Review of The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith

The 1619 Project

Born on the Water

by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson
illustrated by Nikkolas Smith

Kokila (Penguin Random House), 2021. 44 pages.
Review written December 27, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This book, like Your Legacy (which is for even younger children), shows African American children that the history of their people didn’t start with slavery. The book is presented as a series of poems. The story begins with a girl asked to do a school assignment, with a family tree and telling which country her family is from. She’s upset that she can only go back three generations. Then her grandmother tells her about their people, who were born on the water.

And she begins the story in Africa. There are ten lovely pages telling about their ancestors in Africa. Some bits of that:

Their story does not begin
with whips and chains.

They spoke Kimbundu,
had their own words
for love
for friend
for family.

Their hands had a knowing.
They knew how to hold a baby close,
how to rock the child to keep her from crying.

But the white people took them away and kidnapped them.

Ours is no immigration story.

They did not get to pack bags stuffed
with cherished things, with the doll grandmama
had woven from tall grass,
with the baby blanket handed down
from generation to generation all the way back,
so far back that it carried the scent of the ancestors.

We’re told about the White Lion, the first ship to bring slavery to America in 1619.

They had no things. But they had their minds.
The old ways, the harvest songs, the just-right mix of herbs
etched in their memories.

They had their bodies. Histories and bloodlines
and drums pulsing in their veins.
With trembling fingers
they braided seeds into their hair, defiantly hiding
tiny pieces of home
to plant one day
in new soils.

Many died on that ship, almost half, whether from despair or defiance or sickness and hunger. But those who survived resolved to live no matter what. Here’s the part that explains the title of the book:

Packed in dark misery,
strangers chained together
head to feet, hip to hip,
in the bottom of a ship
called the White Lion,
they saw that these strangers —
men, women, children, kidnapped, too,
from many villages —
these were their people now.

These many people
became one people,
a new people.

And that is why the people say,
We were born on the water.
We come from the people who refused to die.

The rest of the book talks about what those people born on the water accomplished, despite being enslaved. How they resisted, simply by living on. How they used their gifts and their intelligence to overcome and accomplish great things.

“Never forget you come from a people
of great strength,” Grandma says.
“Be proud of our story, your story.”

Let me add a note that I think it’s terrible it will be controversial to get this book out in the schools where kids can read it. This book is not shaming white people. Yes, it tells the truth about what many white people did. But the point of the story is that Black children can rightly be proud in the hope and resilience and intelligence and resourcefulness of their ancestors. And it would be great for white children to also know about this heritage their classmates proudly bear.

The story of African Americans does not begin with slavery.

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Review of Blackout

Blackout

by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon

performed by Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Dion Graham, Imani Parks, Jordan Cobb, Shayna Small, A. J. Beckles, and Bahni Turpin

HarperAudio, 2021. 6 hours, 55 minutes.
Review written December 30, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
2021 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 Teen Fiction

This is a lovely collection of six love stories written by six outstanding authors for young adults. All the stories are set on the day of a major blackout in New York City, and all the teens are Black. All the couples are also gravitating toward a block party supposed to happen in Brooklyn that night.

But given those constraints, we’ve got lots of variety. One story is presented in five acts as the couple attempts to walk across New York City from Harlem to Brooklyn to get home. They had recently broken up after years together, and now they’re stuck with each other again when the subways aren’t running. Another story has a boy helping another boy in the dark of the subway — and he’s only beginning to admit to himself that he’s attracted to that boy. One story takes place on a tour bus with a class from Jackson, Mississippi, exploring New York. There’s a love triangle on the bus. Another girl is helping out residents of a retirement home when she finally meets the girl her grandfather’s been telling her about. One girl wants to get to the party to confront her ex and get him to take her back. That plan is disrupted by the driver of the car she hired. Another couple have been friends for years and now they’re on a quest to settle a bet in the dark in New York Public Library after they were supposed to leave with everyone else.

All of the stories are charming, and all of them are fun to listen to. Tiffany D. Jackson’s story in five acts begins the collection, and then another act is presented in between the other stories. Each story happens a little bit later in that fateful evening as we hear about the couple walking across the city. And as that couple progresses through the city, they come near each other couple along the way. The listener gets a sense of walking through the city, but focusing in on side stories along the way.

And as they chose outstanding writers for this collection, they chose amazing narrators for the audiobook. This collection is a complete delight.

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Review of Pax: Journey Home, by Sara Pennypacker

Pax

Journey Home

by Sara Pennypacker
illustrated by Jon Klassen

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2021. 247 pages.
Review written October 16, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
2021 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #6 Children’s Fiction

Wonderful! A sequel to the beautiful book Pax, which is about a boy and his fox, separated by the boy’s father and trying to reach each other despite perilous obstacles — and a war.

In Journey Home, the war is over, but devastation has been left behind. Among that devastation, Peter’s father was killed in the war. And for the wildlife, rivers and streams and a reservoir were polluted. The entire town where Peter had lived when his parents were alive was abandoned.

This is a sequel, and you should read Pax first. I will try not to give away what happens in the first book, but Peter and Pax are again on quests that make them encounter each other.

Pax has a family now, but humans are encroaching too near, and he wants to find them a new den. However, in his search, his most adventurous kit comes along, and they have to take a roundabout path because of more humans.

Peter has lost his family — his father died in the war, on top of the loss of his mother before the first book started. Vola sees him as family, but Peter has learned that it’s better not to love — you’ll only lose them and get hurt again. He goes off to join the Junior Water Warriors, who are spending the summer cleaning up the polluted rivers left behind by the war. Peter does not intend to come back.

But he didn’t expect to encounter Pax.

For awhile, I thought this book a little too bleak, but Sara Pennypacker pulls off a transformation in Peter’s heart with exactly the right touch — not too sentimental and not even too predictable or unbelievable. The result is a powerful and inspirational story of healing. Pax is even more firmly rooted in my heart than he was before.

If you didn’t catch Pax when the book was first published, you now have two books you really should read!

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Review of Every Thing Is Sacred, by Richard Rohr and Patrick Boland

Every Thing Is Sacred

40 Practices and Reflections on the Universal Christ

by Richard Rohr and Patrick Boland

Convergent Books (Penguin Random House), 2021. 220 pages.
Review written October 23, 2021, from my own copy purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review

I was going to say that Every Thing Is Sacred is a study guide to the wonderful book by Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ — but it’s really more of a contemplation guide. There are forty “Reflections” on passages from the earlier book, with “Reflective Exercises” at the end of each Reflection. So it’s a guide to going deeper with the ideas from that book.

Yes, you’ll want to read The Universal Christ before or alongside this book. I am planning to reread both books together.

It’s a little misleading that Richard Rohr’s name is listed first as the main author, because Patrick Boland is the author of the Reflections. But that’s done because all the Reflections springboard from Richard Rohr’s writings.

I recommend beginning with the book The Universal Christ. Then, if you want to go deeper – and I think most people will – “Every Thing Is Sacred” can help you with that.

I also recommend getting a journal for it and doing the Reflective Exercises. Here I have to admit that I didn’t do many of them. I started out at the beginning, but then settled for reading each piece and thinking about it a little bit. This is why I do want to tackle the book again, and I think I’ll get more out of it.

Here’s a section from the Introduction by Richard Rohr, describing what you may get out of the book:

This is incarnational Christianity! Not God reserved for a few but God available to all in a thousand, thousand visible forms, and celebrated, over and over. Not just a problem-solving forgiver-of-sins God but a God whose greatness made sin by comparison unattractive, undesirable, small, and stifling. Once God models poured-out oneness for us, we are on some level allured into doing the same. Growth by “attraction, not promotion,” as the twelve-step program might say. Not so much a Christ coming into the world as coming out of a world that is already soaked with Presence.

And that is what both Patrick and I want you to experience for yourself in this little book. Not just warm thoughts but an entire earth and humanity warmed by the Word becoming flesh. This is a message you cannot know with your mind alone. You must come to know it in the very cells of your body – and see it in the cells of all bodies, which each carry the same divine DNA of their Creator. Think about it. How could they not be?

This book is neither pious nor academic but is filled with spiritual knowing waiting to be transferred to you if you have the right app (if you will allow me to use a mobile device metaphor). The app requires only two functions on your part – curiosity and a bit of love. Yet this book is not a workbook either because it is hardly work at all, nor does it ask for grinding concentration. We might just call it A Guide to Christian Freedom and Fun! (But in a Quite Serious Way). Why not?

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Review of Pony, by R. J. Palacio, read by Ian M. Hawkins

Pony

by R. J. Palacio
read by Ian M. Hawkins

Listening Library, 2021. 7 hours.
Review written November 29, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Wow. If you read the author’s book Wonder, you won’t be surprised that she can tell a good story, but this one is completely different from that one – but completely captivating.

We’ve got a 12-year-old narrator named Silas who lives alone with his Pa outside a small town in 1860 in the west. His Pa is a bootmaker who has figured out how to print daguerreotypes on paper. One night, some rough men come to their house and take his Pa away with them, saying they want him to help them out with a job. They bring a pony for Silas, but Pa refuses to go with them if they take Silas. He tells Silas to stay in the house and not let anyone in.

When the pony comes back a couple days later, Silas takes it as a sign that he should go find Pa. Sometime in there we discover that Silas has the ability to see ghosts. And he’s got a ghost companion, a sixteen-year-old boy he calls Mittenwool. Mittenwool tries to convince him to stay home like Pa told him, but Silas is determined to help Pa.

Fortunately, they come across a federal marshal named Enoch Farmer who is on the track of a gang of counterfeiters. They establish that the men he’s after are the ones who took Pa. The marshal helps Silas navigate the wilderness, have food to eat, and follow the track of the counterfeiters. The marshal doesn’t know how much Mittenwool helps them stay on track. But when they’ve found the counterfeiters’ lair, an accident means Silas is going to need to get help on his own.

This story had me not wanting to stop for anything. The part after the dramatic confrontation is a little long, but kids do like loose ends being tied up, so I can’t really fault the author for that. And I was happy to know how things turned out for Silas.

This is a wonderful yarn with danger and adventure and a kid you can’t help but love, a kid who’s got the smartest and best Pa in the world. And the help of a remarkable pony.

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Review of Run, Book One, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, L. Fury, and Nate Powell

Run
Book One

written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
art by L. Fury with Nate Powell

Abrams Comic Arts, 2021. 154 pages.
Review written November 15, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Run, Book One continues the story told in the award-winning series March, about John Lewis’s experiences during the Civil Rights Movement, this one beginning after the Voting Rights Act was signed. John Lewis got to see and approve of almost all the pages in this book before his death. I hope that the collaborators did enough work with him to continue the story, and I’m optimistic about that since they’re still calling it Book One.

We see lots of backlash against what they had accomplished. The book opens with members of the Ku Klux Klan on the march. There’s also conflict in SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the organization for which John Lewis served as chairman for years – until dissent got him removed. The whole principle of nonviolence was being challenged.

A note at the back makes me appreciate how much historical research went into getting the detailed images in this book exactly right. They not only researched things like which models of cars were made that year, but also which cars people in any given neighborhood would drive. There are also short biographies at the back of people who show up in the book, and that section goes on for twelve pages. There’s so much detail and so much to learn in this book.

I thought it was interesting that the Black Panther party produced small comic books “explaining to new voters how they could vote for the new party, as well as the responsibilities and powers of the different elected positions they’d be voting for.” So this graphic novel comes from a long and fine tradition.

I am so thankful to the team of “Good Trouble Productions” for making sure that John Lewis’s voice can still be heard.

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Review of The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik

The Last Graduate

Lesson Two of The Scholomance

by Naomi Novik

Del Rey (Penguin Random House), 2021. 388 pages.
Review written November 16, 2021, from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review

The Last Graduate is the sequel to A Deadly Education, and it looks like this will be a series with more to come — there sure better be more to come! (Both books ended with a dramatic surprise.) You definitely need to read the books in order, and I will try not to give away anything that happens in the first book from my description of the second.

This series is about a school for wizard children — but it upends everything you expect in such a novel. This school, the Scholomance, is out to kill the students. Or at least it seems so. But our viewpoint character, Galadriel, known as El to her friends, turns out to be an underestimated powerful wizard with a prophecy about her and who is only able to learn spells about death and devastation. Against her intentions, she has made friends with Orion Lake, whose favorite thing is killing the maleficaria (malicious monsters) that seek out the school and try to kill the students.

Since El and Orion are seniors in this book, my past experience with stories of wizard schools made me expect the series would end with this book. But I assure you, the story is far from over, though the next volume may not have a school setting.

Normally, every year the seniors make alliances in preparation for the day when they will be sent to the Graduation Hall — and only some of them will make it through alive.

This year, many expectations were upended because of what El and Orion did at the end of the first book. And the Scholomance has ways of making El take on a new mission.

Who knew that an original wizarding school story can still be told? The world-building in this series is amazing and imaginative. I’m not completely sure why it’s marketed to adults and not young adults, except that all the author’s other books are for adults. Teens can certainly handle the death and destruction found here.

And now I very much have to find out what comes next.

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Review of Crazy Contraptions, by Laura Perdew

Crazy Contraptions

Build Rube Goldberg Machines That Swoop, Spin, Stack, and Swivel
With Hands-on Engineering Activities

by Laura Perdew
illustrated by Micah Rauch

Nomad Press, 2019. 122 pages.
Review written April 13, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is another book I’d planned to booktalk in 2020 but hadn’t actually gotten around to reading until the library closed for the pandemic. I still hope to booktalk it some day, and I’d even like to do a Rube-Goldberg-Machine-Building program inspired by its approach.

This is a book that teaches kids how to make Rube Goldberg machines, or I should say inspires kids to create their own Rube Goldberg machines.

I love the approach. First, they start with the overall concept and tell about Rube Goldberg. But then they present each of the six types of simple machines and suggest activities of trying out that type of simple machine in your own creation.

For example, here’s the first activity in the Inclined Planes chapter:

Use an inclined plane and something that can roll or slide down the plane to knock over an object. Yes, this is a ridiculous little task! That’s what crazy contraptions are all about.

With each activity, they have the reader brainstorm ideas and supplies, draw a plan, build, test, evaluate, and possibly redesign.

The next exercise has you build a pyramid and use two inclined planes to knock it down.

Further activities include ringing a bell using both a lever and an inclined plane, watering a plant using a homemade conveyor belt (with wheels), rolling dice using at least one inclined plane, one lever, one wheel and axle, and one pulley, and launching a boat with a contraption that includes a wedge that separates or splits two things apart.

Challenges at the end include making a over-sized contraption in your yard and making a micro-sized contraption that you can fit in a box.

It’s all fun and playful and just packed with science. There are QR-codes linked to videos that demonstrate related principles. I confess I didn’t follow the QR-codes, but kids who do will become even more engaged.

I went through a time when I was a kid that I loved making domino runs. This book will take kids far beyond that. Perfect for kids who like to tinker.

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Review of Terciel & Elinor, by Garth Nix

Terciel and Elinor

by Garth Nix

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2021. 338 pages.
Review written November 29, 2021, from my own copy, preordered from amazon.com.
Starred Review

A prequel to Sabriel! I preordered myself a copy as soon as I found out about it. It’s been a very long time since I read Sabriel, but I still recognized the names of the foes threatening the Old Kingdom.

Terciel is a young man and the Abhorsen-in-Waiting. Elinor is a young woman who has grown up on the south side of the border with the Old Kingdom, isolated in a manor house with her mother, a governess and the governess’s uncle, an old groom. She has been told that the mark her great-aunt put on her forehead when she was young is a disfiguring scar – rather than a charter mark giving her access to the magic of the Charter.

Elinor’s mother gets mysteriously sick, and then the Abhorsen-in-Waiting comes abruptly to her house just in time to protect her from the Greater Dead monster that has inhabited her mother’s body.

After barely escaping that incident, with those she loves dead, Elinor goes to Wyverley College to try to learn magic and go to the Old Kingdom. But another incident with the dead has Elinor traveling north sooner than she expected – and she becomes an important part of working with Terciel and the Abhorsen to stop a great threat.

I think you can read these books in whatever order you like, though I already know about the Abhorsens and necromancers and free magic and charter magic – I don’t know if it would be confusing for someone first picking up the books. But this unusual world and its magic and the dead who walk still has the power to captivate me. In fact, I’m soon going to need to reread Sabriel now that I’ve been reminded of this amazing world.

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Review of A New Green Day, by Antoinette Portis

A New Green Day

by Antoinette Portis

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2020. 32 pages.
Review written July 6, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This book is a series of poetic riddles about things in nature a girl encounters as she goes through her day. They aren’t posed as riddles, but as a description, and then you turn the page to find out what is talking.

Here are a few:

“Morning lays me on your pillow,
an invitation, square and warm.
Come out and play!”

says sunlight.

“I am cool pudding
on a muggy day.
Let your toes
have a taste!”

says mud.

“I race up the hill
while lying at your feet.
Wave at me
and I’ll wave at you,”

says shadow.

The pictures that go with the riddles are quiet, joyful, and evocative, with a palette of mainly greens and browns, appropriate for a day mainly spent outdoors in the summertime.

It’s a simple book, perfect for celebrating simple pleasures in nature.

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