some of these methods have on their relationships with friends and family members?

8. How does the author address racial discrimination and race-based violence? How do the characters respond to it?

9. Compare the feelings Isaiah and Drew express about not having their fathers consistently at home. How does this challenge impact Drew’s relationship with his friends? How does it impact Isaiah’s relationship with his family?

10. Consider how Isaiah and Drew use silence, or very few words, as a form of self-protection. How does this behavior serve them? Give examples of how this negatively or positively impacts their situations.

11. Drew shaves his locs because his mother wants him to be more “presentable.” (p. 68) Why do you think his mother makes this suggestion? Do you think the timing of it, after hearing about the man yelling at the boys for being on his street, has something to do with her comment?

12. Discuss how Isaiah’s mother addresses her fear about his “confrontation” and Isaiah’s subsequent anger. How might Isaiah’s parents’ decision to send him south help him?

13. Explore the relationship between the characters and their families. How do the relationship dynamics impact their journey through the story?

14. Isaiah thinks about his aunt’s advice: “What’s inside me gots to come out.” (p. 280) Discuss how this happens for Isaiah, and what his aunt meant by it. Have you ever had a time when you needed to get the emotions out? What does that mean to you?

15. Discuss the role of friendships in the story. How do friends react to events in the book? How do they support each other (or not)? How are the friends Isaiah makes in North Carolina different from his friends in Detroit?

16. In what ways does the story’s setting influence the characters’ experiences and challenges? Discuss how the settings and their influence differ for each character.

17. Compare and contrast how different generations in the book perceive and manage self-acceptance and racial discrimination.

18. Explore symbolism in the story—for example, Isaiah’s T-shirts, his mother’s plants, his dad’s camera, the color of nail polish. How do these symbols contribute to the themes of the book?

19. Isaiah undergoes a transformation throughout the book. What events or realizations contribute to this transformation?

20. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people. How does Mid-Air emphasize the importance of empathy and understanding?

21. Isaiah’s mother and family in North Carolina all work with plants and gardens. How could this activity help Isaiah recognize and work on his own feelings?

22. How do Isaiah’s photography and relationship with Kiana affect his perspective about his experiences? How does Isaiah’s relationship with Drew change after returning from visiting family?

23. How does the meaning of “I am fine” change throughout the course of the book?

24. Consider how and why Isaiah is finally able to share the emotions about what happened to him with the adults in his life. Why do you think he was hesitant to share these events and feelings? Has there ever been a time when, like Isaiah, you were hesitant to share an event or feeling? Why were you hesitant?

Extension Activities

1. Personal Reflection: Ask each student to write a journal entry from two different characters’ perspectives, one child and one adult, detailing their inner struggles with self-acceptance and overcoming fear. How is this exercise different depending on the age of the character? Why do you think so?

2. Artistic Expression: Ask students to create visual representations (drawings, paintings, collages) of a key scene in the book which had an impact on them. Have the students explain in a presentation or short description why they chose that scene, what it means to them, and why they chose a particular art medium.

3. Group Discussion—Real-Life Connections: Divide the class into small groups and assign a theme from the book to each group. Have them research real-life examples of people who have overcome similar challenges and lead a discussion on their findings.

4. Poetry and Stories: Consider the different ways and styles of poems and verse the author has built out in Mid-Air. Have students write a short story or essay about their day or an important event from the past few weeks. Then have them rewrite that story into two or three poems in verse. How did their writing style have to change? Did they have to expand on certain descriptions or emotions? What did they have to condense? Do their poems convey their story any differently? How so?

5. Interactive Storytelling: Have students work in pairs (or individually, depending on the size of the group) to write a short story incorporating the book’s themes or imagining certain scenes from a different character’s perspective. Encourage them to imagine and share creative solutions for how the characters might have overcome their challenges.

6. Character Playlist: Have students curate a playlist of up to ten songs that they feel resonate with the emotions and experiences of the book’s characters. Ask them to explain each song choice in a short paragraph (which character(s), why that song, which emotion or experience, etc.).

7. Letter to the Author: Have students write a letter to the author expressing their thoughts about how effectively the themes were portrayed in the book and how it resonated with them personally.

8. Community Awareness Project: Challenge students to research and identify local or national organizations that address issues of racial discrimination, self-acceptance, or grief support. Encourage them to create informational posters or presentations to raise awareness about these organizations.

9. Group Activity: Have the students play the game Isaiah used to play with Darius—the one where they asked each other “stupid / random questions, demanding quick honest answers. / The rules: they can’t stall, say um, or answer using a question.” (p. 60) Leave out the tagging, though—absolutely no physical contact!

Note: Page numbers are based on the hardcover edition of this title.

Guide created by Damon L. Austin, a school librarian and library information consultant who has worked with public, academic, special, and school libraries. He finds teaching and mentoring students the most fulfilling facet of his career, and currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the American Library in Paris.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Author

(c) Jasiatic

Alicia D. Williams is the author of Genesis Begins Again, which received Newbery and Kirkus Prize honors, was a William C. Morris Award finalist, and for which she won the Coretta Scott King - John Steptoe Award for New Talent; and picture books Jump at the Sun and The Talk which was also a Coretta Scott King Honor book. An oral storyteller in the African American tradition, she lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

About The Illustrator

Danica Novgorodoff is an artist, writer, graphic designer, and horse wrangler who lives in Kentucky. Her books include Jason Reynolds’s Long Way Down graphic novel. She was awarded a 2015 New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in literature and was named Sarabande Books’s 2016 writer-in-residence. She has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony, Blue Mountain Center, VCCA, Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, and Willapa Bay AiR. Visit her online at DanicaNovgorodoff.com.

Product Details

Raves and Reviews

In lovely verse, Williams tells a powerful story of a young teenager struggling in the wake of a friend’s death. Isaiah’s fear is palpable and very relatable to those with a habit of freezing in stressful situations. Observing him overcome his fears, both of risky stunts and of showing people his true self, is incredibly empowering. This novel also skillfully deals with issues of absent fathers, friendship changes, and prejudice. Interspersed are Novgorodoff’s beautiful watercolor illustrations that perfectly complement the story. All characters read as Black. VERDICT A quietly stunning novel in verse about grief and learning to accept yourself. Recommended for all middle grade collections.

– School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW, 3/1/24

Williams’ book, written in verse and adorned with vivid illustrations, portrays an accurate depiction of Black boyhood. This compelling novel, full of vulnerability and hope, is a must-read.

– Booklist, STARRED Review, 2/15/24

“Be like water,” Isaiah says. “Always,” Darius replies. These are the final words the boys say to each other before Darius takes off on his bicycle to break the Guinness world record for a wheelie. Isaiah is in charge of watching for cars, but a chaotic, unexpected confrontation ends with a tragic fatal accident. Williams (Genesis Begins Again, rev. 1/19) handles the sensitive topics of death, grief, racism, violence, and racial and gender expression with care, making sure the narrative doesn’t become overly dark and heavy. The novel’s focus on Isaiah’s inner world allows readers to witness the evolution of a thirteen-year-old Black boy dealing with life-altering events, navigating challenging relationships with friends and family and, finally, feeling comfortable enough to reveal his full self in the process.

– HornBook, STARRED REVIEW, May/June Issue

Pastoral features such as expressive b&w illustrations by Novgorodoff (Long Way Down) and clear, accessible verse by Williams (Genesis Begins Again) skillfully juxtapose larger, heavier examinations of grief, identity, mental health, and racism, making for a heartfelt novel about an unmoored child seeking strength and self-forgiveness.

– Publishers Weekly, 1/22/24

Black boy joy, hurt, anxiety, and perseverance relayed with charm.

– Kirkus Reviews, 2/15/24

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More books from this author: Alicia D. Williams

More books from this illustrator: Danica Novgorodoff