Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Adventure Challenge: Family Edition

Even though I will be talking about a book today, this is more of an experience review than a book review.  You'll see what I mean...

Let me introduce you to The Adventure Challenge: Family Edition.

"Adventure" means exploring outside of your habits, diving deeper into your relationships, and creating meaningful memories.

Your family is awaiting adventure!  With this book as your guide, parents and children alike can experience fun and excitement in a new and unique way.  The catch?  You don't know what that adventure will be until you scratch off the super secret adventure foil (like a lottery ticket, but instead of losing $5, you actually get to do something fun).  Whether you're cooking a delicious apple pie (blindfolded) or inventing your very own "family crest" (something you can hang on a flag and pass down for generations), your whole family will connect with each other in completely new ways.

Grab your family (and a camera), open this book, and begin your Family Adventure Challenge!

Summary from book - Image from publisher - Book given to me for free in exchange for an honest review.
---------------------------------------------

Let me begin with the following disclaimer:  I AM NOT ADVENTUROUS.  I like predictability.  I like to know exactly what I am getting into.  I. do. not. like. surprises.  Why, oh why, then did I accept this particular book for review -- a book where every scratch-off leads to a surprise adventure?

Good question. 

I suppose it is because I want to be adventurous.  I want to be the cool mom.  I want to create memories with my kids.  And, of course, I want to have something fun to do while we were all stuck in the middle of Quarantine 2020.  Plus, who doesn't like scratch offs?!  I took the leap, said yes, and promptly freaked out.  I'll get to that a bit later.

The Adventure Challenge: Family Edition arrived at my home like many other books -- in a drab brown shipping box.  However, inside that I found an attractive blue box. When I opened it, the smell of the new book inside wafted my way and I will admit I got a little weak-kneed.  Even now when I open it months later...*opens box again*...yup, it still smells amazing.  The book is well-made, with a sturdy cover and thicker-than-usual pages with that help motivate random creativity, clarify the challenge rules, and (of course) provide the promised surprise scratch-off adventures and places to record the results.

Remember how I said I liked to know what I'm getting?  Well, there was one page in particular that felt made for me  -- a key of 14 icons that offer hints about each challenge.  A few of these symbols appear alongside each challenge and give important pre-scratch details, including approximate cost and length of the activity, the ideal time of day for the activity to occur, and other details that aid in planning.  For example, if the adventure has a home icon, it would mean the activity will occur at home and/or indoors, while a tree would mean we needed to be outside, and a crossed utensil forecasts a food-related activity.  You get the idea.  While the activities themselves were a total surprise, these hints were invaluable and allowed us to 'select' activities that were both budget, time, and quarantine-friendly.*

For the purpose of this post, our family tried out FIVE adventures at random.  I am going to give you some sketchy details about what we did and how things went, but I won't be including the titles or all the details of the specific task to preserve a bit of the mystery for others taking the challenge.  There is a space near each challenge set aside to record your thoughts and so I'll be including those as well.

________________________________________________

Adventure #1:  This activity required a whole lot of yarn, our living room, and some skilled maneuvering.  We also needed a timer and a spray bottle of water.  Intrigued?  I don't blame you.

This adventure was easy to set up and rather fun.  It definitely tested our agility and brought out our competitive sides.  There was lots of giggling and liberal application of the spray bottle.  I actually left our living room 'set up' for a day afterwards because my kids wanted to keep playing.  I had to hide the spray bottle.  

^This activity was child #3's favorite.


Adventure #2: This activity required a stack of paper, some ingenuity, precision folding, and a bit of lift.  It brought out our competitive sides more than a little.

To help our smaller children, we divided up into groups with our two teens together and my husband and I each took a kidlet.  My kids learned a new skill, and my perfectionism came out, but we all had fun.  Of course, my husband was the hands-down winner, which surprised exactly no one.

Adventure #3:  This activity required two teams, some serious lip-syncing skills, and zero personal shame.  We weren't able to do this adventure the night we originally planned (because cop-life) and, in the interest of full-disclosure, my introverted soul was admittedly relieved.  For a time I managed to stall my family but they inevitably won out. I am fairly certain my children will murder me for posting any pictures, so all you get is this blurry one (I'll let you guess who it might be).

I would never have chosen to do this adventure of my own volition, introverted as I am, but it turned out to be the most entertaining adventure yet...once we got a few songs in.  My teens were in their element, rocking out with hairbrushes, and my husband totally let his freak flag fly (a bit too much, if I'm being honest).  My younger children were a little more reserved with one joining in towards the end and the other preferring to simply watch.  What I loved most about this activity is that I got to see a different side of my children and they got to see a different side of their parents (you know, the club-goers that existed before they were born).  Of course, now there is a video of me as King George singing "You'll Be Back" from Hamilton somewhere out there in the ether.  Cautionary tale or glowing recommendation?!  I'll let you decide.  For me, it was proof that if you just dive in and face your fears and insecurities, you might actually enjoy yourself!

^This activity was child #1 and child #2's favorite!  And do you know what?  It was mine too!

Adventure #4:  This activity involved a large quantity of eggs. It was high time we picked a messy
challenge and this one was a doozy. It was minimum cost, minimum time, and maximum fun!

Our family really enjoyed this activity.  We took it out on the front lawn in full view of the neighbors or any passing cars and proceeded to laugh our butts off.  We even took a video (sans explanation) and sent it to family. It elicted an immediate response and now they all want their own copy of the book! Even Grandma and Grandpa want the Couple's Edition.

^This activity was child #4's favorite.


Adventure #5:  This challenge urged us to disregard pretty much every dinner table rule in existence.  My little kids were ecstatic.  My big kids thought we were crazy.  It required a little prep work on my part, but clean up was a breeze!

This activity was quite a bit calmer than the last two activities we scratched off, but it was fun to sit around the table with a delicious meal and talk, laugh, and get a little messy together.  The only downside: We chose to do this activity on the back patio and the flies descended about halfway through the meal.  Imagine us waving flies away with one hand and eating with another. Memories!

^This activity was my husband's favorite!

_______________________________________________

I loved how this book nudged, cajoled, and full-on flung us outside our varied comfort zones and encouraged us to have fun together as a family. We plan to continue on adventuring and recording our shenanigans in the book.  Five down, 45 to go!  I would recommend The Adventure Challenge: Family Edition to any family looking to infuse a little more fun, creativity, and spontaneity and into their lives.  Give it a try!  I highly doubt you'll be disappointed.

*Stuck in quarantine?  Many of the adventures are quarantine-friendly or can be easily tweaked to be quarantine friendly.  Tip: Look for the "home" or "inside" symbols!  I asked nicely and they sent me a very long, spoiler-free list of the challenges that would work best.

To find out more about this edition, the Couples Edition, or the Friends Edition, visit www.theadventurechallenge.com  or email support@theadventurechallenge.com

Monday, September 28, 2020

A Burning - Megha Majumdar


Summary: Jivan is a Muslim girl from the slums, determined to move up in life, who is accused of executing a terrorist attack on a train because of a careless comment on Facebook. PT Sir is an opportunistic gym teacher who hitches his aspirations to a right-wing political party, and finds that his own ascent becomes linked to Jivan's fall. Lovely--an irresistible outcast whose exuberant voice and dreams of glory fill the novel with warmth and hope and humor--has the alibi that can set Jivan free, but it will cost her everything she holds dear. Taut, symphonic, propulsive, and riveting from its opening lines, A Burning has the force of an epic while being so masterfully compressed it can be read in a single sitting. Majumdar writes with dazzling assurance at a breakneck pace on complex themes that read here as the components of a thriller: class, fate, corruption, justice, and what it feels like to face profound obstacles and yet nurture big dreams in a country spinning toward extremism. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  This is the kind of book that’s terrifying—terrifying in that things escalated so quickly that it seems almost ridiculous, but also plausible.

Because this book takes place in India, it seems like it would be easy to say that this is the kind of thing that wouldn’t happen in the U.S. Although I’d like to think that there are many parts of this story that will not happen here, I know that there are definitely parts of the story that would. A simple statement, one made just to get comments and likes, and the consequences are so dire that it was frightening.

I felt like the story was well-written, and I enjoyed the rotating points of view. Each chapter was told from a different rotating cast of characters, and I always enjoy that writing choice because I like to see what each of the characters is contributing to the story in their own way. I especially enjoy it when an author is able to make each voice distinct, which Majumdar did a good job of doing. If the characters have muddled voices in each chapter it’s easy to get confused (especially if you stop in the middle of a chapter), but with strong, distinct voices this isn’t an issue. Majumdar’s characters have distinct voices and their stories were interesting and very varied, which kept me interested and reading. Because this is a fairly short book, it didn’t take me long to read the whole thing. The chapters are short and consumable, which makes the story movie quickly.

This was an eye-opening book to me. I’m not well-versed in India and Indian culture, and the insights I learned from this were so interesting. This book is also tragic in so many ways—it isn’t something that is easily ignored. Even though there are many things in this book that aren’t familiar in U.S. culture, there were plenty that were reminiscent of what is going on here, and the choices that people make that affect others and the culture as a whole.

This is the kind of book that I think is very relevant to today. Unfair trials, political favors, one person’s fate being sacrificed for the “greater good” are all things that we are trying to understand and dissect together as a nation. When we look at other places and see ourselves reflected, and also see things we could be doing or should not be doing, it is important. Books like this that are so sharp and poignant are important for a generation to read who wants to make changes, and wants to know how to make them and where to start.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is violence and strong class system biases, as well as language.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Freeform Friday: From the Desk of Zoe Washington - Janae Marks


At Reading for Sanity, we understand the importance of honoring different voices and experiences, especially those that are frequently marginalized or stigmatized.  In that vein, we have decided to dedicate more of our upcoming reviews to books and authors that offer Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color perspectives.   We'd also like to direct you to our new label (BIPOC Perspectives), located in the right sidebar, where you can find more books like this one.   

Summary: Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime?

A crime he says he never committed.

Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge.

But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies. (summary and image from goodreads.com)

My Review: I really enjoyed getting to know Zoe as a character.  She's a typical twelve-year-old, with hobbies, friends, and family that she loves.  I adore her love of baking and her desire to become a pastry chef (and I want to try her Froot Loop cupcakes).  She's got a strong sense of motivation and drive, first in her desire to become a baker, but especially when she discovers her convict father might be innocent.

This book sends Zoe through the ringer of emotions--the excitement of possibly auditioning for a kids baking show, her fight with her ex-best friend, the thought her father might be innocent.  We get to journey along with Zoe and her growth as she navigates a world that, as we know, isn't always kind or fair to everyone.

The mystery of her father's alleged innocence, and Zoe's determination to prove it, kept me turning pages--that thrill of her finding more clues mixed with the dread of being found out and getting into serious trouble.  Her love for her father, and his for her, shone through in the sweet letters they wrote, and the ever growing playlist he shared with her.  These characters became very real to me, and I wanted them so desperately to succeed.

This book does not shy away from the issues at hand, but it does so in a way that is understandable to children, and will open their eyes.  Zoe gets weird looks when she's out with her white stepfather.  Zoe and her best friend Trevor have been taught how to behave when police are around.  Zoe learns that innocent people do go to jail, and that a majority of them tend to be black.  This book is a good way to introduce children (and us older kids at heart) to a world that many, many people have to live in daily, things even I wasn't fully aware of, and am striving now to better expand my world-view.  This book takes all that information and shows it through the lens of one determined little girl who will not stop until she has found the answers and makes a difference.

My rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book was typical middle-grade fare, nothing offensive. It will raise important questions for children, which is good, about the prison system and race relations. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Midnight Sun - Stephenie Meyer

Midnight Sun is the companion novel to Twlight, the first book in the best-selling Twilight saga.  

Summary:  I could see how easy it would be to fall into loving Bella.  It would be exactly like falling: effortless.  Not letting myself love her was the opposite of falling -- it was pulling myself up a cliff face, hand over hand, the task as grueling as if I had no more than mortal strength.

When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love store was born.  But until now, fans have heard only Bella's side of the story.  At last, readers can experience Edward's version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.

This unforgettable tale as told through Edward's eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist.  Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years a a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward's past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger?

In Midnight Sun, Stephenie Meyer transports us back to a world that has captivated millions of readers and brings us an epic novel about the profound pleasures and devastating consequences of immortal love.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I read Twilight for the first time in 2005 and mentally reviewed it as entertaining, escapist YA fiction.  I was 100% there for it and partied on the Twilight train until the final book-that-shall-not-be-named was released and, in my mind, abruptly derailed the series.  We all cope with atrociously named vampire babies and wolves imprinting on infants in different ways.  In a long term fit of denial, I still insist the series is a trilogy.  Don't judge...but keep reading.  

It is immediately evident that Meyer's writing has matured since her Twilight days.  I can't describe exactly how; it just feels like her writing has grown up and filled out a bit.  If you haven't read Twilight recently, I recommend doing so before picking up Midnight Sun.  My feelings about the series have changed dramatically over the years (holy crow, our couple needs some therapy) but I appreciated the reminder of the Twilight timeline, characters, and their personal interactions and, overall, I believe it greatly enhanced my experience with Midnight Sun.  

Obviously, Midnight Sun follows the events of Twilight, but being in Edward's head brings a little bit more to the table.  One of the most interesting aspects of the book stems from Edward's ability to hear what others are thinking. His minds-eye view of all the character's fleshed them out a bit, giving me a peek inside the heads of everyone from the Cullen clan to Bella's friends, parents, and even Jacob and his family.  Often, Edward's perspective gave somewhat surprising insight into certain characters.  For example, Bella's not-so-secret admirer, Mike Newton, got a lot creepier, and her BFF Jessica is clearly working on her 'frienemy' merit badge.

One of the main reasons I picked up this book was that I wanted to 'see' some of my favorite Twilight moments from Edward's perspective (the icy parking lot, the Port Angeles rescue, Blood Typing Day, meeting the Cullens, etc.)  Although much of the book features Bella and Edward together, I enjoyed reading about the moments that occurred out of Bella's line of sight, like exactly how Edward ended up in Port Angeles, what went down afterwards, his good deed for one of Bella's true friends, and the mad dash to save Bella in Phoenix.  Edward also spends plenty of time interacting with his family, which allowed me to get a better sense of each of the Cullens and quite a bit more of their individual backstories.

Finally, I felt that Meyer's made an effort to temper some of the red flags surrounding Edward's personality.  In Twilight, Edward occasionally made belittling comments towards Bella, which really bothered me.  In Midnight Sun, Meyer's showed that Edward had a much less derisive view of Bella than his admittedly boorish comments would indicate.  Similarly, the author made Edward's sneaky forays into Bella's bedroom seem marginally less creepy by providing a somewhat legitimate reason for him to be there (ie. a vampiric version of exposure therapy).  Edward even goes so far as to recognize that his somewhat controlling behavior is ridiculous, calling himself an "obsessed vampire stalker."  So he owns it...which, I supposed, is something?

One of the things I look forward to in books that tell the same story from a new perspective is that there are often moments of retroactive continuity (or retcon) that completely flip the story and blast open a whole new wall of understanding.  I live for those moments.  I love those moments!  Unfortunately, Midnight Sun had very few of them.  Oh, there were a few reveals, here and there, but nothing that left me slack-jawed and reeling.  I won't go into detail (because SPOILERS) but the closest I came to one of those moments involved possible reasons why Edward was unable to read Bella's thoughts.  Even then, nothing concrete came of it.

In Twilight, readers weren't privy to much, if any, of Edward's personal thoughts, but in Midnight Sun the pendulum swings in an entirely different direction.  As previously mentioned, I enjoyed Edward's ability to read other people's minds, but when he is sitting around in his own head, thinking his own thoughts, and ruminating on all things Bella?? Snore. Edward's mental musings lean toward the overly contemplative and are bogged down by unnecessary details and the seemingly never-ending discussion of his deep, deep feelings.  Basically, Edward seems to think how girls wish guys would think, instead of how they actually think, which I have been assured by my husband is more straightforward and less complex.  Anyway, about 2/3 of the way through the book I hit a wall made entirely of Not-Caring about Edward's Feelings and started to skim through the bits that were all in his head, substituting a few thoughts of my own: Mhhmmmm. I get it. You love fragile Bella. You worry about fragile Bella.  You want to be with her but you are afraid you can't protect her because she is so. flipping. fragile.  Something along those lines, anyway. It got old.

In conclusion, Midnight Sun was a bit of a mixed bag for me.  I didn't love Edward's incessant introspection, but I do believe that Midnight Sun is better written, narrows some gaps in the storyline, offers significantly more backstory, interesting insight into many of the characters, and enhances Twilight's official story.  While I would not necessarily recommend it as a stand alone novel, I would recommend it to fans of the series who are in it for the fun, and not overly prone (like me *sigh*) to dissecting fictional characters for real-world flaws.  

My Rating:  3 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: A few instances of swearing, some making out, an excessive amount of vampire emotions, and frequent references to the "monster inside" Edward and Bella's fragility.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Human Tribe - Alison Wright

Summary: A page-turner in the most exquisite sense, this book of over 160 portraits expresses the emotive beauty and grace of the human face. Documentary photographer Alison Wright traveled to every continent to capture the diversity of the human tribe, from toddlers to those who’ve lived a lifetime, and from South America to Africa, Asia, and points in between. Some of the people photographed are privileged, some live ordinary lives, and others live close to the land and in communities that may not last another generation. Collectively, these surprising studies of the human face remind us of our common bond and the inherent dignity in being ourselves. (Image and summary from schifferbooks.com. Photo credit to Alison Wright with one exception.  This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review.)

*NOTE*  I am not a photography expert.  I have a brother who is a professional photographer, but that is as close as I will ever get to being one.  As such, I can only give you the Average Jane perspective, but here goes... 

My Review:  Human Tribe is a striking collection of 160 + personal portraits, taken and compiled by photographer Alison Wright during her intercontinental travels.  The images are a mix of close-up portraits and others taken a little further back so that you can gain a little context (see below).  Collectively, these photographs are all the things --  intimate, arresting, vibrant, and unbelievably compelling.  Whether the images are joyful or sobering, everyday or extraordinary, each is a remarkable expression of the human experience. It's simply beautiful, not just in the "aesthetically pleasing" kind of way, but in a deep-rooted, soul-searing, meaningful kind of way.   There was so much to examine -- so much color, light, and emotion in each picture that I could feel it in my chest with each turn of the page. 


Human Tribe is minimalist in design; each page holds a single color photograph, with the location and year it was taken.  At first, I was a little disappointed with the lack of detailed captions. I wanted to know more about each individual and their story -- I'm nosy like that.  However, the more time I spent with the book, examining the faces of each person, admiring their (often) traditional clothing, seeing the different circumstances in which they lived, and imagining their stories, the more I fell in love with the simplicity of the design and the focus on people rather than text. It was as if the lack of words gave the pictures even more substance.  
 

It's was difficult to pick my favorite aspect of this book, so instead of one thing I have several.  First, the close-ups images were particularly powerful because they gave me the opportunity to really examine the faces in detail.  For an introvert, like myself, who struggles to make and keep eye contact, there is something exhilarating about being able to stare into a stranger's eyes and study their expressions at length without feeling awkward.   At a time when we are all feeling the strain of separation, it was somehow cathartic to be able to connect in some small way with the world around me.  I had time to really see each person and those moments, in a way, felt sacred to me. 

Alison Wright, of course, says it best:
The planet, at times, can seem so vast, with the breadth of humanity almost too large to comprehend.  But when you capture the look in someone's eyes, an intimate stare, a knowing glance, his or her situation becomes a shared experience, a more personal connection.  Their eyes seem to radiate a dignity, a claim for a right to be seen, no matter what their circumstances.  These eyes are what initially draws and connects us together.
Second, I noticed that while most of the photographs were placed randomly, every so often two consecutive pictures of people separated by continents and cultures would contain certain similarities.  I can't be sure, but I felt like this was intentional and a subtle reminder of our universal connection.   At other times, I'd turn the page and there would be a jarring juxtaposition -- like a young Tibetan boy holding a gun, a burka-clad woman sitting in front of modern artwork, or a young girl standing amidst the rubble of a war-torn street (see below).   It's strange how such a small picture can suck the air out of a room, isn't it? 


At its heart, Human Tribe is a magnificent compilation of photographs that shows the human family in glorious perspective. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to feel a little more connected to the world around them and its people.  Not only do I plan to keep this book (which doesn't always happen), but I plan to leave it in a special place I reserve for books I hope my daughters will pick up, pour over, and truly absorb.  I have no doubt they will come away with an increased respect and appreciation for individuality, cultural diversity, and the beauty that comes from human connection.   

UPDATE: So, I did it.  I left Human Tribe on an end table near my 8-year-old daughter's favorite reading couch and the very next day I found her curled up with it.  She called me into the room to discuss one of the pictures -- an Ethiopian woman with a lip plate -- and we talked about the traditions of other cultures and different definitions of beauty.  Then she asked me how the woman pictured above got her face so white, which led to another conversation.  I look forward to many more conversations and I am thrilled to have this book in our permanent collection!

If you'd like to read more or purchase Human Tribe, click here.  (not an affiliate link)

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  All clear.  

Monday, September 21, 2020

Harley in the Sky - Akemi Dawn Bowman

Summary: Harley Milano has dreamed of becoming a trapeze artist for as long as she can remember. With parents who run a famous circus in Las Vegas, she spends almost every night in the big top watching their lead aerialist perform, wishing with all her heart and soul that she would be up there herself one day.

After a huge fight with her parents, who continue to insist she go to school instead, Harley leaves home, betrays her family, and joins the rival traveling circus Maison du Mystère. There, she is thrust into a world that is both brutal and beautiful, where she learns the value of hard work, passion, and collaboration. At the same time, Harley must come to terms with the truth of her family and her past—and reckon with the sacrifices she made and the people she hurt in order to follow her dreams.

From award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, unforgettable examination of love, loyalty, and the hard choices we must make to find where we truly belong. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I found this book in what I consider to be an old-fashioned way—wandering through the library, seeing a cover that looks interesting, and after reading the back summary, picking it up and taking it with me. Especially in these COVID times, being at the library and having a chance to browse books is a luxury. Usually when I head to the library, I have a list of what I’m going to get, and many of those will be on reserve. This book wasn’t even on my radar, so that was a lot of fun. When I picked it up and started reading, I realized I had read Summer, Bird, Blue by this author, and although I didn’t love it, I wanted to give this one a chance.

First off, I’m happy to report that I liked it more than Summer, Bird, Blue. The topic was interesting—who doesn’t like reading about circus people? I mean, I love reading about cool places and circumstances that I am not familiar with. Although I could tell that Bowman either wasn’t involved in a circus close up (or maybe just chose to be really basic about it), there was still enough information to be able to tell that she had at least done some research about the circus and aerialists, which I appreciated. However, as with many books, this wasn’t really about what it seems to be about.

 I’ve mentioned before that I like that children’s authors (and in this case, YA or even possibly New Adult fiction) do a good job of cutting through the crap and addressing difficult issues. I appreciated that Bowman did this. This book tackles some heavy issues—race identity, parent/child relationships, and depression/bipolar disorder to name a few. Like any good YA book, it is able to do this naturally through the character in a way that felt authentic and natural. Unlike Summer, Bird, Blue I felt like this book did actually taken on these issues in a way stronger fashion that Bowman took on asexuality in Summer, Bird, Blue, but I still think that the depression discussion was developed almost too late in the book. It was THISCLOSE to not even being a part of it, and then it was, and it worked. I would have liked more discussion and space given to race identity, especially because the main character comes from several different racial backgrounds (Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Irish), which outsiders often simplify (i.e., that she’s simply “Asian”). Again, Bowman gives herself a great opportunity to address some issues and unfortunately I think she fell a little short. That being said, I thought about this a lot, and I think that she actually did address them in a way that the character might have—she has other things going on in her life, she has dreams of being an aerialist and has taken some pretty drastic steps to become such, so her attention is divided. So while I do think she could have discussed more and had created a platform to do so, she did enough that she made a point and still created a good story.

I read this book quickly, and enjoyed the story. I think it could have been a lot longer had the author decided to go more in-depth into so many things, but as it was it was definitely long enough to be a substantial size for a YA read.

Although this didn’t give me the same circus-feeling vibe as The Night Circus or the Caravel series or even “The Greatest Showman,” it was a decent read that kept my pages turning and was a good diversion from real life.

My Rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and discussion of heavy making out, but no sex. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Freeform Friday: Brown Girl Dreaming - Jacqueline Woodson

At Reading for Sanity, we understand the importance of honoring different voices and experiences, especially those that are often marginalized or stigmatized.  In that vein, we have decided to dedicate more of our upcoming reviews to books and authors that offer Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color perspectives.   We'd also like to direct you to our new label (BIPOC Perspectives), located in the right sidebar, where you can find more books like this one.  

Summary:  In vivid free verse, award-winning Jacqueline Woodson shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s both in the North and the South.  Raised in South Caroline and later in Brooklyn, New York, Woodson often felt halfway home in each place, and describes the reality of living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the civil rights movement.  In the South, kids teased her and her siblings about their northern way of talking, and in Brooklyn, being a Jehovah's Witness meant following rules their friends didn't understand. But through all their journeying, there was always one constant -- a deep family love and pride that made each Woodson stand up a little taller and shine a little brighter.

Woodson's eloquent poetry also describes the joy of finding her voice through writing -- something she always loved to do, despite the fact that she struggled in school.  Readers will delight in witnessing her growing love of stories -- and her funny, touching experiments in storytelling -- as she exhibits the first sparks of the writer she was to become.

Poignant and powerful, each poem in Brown Girl Dreaming is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child's soul as she searches for her place in the world.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Confession time -- I have always been intimidated by the poetry genre.  I like a good haiku as well as the next person, but until recently, my poetry experience was limited to some required reading in high school and all things Silverstein (who doesn't love Shel, am I right?).  However, last year I found and fell in love with an amazing book (Dear Mother: Poems on the Hot Mess of Motherhood by Bunmi Laditan) which helped me realize that poetry doesn't have to be hard to understand to be meaningful.  Her book resonated with me on a deeply personal level and gave me the courage to further explore the genre.  Brown Girl Rising has been sitting on my shelf for the last several years, quietly nudging me, and in an attempt to embrace poetry, broaden my horizons, and read more books that offer a BIPOC perspective, I decided it was high time we became acquainted.

Brown Girl Dreaming is an illuminating memoir written in free verse poetry that tells the story of a young black girl as she navigates early childhood and adolescence in the civil rights era. The poems are easy to read and hard to put down, but they are best read in chronological order to retain the meaning and flow of the story.  Some poems read as nostalgic vignettes of happier times, while others provide thought-provoking insight, portrayals of familial sorrow and joy, or disturbing incidents of racism, all filtered through the lens of childhood memory.   They really are marvelous -- and even more so when the author reads them aloud.  If you'd like a few examples of what I mean, you can click here or here.  Beware, if you do, you might end up buying the audio book!

Jacqueline's childhood was in some ways patently idyllic and in other ways beset with uncertainty and fear.  In Ohio, South Carolina, and, eventually, New York, she finds love and acceptance in the form of family and close friends, writing affectionately of warm southern winters, quiet nights on the porch, the smell of wet grass and pine, grandma's mouthwatering cooking, and eventually discovering the power of her own words.  However, as her awareness grows, Jacqueline also writes about personal loss, bullying, racism, poverty, and injustice.  She tells of family members admitted into but ignored in formerly 'white-only' establishments, of tense bus rides, being followed in stores, tormented in daycare, and the looming presence of thinly painted over 'white-only' signs, which served as a crude reminder of everyday oppression.  As a result, the book is neither overly romantic nor intensely depressing, but instead provides a fully authentic picture of a life that came with its own trials and triumphs.

With Black Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson adds her meaningful perspective to the collective black experience with an exquisitely-rendered portrait of familial love, personal growth, and ethnic identity.  Personally, I think it would be an excellent choice for parents hoping to start helpful conversations about race in the home, as it raises important issues about history, especially the civil rights movement, and serves as a stark reminder of the work that still needs to be done.  In closing,  I would like to share one of the poems, entitled after greenville #1, that hit me rather hard and captured the overall feel of the book.  Do me a favor though?  Take a deep breath, and imagine a mother and her young children getting ready to leave their ancestral home in South Carolina and travel by bus to Ohio:
After the chicken is fried and wrapped in wax paper,
tucked gently into cardboard shoe boxes
    and tied with string...
After the corn bread is cut into wedges, the peaches
washed and dried...
After the sweet tea is poured into mason jars
    twisted tight
and the deviled eggs are scooped back inside
    their egg-white beds
slipped into porcelain bowls that are my mother's now,
    a gift
her mother sends with her on the journey...
After the clothes are folded back into suitcases,
the hair ribbons and shirts washed and ironed...
After my mother's lipstick is on and my father's
scratchy beginnings of a beard are gone...
After our faces are coated
with a thin layer of Vaseline gently wiped off again
with a cool, wet cloth...
then it is time to say our good-byes,
    the small clutch of us children
pressed against my grandmother's apron, her tears
quickly blinked away...
After the night falls and it is safe
    for brown people to leave
the South without getting stopped
and sometimes beaten
and always questioned: 
Are you one of those Freedom Riders?
Are you one of those Civil Rights People?
What gives you the right...?
We board the Greyhound bus, bound
for Ohio.
Me again. You see what I mean?  Read (or listen to) this book.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There are some issues regarding race and racism, told from a child's perspective, that might make certain readers uncomfortable.  Personally, I believe that any reading, however uncomfortable, that leads to growth, compassion, and understanding, is worthwhile reading.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Mighty Silent E! - Kimberlee Gard and Sandie Sonke (Illus)

Summary: Little e is sure he could be a hero -- he even has the cape to prove it!  But at school, he is so quiet, he just doesn't stand out.  That is, until one day when Little e doesn't show up to class and a lot of words just won't work.  The whole class is in an uproar!  Without their silent friend, what are they going to do?  Will Little e finally get his chance to come to the rescue?

With adorable illustrations, The Mighty Silent e! teaches spelling and vowel sounds in a new, exciting way that is sure to engage even the most stubborn reader.

(Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com and www.familius.com - This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review)

My Review Little e may not have much to say, but that doesn't mean he isn't important.  When Little e doesn't make it to school on time, his classmates have trouble spelling certain words until Little e swoops in to save the day.

The Mighty Silent e! slid into my mailbox when it was released last month. I wasn't expecting a package, but it was an oh-so-cute and rather pleasant surprise.  I loved that the story emphasized both spelling and self-worth in a memorable way with adorable illustrations to boot.  It would be a great tool to help emerging readers understand the importance of the silent e.  If you have young readers, I'd definitely recommend giving this one a look.

My Review: 4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: All clear.

But WAIT....

I have only recently become acquainted with Familius publications
but I adore their commitment to helping families be happy through literature.  
You can learn more about their mission or just scope out their books
 at www.familius.com (not an affiliate link).  

The Might Silent e! is part of the Language is Fun! book series, 
which includes other titles like:

The Little i Who Lost His Dot 
(A Book About Capitalization)


and

The Day Punctuation Came to Town 
(A Book About Punctuation)


I haven't read them (yet) but since they are from the same author/illustrator duo I imagine they are just as educational, colorful, and kid-friendly as The Mighty Silent e!

Have you read them?
Let us know what you think!

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Fish in a Tree - Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Summary:  Everybody is smart in different ways.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.

Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people.  Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions.  She's tired of being called "slow" and "loser," but she's afraid to ask for help; after all, she thinks, how can you cure dumb?

However, Ally's newest teacher sees the bright, creative kid beneath the troublemaker and helps to shine a light on her gifts.  Meanwhile, Ally gets to know tell-it-like-it-is Keisha and science-and facts-obsessed Albert, who also break the mold.  The three stand together against others who are not so kind.

As the outsiders begin to fit in, surprising things begin to happen in Ally's classroom that show her there's a lot more to her -- and to everyone -- than a label, and that great minds don't always think alike.

The author of the beloved One for the Murphys gives readers an emotionally charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who's ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn't fit in.  (Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Fish in a Tree begins with this stirring dedication:


For teachers...who see the child before the student, 
who reminds us that we all have 
special gifts to offer the world, 
who foster the importance of standing out 
rather than fitting in.

And for kids...
who find their grit to conquer life's challenges -- 
no matter what their challenges may be.  

You are heroes.  
This book is for you.

I mean, you guys!?  How could I not fall head over heels?  Y'all I have so much to say, but if you are pressed for time I'm just going to cut to the chase -- Fish in a Tree is glorious.  If you liked Wonder, Counting by 7s, Mockingbird, Out of My Mind, or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, you should put this book on the top of your TBR pile immediately.  Just trust me.

Ally Nickerson is smart and talented in many ways, but she has always struggled with reading; the letters swim around, words don't make sense, and she always ends up with a blinding headache.  Ally has changed schools a lot and always managed to hide her inability to read from her teachers by pretending to be a troublemaker, rather than (as she sees it) a dumb loser.  When her regular teacher goes on maternity leave, Ally's new teacher, Mr. Daniels, isn't as easy to dupe.  I won't spoil what follows, but let me just say -- it will give you all the feels.   The dedication may have left me in deep like, but by page fifty-six I was in in love, and it just got better with every chapter.

Since Ally is the narrator, it wasn't hard to tell when she felt anxious, dumb, broken, and hopeless. It hurt my heart to watch her constantly conceal her struggles from everyone in her life and worry about others discovering her secret.  Thankfully, as the story continues, Ally is presented with new opportunities for growth and experiences moments of fierce loyalty and new friendships that made my heart surge.  I loved watching Ally's interactions with her bullies change as she begins to see her own worth and inch out of her shell.

Fish in a Tree may be about Ally, but it isn't just about Ally.  It's also about her brother Travis, a brilliant mechanic with big dreams who struggles with traditional education; Mr. Daniel's, a dedicated teacher doing his level best to reach his students; Albert, with his amazing intellect and mysterious bruises; Keisha, the new girl and aspiring chef who isn't afraid to stand up to anyone; Oliver, who talks, moves, and thinks a mile a minute; and so many others.  I loved the adorably quirky secondary character and longed to punch a few bullies in their tiny fictional faces (if for no other reason than they remind me of the a few non-fictional faces from my childhood).  We should all be so lucky as to have a teacher like Mr. Daniels and friends like Keisha and Albert -- people who can see beneath the surface, encourage, value differences, and build us up.

Ally's story hit close to home for me.  I have a daughter who struggles with her own vision issues, reading, and, to some extent, bullies.  She isn't dyslexic, but has a form of oculomotor dysfunction that makes tracking and focusing difficult, and which led to daily headaches when she was younger. Thankfully, we were able to identify her problem and begin a special vision therapy which helped strengthen her ability to track and focus. Right now we are working on re-building her confidence and self-esteem. Suffice it to say, this book is right up her alley and I will be reading it with her.

Fish in  Tree is relatable, well-written, unbelievably encouraging, and offers an interesting perspective that deserves to be acknowledged.  It was a moving personal read, but I also think it would be an ideal choice to read aloud, especially because reading it aloud might help it reach the ears of those who might need to hear it most -- kids like Ally (and my daughter) who might not pick up the book on their own.

As usual, with books I truly adore, I want to close this review by sharing a few of my favorite quotes from the book:
  • I'm only different to the people who see with the wrong eyes
  • [Albert] holds up his milk carton. "Suppose I say this is orange juice.  Doesn't change what it is inside."  "That's different," I say, thinking that the milk will feel like it's orange juice if it's told that enough. 
  • People act like the words "slow reader" tell them everything that's inside.  Like I'm a can of soup and they can just read the list of ingredients and know everything about me.  There's lots of stuff about the soup inside that they can't put on the label, like how it smells and tastes and makes you feel warm when you eat it.  There's got to be more to me than just a kid who can't read well. 
  • I think of words.  The power they have.  How they can be waved around like a wand -- sometimes for good, like how Mr. Daniels uses them.  How he makes kids like me and Oliver feel better about ourselves.  And how words can also be used for bad.  To hurt. My grandpa used to say to be careful with eggs and words, because neither can ever be fixed.
  • I guess maybe "I'm having trouble" is not the same as "I can't."
If you haven't already put Fish in a Tree on hold, on order, or on your 'wish list' I'm not sure how else to convince you.  It's great.  Get to it.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Verbal and physical bullying.  Sad, but not graphic.

Monday, September 14, 2020

If These Wings Could Fly - Kyrie McCauley

Summary: Tens of thousands of crows invading Auburn, Pennsylvania, is a problem for everyone in town except seventeen-year-old Leighton Barnes. For Leighton, it's no stranger than her house, which inexplicably repairs itself every time her father loses his temper and breaks things.

Leighton doesn't have time for the crows--it's her senior year, and acceptance to her dream college is finally within reach. But grabbing that lifeline means abandoning her sisters, a choice she's not ready to face.

With her father's rage worsening and the town in chaos over the crows, Leighton allows herself a chance at happiness with Liam, her charming classmate, even though falling in love feels like a revolutionary act.

Balancing school, dating, and survival under the shadow of sixty thousand feathered wings starts to feel almost comfortable, but Leighton knows that this fragile equilibrium can only last so long before it shatters.
 (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I really enjoy that non-adult books (by which I don’t mean children’s books because this is pretty much a new adult or at the least a YA Fic book) can call things how they are. There is something refreshing about just being able to read about a topic instead of having to beat around the bush. Such was the case with this book. It pulls no punches and isn’t afraid to address issues that I think are important for people of all ages to understand.

Straight up, this book is about domestic abuse. There is a teen romance story (which is sweet and cute and you can’t help but hope that the surly girl who is unknowingly beautiful and smart and the perfect and hot football boy—with a hint of nerdiness--end up together, for realz), and there is plenty of highschoolness going on, but I’m telling you right now, there is a pervading and distinct current of fear underlying everything. Right from the start you can feel the fear, and I felt like it took over the family’s life in a way that felt rightfully frightening and stifling. McCauley does an excellent job of bringing the reader into the Barnes’ family and guides us through the underlying causes of the abuse as well as the back story that is so familiar and yet has taken a decidedly frightening turn down the wrong path. There is a lot of abuse in this book, and although most of it is not physical, it is really scary and feels very real. McCauley has bravely created a world where I hope teens who may be in an abusive situation will see themselves from the outside, and be able to find help. I think this is important for teens who are not in abusive situations to read about this as well, because if they have a friend who is experiencing abuse, this may be the only way to help them understand what is going on. Even if a teen does not have a friend who is experiencing abuse, I think it is important that teens recognize signs of abuse so that they can avoid it in future relationships, as well as seek help if they see these behaviors in themselves. Sometimes reading about something is so much more helpful than having someone tell you.

I’m really hoping this book helps someone, because it is powerful. I also think it is important for people to read about tough situations in order to learn and cultivate empathy. It is infinitely easier to understand, help, and love someone when you have more empathy, and one of the greatest ways empathy is created is by reading.

I loved the magical realism in this book. It was just the right amount of magic and happenstance to really create an interesting environment. The chaos of crows was an exceptionally interesting way to convey the darkness and the turmoil, and the self-healing house was a great metaphor for a community and a family that hides abuse. There is one other magical realism character that I also enjoyed, but I don’t want to spoil it. The crows and the self-healing house are in the summary, so I felt like I could write about those without giving more away. However, I assure you that there is more to learn from the crows and the house as well, and McCauley does a great job of addressing this without feeling like she’s talking down to the readers.

I found this to be a very powerful book, and I read it in a day and a half. As a parent, I would want to read it first so that my teen and I could have some discussions, and also to be aware of the scary situations that it creates. McCauley does a great job of putting the reader RIGHTTHERE and it is terrifying.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language in this book, there are some teens that fool around but never have sex, but this book is scary with its domestic violence. I can see that this level of violence and fear could be a trigger for some readers.

Friday, September 11, 2020

We Remember...

Because some days just aren't about books.



 “If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, 

we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.”

—Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, in 2002

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Bipolar Bear (A Resource to Talk About Mental Health) - Victoria M. Remmel

At Reading for Sanity, we understand the importance of honoring different voices and experiences, especially those that are frequently marginalized or stigmatized.  In that vein, we have decided to dedicate more of our upcoming reviews to books and authors that offer perspectives on disabilities and disorders.  We'd also like to direct you to our new label (Disability / Disorder), located in the right sidebar, where you can find more books like this one.   

Summary: Sometimes Bipolar Bear finds himself at the bright North Pole or the dreary South Pole.  Using tools he finds either on his own or with the help of his family, he's able to make his way back to his home.  Cut out the sunglasses and the flashlight in the back and get involved, and if you flip through the pages quickly, you just may find a small surprise.  (Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com - This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:   Polar Bear and his family live in the very center of the world but sometimes he wanders to the far off reaches of the planet.  Sometimes Polar Bear visits the North Pole and dances dizzily in the hot, bright sun.  Other times, he meanders down to the South Pole where he naps in the big, heavy darkness.  When it all gets to be too much, Polar Bear uses sunglasses to help dull the blinding, bright sun of the North Pole and a flashlight to bring light to the dreary darkness of the South Pole.  Sometimes he can find these tools on his own and make his way home and other times he needs his family's help.  One thing is certain, no matter where in the world Polar Bear may roam, he always returns home to his loving family.

I am beyond thrilled that this book exists. Explaining a complicated concept like bipolar disorder to a child can be quite challenging, but Bipolar Bear sets parents up for success and provides a wonderful jumping-off point for deeper conversations.  Not only is it easy-to-understand, imaginative, and beautifully illustrated in soothing watercolor, its potential to help increase understanding and empathy about mental health issues is immeasurable.

Along with some helpful web resources, there are a few more illustrations at the end of the book that show animal parent/child duos, with the parent either wearing sunglasses or carrying a flashlight.   The final pages of the book also contain a pair of paper sunglasses and a flashlight that can be cut out and are meant to represent treatment in all its forms.   There are more instructions that go along with these 'tools' but, ultimately, they are  meant to give children a voice when they feel helpless.

Now, can we talk for a sec about the absolute brilliance of the title Bipolar Bear and its play on words?!  I am going to spell it out for you, just in case you missed it.  Polar bear spends time at both the north and south pole, making him him a bi - polar bear.  Literally.  One assumes he is also bipolar.  So that makes him a bipolar BI-POLAR polar bear.  It's just so clever and while I'm not sure if kids will catch the nuance, I sure appreciated it. 

Long story short -- The world needs more books like this one.  It addresses a specific need in our culture and helps combat the stigma surrounding mental disorders.  I would recommend it to anyone who needs help explaining bipolar disorder to an itty-bitty loved one.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: All clear.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Look! Dr. Goodview - Enric Jardí

Summary: Come with me and you'll see some surprising things.  From images that trick you and elements that disappear to invisible colors and even impossible objects, Dr. Goodview investigates a series of optical illusions to put your vision and your brain to the test.  A ton of visual effects that will wow you! (Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com - This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review)

My Review:  When Look! landed in my mailbox, my first thought was: Oooooh, pretty!  It's a hardback edition with a sturdy, minimalist cover and thick, shiny pages.  I was busy making dinner, so my children snatched it before I had much of a chance to look at it, but I could hear them oohing and ahing from the other room until dinner time.

Look! begins with a little introduction that lets young readers know what to expect -- 'games' that will get them thinking and the likelihood of a few surprises.  It also directs readers to the pocket at the back of the book that contains a few tools that will be needed for three of the activities.  What follows is a series of fascinating optical illusions (around twenty, give or take) and paradoxes that really bend the brain and encourage the reader to look at things in a new way.  The optical illusions come with very little text, except to draw the readers attention to what is happening and point out that the reader's brain is being tricked.  A slightly more in-depth explanation is given in the final pages of the book.



Remember those Magic Eye optical illusions from 1990s -- the pictures you had to stare at and then relax your gaze eyes just so before a hidden image would pop out at you.  Those were my jam and probably the root of my interest in optical illusions. While the illusions in Look! weren't the same as those of my childhood, I still got that same inexpressible sense of wide-eyed wonder while exploring this book.  My favorite optical illusion from the book shows four cubes lined up on a background that is light grey on one side and slowly becomes darker.  While the blocks appear as if they are all different shades of grey, Look! encourages the reader to use an additional cube (from the pocket in the back) and compare it with the cubes on the page.  Sure enough, they are all the same shade!  It's pretty trippy.  My 10-year-old's favorite illusion was a page that held a black dot and a rainbow.  If you stared at the dot for a minute and then looked at another page that held only a dot, you could still see the rainbow.  My 8-year-old daughter loved all the illusions but her favorite part of the book was a paradox (as seen below).  I still can't tell you the answer, but she loved mulling it over.


Look! was a big hit with my kiddos, which is really all that it needs to be to make this mama happy, but since this is a review I feel compelled to give a few small criticisms that will probably only matter to grown-up book freaks like me.  Although the cover is visually appealing, putting a primarily white cover on a book made for children is akin to installing white carpet in a kitchen.  My pristine copy didn't stay smudge-free for long.  Do my kids care?  Not even a little.  Also, the storage pocket at the back of the book was a tight-fitting envelope style and, if you aren't blessed with patience (or a patient child), the tools or pocket could potentially get damaged.  Finally, while my children didn't seem to need an explanation about how each illusions was tricking their adorable little brains, I wasn't satisfied with the explanation at the end.  It's entirely possible that the explanation given was the simplest way to explain optical illusions to a particular age level and that going into greater detail would have just been confusing -- but a woman wants what she wants and I wanted to know a little bit more.



Overall, I think that Look! is a captivating way to engage young minds and a great introduction to the concept of optical illusions.  I would recommend it for anyone who loves optical illusions or simply wants to keep their kiddos engaged elsewhere while they make dinner.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  No worries in the sex/violence/language department.  However, I wouldn't recommend reading it all in one sitting if you are prone to optical migraines.  Take breaks.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Feast Your Eyes - Myla Goldberg

Summary: The first novel in nearly a decade from Myla Goldberg, the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of Bee Season—a compelling and wholly original story about a female photographer grappling with ambition and motherhooda balancing act familiar to women of every generation.

Feast Your Eyes, framed as the catalogue notes from a photography show at the Museum of Modern Art, tells the life story of Lillian Preston: “America’s Worst Mother, America’s Bravest Mother, America’s Worst Photographer, or America’s Greatest Photographer, depending on who was talking.” After discovering photography as a teenager through her high school’s photo club, Lillian rejects her parents’ expectations of college and marriage and moves to New York City in 1955. When a small gallery exhibits partially nude photographs of Lillian and her daughter Samantha, Lillian is arrested, thrust into the national spotlight, and targeted with an obscenity charge. Mother and daughter’s sudden notoriety changes the course of both of their lives and especially Lillian’s career as she continues a life-long quest for artistic legitimacy and recognition.

Narrated by Samantha, Feast Your Eyes reads as a collection of Samantha’s memories, interviews with Lillian’s friends and lovers, and excerpts from Lillian’s journals and letters—a collage of stories and impressions, together amounting to an astounding portrait of a mother and an artist dedicated, above all, to a vision of beauty, truth, and authenticity. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Are you one of those people who goes to an art gallery and reads every single thing? You know how there’s those little signs below each picture with their description, and then if all the work is from one artist they’ll have pictures and stories and history…this book is like that. Like one very large and extensive gallery of a photographer’s works. I have to say I didn’t hate it. Although I want to be one of those people who reads every single thing in a room like that, I’m usually not. There are exceptions, but overall I was a little worried when I started reading this book that I would be turned off by this kind of writing. It turns out I found it refreshing and well-organized (you know I love a well-organized story).

So here’s how the book is divided—there are chapters that are large, and they are devoted to a time period in the photographer’s life. Within those chapters are the title and description of the photos, with the daughter being the narrator and main storyteller. There are interspersed journal entries from the photographer, and letters from friends. Overall, I was surprised how quickly it kept the story moving. I was worried that I would never know what was going on, which is something I think nobody likes (although sometimes a very confusing book will come along and again I’m convinced that maybe some people really do like being confused). Goldberg is a masterful storyteller. She obviously had a great command of what she was doing. I think a lesser experienced and less talented author would have gotten lost. There was just so much going on. The title of the picture with the description went a long way to describe what the photographer’s style was, what she was like as a person, and what the story is. I am fascinated by the idea that although there is not actually one photo in the entire book, I feel like I have a good grasp of what the photos would look like, and indeed I feel like I’ve been to this gallery. Seriously, it’s very impressive. This is not just a story told in simple story form. Goldberg has a masterful ability to help you wrap your head around all the things going on and still keep her readers engaged and following. Kudos to Goldberg for being the kind of author who not only pulled this off, but made it work in a most spectacular fashion.

As one would expect from an author who was able to tackle this sort of writing, the story was also very complex. Lillian Preston is a very complicated person and she is living in a very complicated time in history. She starts out with her photography in the fifties, which is obviously not a time well-known for women being able to launch a career. The story ends in the late seventies where obviously things have changed, but there is still a lot of turmoil and it is still not conventional for a single mother to be a professional artist. At the root of it, although this is a story of a photographer, it is really the story of a woman who is navigating the choices she has (and possibly doesn’t have) in regards to her body and having children, her workspace, being able to do what she loves and feels driven to, and carving a place for herself in society. Although things were very different back then, these choices are ones that women are still facing today, and I found it to be a very interesting discussion on many women’s issues with the backdrop of a very interesting story.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and discussion of sex, abortion, same-gender relationships, and debilitating disease. I didn’t find it to be seriously offensive, but it is not clean.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Freeform Friday: A Bill Peet Trio

I recently found and fell in love with all things Bill Peet.  Here are my thoughts on a few of his books, specifically: How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head, Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent, and Chester the Wordly Pig.

Summary: Droofus the kindly dragon has a price on his head, but the small boy who befriends him refuses to sell him to the king.  (Summary and Image from Goodreads.com)

My Review:  I feel like I've been living under some kind of reading rock.  I can't believe I made it to 40-years-old before hearing about Bill Peet.  My children found this book during the summer on the porch of one of our city's school librarians. She had a huge shelf set up on her porch for kids to take and bring back whatever they wanted.  My kids left with a giant stack of interesting books, but this one was the hands-down favorite.  

How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head is the adorable tale of a young dragon who gets separate from his family.  He settles down in a forest cave and can't quite bring himself to eat the animals, so he begins to eat the grass instead. Overtime, Droofus grows into quite the big dragon and his flights draws the attention of the king, who wants to capture him and mount his head on the wall.  

Now, lest you worry that I'm reading a book about dragon decapitation to my kiddos, I'm going to spoil things for you.  Do not worry. No one gets beheaded.  

Many try to find the dragon for the king, but none are successful until he is caught in a terrible storm and crash lands, battered and broken, in a farmer's field.  The farmer's young son (who previously had a little run-in with Droofus) recognizes the dragon's gentle nature and cares for him.  Soon Droofus is feeling better and repaying their kindness by helping with the farm work.  Eventually, word reaches the king and he pays the farmer's a visit, intending to buy the dragon, lop his head off, and mount it on his wall.  The family refuses to sell the beloved dragon, so the king comes up with an creative idea that ends well for everyone.  Overall, the story highlighted kindness as it' main message and that is a message we all need.  

Aside from the charming story, I absolutely loved Bill Peet's illustrations (see example below).  He definitely has a recognizable style and the book would not be the same without them.  Droofus the dragon is delightfully emotive and the accompanying artwork is filled with colorful scenery, tiny animals, people, and other little details to examine.  I think the book is leveled for readers age 4-7, but my 8-year old loved it and it was thoroughly engaging for even this adult reader. I'd recommend it to anyone, but especially those who are looking for an engaging bedtime story with a subtle moral message. 

How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head by Bill Peet

If you'd like a preview, or to see the word count and illustrations for yourself you can check out a read-aloud video here.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: No worries. No one loses their head.

__________________________________________________

134098Summary:  A shark accuses Cyrus of cowardice because he won't sink any ships. The kindly sea serpent almost succumbs to peer pressure, but learns at last to be himself.  (Summary and Image from Goodreads.com)

My Review:  Cyrus the sea serpent was getting a little bored wandering around the ocean.  He wanted some excitement  -- some adventure -- in his life! At a shark's suggestion, Cyrus thinks about wrecking some ships but when he gets a look at the Primrose's passengers he can't go through with it.  He follows at a distance and soon realizes the ship is in trouble.  When the ship is stuck in doldrums, Cyrus puffs wind into the sails at night, and when the ship begins to founder in a storm, Cyrus takes a deep breath and buoys it up with his own body.  He is unsinkable!  And so the story continues, as Cyrus saves the Primrose passengers from pirates and tows their crippled ship to safety, before slinking off to a deserted island for a well-deserved nap.

This story is just too cute.  I loved that Cyrus couldn't bring himself to smash ships and eat the passengers, and instead, was worried about them once he heard about the dangers they would face on their journey.  He was also aware how his appearance might scare them and so kept his distance while ensuring they would make it safely back to dry land.  Like DroofusCyrus comes with its own subtle moral message about standing up to peer pressure and helping those in need.  Additionally, Bill Peet's illustrations are simply masterful -- colorful, imaginative, and utterly captivating.  Even as a full-grown adult, I could look at them for days.  I've been reading a lot of Bill Peet these days, and this is one of my favorites.

My Rating:  4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  All clear.

__________________________________________________

890174Summary:  Chester longs to be a performer in the circus, but the road to stardom is rocky until someone discovers Chester's true "wordliness."  (Summary and Image from Goodreads.com)

My Review: Chester the pig knows he is made for more than a life on the farm where he is destined for the dinner plate. When a circus poster appears on the barn wall, Chester gets a brilliant idea.  He will learn to balance on his nose!  Surely that will get him noticed.  Climbing the farm fence and balancing on one's snout is not as easy as you might think, but Chester perseveres and eventually manages to do it!  However when the circus train passes by the farm, no one even notices the balancing pig, so Chester decides he'll have to follow them and sets off down the tracks.  He has no idea the adventure that awaits him! Once Chester catches up, the pig performs his balancing act on a tent stake and is invited to join the circus.  At first, Chester enjoys being a part of the show, but when he is thrown into a cage with five terrifying tigers, dressed like a baby, and crammed into a clown's carriage, he decides its time to give the circus the slip. The pig bides his time and jumps from the circus train only to come face to face with a savage bear and three pork-hungry hobos who stuff him into a sack. Eventually, Chester manages to get away and wanders into a big city and then out into the farmlands where finds his home with a farmer (who is more than willing to fatten up a free pig).  As the years go by, Chester grows in size and is about to be slaughtered when a passing carnival van is his salvation.  You see, there is something incredibly special about Chester that will guarantee his place in the spotlight for years to come (and I'm not going to spoil it for you)!

Chester the Worldly Pig is a sweet story about a pig with big dreams that don't quite work out the way he planned.  It also carries a subtle message about developing talents and overcoming obstacles.  
As always, Peet's illustrations are visually stunning, plentiful, and bound to fascinate readers of any age.   Even though my youngest is eight, I have several more of his books headed my way right now.  I just can't get enough Bill Peet.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Chester does almost get eaten a few times....

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails