Barbara M. Joosse, , illus. by R. Gregory Christie. . Chronicle, $14.95 (36pp) ISBN 978-0-8118-2168-1

"Sometimes, Mama and me look down at the street and pretend it's not the city," explains the wistful young African-American narrator of this affecting story by the author of Mama, Do You Love Me? But imagining that the sirens are "wild wolves howlin' at the moon" and that gunfire is "the light of the stars crackin' the darkness" can't cloak reality. In bed, with his older brother Richard holding him tightly, the boy acknowledges that he's afraid. When Richard begins staying out all night and one day comes home with his arm wrapped in a blood-soaked bandage, his brother and mother admit to each other that Richard has become a "gang banger." Mama says, "We can't pretend no more…. We gotta be strong now." Richard does not quit the gang, but the ending offers both hope and inspiration: the neighbors band together to hold nightly "peace walks" in an attempt to discourage gang violence. Joosse explains in a concluding note that she told this story, based on the experiences of a real "banger," to reach gang members' little brothers and sisters—"the stars in the darkness"—and supplies a list of resources on gang prevention. Featuring bold hues and some arresting perspectives, Christie's (Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth) stylized acrylic paintings poignantly convey the anguish and sadness of this sympathetic narrator and his mother. Ages 4-8. (May)