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Posts Tagged ‘Stella By Starlight’

Today, the Book Jam had planned to post reviews of some great books to read as summer fades. However, the news from Charlottesville, Virginia has us reeling. Thus, we reviewed our archives and are republishing reviews of books that might help us all contemplate racism in the United States and what we wish to do about it. We include books for adults, young adults, and children because it seems to us that, no matter our age, we all have a lot to think about. (Please note these are all great stories – with a caveat that some are more literary than others; they all just happen to contain an opportunity to think about race and our reactions and actions.)

To sum — because we feel, for a variety of reasons, that these books are far more relevant — today, instead of the “beach reads” we had planned to recommend, we re-share these reviews with the best of intentions and love.

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Mudbound by Hilary Jordan (2008) — This novel provides yet another reason to always read Bellewether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction winners.  This prize-winning story set in post WWII Mississippi is a heartbreaking story of racial relations, poor treatment of returning veterans, and the high price of silence as members of two families living in rural Mississippi collide. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (2013) – Congressman John Lewis wrote this memoir in the form of a graphic novel. Book One begins with his childhood in rural Alabama and follows Mr. Lewis through meeting Martin Luther King and then his own student activist days in Nashville. We also recommend Book Two and Book Three that follow his life to the present. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Interpreter of Maladies Cover ImageInterpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999) – If you somehow missed this collection of nine short stories about Indian-American immigrants, fix that now and read these Pulitzer Prize winning tales. Ms. Lahiri’s prose is gorgeously crafted, and her characters and their trials and tribulations – both the mundane and the incredible – will stay with you long after you finish the last sentences. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Americanah Cover ImageAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – Before she wrote We Should All Be Feminists, Ms. Adichi earned our reading loyalty with this incredible novel of love and culture clash. As Maureen Corrigan of NPR stated, “Adichie has written a big knockout of a novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color . . . Americanah is a sweeping story that derives its power as much from Adichie’s witty and fluid writing style as it does from keen social commentary. . . . ”

Sycamore Row by John Grisham (October 2013) – Mr. Grisham is a master at plot and suspense, and has once again created a page-turning story. Since I am a fan of the movie A Time To Kill, spending time with Jake Brigance during Sycamore Row — this time three years after the trial from A Time to Kill — felt like a mini reunion. Again, as with Mr. Iles’s book, other reviewers agree this is a must read. As the New York Times review stated “‘Sycamore Row’ reminds us that the best legal fiction is written by lawyers.” Or as the Washington Post reviewer wrote “‘Sycamore Row’ is easily the best of his books that I’ve read and ranks on my list with Stephen King’s “11/22/63” as one of the two most impressive popular novels in recent years.” Please note: This book ended up on many best of 2013 lists — lists that include authors whose novels tend not to become blockbuster movies  — and it was also previously mentioned by The Book Jam in our 2013 last minute holiday gifts post~ Lisa Christie

Like No Other by Una LaMarche (July 2014) – West Side Story with an African-American as the male lead and a Hasidic girl as the female lead.  Set in modern-day Brooklyn, this tale explores the feelings one’s first true love brings, and what it means to make your own way into the world — even if it requires navigating respecting one’s parents while rebelling from their rules. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Ghana Must Go Cover ImageGhana Must Go by Taiye Selasi (2013) – When a renowned surgeon dies suddenly outside his home in Accra, his family, which is scattered across the globe, suddenly learns much more about him and what his choices meant for them. Beautifully rendered, this novel takes you from Accra to Lagos to London and to New York. It also shows us the power of love, family, and choices as we figure out who we are and where we come from. ~ Lisa Christie

Dreaming in Cuban Cover ImageDreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia (1992) – Reaching far back in our bookshelf, our memories, and into the Caribbean Sea, our hands land on Garcia’s 1992 novel of the Cuban immigration experience. Told from the perspective of three generations of strong women, this lush narrative will be appreciated by lovers of magical realism. Strong female characters tell the story of the experiences of being political expats in New York City, and also of the ones left behind in Cuba. Moving between the United States and Cuba, and the present and the past, this book creates a sensation of dreaming but also of the very real situation of a country and its people experiencing turmoil and change. ~ Lisa Cadow (seconded by Lisa Christie)

The Distance Between Us: Young Readers Edition Cover ImageThe Distance Between Us: YA version by Reyna Grande(2016) – With this book, Ms. Grande has adapted her adult memoir for middle grade readers and young adults. In it, she tells of her life as a toddler in an impoverished town in Mexico, her three attempts to cross into the USA with a coyote as a young child, her life in LA as an illegal immigrant, how her family gained legal status, and how she managed college. This is not for the faint hearted due to themes of physical abuse and complicated relationships with parents who are always leaving. But it is important to be informed; and, this book will insert faces into any political discussions about immigration that the pre-teens and teens in your life might encounter. ~ Lisa Christie

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided Cover ImageIn The Country We Love by Diane Guerrero (2016) – One of the stars of “Orange is the New Black” penned this memoir (with some help from a co-author) about her life as the USA-born daughter of undocumented immigrants from Colombia. Her story hinges on the day her parents were deported while she was at school, after which she was left to fend on her own, relying on her friends for places to live so she could finish High School in the USA. She is now using her fame to help shed light on the lives of the undocumented in the USA. While the prose may not sing quite as well as some of the other books on this list from award winning authors, I, for one, was appalled at some of the more surreal aspects of her story (e.g., she was completely forgotten by the US government which never checked on her, or helped her in any shape or form). And, I am very grateful she broke years of silence to put her face on many nameless Americans, and on a problem we all need to help solve. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781101934593.jpgFlying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh (2017) – Ms. Oh, the founder of “We Need Diverse Books“, has edited a collection of short stories by authors who happen to be persons of color. Among them, the group has earned every major award in children’s publishing, as well as popularity as New York Times bestselling authors. Each story is completely unrelated to the rest and totally fabulous. This collection is perfect for a reluctant reader as one of these stories is sure to be just right. (Perhaps the one by Kwame Alexander?) And, as a collection, it makes a great family read aloud. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781442494985.jpgStella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (2015) – A superb book about racism in depression-era North Carolina told from the perspective of a young African American girl. Don’t take my word for the quality of this book, my 11-year-old says it is among his top five favorite books. The New York Times said it is a “novel that soars”; School Library Journal called it “storytelling at its finest” in a starred review. The audio book will make car rides pass quickly. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062498533.jpgThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – Sometimes it takes a work of fiction to give life to current events. And sometimes it takes a book for children to give all of us a starting point for conversations about difficult issues. Ms. Thomas has done all of us a service by producing this fresh, enlightening, and spectacular book about the black lives lost at the hands of the police every year in the USA. Starr Carter, the teen she created to put faces on the statistics, straddles two worlds — that of her poor black neighborhood and  that of her exclusive prep school on the other side of town. She believes she is doing a pretty good job managing the differing realities of her life until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. As a description of this book stated, The Hate U Give “addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty”.  Just as importantly, it is a great story, with fully formed characters who will haunt you, told by a gifted author. Please read this one!  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Golem's Mighty Swing Cover ImageThe Golem’s Mighty Swing by James Sturm (2017) –  This graphic novel tells the tale of the Stars of David, a barnstorming Jewish baseball team that played during the Depression. Using the true story of a team that travels among small towns playing ball and playing up their religious exoticism as something for people to heckle, this books combines baseball, small towns, racial tensions, and the desperate grasp for the American Dream. ~ Lisa Christie

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (2014) – Mr. Stevenson is the founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. Peppered with statistics about of people — those on death row who are people of color, the number of people permanently incarcerated for non-violent crimes committed when they were 12 or 13, etc… — Mr. Stevenson’s book brings these numbers to life in ways that make you care. He also, although he could not have known this when writing it, bring stories from today’s headlines home in ways that, be warned, may incite action on your part in 2015. (NoteThe New York Times selected this as one of its 100 notable books of 2014, Esquire Magazine called it one of the 5 most important of 2014 and it was one of Time Magazine‘s top ten books of 2014.)~ Lisa Christie

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood Cover ImageBorn A Crime by Trevor Noah (2016) – Mr. Noah, of Daily Show fame, is funny. He is insightful. And, he has a unique backstory for his life thusfar. All this combines to create a superb, insightful, humorous, and important memoir about life as a biracial child in South Africa during and after Apartheid. Read it, laugh, learn, and pass it along to others who can benefit from a well told life story. (Please note: Mr. Noah reads the audiobook version and we have been told it is tremendous.)

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A powerful look at “what goes down” when a 16-year-old black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man. Was it defense against a gang incident? Was it a man stopping a robbery gone wrong? Was it being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it none of these, or a combination of these? And, just when you think you have all the pieces and perspectives to know what happened, a new piece of information inserted into one of the multiple voices used to tell this story, sends you another direction. A seriously impressive book – cleverly staged, with superb and unique voices throughout, and a plot from today’s headlines. This book makes you think about how perspective influences what you see, how stories are told, how choices have implications, and – well, to be honest – the pull and power of gangs.  Read it and discuss with your favorite teen. ~ Lisa Christie

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

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Books for Summer Campers

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A recent conversation with the father of a 3-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter about a horrific car trip with the said kids, revealed that he had never heard of Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Treehouse series. We were saddened as we can guarantee that the print version and/or the audiobooks have saved more family car trips than anyone can count. So, we sent him straight to his local bookstore to stock up on print and audio book versions. This encounter reminded us that new parents are often unfamiliar with books we assume everyone knows because they have been around for awhile. In short, we remembered that you don’t know what you don’t know, and that most parents don’t know about most of the great things for kids that have saved numerous parents before them.

So, this year’s annual post of “books for summer campers” includes our usual emphasis on recent books for kids but also includes some classics, because we would hate for anyone to miss out on the joys of Susan Cooper just because we assume everyone knows about her amazing novels for kids. As always, we hope our selections help the last days of summer pass magically for the children in your life. (NOTE: We tried to include hardcovers and paperbacks and ebooks, so you could access whatever type you need. We also included a few series as we know from experience if a kid likes one book it is a great thing to have another one just like it waiting to begin.)

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Chapter books for elementary school kids to read (or be read to)

FC9780803738393.jpgThe Best Man by Richard Peck (2016) – This may be the best book I’ve read all year, or at least the one that made me grin the most. Mr. Peck’s superb sense of humor and his ability to remember what it is like to be a kid, make this tale a memorable, smile-inducing novel. Somehow, without preaching, he manages to cover gay marriage, death, divorce, war, national guard service, reconciliation, bullying, bad teachers, social media, hormones, school lunches, middle school, the British Empire, and the Cubs — all in a tale about being a kid in the 21st Century.  Read it today; no matter your age, you will not be sorry. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781101934593.jpgFlying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh (2017) – Ms. Oh, the founder of “We Need Diverse Books“, has edited a collection of short stories by authors who happen to be persons of color. Among them, the group has earned every major award in children’s publishing, as well as popularity as New York Times bestselling authors. Each story is completely unrelated to the rest and totally fabulous. This collection is perfect for a reluctant reader as one of these stories is sure to be just right. (Perhaps the one by Kwame Alexander?) And, as a collection, it makes a great family read aloud. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781580897136.jpgA Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi (2016) – We agree that we all need more diverse books (see review above); and, this novel about Bilal, a 10-year-old boy from Pakistan newly arrived in the USA, provides a good place to start. This tale of family, culture, and refuge compassionately addresses immigration from a kid’s perspective. The plot turns on such questions as: Will Bilal’s father be able to join him or has he disappeared in Pakistan for  good? Will he survive the fact his younger sister’s English is better than his? Will he learn to love baseball as much as cricket? And, what is home? ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781410495884.jpgThe Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan (2017) – This second book in Mr. Riordan’s Apollo trilogy is fabulous. Enjoy Mr. Riordan’s trademark humor and well told tale for younger readers! And, if you haven’t already, try his other series; they all capture the trials of growing up with humor, grace, and with some learning about mythology. You, and the children you love, will not regret a moment spent in Mr. Riordan’s novels~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781442494985.jpgStella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (2015) – A superb book about racism in depression-era North Carolina told from the perspective of a young African American girl. Don’t take my word for the quality of this book, my 11-year-old says it is among his top five favorite books. The New York Times said it is a “novel that soars”; School Library Journal called it “storytelling at its finest” in a starred review. The audio book will make car rides pass quickly. ~ Lisa Christie

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Some oldies but goodies (i.e. classics) for kids

FC9780689711817.jpgMixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konisberg (1967) – The 50th anniversary of this beloved book seems like a great time to reveal that this book was the favorite of all the books we read in elementary school — for each of the Book Jam Lisas. In it, Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, and in doing so does not run from somewhere, she runs to somewhere–a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and, preferably, elegant — the Met. And she does so with her penny pinching brother and his bank account. This tale holds up today — as each of us has read it to our kids at some point and loved it all over again. (We also recommend the audio book versions of this book of her other engaging novels such as The View From Saturday.)~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781442489677.jpgDark is Rising series by Susan Cooper ( 1965-1977) Will Stanton discovers that he is the last-born of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to keeping mankind free from the Dark. And now, the Dark is rising. Will, along with Merriman – a wise teacher, three mortal siblings, and a mysterious boy named Bran are soon caught up in a fight against evil.  These stories thrilled us as children YEARS ago, introduced us to UK towns and villages, and still engage children today. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780140386745.jpgJip by Katherine Paterson (1998) – Many know her classic, Newbery award winning novel The Bridge to Terebithia, but this winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, tells the tale of an orphan in Vermont, and depicts a history that most of us never hear about. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689844454.jpgKing of Shadows by Susan Cooper (1999) – Nat is thrilled to join an American drama troupe traveling to London to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the famous Globe Theater. However, after being taken ill he is transported 400 years to an earlier London, Will Shakespeare, and another production of the play. History, time travel, adventure, and family all propel this tale.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780547328614.jpgIsland of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1960) – We reach back before we were born for this book. But it played an important part in our early reading experiences. It also proved to be a favorite read aloud to our own children (and even inspired a mother-son trip kayaking trip to the Channel Islands off the coast of California where this book is set). Karana’s quiet courage, her loneliness and terror eventually lead to strength and serenity in this Newbery Medal-winning classic. This book chronicles Karana’s year’s long survival (along with beloved dog Rontu) alone on an island after all of her relatives and tribe have been evacuated to the mainland. It is based on the true story of Juana Maria, also known as “The Woman of San Nicholas Island,” a Native American woan who lived on her own for eighteen years until she was rescued by a ship sailing in the area. It will hold children spellbound as they learn about indigenous people and try to imagine how they would have survived if faced with a similar challenge. ~Lisa Cadow 

FC9780786838653.jpgRick Riordan’s various mythology series (assorted years) — As mentioned above, you, and the children you love, will not regret a moment spent in Mr. Riordan’s novels~ Lisa Christie

 

downloadMystery of the Green Cat by Phyllis A. Whitney  – Yes, the famous adult author wrote a mystery or two for children. And, this mystery is one I read over and over as a kid. And, when I moved to San Francisco as an adult I was glad that I had; this book provided me a map of Nob Hill, Golden Gate Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, The SF Bay, and Chinatown that I didn’t even realize it embedded in me until I resided there. It is out of print, but we include it here as an example of how the books you read as a kid are so much a part of who you are as an adult, and in some cases quite literally map aspects of your future life. ~ Lisa Christie

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For slightly older readers/young adults

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Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess (2017) – Mr. Alexander does it again, with help from Ms. Hess; I truly love the books this man creates. Blade is the son of an aging rock star who has reacted to the death of Blade’s mom with an everlasting and highly dysfunctional descent into addiction and absentee parenting. As the story unfolds, Blade deals with high school graduation, his father’s inability to stay sober, his sister’s delusions of grandeur, the fact the love of his life has broken his heart, and a recent revelation he is adopted, by escaping to Ghana to find the birth mother he didn’t even know he missed. This is a terrific tale of music, maturing, love, adoption, family, and finding your way, told in Mr. Alexander’s usual sparse, but effecting poetic style (with an added bonus of a great soundtrack).  ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781101997239.jpgThe Epic Fail of Arturo Zamona by Pablo Cartaya (2017) – The power of poetry and protest permeates this novel about a young man Arturo, living in Miami and simultaneously trying to save his family’s restaurant and navigate his first crush.  ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781484717165.jpgThe Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein (2017) – This prequel to the fabulous and complicated Code Name Verity shows the family and upbringing that created Verity’s heroine Julia. The plot incorporates dead bodies, missing servants, life life of the gentry, travellers, and the Scottish countryside of the 1930s. It also made me want to re-read the original novel. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062498533.jpgThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – Sometimes it takes a work of fiction to give life to current events. And sometimes it takes a book for children to give all of us a starting point for conversations about difficult issues. Ms. Thomas has done all of us a service by producing this fresh, enlightening, and spectacular book about the black lives lost at the hands of the police every year in the USA. Starr Carter, the teen she created to put faces on the statistics, straddles two worlds — that of her poor black neighborhood and  that of her exclusive prep school on the other side of town. She believes she is doing a pretty good job managing the differing realities of her life until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. As a description of this book stated, The Hate U Give “addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty”.  Just as importantly, it is a great story, with fully formed characters who will haunt you, told by a gifted author. Please read this one!  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys –  My then 8th grader loved this tale of the World War II in the Baltic States. In it, a group of teens and a few adults is trying to escape Hitler’s and Stalin’s armies and make it to safety on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Ms. Sepetys does a fabulous job of creating memorable characters and wrapping them into a plot heavily weighted by historical events.  Or, as The Washington Post stated, “Riveting…powerful…haunting.”~ Lisa Christie

FC9781524739621.jpgAlex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz (2017) – The Hamilton craze continues in this historical novel for teens. This time, Eliza tells the story of her romance with and eventual marriage to Alexander Hamilton.  Along the way, the author intermingles Eliza’s role in history as well as the work of Mr. Hamilton and other revolutionaries.  ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780440237846.jpgBefore We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (2002) – By Anita’s 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States. Terrifyingly, her uncle/Tio has disappeared without a trace. The government is monitoring her family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo’s dictatorship. Ms. Alvarez helps readers understand what dictatorship looks like, what it means to be left behind, and how we all dream of better lives. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780760352298.jpgGeorge Washington: Frontier Colonel by Sterling North (2016) and other titles in this series – We realize while many of our picks are based in fact, our list is lacking in nonfiction; we remedy that now with a new series of biographies by Young Voyageur/Quarto Publishing Group. We would describe this new series as the “Who is? What Was?” (or bobble-head books as many kids call them) series for older readers, with fabulous primary source materials scattered throughout.  ~ Lisa Christie

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Some early chapter books for emerging readers

FC9780375813658.jpgMagic Treehouse books by Mary Pope Osborne (assorted years) – These are a must read for those children looking for beginning chapter books as they progress with their reading. In this series, Jack and Annie, just regular kids, discover a tree house in the woods near their house – a treehouse that allows them to use books to time travel. As the series unfolds, they are whisked back in time to the Age of Dinosaurs, a medieval castle, ancient pyramids, treasure-seeking pirates etc… These books also make EXCELLENT audio books for car trips with pre-school kids of almost every age and persuasion. (You are welcome for all the hours of peace and learning and fun these books will bring your household.) ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780307265104.jpgCapitol Mysteries Series by Ron Roy (assorted years) – This series is for emerging readers who like their fictional tales to be slightly more realistic than time travel. In this set, KC Corcoran, a news junkie whose step-dad happens to be the President, tackles all sorts of mysteries (e.g., how to make school exciting, how to save the President from his clone). As a bonus, each of these early chapter books features fun facts and famous sites from Washington, D.C. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780316358323.jpgAssorted Adventures of Tin Tin by Herge (assorted years) – These graphic novels have been translated into 38 languages for good reason – kids love them.  Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

 

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A Few Picture Books

FC9780763637842.jpgLibrary Lion by Michelle Knudsen (2007) – Miss Merriweather, is a very rule-oriented librarian – no running and you must be quiet. As long as you follow the rules, you are welcome. Then one day a lion shows up. There are no rules about lions; and so the fun begins in this New York Times bestselling ode to libraries. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781423164821.jpgElephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems (assorted years) – Gerald (an elephant) and Piggie (a pig) have a superb friendship and an unusual capacity for silly. Mr. Willems used to write for Sesame Street and with these books has created a wonderful way for kids to learn to love to read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780789309624.jpgA superb and classic travel book series by Mirolsav Sasek (assorted 20th century years) – We remember these from our childhood and are pretty certain they helped instil our wanderlust.  Mr. Sasek was born in what was then Czechoslovakia, and is best remembered for his classic stories on the great cities of the world. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Once again we approach African American/Black History Month with curiosity and questions. In addition to pondering why only one month is devoted to contributions of African Americans, we are embracing February’s heightened attention to contributions of African Americans as an opportunity to review GREAT books by Black authors. One is considered a classic; others are brand new, some somewhat new. One is geared to kids, others for adults, and one for young adults. But, we recommend them all. (We also revisited our past year of reviews to see how well we represented the diversity of race and culture that books offer us. Details of our annual audit are at the end of this post.)

Enjoy!

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God Help the Child by Toni Morrison (paperback January, 2016). A  story about the power of parenting and its unforeseen effects on our children (and society). I have only read Beloved so am a relative newcomer to the power of Morrison’s prose. This story is the only one of Morrison’s books to be set in the modern day yet it has a timeless, almost parable-like quality to it. It centers on two main characters, young lovers Bride and Booker, both in their 20’s, whose life paths and current missteps have been and continue to be affected by the events of the actions of their parents.  We meet them in glitzy, bustling LA but follow them to a quiet, obscure town in northern California that provides a backdrop for painful truths to emerge. Morrison addresses the subject of racism within the black community as well as the epidemic of sexual abuse within our society. There are, however, themes of hope, new life, and healing woven in throughout. Not an easy read but an important one.~ Lisa Cadow

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (1975) – Somehow I missed reading this classic in my youth, which is why I am so glad my 4th grader chose this book for our current read-aloud. While the subject matter is tear-inducing, this ten-year-old and I are enjoying this well told tale of a loving family living through horrific relations among black and white populations in a rural town. In fact, my son keeps comparing this novel to Stella By Starlight, another book we read aloud about “messed up” (as my teen would say) race relations that I highly recommend (reviewed on my ongoing reading list). He also connected this book to what he heard on the news during the past year, resulting in many great conversations. ~ Lisa Christie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie (2015). On page ten of this succinct, accessible manifesto, Adichie already has readers laughing out loud when she describes herself as  “Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men”. Full of disarming humor, this book invites serious discussion about a term (feminist) that is challenging to unpack the world over – whether you live in Nigeria or New York. Adichie raises lots of “What if’s?” about the future, ponders the present, and tells stories of her own family and upbringing in Africa. This work was inspired by a a TEDx talk Adichie delivered in 2006. If you would like to see it, watch here. Please share the it – and the book – with your daughter, your son, everyone. ~ Lisa Cadow (Lisa Christie wholeheartedly seconds this review)

Black Man in a White Coat by Tweedy Damon, MD (2015) – “It’s up to us, as doctors, to find the commonalities and respect the differences between us and our patients,” Dr. Tweedy writes. This examination of a black man’s medical education and subsequent service as a doctor offers insight, honesty, and questions about the role of race in America today. I enjoyed every self-reflective moment of being with Dr. Damon in his memoir; may all my doctors embody his compassion. (This would make a great gift for the medical students/doctors in your life.) As a NYTimes review of this book states, “on one level the book is a straightforward memoir; on another it’s a thoughtful, painfully honest, multi-angled, constant self-interrogation about himself and about the health implications of being black in a country where blacks are more likely than other groups to suffer from, for instance, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, kidney failure and cancer.” ~ Lisa Christie

All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2016) – Two authors, one black and one white, were placed together on a book tour. As a result, they became friends as they bonded over their sadness/dismay/anger over what was happening to black teens in the USA (i.e., Trayvon Martin, Ferguson). As a result of their need to make sense of what they were seeing and to help, they created this book – their view of an incident in which a young black man is beaten by a white cop. The tale is told in alternating chapters and voices – one voice being the black male who was beaten and the other a white teen who witnessed the beating. Nothing is as simple as it seems, but the voices feel real, and I love the idea of these two authors collaborating on such an important issue. This novel also reminded me of another book I loved and highly recommend – Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, reviewed on the Book Jam last June~ Lisa Christie

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We end today’s recommendations with a review of how broad a selection of authors we have featured since last February’s diversity audit. We found that during the past twelve months, we reviewed books by 140 authors. (We removed the “Pages in the Pub” and “Three Questions with Authors” and “Guest Author” posts as we do not choose those all of those books.)  Slightly over half (59%) of the authors we featured were women, 37% were men, and 4% were written by groups of authors or organizations such as Lonely Planet. A majority of the authors we featured (77%) were white, with 23% authors of color. Overall, 15% of the authors we featured were nonwhite Africans or African Americans, 4% Hispanics, and 2% Asians. Geographically speaking, we featured almost all the continents, with 56% of featured authors hailing from the USA, 33% from Europe, 7% from Canada, 3% from Australia, and 2% from Africa.

To sum, we can and will do better featuring authors of color.

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It is that time of year again. We’ve been making our lists and checking them twice; and well, it took a bit more time than we thought. And, while it is still Monday somewhere, this post is a wee bit late. So, here you have it — The Book Jam’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide.

We truly hope this list helps you find the perfect present for the loved ones in your  life. We also hope that you find some time to curl up with a few good books yourself. (OK, maybe that last part only happens after the relatives have left.)

To help you envision the perfect recipient for each book, we again assembled our selections in somewhat artificial categories (e.g., nonfiction for people who like to think and chat while sitting by the wood stove). Please use them as a guide, not as strict rules about who can and should read any of these picks. For your convenience, each of our picks is linked to the Norwich Bookstore’s web site. Thus, you do not have to leave your computer to check these items off your list. Finally, we hope our selections help take a bit of stress out of the shopping aspect of this whirlwind season.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Presents

ADULT FICTION: FOR ANYONE LOOKING FOR A GREAT BOOK

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (2015) – The author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon comes through again with a SUPERB book. This time he provides connected short stories about USSR and Russia from the Cold War through today. One of the best books of 2015. ~ Lisa Christie

God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015) – Yes, this is another book about WWII, but it is truly fabulous. History buffs will love the descriptions of British air raids over Germany and the Blitz in London. Fans of Life After Life will love another look at Ursula, Teddy and the family from Fox Corner.  This book focuses on Teddy, a fighter pilot who gets a life in a future he never expected to have.  His ability to navigate life’s changes as lover, father, husband, grandfather are lovingly portrayed.  This is basically a book about an ordinary, but lovely, man living an ordinary life in extraordinary times. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann (2015) – These shorts stories, although one is basically anovella, are GORGEOUSLY crafted and memorable.  Definitely one of the best books of 2015. ~ Lisa Christie


The Nature of the Beast
by Louise Penny (2015) – The latest Inspector Gamache novel does not disappoint. This one’s plot revolves around weapons of mass destruction and the true nature of evil. What we like most about this series is the loving relationship between Gamache and his wife.  Pick this up if you want a page turner full of wonderful characters, and something a bit lighter than the other picks in this category. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie


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NON-FICTION/REFERENCE/POETRY: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO THINK & CHAT WHILE SITTING BY THE WOOD STOVE

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2015)I can think of no other book that offers readers such an ornithological “bird’s eye view”, the clear, laser-sharp perspective of being in a falcon’s brain and on the hunt. But it is so much more: this memoir is at once a lesson in being an austringer (a falconer) and training Mabel, a goshawk, while also being a psychological exploration of mourning as Macdonald comes to terms with the sudden loss of her father, her closest companion in her birding journey. This book is raw, honest and brilliant and leaves the reader feeling as if she has just come in from from a walk in the woods with her favorite goshawk — or as if she has been perched on a tree watching the fickle humans on the ground below. ~ Lisa Cadow

Ultimate Travel: The 500 Best Places by Lonely Planet (2015) The Perfect gift for aspirational and inspirational destinations. And if your budget does not allow travel, the pictures are gorgeous and the descriptions educational. ~ Lisa Christie

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COOKBOOKS: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO COOK UP A CULINARY SNOW STORM

In A French Kitchen by Susan Herrmann Loomis (2015) – For the Francophile in your life, Loomis “cookbook” explores what it means to be a french home cook. Loomis, who has lived in France for most of her adult life, raised her children there and runs a cooking school from her home, attempts to distill great food for all. ~ Lisa Cadow

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BOOKS FOR YOUNGSTERS (AGES 8-12): THOSE BEYOND TONKA TRUCKS & TEA PARTIES BUT NOT YET READY FOR TEEN TOPICS

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (2015) – A plot influenced by magic realism and launched by a fairy tale about the fate of three princesses allows a harmonica to travel among three children in three different states/countries (Germany, Pennsylvania and California) during WWII. This harmonica unites their very different war experiences (rescuing a father from concentration camp, ensuring a brother does not go to an orphanage, helping a family hold on to their farm) into one lovely book. Uniquely crafted, this story of love, music and war will both educate and delight. ~Lisa Christie

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko (2015) – I loved Lizzie, a young girl who wants to accompany her father on his doctor’s rounds in early 1900s San Francisco, but instead must attend a school for girls to learn how to serve tea and dance and become a “lady”. The influx of the plague in San Francisco’s Chinatown and then beyond, changes everything as Lizzie fights to save her family’s cook from the Chinatown quarantine. Ms. Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts) has once again crafted a great book for young lovers of historical fiction. ~Lisa Christie

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book One: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan (2015) -Mr. Riordan does it again! I love this new series by Mr. Riordan. Same superb ear for teens, but with a Norse Myth Twist this series. Annabeth Chase from Mr. Riordan’s previous series has a cameo or two. ~Lisa Christie

Stella By Starlight by Sharon Draper (2015) – A great book about depression-era North Carolina told from the perspective of a young African American girl. ~Lisa Christie

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YOUNG ADULT FICTION — FOR TEENS /TWEENS AND THE ADULTS WHO LOVE THEM

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (2015) – This YA book combines juvenile delinqency, folk artist James Hampton, 1960s America in a lovely tale about redemption, friendship and learning to make your own way. ~Lisa Christie

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015) – A superb, superb book about love, life and suicide told from the perspective of two teens – Violet and Finch – living in Indiana, trying to figure out what senior year of HS means, what colleges to attend and how to play the hands they have been dealt by life (him – abusive father, indifferent mother; her – she survived a car wreck, her sister did not). I SOBBED at the end, but am glad I have this perspective on young adult life and the aftermath of death. I can not recommend it highly enough; but be warned you will be sad along with the happy. ~Lisa Christie

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PICTURE BOOKS: FOR FAMILIES TO READ TOGETHER DURING SNOW STORMS — (Yes, we selected the recent Pages in the Pub picks as they are so good)

Dewey Bob by Judy Schachner (2015). Adorable raccoon combines with very fun and quirky art for a fun tale about mischief. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins  (2015). Three different views on life are expressed as three toys explore one very big snowstorm. Reading this would be a SUPERB way to introduce the concept that friends can be friends and like very different things or see the same thing in very different ways. Our local librarian used it in a unit about friendship. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

Job Wanted by Teresa Bateman (2015). As Katie Kitchel stated during her presentation, the moral of this story is that persistence, confidence, & hard work prevail.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

 

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BOOKS FOR PEOPLE WHO CHOOSE TO CONTEMPLATE MORE DIFFICULT ISSUES — IN THIS CASE, RACE IN THE USA

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (2015) – Haunting. This novel can be read on so many levels — as a straight story of brothers in trouble in Nigeria, as a parable about Nigeria, as a tale of how our expectations shape our reality.  But on any level, it is good; and for me, what makes it even more amazing is that the author is only 29. ~Lisa Christie

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) -Uniquely laid out and provocative; and wow, does this make you think about race in America. Read it to help you make sense of today’s headlines. ~Lisa Christie

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015) – Sad, thoughtful, angry, well-written and timely memoir written in the form of a letter to his son.  Won the National Book Award too. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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