March. Book Three

March Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate PowellMarch Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. Top Shelf, 2016.
This is the third and final book in Congressman John Lewis’s graphic memoir about his time in the Civil Rights Movement, following March Book One and March Book Two.  Though the whole series is framed by Senator Lewis preparing for President Obama’s inauguration, this book opens wrenchingly with the bombing of the 16th St Baptist Church in 1963 and the wave of violence the surrounded it.  So much violence.  It’s a good thing the art is in black and white or it would be unbearable.  Despite all of this, the SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee works on to secure African-Americans the right to vote, even as it deals with both inner conflicts and differences of opinion between it and the NAACP.  The story culminates with the march from Selma to Montgomery,

As with the earlier books, Lewis is working right with the greats of all the organizations, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a chance meeting in Africa with Malcolm X.  It also includes portraits of people I hadn’t heard of before.  I fell in love with Fannie Lou Hamer, who was fired from her job when she tried to register to vote and went to work full-time for voting rights instead.  Her pictured conversation with a senator who considered himself a strong supporter but whom she considered weak is priceless.

The illustrations look to me like ink with gray scale watercolor fill – though I am not an artist and could be wrong on that.  True confession time: my eyes will often glaze over in mostly-male movies because everyone starts to look alike to me.  Here, besides capturing the times and the expressions, Nate Powell does a really good job drawing the mostly male characters so that they don’t all blur together.  So very important and helpful in a book like this!

I read the first two books during the Obama presidency, and it was both shocking and heartbreaking how different it felt reading the frame of his inauguration now that the administration is so different.  Then, it seemed like the Civil Rights Movement was a struggle, but one that made great progress, that even if we haven’t quite made it to equality, we were on the way.  Now it feels more like we need to learn from the past not just to remember but to remember how to fight that fight.  And those of us in the majority need to remember (paraphrasing from a training in the book) that we’re fighting not just to help the oppressed, but because none of us are free as long as any citizen is prevented from voting or from having their vote fully counted.

This book won All the Awards this year, and deservedly so.  Really everyone over the age of about twelve needs to read this series.

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March and April Diverse Reading

This year, my goal was to try harder not just to read diverse books, but to focus on reviewing books by #ownvoices authors, specifically for Naz’s challenge at Read Diverse Books.  And while I think I’m doing pretty well with keeping up with the reading, I’m clearly behind on my reviews.  Again.

Links below are to my reviews where available.

#OwnVoices Authors

DC Super Hero Girls: Hits and Myths by Shea Fontana and Yancey Labat – middle grade graphic novel

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper and Raul the Third – middle grade graphic novel

Talkin’ About Bessie by Nikki Grimes and E.B. Lewis – this is a beautiful longer picture book biography in poems about famous aviatrix Bessie Coleman.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich – middle grade historical – this is a reread, because my daughter’s class had read it and she loved it so much she wanted to listen to it again.

March. Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell – teen/adult graphic biography – review to come.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor  – adult sci-fi  review to come.

Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina  – early chapter book –  review to come.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon  – YA contemporary – review to come.

White Authors, Diverse Characters

The Lion Hunter by Elizabeth Wein – YA historical fantasy – Wein’s superb Arthurian-in-Ethiopia series continues with this story, starring Medraut’s son with an Ethiopian princess.

Stone Mirrors: the Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis by Jeannine Atkins – YA – I first heard of Edmonia Lewis when she was the subject of a Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast earlier this year and was very excited to see a YA novel-in-verse about her.  Somehow, though, it had some problematic elements regarding the depiction of her Native family and writing her as straight, when though there isn’t any written evidence one way or the other, she’s often claimed as a member of the Queer community.

A Little Taste of Poison by R.J. Anderson – middle grade fantasy

Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood  – middle grade fantasy

Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide World by Judd Winick – middle grade graphic novel

The White Road of the Moon by Rachel Neumeier – YA historical fantasy

Under the Sugar Sun by Jennifer Hallock – an unusual historical romance that I heard about from Chachic, between an American schoolteacher in the Philippines and the local sugar baron.  It did once push my submission-is-(not)-romantic button, but the history is fascinating.

My TBR shelf currently includes American Street by Ibi Zoboi, SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki, and Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. What else should I add?  What are you enjoying?

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The White Road of the Moon by Rachel Neumeier

This was one of my highly anticipated books for this spring.  I was so excited when Rachel Neumeier contacted me and offered to send me a copy!

A girl looked down on for multiple reasons, especially her dark skin and black eyes, may just prove to be the one person needed to save the world.

The White Road of the Moon by Rachel NeumeierThe White Road of the Moon by Rachel Neumeier. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.
Meridy is orphaned and has grown up despised by the aunt and cousins who took her in after he mother’s death.  Her dark skin lets everyone know that the father she never knew was a distrusted Southerner. Her black eyes tell everyone that she is a witch, supposedly able to pull souls out of living bodies and bind the spirits of the newly dead to her service, before they can take the White Road of the Moon all the way to the realm of the God.  She doesn’t know how to do any of this.  She just likes to run away to a nearby town where she is the only living soul and chat with the ghosts there.

Things change the day she meets a still living (if barely) man and the ghosts of a boy and a dog, whom she names Iëhiy.  From there, she’s learning more of her own powers – she, too, can pull things from the ethereal into the real. She makes her very first living friend with Jaift, the daughter of a merchant whose caravan takes her, just as events ratchet up once again and Meridy and Jaift are battling multiple sorcerers taking over the bodies of the living for their own Nefarious Purposes and trying to figure out what the heck Ghost Boy wants them to do and who he might be.  Not to mention the ghost captain, the ghost princess, a very young prince, and a fire horse.

This is a beautifully developed fantasy world, perfect for those who like the scope and poetry of the Lord of the Rings – there is poetry included here, which Meridy tries to translate for Jaift from the classical into the modern language.  But for those looking for a girl working hard to come in to her own, a story of strong female friendship, of ghosts both malign and malignant, and a fantasy world that, like ours, struggles with racism and the echoes of unhappy events from the past into the present. This is also a good choice for readers who prefer their stories without romance.  The biggest weakness, I think, is the cover, which doesn’t to me convey much at all about the story.  I was also very sad at the end.  I will happily read more stories set in this world, but right now this works as a fantasy stand-alone, in itself a beautiful thing.

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Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly NOT Want to Read a Book

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by the creative folks at the Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Tuesday

I do have bugaboos, some that will make me not pick up a book in the first place or dnf it if discovered, and some that will just get under my skin and irritate me.

  1. Killing off or abusing children, women, or (in children’s literature) parents, especially to provide Character Motivation or the focus of the book
  2. Describing abuse particularly of women as romantic; a corollary is the use of the word “ravish” in a positive romantic way
  3. War fiction, especially focusing on the battles more than the people
  4. All the characters are white men (Lord of the Rings is the major exception here.)
  5. Books perpetuating negative stereotypes, especially if they are contemporary and think they’re enlightened.
  6. At this point, the Child Prophesied to Save the World makes me twitchy and has to be handled really well.
  7. Ditto love triangles
  8. Straight-up horror, thriller or lots of violence
  9. Really long books or series, especially if written for adults (oh, Black Wolves!  Oh, Sevenwaters series! How I long to have read you!  How I have put off reading you because of your length!
  10. Insta-love, particularly focused on stereotypically gendered physical characteristics
  11. Poorly researched historical fiction. This isn’t always an automatic dnf, and is something that doesn’t usually show up in blurbs, but things like medieval castles with kitchens filled with servants chopping potatoes (introduced from the New World a few centuries later) and ladies wearing velvet before it was invented make me itchy and pull me right out of the story.

What turns you off?  Bonus points if you can remember something that I’ve complained about here before but forgot to put on my list!

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A Little Taste of Poison

I have been faithfully making my lists of the top 10 books I’ve missed from the previous year for the last several years now (Here are my lists for books from 2016, 2015 and 2014).  And every year, I never make it to all the books on that list, while some other book will jump out and say, “Read me now!”

Case in point:

Little Taste of Poison by R.J. AndersonA Little Taste of Poison by R.J. Anderson. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016.
The adventures of Isaveth, adventure-loving pre-teen from the minority Moshite faith in her culture, and her friend Esmond, son of the Sage Lord, whom she knew as the street boy Quiz in A Pocket Full of Murder. Isaveth is both honored and shocked when she’s awarded the Glo-Mor Scholarship to prestigious upper-class Tarreton College.  It’s especially difficult because even though Esmond also attends school here, they have to pretend not to be friends.  He’s also not at all the person she made friends with when at school.

Isaveth is met with immediate bullying.  That doesn’t surprise her – it’s more surprising that a girl named Eulalie is actually friendly to her, even when everyone else seems bent on making her time at school miserable.  She gradually finds that there’s more to the bullying than simple prejudice, as Esmond’s charming but power-mad older brother Eryx is up to usual tricks again…

We have a little more time with Esmond this book, as he snoops in his own household trying to find some usable proof of his brother’s dirty deeds, and figure out who among his family is complicit.  There’s a pleasing mix of different levels of crime, as well as the murder of a decidedly unlikable character.  It was also fun to see Isaveth learning more about the different kind of magic used by the upper class and normally forbidden to commoners like her.  This is still a delightful mix of adventure, mystery and magic, with two very likeable if believably flawed main characters.  Such fun!

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The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible Library by Genevieve CogmanThe Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. Roc, 2015.
As the story opens, our heroine, Irene, is disguised as a maid at a boys’ boarding school, scrubbing late at night in order for a chance to achieve her mission: taking an important book from this world back to the Library.  Once there, though, she’s not even given time to change her soaking clothes before she’s given a new mission.  It’s a risky one, in a world where the Fae are dangerously powerful.  Her briefing is atypically incomplete.  And she’s given a new trainee to supervise as well, the impossibly beautiful and secretive Kai.

The Library is in the title of the book, and this is a library to inspire every book-lover in the world, with copies of magical texts from all over the multiverse, as well as variant copies of familiar books from different versions of the same worlds.  These Librarians, similar to Jenn Swann Downey’s Ninja Lybrarians, are trained in combat and espionage as well as magic and (one presumes) collection development.  (There’s no word on training in the Reference Interview, but there’s also no sign of patrons in the Library.) These Librarians, though, are protected by a large magical tattoo that prevents strange and hostile magic from taking over.

The new world is steampunky.  The mission is still difficult.  Irene finds herself sharing more than she’d like with handsome detective Vale, despite some overtures from Kai.  Her rival and former trainer Bradamant turns up, and there are warnings about the rogue former librarian named Alberich…

15 or 20 years ago, I would have loved this without reservation. Now, a few years of specifically focusing on diversity have spoiled me. Here we are traveling across worlds with librarians from all over, and all our characters, whether human, fae, or what have you, are only described as having pale European skin.  It makes the whole thing feel just a bit like an old black-and-white movie when you’re used to color.  I get that many people are hesitant to write about “the other”… but I feel like an author who’s able to write a character of a different species should be able to put in some humans with different ethnic backgrounds.  It did, alas, put me a little off an otherwise excellent book. That being said, I do have both of the sequels currently checked out, though as I’ve been checking books out with abandon and without regard to my actual ability to read them before they come due, it’s still up in the air whether I’ll get to them in time. My mother read them all in about a day each.

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3 Fun Graphic Novels for Kids

Here are a handful of fun graphic novels my kids (mostly both the 7 and the 12 year old) and I have read and enjoyed recently.

Space Dumplins by Craig ThompsonSpace Dumplins by Craig Thompson. Scholastic, 2015.
True confession: this is one my love bought new when it first came out that I only just got around to reading, despite a good review from Charlotte.  What can I say? It had no due date. And it is now happily read.

Violet lives in an outer-space Roids trailer park with her working class family.  Her father harvests space whale poop, a dangerous job that provides energy for much of the universe, while her mom has a low-paying sewing job but dreams of fashion design.  Her mother’s lucky day comes just as Violet’s school explodes, so that Violet comes along with her mom to the high-class artificial planet of Shell-Tarr.  When her father goes missing, Violet, Elliott the educated chicken and Zaccheus the “last living lumpkin” and former dump resident set off to find him, putting together their own ship and braving toxic whale diarrhea.  It’s a rollicking space adventure with lots of kid-friendly humor, still using Thompson’s signature beautiful, detailed and swirling art.  There are more major non-human characters than characters of color, but there is a lot here about class prejudice and the effort put into keeping class distinctions underneath danger of the planet-chomping whales and the joy of adventurous, warm-hearted heroine good with spaceships.

DC Superhero Girls: Hits and Myths by Shea Fontana. Illustrated by YanceyLabat.D.C. Superhero Girls: Hits and Myths. Written by Shea Fontana and illustrated by Yancey Labat. D.C. Comics, 2016.
D.C. has been expanding its offerings for younger readers with its new Superhero Girls line, which includes novels by Lisa Yee and a TV show as well as this line of graphic novels.  My daughter devoured this book when my love bought it for her and insisted that I read it right away.  High school meets the Odyssey as a gang of friends at Superhero High are trying to get ready for a sleepover at Wonder Woman’s, only to be delayed by things like a stolen bat plane and a missing professor as Wonder Woman tries to keep up with her class reading and connects their adventures to the classics.  It’s a fairly large gang of friends, with familiar Batgirl, Supergirl and Wonder Woman headlining, while older diverse supporting characters Bumblebee, Katana, Hawkgirl, and Principal Amanda Waller given new prominence. (I’ll note for my records that artist Yancey Labat is African-American.)  I was very pleased to see Bumblebee be the one to figure out how to get past the traps on one of their missions.  Superhero High does have male students, too, and Beast Boy comes along for some of the fun here, but this is decidedly girl-centered, with girls starring and saving the day both for themselves and their kidnapped male professor.

Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide WorldHilo: Saving the Whole Wide World by Judd Winick. Random House, 2016.
I put book 3 on my want-to-read list for the first half of the year (I’m still waiting for my hold to come in at the library,) but in the meantime, I thought I’d read book 2.  Hilo had gone off to worlds unknown at the end of book 1, but now he is back.  He’s trapped the evil Razorward, but everyone knows it’s only temporary.  DJ and Gina help Hilo deal with the robots that keep popping through portals around town as Hilo, a robot who looks like a human, tries to find ways to be kind and not hurt humans or robots, even when the robots are programmed to attack humans.  It’s very clear in this book that DJ’s feelings of inadequacy among and not being noticed by his family, brought up right at the beginning of the first book, aren’t imaginary – there’s a scene where DJ, Gina, and Hilo are having dinner at DJ’s house, and his busy family members rush around, greeting Gina and Hilo and asking where DJ is.  But as more and more attacking robots appear, DJ has to step up to deal with them, whether or not his family thinks he can.  The cliffhanger ending has me glad I waited until the third book was already out to read it!

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Top 10 Most Unique Books I’ve Read

Naturally, I only fell in love with yesterday’s Top 10 Tuesday topic after I already had a post underway.  Still, the books kept coming into my head until I had a list.  That list will probably be different in a month – but here’s a starting point, books that were different and that stuck in my head for months and years after reading them.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted by the wonderful folks at the Broke and the Bookish.

A Corner of White

A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty (YA)

Ambassador

Ambassador by William Alexander (middle grade)

Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash by Malinda Lo (YA)

Curse of Chalion

Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold (adult)

Firethorn by Sarah Micklem

Firethorn by Sarah Micklem (adult)

The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (adult)

howlsmoving

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (YA)

Illuminae by Kaufman and Kristoff

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (YA)

Saffy's Angel

Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay (middle grade)

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Sunshine by Robin McKinley (YA/adult)

wrinkle50th

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (middle grade)

cover of Zahrah the Windseeker by Okorafor

Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor (middle grade/YA)

What books would you add to this list?

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The Willow Falls series by Wendy Mass

Last year, my library started subscribing to a digital service called hoopla.  As I was browsing through the children’s audiobook selection, I found a 2009 Cybils finalist – from before I started following the Cybils, but had wanted to go back and catch up on.  My daughter and I started with that one, and went on, over the course of several months, to the whole series.

The Willow Falls series by Wendy Mass.

Welcome to Willow Falls, a small all-American town.  Everything is pretty normal here, except that children really never have to go to the hospital after they’re born.  Oh, and be careful if you run into an old woman with a duck-shaped birthmark on her face.  Especially if you meet her around your birthday…

This is fun, contemporary fiction with a fantasy touch that varies from nearly undetectable to large from book to book.

Eleven Birthdays by Wendy Mass. Scholastic Audio, 2010. In this first book in the series, we meet Amanda and Leo, who were best friends, even celebrating their birthday together, until a horrible event that happened at their tenth birthday party.  Now they’re turning 11 – a mysterious old woman named Angelina keeps turning up.  And Amanda keeps reliving the same day, including being startled awake by a giant Sponge Bob Square Pants balloon.  This was charming, and while I found the plot a little predictable, it was still very much enjoyable.

Finally by Wendy Mass. Scholastic Audio, 2011. Now that she’s finally 12, Rory begins to check off the list of things her parents will finally allow her to do.  Each and every one of them goes horribly and painfully wrong.  At the same time, she strikes up a friendship with the cute young movie star who’s filming his newest movie at her school.  The magic here isn’t really obvious, and I couldn’t understand why it should be necessary for Rory to go through so much pain for wanting things that seemed age-appropriate to me.  My daughter and a young friend of the target age both thought it was hilarious, though.

13 Gifts by Wendy Mass. Scholastic Audio, 2011. Tara has never been to Willow Falls – until she gets in trouble at school and is sent to live with her aunt and cousin for the summer while her parents go to Madagascar. Rory is her cousin Emily’s babysitter, and for the first time in her life, Tara finds herself welcomed as part of a community, nearly all of whom know just what it’s like to have Angelina DiAngelo pay special attention to you around your birthday.  The one diverse note in the series comes as she falls for David, a boy who’s been practicing for his bar mitzvah in her cousin’s swimming pool hole.  This one got my daughter excited both about Judaism and Fiddler on the Roof.

The Last Present by Wendy Mass. Scholastic Audio, 2013.  David’s best friend Connor has a little sister named Grace.  On her 10th birthday, she falls into a coma.  The story turns back to our original characters, Amanda and Leo, as they journey in time to different birthdays in Grace’s past, trying to stop the magical mistake that will cause the coma.

Graceful by Wendy Mass. Scholastic Audio, 2015. Now it’s Grace’s turn for the limelight, as she tries to figure out what’s causing the magic in Willow Falls to run haywire.  The only sour note in this otherwise sweet series closer was the epilogue, which featured the girls having visions of the future involving important events happening to the boys in their lives with their own futures mostly side notes. Only Amanda got a vision where she and Leo were equally important.

If only my library had her Candymakers series on audio…

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The Magicians of Caprona and The Seventh Wish

Here are some short takes catching up on my reading during Cybils season.

Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne JonesThe Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones. Greenwillow Books 2001, 1980.
This is a relatively stand-alone volume in the Chrestomanci series, in which he appears (as my good friend Dr. M. says) as Deus ex machina in the middle of the book.  You’ll have more background on Chrestomanci if you’ve read some of his earlier adventures, such as The Lives of Christopher Chant, but it’s not essential.

The city of Caprona has always been helped by two magical families, the Montanas and the Petrocchis, both of whom believe the other to be despicable.  The weakening of magic must be because of the other family’s misuse of magic, though everyone is searching for the original words that go to the tune given to them by the Angel of Caprona – the most powerful magic of all. Young Tonino Montana is embarrassed by how little of the family talent he has – he can’t do any magic at all, although he is able to talk to the family cats.  It isn’t surprising that two young Montana boys are find themselves in situations where they need to work with similarly aged Petrocchi girls.  But these are mixed Jones’s trademark humor and a number of highly unexpected twists – involving Punch and Judy puppet shows, of all things – as once again, the children must save the day when the adults fail to grasp the depth of the problem.  I read this aloud to my son (pushing my narration skills by trying desperately for a not-cartoonish Italian accent), before continuing on to more DWJ.

The Seventh Wish by Kate MessnerThe Seventh Wish by Kate Messner. Bloomsbury, 2016.
A book that made some waves around censorship last year as it covers some sensitive but important issues.  Charlie Brennan is terrified of ice fishing, but willing to try to earn enough money to buy herself a really beautiful Irish dancing dress for her first feis.  When she catches a fish with emerald eyes, it’s willing to grant her a wish – but it proves harder than she realizes at first to make a wish that will really do what she wants.  When she hopes that handsome Roberto Sullivan will return her crush, for example, she instead finds geeky Robert O’Sullivan following her around. All the normal she’s hanging on to comes crashing down as it turns out that her beautiful older sister Abby, newly gone to college, has an addiction problem.  The family’s journey to recovery is moving, not preachy, and blended with the rest of Abby’s life, including her friendship with Dasha, a recent immigrant still learning English.  I feel like the drug use in particular – is an issue that parents want very desperately to pretend will never happen if it’s not talked about and that kids want and need to know about in case it does.  And I’d rather have a discussion over a sensitively written book like this than be blindsided by needing to explain it from real life.  So while I won’t yet read this with my seven-year-old, to whom it would otherwise appeal, I’d have no qualms about listening to it with my middle schooler (though it’s a little more dance-focused and non-epic fantasy than he likes) and getting ready for some discussions.

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