Archive for April, 2020

Review of Wonderland, by Barbara O’Connor

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

Wonderland

by Barbara O’Connor

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018. 282 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 29, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

Wonderland is an utterly delightful friendship story, with a charming dog rescue and friendship-with-elderly-gentleman plots thrown in.

Mavis and her mother are moving again. This time, Mavis is determined to have a best friend. Will they even stay in Landry, Alabama long enough? But her mother’s going to be working as a maid in a big home, and they’ll live in an apartment over the garage – and there’s a girl her age who lives in the house.

Rose is getting tired of how her former friend Amanda treats her. And she’s worried about Mr. Duffy, the gatekeeper, whose dog recently died. He just hasn’t been the same. And now her mother and friends are saying that he’s not doing his job well enough.

When Mavis moves in, their two worlds collide in wonderful ways. And there’s a stray dog living in the woods. Mavis is determined that Mr. Duffy needs a new dog. That will cheer him up and make everything better!

Rose is not so sure. Mr. Duffy says he doesn’t want another dog. And finding the dog would mean going into the woods and breaking rules.

There are some spats in their time together, and definitely some difficulties – but this ends up being a story of discovering a wonderful friendship that leaves both girls changed.

barbaraoconnor.com
mackids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

for Young People

by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese

Beacon Press, 2019. 270 pages.
Review written April 28, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 American Indian Youth Literature Awards Young Adult Honor

I read this book because of the Honor it won at this year’s awards, and wow, it was an uncomfortable but eye-opening read. I’ve sometimes read adaptor Debbie Reese’s observations on her American Indians in Children’s Literature blog, and I’ve sometimes thought she was overreacting. But reading an entire book of United States history from the perspective of Native Americans – I hope that it helped me realize how biased my perspective was. It no longer seems like anything she has to say is overreacting.

It was an uncomfortable read. I like the version of history better that talks about the nobility of my “pioneer” ancestors, rather than about squatters who settled on land that didn’t belong to them.

Maybe I didn’t exactly like stories I’ve heard of Indians scalping innocent settlers, but I sure didn’t like to hear that the U. S. government paid hunters for every Indian they killed, and an easy way to prove their kills was to collect scalps. I sure didn’t like hearing that it was common to make souvenirs out of body parts of Native Americans slaughtered.

I recently read a book about the migration of wildebeests in Africa, the greatest land migration of animals on earth – now that the American buffalo herds have been decimated. In this book, I read about the systematic hunting of buffalo in an effort to also wipe out the Indigenous peoples who managed the herds and depended on them for their livelihood. A picture of a man on top of a mountain of buffalo skulls graphically illustrated this loss.

And the whole assumption that Indian lands were a wilderness not being used, available for anyone who wanted them, that assumption was shaken. When reading this book, I learned there was already a network of roads before the Europeans showed up, as well as sophisticated agricultural techniques, land management, and government.

When Europeans arrived on the continent, they often seemed unaware that many conditions that were useful to them were the result of Indigenous peoples’ stewardship of the land. Some early settlers remarked that in many places they could easily have driven carriages between the trees. Others commented about large clearings in the forests, some with well-tended gardens and cornfields. They did not seem to recognize that for thousands of years Native people had been making roads and clearing spaces to make trading, hunting, and agriculture easier. Willfully or not, they depicted the land as empty, devoid of “civilized” peoples – and theirs for the taking.

In the Introduction, we learn about the Doctrine of Discovery that influenced the first Europeans to come to this continent – and continued to influence the government of the United States.

In the late fifteenth century, as European explorers sailed to unfamiliar places, their actions and beliefs were guided by the Doctrine of Discovery – the idea that European nations could claim the foreign lands they “discovered.” The Doctrine of Discovery was laid out in a series of communications from the pope, leader of the Catholic Church, who was extremely influential in European politics at the time. It asserted that indigenous inhabitants lost their natural right to that land as soon as Europeans arrived and claimed it. People whose homelands were “discovered” were considered subjects of the Europeans and were expected to do what the “discoverers” wished. If they resisted, they were to be conquered by European military action. This enabled Columbus to claim the Taino people’s Caribbean home for Spain and to kidnap and enslave the Indigenous peoples. Similarly, the Pilgrims and the Puritans, the first groups from England to settle in what became the United States, believed they had a covenant with God to take the land. The Doctrine of Discovery influenced the policies of the young United States and directly affected the lives and the very existence of Native people. However, history textbooks for young people rarely invite students to question or think critically about that part of the US origin story.

“Free” land, with all its resources, was a magnet that attracted European settlers to the Americas. The word settler is used so frequently that most people do not recognize that it means more than just a person who settles down to live in a new place. Throughout history it has also meant a person who goes to live where, supposedly, no one has lived before. More often than not, “settlers” have gone to live somewhere that is already home to someone else. They are important to a nation – like Britain or Spain – when it plans to set up colonies in an area. Colonization is the process of taking political and economic control of a region, and colonizers are the people or institutions that are part of that process: the military, business interests, people who go there to live, and sometimes representatives of religious institutions. Because of their key role in establishing and populating a colony, settlers may be called colonizers. Settlers who came to what is currently known as North America wanted land for homes, farms, and businesses that they could not have in their home countries. Settlers who used the labor of enslaved Africans wanted limitless land for growing cash crops. Under their nations’ flags, those Europeans fought Native people for control of that land.

The Introduction also explains the meaning of such terms as genocide and white supremacy. Throughout the book, we see where the official policy toward the Indigenous people of America was indeed genocide. We see again and again treaties made with Indians that are officially the law of the land (designated so in the United States Constitution), but then are changed without ever consulting Native Americans.

I’m not sure I’m convincing anyone to read this book. It’s certainly not comfortable reading. But it is eye-opening and got me listening to a perspective that I don’t think I’d ever fully considered before. I’m not proud that this is new information, but I’m glad I finally tackled that new information. I’m putting the adult version of the book on hold, and I’m glad that a young people’s edition exists, as maybe this will encourage teens to consider these things at a much earlier point in their lives than I have.

beacon.org
americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

Truly Devious

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 420 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 General Teen Fiction

This book is a little unfair. There’s no Book One printed in bold on the cover – so how dare it finish up with those dreaded three words, “to be continued”? Well, it does.

Stevie Bell is a junior in high school, and she’s been invited to attend Ellingham Academy, where an eccentric millionaire established a school for bright kids and gives them a unique education – for free.

But Ellingham has a mystery associated with it. 80 years ago, the wife and child of the eccentric founder were kidnapped, and the wife’s body was found. One of the students as well was found dead – but the daughter was never recovered. The kidnapper sent a note signed “Truly, Devious.”

In the present day, Stevie is obsessed with true crime – and she wants to solve the mystery of Ellingham Academy.

The mystery and the story is woven well. Every few chapters, we’ve got a flashback to a scene that happened in 1936, when the kidnapping took place.

Stevie’s obsessed with the old mystery – so she’s not exactly prepared to find the body of one of her fellow students.

Now, there’s a fun surprise at the end, but I can’t exactly tell you if the clues are helpful or how well the mystery is woven – because of those dread words, “to be continued.” I am very annoyed that I can’t read the second volume right now. [Reader, the good news is that since I couldn’t post this in 2018 when I read it as part of my Newbery reading, now all three volumes are published, and you can read them all together!]

But I will say that I enjoyed every minute leading up to those dread words. (The surprise at the end is perfect!) The characters are quirky. The setting is well-drawn. Stevie even gets to look at some papers and other items from the time of the kidnapping.

Here’s the letter from Truly Devious:

Look! A riddle! Time for fun!
Should we use a rope or gun
Knives are sharp and gleam so pretty
Poison’s slow, which is a pity
Fire is festive, drowning’s slow
Hanging’s a ropy way to go
A broken head, a nasty fall
A car colliding with a wall
Bombs make a very jolly noise
Such ways to punish naughty boys!
What shall we use? We can’t decide.
Just like you cannot run or hide.
Ha ha.
Truly,
Devious

I can’t wait to get more clues in the next book!

maureenjohnsonbooks.com
epicreads.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/truly_devious.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Nothing Stopped Sophie, by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Monday, April 27th, 2020

Nothing Stopped Sophie

The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain

by Cheryl Bardoe
illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 27, 2018 from a library book.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#2 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

At last! The Boy Who Loved Math was a picture book biography of a mathematician that was hugely popular a few years ago. Now there’s one about a girl who loved math! And Sophie Germain accomplished amazing things.

It’s always interesting to illustrate someone being good at math. This is accomplished with interesting variety in this book. I like the illustration where her parents tried to take away her candles so that she couldn’t stay up late doing math. But later her work involved patterns of vibrations, and those are nicely illustrated.

Another interesting episode is where Professor Joseph-Louis Lagrange goes to visit the brilliant student who has been writing to him and discovers she’s a woman.

With so many women who broke ground in fields that were closed to them, a key part of Sophie’s life was her persistence. That is portrayed beautifully here, from the title to the final page.

Sophie is celebrated today because nothing stopped her. Her fearlessness and perseverance have inspired many people.

Perhaps she will also inspire you.

cherylbardoe.com
barbaramcclintockbooks.com
lbyr.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Sonderling Sunday – Duel in the Dome of Doom

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday, the time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books, sort of a Very Silly Phrasebook for armchair travelers. Tonight I’m back to the Sonderbook that started this series, Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, with the original English title The Order of Odd-fish, by James Kennedy.

Last time we looked at this book, we left off on page 350, Seite 445 in the German edition. Fiona and Jo are finally beginning their duel!

Just in case you ever get yourself into a duel in Germany, you’ll want to know how to say this:

“Jo swung her leg over Ethelred, and the ostrich sprang to its feet.”
= Jo schwang sich auf Ethelred und der Strauß sprang auf.

“Ethelred scampered back, spun, hunched, and charged into the air, diving toward Fiona.”
= Ethelred nahm Anlauf, drehte sich um, duckte sich, sprang hoch in die Luft und stürzte sich dann auf Fiona hinunter.

“Jo brandished her lance” = Jo schwang ihre Lanze

I’d like to think of a reason to say this:
“so that fire blossomed out either side”
= sodass aus beiden Enden Flammen schossen
(“so that out of both ends flames shot”)

“the flames zigzagging blindingly”
= die Flammen blendend hin und her loderten
(“the flames dazzlingly back and forth blazing”)

“clawed each other” = mit den Klauen nacheinander schlugen

“distant darkness” = fernen Schwärze

“a tiny, colorful man, dancing”
= ein winziger bunter Mann zu tanzen

“She gasped for air.”
= Sie rang nach Luft.

“overwhelmed” = überwältigt

“tiny glowing man” = kleine glühende Mann

One of those nice long German words:
“one-second snatches” = Sekundenbruchteilen

“crumb of color” = Farbpunkt (“color-point”)

“I’m blacking out!”
= Ich verliere das Bewusstsein

“noise” = Lärm

“encouragement” = irgendetwas Ermutigendes (“anything encouraging”)

“This time Fiona didn’t mess around.”
= Diesmal spielte Fiona nicht herum.

Not a bad job translating this:
“Fiona’s lance stabbed, slashed, bashed, and skewered her”
= Fiona stach und schlug mit ihrer Lanze zu, hämmerte und rammte sie

“biting into her armor”
= zertrümmerte ihre Rüstung

“tearing at the fur”
=riss an dem Fell

“burning her skin”
= verbrannte ihre Haut

“pummeling her”
= verprügelte sie

“practicing” = geübt

“growling and snapping” = knurrten und schnappten

“striking range” = Reichweite (“kingdom-width”)

“skill” = Geschicklichkeit

“to hold Fiona at bay” = sich Fiona vom Hals zu halten
(“Fiona from the neck to hold”)

“The crowd groaned and booed.”
= Die Menge stöhnte und buhte.

“feints” = Täuschungen

“stabs” = Hieben

“thrusts” = Schlägen

“slashes” = Prügeln

“The crowd cheered wildly.”
= Die Menge johlte vor Vergnügen

“seething power” = kochender Macht

“sticky” = klebrigen

“back of her head” = Hinterkopf

“undertow” = Strömungen

“The crowd went nuts.” = Die Zuschauer drehten förmlich durch.

“victory swoop” = Siegesschleife

“fray” = Manege (“ring”)

“audacious move” = kühne Aktion

“somersaulting through the air” = Purzelbäume durch die Luft

I’ll finish with this dramatic sentence:
“Finally, with a ferocious kick, the ostrich flung her across the arena, and Jo hit the cage wall.”
= Schließlich schleuderte der Strauß sie mit einem wilden Tritt quer durch die Arena und Jo landete an der Wand des Käfigs.

May you have lots of occasions to make a Siegesschleife this week!

Review of Sea Prayer, by Khaled Hosseini

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

Sea Prayer

by Khaled Hosseini
illustrated by Dan Williams

Riverhead Books, 2018. 48 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 29, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Other Picture Books

Our library has this picture book in the adult fiction section – a decision I question. However, it’s difficult – this is a serious enough topic, you don’t want a happy preschool child running across it with their parents. Why not juvenile fiction? I’m not sure.

It’s actually the note at the very back that makes this so serious:

Sea Prayer was inspired by the story of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach safety in Europe in 2015.

In the year after Alan’s death, 4,176 others died or went missing attempting the same journey.

The book itself contains no such tragedy. It is the letter of a father to his son – being written from a moonlit beach.

Both the language and the pictures in this book are gorgeous.

Here’s the beginning:

My dear Marwan,
in the long summers of childhood,
when I was a boy the age you are now,
your uncles and I
spread our mattress on the roof
of your grandfather’s farmhouse
outside of Homs.

We woke in the mornings
to the stirring of olive trees in the breeze,
to the bleating of your grandmother’s goat,
the clanking of her cooking pots,
the air cool and the sun
a pale rim of persimmon to the east.

He reminisces about when they visited, wishes his son could remember.

But that life, that time,
seems like a dream now,
even to me,
like some long-dissolved rumor.

He talks about how the city changed. The many deaths. The things his son knows about living during wartime.

You have learned
dark blood is better news
than bright.

It gets especially poignant when the letter moves to the present.

Your mother is here tonight, Marwan,
with us, on this cold and moonlit beach,
among the crying babies and
the women worrying
in tongues we don’t speak.
Afghans and Somalis and Iraqis and
Eritreans and Syrians.
All of us impatient for sunrise,
all of us in dread of it.
All of us in search of home.

I have heard it said we are the uninvited.
We are the unwelcome.
We should take our misfortune elsewhere.

But I hear your mother’s voice,
over the tide,
and she whispers in my ear,
“Oh, but if they saw, my darling.
Even half of what you have.
If only they saw.
They would say kinder things, surely.”

He finishes with a prayer:

Pray God steers the vessel true,
when the shores slip out of eyeshot
and we are a flyspeck
in the heaving waters, pitching and tilting,
easily swallowed.

Because you,
you are precious cargo, Marwan,
the most precious there ever was.

I pray the sea knows this.
Inshallah.

How I pray the sea knows this.

There’s more than what I quoted here, about twice as much, and the pictures are equally beautiful.

Would you give this book to a child? Even though children are the ones living it? What do you think?

dan-williams.net
penguinrandomhouse.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Inventing Hell, by Jon M. Sweeney

Saturday, April 25th, 2020

Inventing Hell

Dante, the Bible, and Eternal Torment

by Jon M. Sweeney

ACTA Publications, second edition, 2017. First edition published in 2014. 206 pages.
Review written 02/02/2020 from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com

This book is about Dante’s Inferno, the book that more than any other – much more than the Bible, according to Jon Sweeney – shaped our current ideas about Hell. And he makes a strong case.

In the Prologue, the author describes what you’ll find in this book, so I’m going to copy his summary here.

Full of the mysteries of Greek mythology, philosophy, and ancient religions, Inventing Hell will:

— Show you that there was little agreement among Christians, before Dante, about the nature and extent of what we call Hell.

— Illuminate for you the concepts of afterlife that existed before Dante, from ancient Judaism, Virgil and Plato, the teachings of Jesus, the early church, Islam, and medieval theologians.

— Demonstrate that Dante had various medieval apocalyptic sources to help him create the elaborate architecture of Hell that most people know today.

— Shine a clearer light on the sort of Hell that Dante created.

— And reveal that Hell has nine descending circles (in the same way that the devil has hooves and a tail)!

Before we’re done, you may be shocked to realize that for seven hundred years we’ve simply taken Dante’s word for it….

My hope is that you will begin to see the many sources of this complex picture of the afterlife and how Dante’s Hell is a patchwork creation. You should become better able to dissect and appreciate what a magnificent and fantastic world Dante creates, and why it made sense to the people of the late Middle Ages. The world of his Inferno is revealed to be mythical not because Dante made it up. He didn’t. It’s mythical because it was intricately woven in the imagination of a great poet, using a variety of sources, replete with legend, upon which Western civilization once built its most basic understandings of itself. With any luck, you will also find that it does not ring true in the twenty-first century.

This book is especially fascinating in its look at what the ancients thought about the afterlife – even as reflected in the Hebrew Scriptures, but particularly Greek mythology and other sources. I would have liked a little more about what the Bible actually says about judgment after death.

The author does point out that Gehenna, which is translated “hell” in many English Bibles, referred to the Valley of Hinnom, a place outside the city where trash was incinerated. But he neglects to mention that the word translated “eternal” was aeonian and means “of the ages,” not “without end.” So he tends to downplay verses suggesting any kind of punishment after death as borrowing from pagan sources.

Here’s a section at the end of the book:

I haven’t had much to say about God in this book because God is almost beside the point of Dante’s Inferno. Hell is mostly about God’s absence. But one of the things I’ve learned as I’ve grown older is that there is no single image or description of God that is the unvarnished truth. There isn’t even one single image of God in the Bible, and each religious tradition contains a variety of images for the divine. I’ve also come to accept that Christianity holds what seem to be contradictory images of God almost simultaneously. That’s why I’m convinced that each of us has to choose.

There is, for instance, the God that Jesus preaches about in the Sermon on the Mount, who blesses the humble, rewards the meek, and promises the Earth to those who make peace instead of war. This is the Good Shepherd who will expend every effort to save a lost sheep from danger. This is the God that Saint Paul writes about when he beautifully says, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

But then there is also the God of Jesus’ parable of the Great Banquet (in Matthew 22 and Luke 14), in which the kingdom of Heaven is compared to a rich king putting on a wedding feast for his son. When none of the invited guests show up, he tells his servants to invite others to come; when they don’t come either, he tells the servants to go out to the road and tell every passing stranger that they are invited to a feast. Yet when one man among these last invited guests shows up wearing the wrong clothing, the king is furious. Jesus says, “Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen” (Mt. 22:13-14). This is the God who is compared to a king who rules his subjects, and who regards them as being like sheep and goats. This is the God we also encounter in Revelation, who seems to be looking forward to war and apocalypse, punishment, and the ultimate outpouring of divine fury.

The Inferno offers only one of these images of God, and it isn’t the one that I choose. All we have is a vivid, sad vision of a God who judges, punishes, tortures, and abandons. That doesn’t make sense to me, and although those who have used Dante to preach Hell over the centuries have been able to point to a few biblical passages to support their ideas, they’d still be better stewards of the material to pull out a lexicon of Greek mythology. Ultimately, I choose not Dante’s vengeful, predatory God who is anxious to tally faults, to reward and to punish. Instead I choose the God who creates and sustains us, who is incarnate and wants to be with and among us, and the God who inspires and comforts us. That God is the real one, the one I have come to know and understand and love, and that God has nothing to do with medieval Hell.

The problem I have with the above is that I think the Bible teaches there will be a reckoning after death. I think he’s mischaracterizing that judgment and mischaracterizing the God of Matthew and Revelation. I think the judgment after death will not be permanent and will be for correction and restoration.

But I am completely and totally in agreement with him in rejecting the God of Dante’s Inferno. I do not believe that God engages in gratuitous torture. I do not believe that God has anything to do with Dante’s horrible imaginations of human suffering. This book points out that more of our ideas of Hell came from Dante than from the Bible. Whatever judgment there will be after death, I agree with this author that God has nothing to do with medieval Hell.

This book is worth reading to help you realize how much of our common conception of Hell is was either invented by Dante or popularized by him from stories common in his day.

I don’t mind trusting in an old book when it’s the Bible. But I certainly don’t want to trust in a picture of a place of torture invented seven hundred years ago by a poet. This eye-opening book was full of things I didn’t know about the sources Dante used to create his epic poetry. It all makes for great fiction but questionable theology.

actapublications.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/inventing_hell.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Tears We Cannot Stop, by Michael Eric Dyson

Thursday, April 23rd, 2020

Tears We Cannot Stop

A Sermon to White America

by Michael Eric Dyson

St. Martin’s Press, 2017. 228 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 17, 2019, from a library book

First, thanks to the Racial Reconciliation Group at Floris United Methodist Church for recommending this book. I did not make it to the meeting where the book was discussed, but I did read it in time for the meeting. And I was deeply challenged to look at the world differently.

This isn’t a comfortable book for a white person to read. But I was challenged that my very comfort is something I take for granted because I’m white. I’ll let the author explain the book from his “Call to Worship”:

America is in trouble, and a lot of that trouble – perhaps most of it – has to do with race. Everywhere we turn, there is discord and division, death and destruction. When we survey the land, we see a country full of suffering that we cannot fully understand, and a history that we can no longer deny. Slavery casts a long shadow across our lives. The spoils we reaped from forcing people to work without wages and treating them with grievous inhumanity continue to haunt us in a racial gulf that seems impossible to overcome. Black and white people don’t merely have different experiences; we seem to occupy different universes, with worldviews that are fatally opposed to one another. The merchants of racial despair easily peddle their wares in a marketplace riddled by white panic and fear. Black despair piles up with each body that gets snuffed on video and streamed on social media. We have, in the span of a few years, elected the nation’s first black president and placed in the Oval Office the scariest racial demagogue in a generation. The two may not be unrelated. The remarkable progress we seemed to make with the former has brought out the peril of the latter….

If you’re interested in my social analysis and my scholarly reflections on race, I’ve written plenty of other books for you to read. I tried to make this book one of them, but in the end, I couldn’t. I kept coming up short. I kept deleting words from the screen, a lot of them, enough of them to drive me to despair that I’d ever finish. I was stopped cold. I was trying to make the message fit the form, when it was the form itself that was the problem.

What I need to say can only be said as a sermon. I have no shame in that confession, because confession, and repentance, and redemption play a huge role in how we can make it through the long night of despair to the bright day of hope. Sermons are tough, not only to deliver, but, just as often, to hear. Yet, in my experience, if we stick with the sermon – through its pitiless recall of our sin, its relentless indictment of our flaws – we can make it to the uplifting expressions and redeeming practices that make our faith flow from the pulpit to the public, from darkness to light.

This book is challenging. It’s also eye-opening. I don’t know if I’ve ever listened to someone speak so frankly about what it means to be black in America. Stories are told, history is detailed, statistics are listed. These are all things I’d rather not think about. I’d like to think America has grown past racism, but of course even I can’t think that given the behavior of our current president. So it’s time for me to listen to voices that aren’t white.

This book is a very good start.

The “Benediction” section does have some suggestions for action. One of those is cultivating empathy.

Beloved, all of what I have said should lead you to empathy. It sounds simple, but its benefits are profound. Whiteness must shed its posture of competence, its will to omniscience, its belief in its goodness and purity, and then walk a mile or two in the boots of blackness. The siege of hate will not end until white folk imagine themselves as black folk – vulnerable despite our virtues. If enough of you, one by one, exercises your civic imagination, and puts yourself in the shoes of your black brothers and sisters, you might develop a democratic impatience for injustice, for the cruel disregard of black life, for the careless indifference to our plight.

Empathy must be cultivated. The practice of empathy means taking a moment to imagine how you might behave if you were in our positions. Do not tell us how we should act if we were you; imagine how you would act if you were us. Imagine living in a society where your white skin marks you for disgust, hate, and fear. Imagine that for many moments. Only when you see black folk as we are, and imagine yourselves as we have to live our lives, only then will the suffering stop, the hurt cease, the pain go away.

stmartins.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Louisiana’s Way Home, by Kate DiCamillo

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

Louisiana’s Way Home

by Kate DiCamillo

Candlewick Press, 2018. 227 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 27, 2018, from an advance reader copy.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Historical Children’s Fiction

This is the first time Kate DiCamillo has returned to a character from one of her earlier books, and I find I like this second book even better than the first – but you don’t have to have read Raymie Nightingale to enjoy Louisiana’s Way Home.

Louisiana’s crazy granny has finally really gone nuts. She gets Louisiana up in the middle of the night and drives north. They cross the state line into Georgia, and still don’t stop.

But then Granny starts moaning. She needs a dentist. What’s a girl to do? Louisiana is nothing if not resourceful and drives the car herself until she finds a dentist in Richford, Georgia.

But after Granny has all her teeth removed, they need a place to stay. She arranges payment with Louisiana’s beautiful singing voice.

But Louisiana wants to get back home. And there are still more adventures, good and bad, ahead of her. And she finds out that the story she’s been telling of the Flying Elefantes is not precisely true.

As always, Kate DiCamillo’s characters are quirky yet lovable. (Either that, or quirky and annoying, like the organ player.) There’s a lot of warmth and compassion in this book – and Louisiana is up against great big odds.

Now, the final situation resolved itself maybe a little too easily – but I was happy with the result and happy with Louisiana’s choice.

And when all is said and done, she does find her way home.

Perhaps what matters when all is said and done is not who puts us down but who picks us up.

katedicamillostoriesconnectus.com
candlewick.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of My Plain Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

My Plain Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

HarperTeen, 2018. 450 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 1, 2018, based on a library book.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Teen Speculative Fiction

Oh, I loved this book! Now this might be a good place to mention: Just because I loved this book, just because it made me laugh and smile – doesn’t mean I think it’s the most distinguished children’s literature of the year. (My disclaimer doesn’t mean I don’t think that either.) I’m writing this review before I have discussed the book with anyone, when I am simply full of how much just plain fun this book was to read.

Yes, this book reminded me very much of the authors’ earlier offering, My Lady Jane, which I also loved. Even though the premise was completely different. Okay, the authors were still purporting to tell the true story of something from England’s history – with a dose of magic, but the magic was quite different in this case. And the thing from history was the writing of a novel – Jane Eyre.

I recently read a retelling of Jane Eyre set in space, Brightly Burning, and in the age of the #MeToo movement, I’m a little disappointed with myself that I still find the story of Jane Eyre romantic. This book was not afraid to point out all the many ways Mr. Rochester was a totally inappropriate predator – so that eased my discomfort and made for a very satisfying story. (There were even extenuating circumstances!)

The story opens with Jane Eyre – and her friend Charlotte Bronte – as poor teachers at Lowood school. The evil Mr. Brocklehurst has just died (poisoned?). But there is a difference, besides Charlotte Bronte being on the scene. (This is how she got the idea, you see.) Jane is able to see and talk with ghosts. In fact her friend the sainted Helen Burns, who dies in the book, indeed died at Lowood, but now is Jane’s constant companion and beloved advisor.

The main plot of the book revolves around the Royal Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits, in fact. Alexander Bell, the star agent of the society, learns that Jane has this gift as a seer, and tries to recruit her to join the society. But she doesn’t want to leave Thornfield and its fascinating master.

Charlotte, however, is more than eager to join the Society. Too bad she can’t see ghosts like her bumbling brother Branwell can. Antics ensue.

But the most fun part of this book is the commentary that ghost Helen Burns provides to Mr. Rochester’s inappropriate actions. I love that she notices that they’re inappropriate. (So do the narrators, for that matter.) There’s a different story behind the wife in the attic in this version, and I just love the way it all works out.

Great fun, earnest people trying to do good, lots of ghosts, and even some romance – much more satisfying than the original. We also see how Charlotte got the idea for her book!

Distinguished? I’ll let you judge for yourself. The plot is maybe not terribly likely. But this book unquestionably is a whole lot of fun and highly recommended and perhaps one of my favorite young adult books I’ve read this year.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?