Photo by Robbie Sweeny courtesy of Chapter 510.

This story was first published by Oakland Voices, a journalism program led by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education that trains Oakland residents to tell the stories of their neighborhoods. 

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 works also include illustrations by diverse local artists, bringing the 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, which has led to six published chapter books.

The books reviewed below and others can be purchased from Chapter 510’s online store or by visiting their Department of Make/Believe storefront located at the historic Swan’s Market building in Old Oakland.

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.

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 into 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

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 the 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, 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

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

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

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


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

Coco Learns from Ava

By Sophie Cho, illustrated by Julia LaChica

Coco Learns from Ava is a 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 is 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

Was it You?

By Violet Wu, illustrations by Mara Ramirez

Author Violet Wu uses vivid imagery and sensory details to expose a secret that consumes the life of Reya. In “Was it You?,” Wu blends suspense and humor to engage the reader as we anxiously await for Reya and her friend Omo to uncover the neighborhood mystery. -KR

Our Hero 

By Maya Makonnen, illustrations by Todd German

If solving crimes wasn’t hard enough, try doing it under the legacy of your older brother. In, Our Hero, Maya Makonnen takes the reader on a journey of courage as Valentina Lopez fearlessly enters her family business as a detective. Detective Lopez proves that even when the world doubts your abilities, trusting your intuition will keep you on your path to victory. -KR

The Good or Bad Rob

By Raqia Izaath Dilshad, illustrations by Breena Nuñez

Can looks be deceiving? In The Good and Bad Rob, author Raqia Izaath Dilshad leads her readers into the woods to challenge their preconceived notions about monsters! Dilshad’s story is illuminated with vivid images by illustrator Breena Nuñez. -KR

Bravery is in Us

By Nafissatou Ndiaye, illustrations by Zhanné Easter

In Bravery is in Us, Coumba Saq’s school project on her family’s history turns into a magical mission to discover her ancestral gifts. Author Nafissatou Ndiaye and illustrator Zhanné Easter provide readers with a rich and vibrant lesson on bravery and self-discovery. -KR

Making Friends

By Sofia Wang, illustrations by Natalia Anciso

In Making Friends, author Zofia Wang recalls the early stages of the pandemic to discuss the challenges of making friends. As the main character Zofia becomes acclimated to her new school, she learns how to open up and build lasting relationships during tough times. -KR

Making Friends by Sofia Wang. Photo by Robbie Sweeny courtesy of Chapter 510.

The Man in the Black Trench Coat 

By Emily Cho, illustrated by Mara Ramirez

The Man in the Black Trench Coat is full of mystery, starting with a man wearing a trench coat who drops a photo of the protagonist, Ellie, on a train. Ellie is a girl with the superpower of invisibility and a mysterious family background—and she could be in danger The concise story is action-packed, leaving readers wanting for the sequel. -MC

The Ghost Detective

By Ka’tara Jackson, illustrations by ColB

Ka’tara Jackson weaves a dark and thrilling tale in this supernatural detective story. The main character Jason W wakes up to find himself dead, murdered because he was getting too close to the truth of a cruel tragedy at the local hospital. The only person who can see him is the hospital receptionist, and together they confront the evil forces at work in their community. Ka’tara Jackson could easily become a great supernatural thriller writer; keep your eyes open for her work in the future! The evocative character art by illustrator ColB is a great pairing. -SR

Chubby: The Last Salmon Catcher

By Jaylen Perry, illustrated by Felicia Hoshino

The fantastical storybook, Chubby: The Last Salmon Catcher, is the tale of an innocent puppy who catches a fish that gives superpowers. The book is full of funny dialogue and lessons about human nature. In the end, goodness and friendship win. Go on a magical journey, with illustrations by Felicia Hoshino, who brings the dog friends to life, through this amazing story. -MC

The Missing Case of Rose Gutierrez

By Sarah Guerrero, illustrated by Kanya Abe

A young middle school girl goes through life as a student while investigating the disappearance of her best friend, who went missing on their shared birthday. She drums up support from fellow classmates, and, using their detective skills and teamwork, plus the help of some adults, solves the mystery in this chapter book. -MC

The Missing Boy 

By Christian Veasey, illustrated by Lawrence Lindell

A group of friends saves up money for a fun-filled trip of a lifetime to Vegas. But, one of them goes missing. The whodunnit chapter-book story is full of clues, pool time, and eating at waffle restaurants. Finally, the ending shows that one or more friends from the group brought the mischief upon themselves. -MC

The Ghost Guardian

By Su Myet Tun, illustrated by Kamakshi Duvvuru

A girl named Sky who passed away in a fire turns into her best friend Alex’s guardian over the years, making sure she does not get hurt. Many years later, Alex returns the favor by helping a young girl who reminds her of Sky. The remarkable fictional story takes us through decades of friendship, showing that even after we leave this world, we are not forgotten by our loved ones. -MC

Momo Chang is the alumni coordinator for Oakland Voices, a project of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, and a freelance writer based in the East Bay.