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Posts Tagged ‘How to Be Black’

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We celebrated books, summer reading, and the power of youth last week at Vermont’s Thetford Academy (TA). This was the first time we used our live event Pages in the Pub with youth presenters, and wow did they nail it! Their picks and personalities are all superb. We hope you enjoy reading from their list as much as we enjoyed hearing them passionately convince the audience why their book selections just had to be read. (Note – because we were not in a pub, we called this event BOOK BUZZ.) images-1.jpg

We thank them for their time, their enthusiasm and the list of books they generated. Their support (and the help of two of their dedicated teachers – Joe Deffner and Kate Owen) made the first BOOK BUZZ a success. Bonus – thanks to the generosity of the Norwich Bookstore, the event raised around $600 for the Thetford Academy Library (while increasing sales for our local indie bookstore).

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With great pleasure, we now list all twenty-four books discussed during the evening, each with its special six word review written by the presenter. You’ll notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make browsing easier. We hope you have fun looking, and that you enjoy reading about their picks from the comfort of your computer/iPad/phone using direct links to each selection. And now, our superb presenters’ picks for summer reading, with their bios at the end.

The Kiss of Deception Cover ImageBrooklyn Cover ImageBurn for Burn Cover ImageTo All the Boys I've Loved Before Cover ImageOff the Page Cover ImageAn Ember in the Ashes Cover Image

Books that magically get glued to your hands

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson (2014). Selected by Izzy – A Princess, An Assassin, A Prince.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin  (2009). Selected by Malcolm – Beautifully written with compelling characters; moving.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (2014) and Burn for Burn by Jenny Han (2012). Selected by Kiya – Books that are too dramatically real.

Off The Pages by Jodi Picoult and Samatha Van Leer (2015). Selected by Jasmine, but reviewed by Maggie – A love story gone almost wrong.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (2015). Selected by Ms. Owen – Slavery’s poison spreads. Does love conquer?
A Court of Thorns and Roses Cover ImageCity of Thieves Cover Image

Perfect books to help you ignore the fact you are on a road trip/school bus

A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J. Mass (2015). Selected by Izzy – A fairy world and finding love.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2010). Selected by Mr. Deffner – World War Two quest for dozen eggs.

Beware of Pity Cover ImageThe Girl on the Cliff Cover Image

Books that will make you forget you are bummed it is raining outside

Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig (1995). Selected by Malcolm – Heartbreaking, truthful; like reading the rain.

The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley (2011). Selected by Izzy – Death, mystery, romance, with a twist.

Popular: How a Geek in Pearls Discovered the Secret to Confidence Cover Image

Middle School Survival Books: Required reading before you arrive

Popular by Maya Van Wagenen (2014). Selected by Ms. Owen – Geek sits at popular table…survives?
Americanah Cover ImageThe Outsiders Cover ImageA Prayer for Owen Meany Cover ImageChallenger Deep Cover ImageWonder Cover ImageHow to Be Black Cover Image

Books you would assign to grownups as required reading

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014). Selected by Malcolm – Illuminates race’s role in culture; impactful, relevant.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1967). Selected by Jasmine, but reviewed by Mr. Deffner – The difference between rich and poor.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (2002). Selected by Mr. Deffner – Faith and prayer, it really works

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (2015 ). Selected by Maggie – Passionate travel through the challenges of schizophrenia.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio (2012). Selected by Maggie – A book of bravery and loyalty.

How to Be Black by Thurston (2012). Selected by Lisa – Onion Humorist examines, skewers race relations.          The Lowland Cover ImageDown and Out in Paris and London Cover ImageFans of the Impossible Life Cover ImageLeaving Time (with Bonus Novella Larger Than Life) Cover ImageA Tree Grows in Brooklyn Cover Image

Books teens should read even if they are not required

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (2013). Selected by Izzy – Two very different brothers in India.

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (1972). Selected by Malcolm – Poignant, realistic memoir of mysterious man.

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa (2015). Selected by Maggie – Takes a deeper meaning of teen life.

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (2014). Selected by Jasmine, but reviewed by Ms. Owen – My mom’s dead the reason…..mystery.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943). Selected by Maggie – Beautifully crafted and about a girl’s life.

Raymie Nightingale Cover ImageThe War That Saved My Life Cover Image

Books your younger school siblings really HAVE TO read 

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (2016). Selected by Lisa – Girl uses pageant to get dad home.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley (2015). Selected by Lisa – Closer look at “Pevensie”-like children.


images.jpgBOOK BUZZ Presenters

Malcolm Quinn Silver-Van Meter‘s favorite things to do are run, read, write, and both watch and create films. He loves distance running and proudly self-identifies as a film nerd. He is sixteen years old and attends Thetford Academy.

Kate Owen runs the TA library and most importantly helps many, many students find the perfect book to read next – even if they aren’t sure they want to read anything.

Izzy Kotlowitz graduates in mere days. While at TA she also attended the Mountain School, played soccer, and laughed a lot. She will attend Kenyon College in the Fall.

Maggie Harlow is a rising senior and loves food, ducks and smiling a lot. In her free time– wait she doesn’t have any! If she did have free time she’d be hiking and reading lots of fun books. Her favorite genres are fantasy, mystery and alternative history.

Kiya Grant loves cooking. She reads realistic fiction and is working on her own novel. She is a rising 8th grader at TA.

Jasmine Doody is a rising 8th grader at TA. She was unable to present during the event. So her fellow reviewers covered her choices during BOOK BUZZ, but we left her six word reviews intact for this post.

Joe Deffner teaches Seventh and Tenth Grade English, as well as a Senior Honors elective.  In his free time, he enjoys reading––obviously–––and going on cross-country barnstorming events in which he promotes his sons, Owen and Eamon, as the East Central Vermont Junior Cornhole Champions.

Lisa Christie is one half of the Book Jam blog and the emcee for this BOOK BUZZ. When not reading, she can be found coaching nonprofit directors, being with the three guys she lives with, walking her very large dog, and attempting to navigate a masters degree.

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imgresAfter our last post, a few subscribers wrote us looking for “happy” stories. They were clear these should not be poorly written tales or romance novels or self-help, but just great books that as you close their last pages you feel good about the world.

Since these requests came from parents (each mentioned they read with their kids), we picked “happy books” as our theme for our annual Mother’s Day gift guide.  Don’t worry, if you are not a Mom or someone in need of a Mother’s Day gift for the moms in your life, these are all very good books we frequently recommend to many readers with great results. So, please pick one (or two) for yourself and/or your mom, and enjoy a well-told tale that will leave you feeling happy.

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Books That Just Leave You Feeling Good When You Close Their Pages

Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda (2007) . Truly an original, uplifting (though it may not seem so at first!) book set in modern-day France and translated beautifully. It is a story of friendship and connection despite the busy life that swirls all around us. And, most importantly for this post, it leaves you feeling good about life. Basically, who would not want to spend time in a Parisian flat with memorable characters? We promise you will enjoy every moment you spend with this novel. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – While the title refers to the sisters in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, this story is actually about three very modern-day siblings, Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia (they grew up with a Shakespeare professor for a father, hence their names). The tale begins with them all returning home to Ohio from their rather messy adult lives to help care for their ailing mother. Their uncanny ability to quote the Bard at every twist and turn makes for fun, smart dialogue, but it is their very present day struggles that make this story relevant. There is some romance, but most of all it is the sisters’ love for and understanding of each other that makes this book endearing. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Funny Girl by Nick Hornsby (2015) – A fun look at life in 1960s Britian through the eyes of a gorgeous girl who just wants to be funny.  Mr. Hornsby delivers in this tale of a group of people (two male writers, a male producer and a funny girl) who meet and create an iconic BBC sitcom, and then must deal with all the fame that it brings. Fans of “I Love Lucy” or BBC sitcoms will be charmed, as will fans for Mr. Hornby’s humor and wit.

Zorro by Isabel Allende (2005).  While Ms. Allende is best known for magic realism, this novel offers a more straight forward narrative than found in most of her books. Ms. Allende’s account of the legend begins with Zorro’s childhood and finishes with the hero. We think you will just have fun with this book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (2015) – As people who love bookstores and booksellers, it is hard not to like this charming novel about a bookseller and his store, the love found when a baby is left among his shelves, and the love life of one of his publishing reps. We recommend this to anyone in need of a story that leaves you smiling, or for anyone needing a book to give someone who loves a sentimental tale (e.g., your Mom). ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

A Little Less “Happy”, but Truly Great Books 

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2008) – Many characters intersect in this tale of New York and love and life and redemption. Beginning in August 1974 as a man walks a tightrope strung between the Twin Towers, this ambitious and well done novel follows the stories of many New Yorkers, including, but not limited to, an artist, an Irish monk, a group of mothers mourning their military sons, and a prostitute. This won the National Book Award, please read it to discover why for yourself. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A look at China and USA through the eyes of a young woman whose life is greatly affected her American father’s fascination with China. Not necessarily light, but truly a great, great “coming of age” book. We have been recommending this to men, women and young adults for years and have never had a disgruntled customer.  One all male book club declared it led to their best discussion book ever. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Unusual and Interesting Books – Fiction and Non-fiction

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – Through truly funny and often painful humor,  Mr. Thurston makes readers think hard about their own racist tendencies.  He even has a focus group, with a token white person, to help him think through many of the items he discusses.  Whether you agree with him or not, for me, any time I am thinking about how I could better interact with the world, I am truly appreciative of the source that started me thinking about improving my actions. Bonus – this book makes you laugh out loud. ~ Lisa Christie

The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (2005) – This saga, written in gorgeous/lyrical prose, with a bit of magical realism, shows a history of Mexico that until this book was unknown to me. Reach for it when you are looking for a reason to sit down with an engrossing book for a few days. ~ Lisa Christie

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The Book Jam is of two minds about African-American history month.  On the one hand, any excuse to delve further into books by amazing authors who are African-American (see Toni Morrison) is a reason to rejoice.  On the other hand, we do not want to seem belittling by focusing on African-American history just because it is February.  And, since one of our sons (who technically is Latino) is identifying as a Black boy, we are especially cognizant of the complicated issues this month brings to light.

Martin Luther King Jr.Civil Rights MovementBlack History FactsAfrican-American Soldiers in the Civil WarHarriet TubmanMarch on WashingtonFreedom Rides

We also recognize that as white women, we can not ever know what it is like to be Black in the USA.  However, we believe as recent well-publicized research about reading has shown, good fiction has the power to transform and teach.  So in that light, and, since The Book Jam often features books by or about African-Americans and/or Africa, we are choosing to look at February as another excuse to highlight more great fiction and nonfiction options by and about African-Americans. May we all learn something. 

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kid (2014) – I sincerely hope any Oprah nay-sayers are ready to overlook her pick of this book for her book club.  If you dismiss this novel just because she chose it, you will miss out on a great story. Besides, we honestly believe that any book that helps you understand the day-to-day plight of African-American slaves and the forming of two important American abolitionists is worth your precious reading time.  The narration mostly takes place in Charleston, SC and alternates between the voices of a young woman slave owner and of her young slave.  The prose by the best selling author of The Secret Life of Bees keeps you turning the pages, the characters are interesting, and few of the relationships are simple – which makes you think.  What I most loved about this book — both of the narrators are based upon actual people from history. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (2013) – Yes, that John Lewis, the Congressman and the man who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., has (with two collaborators) written a memoir in the form of a graphic novel. Told in flashback as a story relayed to two young constituents who came to visit his Capital Hill offices on the morning of Barack Obama’s first inauguration, this book begins with his childhood in rural Alabama and follows Mr. Lewis through meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. and into his student activist days in Nashville.  The pictures perfectly explore how his life must have felt at the time.  The prose explains what he was thinking as each of the momentous moments of his life unfolds.  According to the authors, the 1958 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was inspirational to Mr. Lewis and other student activists.  We hope March proves as inspiring to future leaders.  We are so glad we found this book (thanks to our town’s children’s librarian), and are truly looking forward to Book Two. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

Bartlett’s Familiar Black Quotations Edited by Retha Powers and Henry Louis Gates (2013) – Perfect for anyone interested in history, famous individuals or words of wisdom.  Five thousand (although we took the editors’ word for that number and did not count them) quotes are pulled — covering such diverse time frames as Ancient Egypt, American slavery, the Civil Rights Era, Apartheid, and today. With a foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and passages from authors, artists, scientists, philosophers, theologians, activists, politicians, this volume places quotes from Aesop’s Fables and the Holy Bible beside the words of Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou and Jay-Z. How many books can claim that? ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

And yes, we reviewed these last year, but we believe they are worth mentioning again –

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – As the author himself facetiously writes, please read this as part of your preparation for African-American history month activities. Through truly funny and often painful humor,  Mr. Thurston makes readers think hard about their own racist tendencies.  He even has a focus group, with a token white person, to help him think through many of the items he discusses.  Whether you agree with him or not, for me, any time I am thinking about how I could better interact with the world, I am truly appreciative of the source that started me thinking about improving my actions. Bonus – it makes you laugh. ~ Lisa Christie

Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Bradley (2011) – A book for children and the adults in their lives.  In this book, three young slaves, two of them President Jefferson’s own children fathered with his slave Sally Hemings, tell their stories of life at Monticello.  Their voices highlight the contradiction between slavery and freedom, and illustrate the USA’s struggles while the Founding Fathers still lived and worked.  As such, the USA’s history unfolds from a typically unseen perspective. ~ Lisa Christie

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