I knew I was going to love No Way, They Were Gay? when I first got the inside scoop about it during author Lee Wind’s book launch earlier this year. But I’d like to add that while I’m sharing my review during Pride Month, it should not by any means be read just in June.
Wind’s excellent young adult nonfiction book is clearly a labor of love and a book that will launch myriad meaningful conversations as it has done in my home. Top on the discussion list is how the history we learn is created by those in power. Wind reminds us that, as educated and questioning readers, we have to always carefully consider any historical information presented, its sources, along with motivations and biases. Were certain details related to certain historical figures’ gender identity, romantic and/or love interests withheld from public accounts to protect a person’s image or reputation such as that of English poet and playwright William Shakespeare, President Abraham Lincoln, India’s independence proponent, Mahatma Gandhi, or First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt? Were there other reasons influencing the decision to downplay, edit, or hide these and others’ true stories? This book delves deep and wide into the “why” and makes us rethink our knowledge of the people Wind has selected.
The exhaustive research collected and carefully conveyed in this book speaks volumes to Wind’s commitment to speaking truth to power while reaffirming respect for and the importance of the individuals included. Would Shakespeare’s sonnets be any less powerful and passionate if they were dedicated to a man? No. Does Gandhi’s relationship with another man mean he was any less of a leader? No. Does Roosevelt’s enduring relationship with Lorena Hickock detract from her contributions to society during an especially trying period in our history? No? So why then do the facts about who these people loved remain disputed or concealed? Wind presents his take with compelling proof and winning arguments, and then asks teens what they think.
No Way, They Were Gay? is divided up into three parts: “Men Who Loved Men,” “Women Who Loved Women,” and “People Who Lived Outside Gender Boundaries.” There’s an excellent and comprehensive Introduction, a Conclusion as well as an Author’s Note, Source Notes, Recommended Resources, and an Index. What I appreciated the most about the intro was that Wind included explanations about gender identity, the acronym LGBTQ and LGBTQIA2+, and labeling in a way that makes them easily understood. The book’s design, featuring fact bubbles, news clippings, images, photographs, and letters, adds to the ease of reading. Throughout the book, primary sources are presented in bold, another great idea. Additionally, there’s a suggestion at the end to read the book chronologically for those who prefer this approach. (See page 251)
Wind’s book is a great jumping-off point for further reading (which he provides) because after finishing each part readers may find themselves asking more questions. In fact, I love that Wind encourages them to. Speaking of further exploration, do not miss a visit to his website which is another helpful resource for tweens and teens. Though the suggested age range by the publisher is ages 12 and up, many 10- and 11-year-olds will welcome the information. I came away from my read of No Way, They Were Gay? both grateful that a thoughtful light has been shed on the lives of so many notable people in the LGBTQIA2+ community throughout history, and happy that Wind has written an indispensable book on queer history that will be embraced for years to come.
★Starred Reviews –Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Kirkus
Paul Fleischman’s Alphamaniacs: Builders of 26 Wonders of the Wordis a witty YA book about people who have done crazy things with words. Organized like an ABC book, each chapter features something unique. Words can be art such as the poet Mary Ellen Solt who worked closely with typesetters to produce visual poems shaped like flowers.
At opposing ends of the “size-matters” spectrum were David Bryce and Robert Shields. Bryce, a micromaniac, produced the smallest full miniature Bible, 876 pages but only 1 13/16 by 1 ¼ inches, bound in gilt-edged leather. Whereas the diarist Shields typed the longest known diary in human history, describing his day in five-minute increments and waking every two hours at night to continue recording.
My favorite funnyman in this group of twenty-six amazing stories is Dan Nussbaum who used the letters and numbers on California’s vanity license plates to retell stories from Genesis to Shakespeare. Nussbaum’s shorthand of Romeo and Juliet: “GESSWAT! BE4 HEE SPLIT, ROMEO KISTME! HESSOQT! BYGTME! ISWEAR!
In the 1960s, David Wallace launched a new field called stylometry wherein computers applied statistical analysis to literary style to prove (or disprove) authorship. Ludwik Zamenhof created Esperanto, a universal language, in hopes of uniting the world linguistically. While Jessie Little Doe Baird brought back Wôpanâôt8âôk, the dead language of her people the Wampanoag. After a gap of seven generations, her daughter became its first native speaker!
Throughout, Melissa Sweet’s bold full-color illustrations add another level of enjoyment to the text. An ideal book to read a chapter at a time, marveling at our wonderful words and the people who’ve made magic with them.
Click hereto find out more about Paul Fleischman. Click here to find out more about Melissa Sweet.
BUNK 9’S GUIDE TO GROWING UP: Secrets, Tips, and Expert Advice on the Good, the Bad and the Awkward Written by Adah Nuchi Illustrated by Meg Hunt Vetted by Dr. Meryl Newman-Cedar (Workman Publishing; $12.95, Ages 8-12)
★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
Bunk 9 at Camp Silver Moon is traditionally a bunk for 12-year-old girls who experience their first kiss or get an unexpected visit from their first period. But this summer the Silver Moon Sisterhood, 16-year-old C.I.T.s (Counselors in Training) take over their former bunk and are reminded of what it was like to be twelve. Bunk 9’sGuide To Growing Up written by Adah Nuchi and illustrated by Meg Hunt, with medical supervision from Dr. Meryl Newman-Cedar, takes an innovative approach to answering age-old questions about puberty.
“While there are a whole lot of changes that happen on the road to womanhood, they’re all leading somewhere completely wonderful. (And once you get the hang of them, tampons aren’t scary at all),” inspiring the teens’ idea for a book because the Sisterhood says, WE’RE HERE TO HELP.
The girls of Bunk 9, I mean young women, leave behind “the book” that contains magical and non-magical secrets, tips and expert advice for girls on the good, the bad, and the awkward, for the next groups of girls the following summers. Each girl has her own unique personality from Brianna the social butterfly, Emma L. the science wiz and Makayla the expert bra shopper.
The composition style book begins remembering Week One when the C.I.T.s were a mere twelve. It was the fourth Summer the girls would spend together, and they were anxious to meet each other as they were dropped off. But when Abby runs to meet Brianna she discovers that her old friend towers above her. Abby looked like a stick figure. As they unpacked their belongings, Emma R. displayed a stick of deodorant, while Emma L. had a little razor. As the reader turns page after page, she learns about the very beginning of puberty through a drawing of a real-life girl whose body changes as her hair starts to grow in new places and her hips begin to widen.
Hunt brings the reader into the story with colorful comic book art depicting the first time caring for your hair entirely on your own; saying no to zebras and getting white marks on your shirt (or how to put on a shirt without getting deodorant on it) with drawings of a zebra and a girl struggling to put her shirt on over her head. The drawings allow the reader to see pictures of women’s breasts and men’s unclothed bodies without feeling embarrassed seeing real life photographs.
Each C.I.T. journals her own tips. Abby tells the reader what it’s like to be a late bloomer and we learn about the disastrous results of Grace stuffing her bra. With sticker art of cacti, butterflies and rainbows you would place on a school book, the reader encounters real-life stories that all tween and teen girls will eventually experience. The reader learns about pads and tampons; cramping remedies; and various diets and feelings.
One of my favorite chapters is Week Six where the 16-year-olds discuss health. The reader learns that “staying healthy is about more than eating right; it’s also about getting regular exercise.” And as we encounter Jenna and Grace not getting along, we see that young bodies aren’t the only thing that changes during puberty― feelings and emotions change too. Explained in a way that all preteen girls can relate to, these not so easy topics are discussed in a manner that allows the parent to teach these necessary topics while the girls see that they may have differences but they should never allow them to tear them apart. Girls will walk away feeling like they, too, are part of the Silver Moon Sisterhood.
ALL ABOUT US: Our Dreams, Our World, Our Friendship Written by Ellen Bailey Illustrated by Nellie Ryan (Andrews McMeel Publishing; $12.99, Ages 8-12)
There’s nothing better than sharing your most precious thoughts, feelings, and dreams with your best friends. Writer Ellen Bailey with illustrator Nellie Ryan, have created a wide variety of games, quizzes and questionnaires to play along with your BFF to find new ways to discover why your friendship is so special in All About Us, a companion book to All About Me.
Ryan’s illustrations welcome the reader to two diverse teenage girls surrounded by water colored painted red, pink and blue hearts who are happily asking and answering questions on knowing me and knowing you; special memories of when they met; and what does the future hold for them.
Friends are asked to individually make a playlist of their top ten tunes marking Hit or Miss on the side, letting the BFF choose if your songs are a hit or miss, and the BFF gladly does the same for your list. Daydreaming about your future children wouldn’t be fun without listing your top boy and girl names, and seeing if your pal and you will both have daughters named Emma!
With hours of questions displayed on lavender and white pages to keep best buds occupied, tween readers can complete the questions page by page or skip around to find what interests them. From drawing silly sketches of your friend to choosing their top movie choices for movie night, the reader creates a lasting record of their friendship. Ryan allows plenty of space to complete quizzes and fill-in sections. Knowing that girls will find a page that fits the mood and moment, each page ends with date, time and place and completed by which is a great way for friends to remember the day with fondness.
Bailey gives preteens a chance to walk away from the computer screen and spend time together learning things they never knew about their BFF, while rediscovering new details of what they already know. This is a great book to bond girls together and use their imaginations by exploring their artistic and writing skills.
PROJECT YOU: More Than 50 Ways to Calm Down, De-Stress and Feel Great Written by Aubre Andrus with Karen Bluth, PhD Illustrated by Veronica Collignon (Switch Press/Capstone; $14.95; Ages 14 and up)
★Starred Review – VOYA
Growing up is hard and learning to feel good about yourself under everyday stressors is something everyone needs tools for to lead a happy, healthy life as broken down by children’s book author Aubre Andrus with Karen Bluth, PhD in her latest bookProject You, with a mix of photos, and illustrations by Veronica Collignon.
Andrus breaks down 50 ways to simplify life for the young adult reader, acquainting them with concepts of mindfulness, breathing, healthy eating and finding balance. Chapters such as the physical practice of yoga, demonstrates photographic poses for relaxation and stretching. Photos of young girls journaling in foreign cities and then a drawing of a girl holding a gratitude journal gives a wide assortment of visuals to reach various moods. The reader is given ideas on ways to de-stress with recommendations for happy music from the ’60s to present to change your mood, and finding a new hobby such as photography or learning a new tune on the guitar.
“The more you stay in the present moment, the more you’ll let go of stressing about things that may happen in the future or things you might regret about the past. This is why a lot of research has shown that people who practice mindfulness are less depressed, less anxious, and less stressed.”
This book lists activities, exercises, crafts and recipes that can help all ages transform their mindset and their emotions. Mindfulness tips are displayed throughout the book, such as in the chapter “Find A Furry Friend”, Andrus says, “Whether it’s your pet or an animal in a petting zoo or park, take time to just observe the animal. If you notice that your mind starts to drift as you are watching, gently bring your attention back to that animal.” As I read through the book, I skipped chapters then returned to them later; checked out the songs she suggests to uplift my mood and put ingredients on my shopping list for her smoothie recipe.
Adults can read the book and make suggestions to their teens, or teens can read and create their own gratitude journal. “The Wellness Check” was a great way to review what may need improvement and how you can make these changes. The last chapter “How To Ask For Help” gives the reader resources she can turn to whether it’s a doctor, social worker or school counselor she knows asking for help makes you stronger, not weaker. It’s a great book to keep on the bookshelf and return to when you need that extra support.
The wonderful thing about nonfiction biographies is that, when done well, they will take us on a journey full of facts, stories, and struggles that will not only enlighten us but also keep us glued to the page, even when we know the outcome. The following books we’ve selected to share for Women’s History Month are excellent examples of recent biographies about extraordinary, trailblazing women whose legacies are enduring and whose contributions remain invaluable serving as powerful role models for generations to come. Find out more about Hedy Lamarr, Susan B. Anthony and Ada Byron Lovelace below.
Wallmark’s chosen a fascinating woman to profile in her illuminating picture book biography of Hedy Lamarr. The Hollywood legend was more than dazzlingly beautiful actress, she was a secret inventor whose “greatest invention was the technology known as frequency-hopping spread spectrum” which has played a crucial role in keeping “our cell phone messages private” and keeping our computers hack-free. Although she knew she was more than just her looks, Lamarr chose to hide this talent from public and didn’t sell her inventions.
Born in Austria in 1920 (100 years after Susan B. Anthony), Hedy was a curious child who, when other kids would likely be out playing, was pre-occupied with how things worked. Her father encouraged her interest in science and technology which no doubt had a positive impact on the young girl. She also had a love of cinema and pretending so it was no surprise she gravitated towards a career in the movies. “I acted all the time … I was a little living copybook. I wrote people down on me.” Eventually doors opened for Hedy when a famous film producer offered her a seven-year film contract. She left her homeland for the bright lights of Hollywood, had her name changed to Hedy Lamarr from Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler and went on to star in films with some of the industry’s most popular leading men including Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable.
With her wondering mind at work all the time, even after a day of filming, Lamarr always was thinking about a way to improve on things already in existence or to create something new. That was especially true during WWII. So when she met composer George Antheil, a former weapons inspector, she learned from him that the U.S. Navy, like the European ones, had trouble with the enemy jamming their weapons’ radio signals. Hedy wondered if there was a way to counter this. With the piano as the impetus for a new idea, Hedy thought there might be a way to change frequencies like playing the same keys on a piano in different octaves, and by doing so build a secure torpedo guidance system. And so, after a lot of hard work, they did. Together with Antheil they shared their invention and were told it was “red-hot” but it still needed more work to operate effectively. While the pair eventually received their patent, the Navy “refused to develop” this ground-breaking technology and even classified it as secret so no one else could use the idea. Ultimately they never earned a penny from this breakthrough.
Undeterred by her thwarted efforts to help her adopted homeland, Hedy found success by getting behind the war bond effort, selling millions. Lamarr also took time to meet with servicemen at the Hollywood Canteen and pitched in any way she could. She retired From the movie business in the late 50s and only in the last twenty years has been earning the recognition long overdue. Wu’s artwork is just the right amount of subject and space, and pulls us into every illustration, my favorite being the one where Lamarr and Antheil first meet at a dinner party. Her simple depictions of Lamarr’s big green eyes, sculpted nose and brown hair are terrific. Wallmark’s added a “Timeline” and “Secrets of the Secret Communications System” in the back matter for young readers to learn more about “jam-proofing” technology. I love how even the endpapers are filled with artwork and details about Lamarr. Plus readers will find a “Selected Bibliography,” “Additional Reading About Other Women in Stem” and a list of “Hedy Lamarr’s Films.” Award-winning author Wallmark’s also written picture book biographies about Ada Byron Lovelace and Grace Hopper. Add Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life to the list of must-read biographies.
Prepare to be impressed by the tireless commitment and inroads Susan B. Anthony made for women’s suffrage as detailed by Teri Kanefield in Susan B. Anthony: The Making of America, book #4 in this inspiring series in which each volume “tells the story of an American leader who helped shaped the United States” that we know today. My review copy is so dog-eared to mark the countless passages I wanted to return to. What Kanefield successfully does from the Prologue forward is thoughtfully convey the most important aspects of Anthony’s life so kids will see the evolution of her beliefs beginning with her Quaker upbringing, her teaching years and all the way through to her time lecturing across America as an abolitionist and women’s rights activist.
What comes across to the reader is that Anthony, born in 1820, prior to the Victorian era, from an early age held strong convictions that everyone should be treated as equals. At that time in our country’s history women were supposed to raise families and keep their noses out of politics and practically everything else unless it concerned homemaking. They were only allowed to work in a limited amount of jobs: teacher, seamstress or nanny. They were prohibited from owning property and, in the case of estrangement in a marriage, the man gained custody of the children. In fact, it was not uncommon for a man to have his wife committed to an insane asylum if he wanted out of the marriage.
The immoral slave trade was the most divisive issue, even among Quakers at that time. To Anthony, people of color as well as women were not second class citizens, destined to remain subservient to white men. This was considered a radical idea in the early 19th century and she did not have an easy path as she tried, along with her friend and fellow activist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to bring about change and a new amendment to the Constitution giving women the vote. Frederick Douglass was a friend with whom she worked to help first abolish slavery and then gain constitutional protection for free slaves. However, before slavery was abolished and even after, prominent politicians and leaders cautioned her to put her agenda for women’s rights on hold. This was unacceptable. Anthony, along with her friend and staunchest ally, Stanton, challenged the notion that women had to forgo their wants and needs and remained determined “to ride roughshod over obstacles, ignore critics, and take help wherever they could get it.” The support of Anthony’s large family was a constant throughout her life and I wonder how she’d have managed without them during the numerous times she was broke or in debt. Her intelligence and quick wit made her the ideal person to speak on behalf of the suffrage movement but it’s worth noting that she also gravitated towards defending anyone whose rights were being abused.
This well-researched biography is filled with maps, photos, flyers, posters and advertisements that help paint a picture of American society during Anthony’s life. Even something like a lady’s corset could be symbolic of the self-imposed restrictions 19th century women placed upon themselves due to societal norms that a woman should have an hourglass figure. “Girls as young as seven were laced into overly tight corsets.” Also included are Notes, a Time Line, Selected Writings of Susan B. Anthony, a Bibliography, Acknowledgments and an Index.
By the time she died at age 86, four states allowed women to vote but it wasn’t until President Woodrow Wilson and the start of WWI that an amendment to give women the vote would gain traction, ultimately becoming the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, also called the Susan B. Anthony amendment, in 1920, fourteen years after her death. Kanefield’s invaluable biography paints a portrait of an American hero whose convictions changed the course of American history
I told everyone about Ada Byron Lovelace after finishing Dreaming in Code. I had heard her name in regards to code but it ended there. I knew nothing of the back story that led to this brilliant woman’s presaging today’s computer era almost two centuries ago!
Ada Byron Lovelace was born in England at the end of 1815, just five years before Susan B. Anthony. Augusta Ada Byron, was the daughter of the celebrated poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, and his “prim, religious” wife, Anne Isabella Noel, called Annabella, a woman of wealth and intelligence. The couple did not remain together due to his philandering and squandering of money among other things so Ada, as she became known, was raised by a single mother. Annabella was a self-centered hypochondriac yet quite philanthropic at the same time and left it to nannies, governesses and tutors to raise her child while she spent time away visiting her newly inherited holdings and helping the coal miners under her employ. McCully engagingly details how Ada flourished from her education although she remained removed from society until her mother deemed it necessary to find her a husband.
Around this time Ada met Charles Babbage, “famous inventor, philosopher (as scientists were then called) and mathematician” who held Isaac Newton’s chair at Cambridge University. Theirs was to be a long and intense, though completely platonic, relationship as they discussed big ideas since both were passionate about math and science. Their friendship provided Ada with the outlet she needed for stimulation. However things grew complicated when she married William, Lord King who became the Earl of Lovelace and soon became a mother. Though not as cold as her own mother, Ada, too, found it difficult to parent when her loyalties lay elsewhere. These chapters were some of the most fascinating ones yet sad at the same time. She often felt ill and, as was common in the early 19th century, was prescribed Laudanum, a tincture of opium viewed as a cure-all. That addiction had to have contributed to her early death at age 37.
As Countess of Lovelace, Ada mixed with a cross-section of society and attended talks on science given by brilliant minds of the era such as Michael Faraday. Ada also wanted to help Babbage and his Analytical Engine and at the same time make her own mark in the science and math fields. Here’s where her genius shone through. While Babbage saw his invention as “arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical,” Ada believed the machine could do more than compute … “that numbers were symbols and could represent other concepts, is what makes Babbage’s engine a prototype-computer.” Sadly, Lovelace lived in era when women were overshadowed by men and women’s freedoms were limited. We can only begin to imagine what miraculous achievements she’d have made had she only lived longer.
With the very readable Dreaming in Code highlighting her meticulous research, McCully has shed light on Ada Byron Lovelace, an important historical figure whose contributions to the field of STEM are finally getting the recognition they deserve. I recommend this young adult nonfiction book for anyone seeking to get a better understanding of the era in which Lovelace lived and how she was inspired to think outside the box.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Read about the friendship of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass here. Read another book, Dare The Wind, illustrated Emily Arnold McCully here.
HEY, KIDDO BY JARRETT J. KROSOCZKA (Scholastic; $14.99, Ages 12-18)
A REVIEW & BRIEF INTERVIEW COURTESY OF HILARY TABER
“It must be hard to write a graphic novel about one’s own childhood,” I thought to myself as I opened the book Hey, Kiddo. I remembered meeting the author, Jarrett Krosocszka, years ago in California. He was a bright, sweet man with an open demeanor and ready smile. He reminded me so much of my own brother. I had put that memory right next to his Lunch Lady books in my mind, and they sat on the shelf of memory happily together, side by side. I remember hearing about his forthcoming book, Hey Kiddo, and I knew both the writing about a troubled youth and the reading about it would be a challenge.
As it turns out, Jarrett has written so beautifully about that time that I could not be prouder of him if he had been my own family. Jarrett’s mother, Leslie, suffered from a heroine addiction. She was in and out of jail, and in and out of Jarrett’s young life. He never knew who his father was until he was older. His amazing and often exasperating grandparents stepped in as true parents. This book feels close to home in my heart because it’s about family. It’s Jarrett’s grandparents that I wanted to hug for all the sweet things they did for him. And at times I wanted to sit them down for a good talk! Still, how wonderful they were to him. Wonderful because they loved him deeply and it showed. For all that they smoked, drank, and quarreled all the while they loved Jarrett with a heart and a hat.
Hey, Kiddo sometimes reads as though Jarrett has written it from the perspective of a loving investigator of his own childhood. The author includes small and intimate touches like an image of the actual wallpaper pattern from his grandparent’s home. As we read we step into his childhood world. Also included are photographs of the family along with letters from his mother, Leslie, originating from her time in prison. There are drawings by Leslie just for Jarrett. It’s those letters that show how much she loved him and missed him. I read the book in one sitting, and when I put it down, I thought of Jarrett’s grandparents, Joe and Shirl. I thought that for all that Jarrett had been through, Joe and Shirl were always there for him. Actually, they still are in the way that love can never pass from us completely when it is given with such readiness and generosity. That kind of love death cannot touch. So, now on that same shelf of memory I have about Jarrett are his endearing personality, his ready smile, the Lunch Lady books, a difficult childhood and right beside that childhood is a place for Joe, Shirl, and their Love for him. That was, and is, a love with a capital “l” for sure.
Hey, Kiddo was a finalist for the National Book Award and is a highly recommended graphic novel for teens and grownups.
HT:This is perhaps less of a question and more of an opportunity to tell us why author/illustrator visits to schools are so important. Clearly, a school visit from an illustrator changed your life. What would you say to a debut author or illustrator about what that school visit meant to you?
JJK: Yes, I vividly remember being a third-grader and sitting on the creaky, wooden floor of my school’s auditorium and listening to Jack Gantos talk about writing. While he said, “Nice cat,” to me that day, I have since had so many opportunities to say, “Nice Lunch Lady,” to many young artists. When I was in college, working towards a BFA in Illustration, none of my professors taught me about school visits. From a business perspective, it is a great way to promote your book, but it runs so much deeper than that. To newly published authors I would say:
Work on an engaging presentation to keep the students’ attention.
Enjoy the quiet moments where you can connect on a more one-on-one with the students.
Make sure you bring hand sanitizer. There’s always that one kid whose finger is up their nose throughout the entire presentation. That kid is going to want a high five. Just sayin’…
HT:I think what I learned from reading your book, and reading in general, is that when we feel alone in a painful situation we seldom are. I think this book will resonate with so many readers. Thank you for it. It’s beautiful. To a kiddo who identifies with you while reading your book, who struggles with a parent who suffers from addiction, what would you tell them?
JJK: For those readers, I left a little something for you in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. I hope that you take solace in those words.
Writing transparently is cathartic but self-care is paramount—so write within your comfort zone but push yourself when you are ready.
GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER: The True Story of The Emmett Till Case Written by Chris Crowe (Speak/Dial BYR; $10.99, Ages 12 and up)
Author Chris Crowe first wrote Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of The Emmett Till Case, a riveting and award-winning nonfiction book, back in 2003. Today I’m reviewing a revised edition that “has been updated to reflect the newest information about Emmett’s life and untimely death …” which should be read by every teen to understand the Jim Crow era South and “the hate crime that helped spark the civil rights movement.”
In the L.A. Times on Friday, July 13, I read that the Emmett Till case has once again been reopened based upon new information that has come to the attention of authorities. I needed to know more. Over the years I only learned snippets about the case because, like a majority of students to this day, I was never taught the Till case in school. Now that I’ve read Crowe’s engaging, well-crafted and meticulously researched book, I know about the grave miscarriage of justice that occurred in Mississippi in 1955. In an intro, eight chapters, a detailed time line plus back matter, Crowe examines events leading up to the brazen and brutal murder of 14-year-old African American, Emmett Till, the subsequent trial and later developments that culminated in the exhumation of Till’s body. Crowe’s also tied in the Black Lives Matter movement that grew out of the senseless Trayvon Martin killing. For those yet to read Getting Away With Murder, Crowe puts all the events that take place into historical context by educating us about current events of the time period. For example, the heinous, racist crime against Till took place three months prior to Rosa Parks’ historic bus activism and was an important catalyst in the civil rights movement. Covering the case should be part of every school’s curriculum especially given that innocent black lives continue to be taken 63 years on.
Emmett Till and his mother lived in Chicago, but when his Uncle Mose Wright, a sharecropper from the Mississippi Delta region, invited him for a visit, he jumped at the opportunity to spend time with his family. It was the summer following eighth grade and fun-loving Emmett was feeling good. His mother, on the other hand, felt nervous. Mrs. Mamie Till Bradley knew that, while she and her son lived in a segregated Chicago neighborhood, theirs was a relatively racial violence free existence. Emmett didn’t have to deal with the harsh realities and repercussions of the Deep South Jim Crow era laws. But Mamie was from Mississippi. She worried Emmett wouldn’t take the law or her advice seriously and sadly she mother was right. He found her cautions silly.
Once with his southern family, Emmett was boastful about his life in Chicago, about how he interacted with and claimed to date white women. Not long after his arrival, in the nearby town of Money, Till was egged on by his cousins. He went into Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market, a small white-owned store belonging to Roy and Carolyn, to chat up the woman. Bryant was out of town on a delivery and his wife was alone in the store. Things turned bad quickly when Emmett, who didn’t “appreciate the seriousness of this Southern taboo …” entered Bryan’t market, asked for some candy and then made a pass at Carolyn. According to her statement, “… when she held out her hand for his money, … he grabbed it, pulled her toward him, and said, ‘How about a date, baby?'” Some other interaction occurred as well. This was followed by a wolf whistle after Emmett had been pulled from the store by his friends.
When nothing happened for several nights everyone thought Emmett was in the clear. As we know, such was not the case. When Bryant returned from his trip, he and his half-brother, J. W. “Big” Milam, kidnappped Emmett in the middle of the night. The men felt retaliation was required to defend Bryant’s wife’s honor and teach the boy a lesson so they tortured him. When he was defiant, they killed him. One of five lawyers, J. J. Breland, who eventually took on the defendant’s case said they all felt intense pressure to “let the North know that we are not going to put up with Northern negroes ‘stepping over the line.'” As the title implies, the men were acquitted. While in their minds justice prevailed, it clearly had not. The case won national coverage due to multiple reasons, but one of the most crucial ones was Mamie Till Bradley’s decision to have an open casket at Emmett’s funeral so the world could see just what had been done to her son.
Getting Away With Murder explains how much of what happened that summer was driven by racism, fear and anger. Bryant and his fellow Southerners were unhappy about the recent Brown v. Board of Education decision mandating desegregation in schools. The majority of the population in the segregated South did not want their way of life to change, especially if dictated by Northerners. But it was truly the beginning of the end for them.
There were many surprises in the book for me but I don’t want to share them all here. While their significance is of the utmost importance, I think they have to be read first hand to appreciate the implications and feel the outrage. What’s sad about this pivotal event in our country’s history is that while a lot has changed, a lot has unfortunately remained the same in regards to racism. Last night I described the Emmett Till case to my husband who had never heard of it. My 17-year-old son had. My son said he found out more details from me than what he had originally learned. My husband thanked me. We must keep sharing the story. I recommend picking up a copy of Chris Crowe’s book for your teens. They will thank you .
MARY’S MONSTER: LOVE, MADNESS, AND HOW MARY SHELLEY CREATED FRANKENSTEIN Written and illustrated by Lita Judge (Roaring Brook Press; $21.99, Ages 15-18)
★Starred Review- School Library Journal
I find it fitting that on this night there is a dark storm blowing outside my window. I can almost imagine that I am writing this review of Mary’s Monsterby candle light in the mid 1800s. But I’m not. I’m sitting here at my computer preparing to describe to you a story that has haunted me since I first saw the cover of this gripping YA graphic biography about renowned English novelist, Mary Shelley.
Author/illustrator Lita Judge has woven an impossibly romantic and tragic story. From the chilling prologue, written by the monster himself, to the fascinating back matter, this is an extraordinary account of the life of Mary Shelley, creator of the literary classic, Frankenstein. Judge’s writing is lyrical and yet full of history and meaning. To know that the story is based on historical documents, such as Mary Shelley’s writings, makes it all the more fascinating. The sparse and poetic text, combined with the beautifully haunting black and white artwork, invites the teen reader to think deeply and become immersed in Shelley’s world.
The reader is subtlely but thoroughly introduced to the social and political influences that shaped Mary Shelley’s beliefs and choices. Lita Judge masterfully unfolds the events of Shelley’s life, from the abuse and loss she suffered in childhood, to her forbidden love affair with a married man, to the madness of opium addiction, to her experiences as a woman in an oppressive society. In all of this, Judge shows us Shelley’s inspiration. Mary Shelley’s monster took shape as an expression of herself. Not just of her creative mind, but also of her struggles, her nightmares, her fears for the future, and her desire to heal her pain.
I applaud Lita Judge for her thoroughness and her gift of storytelling. In what is the 200th anniversary year of Frankenstein’s first publication, Judge’s timely and relevant book belongs alongside Shelley’s Gothic horror tale as an ideal companion guide to understanding her monster and her world, as well as ours.
As Judge writes at the end of Mary’s story, “We can affect the lives of generations to come if we are brave enough to open the wings of our imagination and create!”
THE CRUELTY by Scott Bergstrom (Feiwel & Friends; $18.99, Ages 14 and up)
Initially, seventeen-year-old Gwendolyn Bloom’s worst things in life include being bullied by rich girls at her “diplobrats” school and aching from the tenth anniversary of her mother’s brutal death. Gwendolyn’s worldview is soon upended when her father’s kidnapping propels her to action.
With the help of friends (including a blossoming first love), Gwendolyn escapes to Paris in pursuit of her first lead. She discovers that cruelty has no borders as she travels through the underbellies of France, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Surviving in the shadows using intrigue and deception, Gwendolyn perseveres.
The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom is a fast-paced read; with each chapter, Gwendolyn grows more deeply involved in gambling, arms smuggling, and human trafficking. She sacrifices everything in the hope of freeing her father—then finds bigger causes to fight for.
While this modern-day spy book exemplifies female strength and independence, the life of this spy is rarely glamorous. The title tells all: cruelty rules. Opting for activism means becoming tougher and craftier than her enemies. Gwendolyn learns there’s no going back from these irreversible choices.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month so we are sharing an important book to bring the message home. Breaking Free is a well-written compilation of three stories about three very different women from very different places with the same traumatic experience. Writer and performer Abby Sher actually tells each woman’s tale in beautifully detailed descriptive narrative that compelled me to read on.
Sher clearly has the best of intentions for relaying these stories and I am grateful. In Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Modern Slavery, we learn about how these women kept hope alive even in the darkest of times, when they were sold for sex even as children, one by her own parents. When they were children, these women were treated like property and their innocence was stolen from them, yet they were able to survive and persevere. This is not just a story of human trafficking, but a story of identity, tragedy, and redemption. Ultimately, these girls found freedom in education in one way or another, and they gained the most freedom by learning to speak out loud about their experiences and share their stories. But they do not share their stories for fame or recognition. They share in order to both set the record straight about what human trafficking is, and to help other victims cope with their ordeals. Now these women spend their lives supporting this cause so that trafficking ends forever.
Heroes come in many forms. While they may only see themselves as humans, these survivors are, in fact, heroes. I found I couldn’t put the book down. Even though their stories were horrifying, they were fascinating and thought provoking as well. I even felt I owed it to these women to listen to them, as they had finally found a voice. I also wanted to read on to know they had found freedom, safety, and the love they deserved, that any of us deserve. Human trafficking is an oxymoron, because victims are hardly treated like humans. It’s a crime against humanity, and this book pays homage to the women who survived it and have become tireless advocates as they try to make a difference for others not as fortunate.
Please read an important note from the author here.
“I wondered if I would die and how I would die. I hoped to be quiet and brave.” – Nurse Maude “Denny” Williams as U.S. Troops surrendered to the Japanese (p. 67).
Pure Grit is the gripping story about the 101 U. S. Army and Navy nurses taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II. Farrell demonstrates that while women’s military service has been basically ignored by historians, their contributions have been enormous. These unsung heroes faced the same dangers of war that the male soldiers did, while caring for the wounded and comforting the dying.
In the early 1940s, the U.S military assignments in the Philippines were pretty routine and included a swinging night life. That quickly changed following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. Nurses, inexperienced with treating battlefield wounds, rose to the occasion and assisted huge numbers of wounded and dying soldiers under grueling and frightening conditions. Malnutrition, due to severe rationing, and unsanitary conditions became very serious issues. One nurse wrote:
“This morning I sat down to “breakfast” which consisted of a tablespoon of cold beef hash on a dirty plate (no water for washing dishes) … and nothing more available until 6pm …” (p. 65).
The American and Filipino troops surrendered to the Japanese on May 6, 1942. Although some of the 101 nurses were safely evacuated, 77 were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Despite horrific conditions and declining health, the nurses cared for each other and civilian prisoners incarcerated with them. By October, 1944, Farrell notes the prisoners at St. Tomas Internment camp were down to six ounces of food per day.
After their February, 1945 liberation, the nurses faced other obstacles. When the nurses sought compensation for medical conditions resulting from their internment, the Veterans Administration often refused or limited much needed health care. When some official recognition for their sacrifice finally came it was too late for many. Farrell notes that a lot of the nurses whose stories she included in this book were already dead by the early 1980s. Thanks to Farrell’s meticulous research and compelling narrative based on first person accounts, the nurses’ stories now have a chance to be heard.
This nonfiction book includes an excellent page layout with fairly wide margins and spacing, abundant period photographs, illustrations, and other primary source documents, making the dynamic text easier to read. End materials include a glossary, timeline, list of nurses, an extensive bibliography which references many first person accounts including the Oral History Program of the Army Nurse Corps.
Visit Farrell’s web site to see a book trailer, read an excerpt, and download a teacher’s guide with project ideas that relate this book to Common Core Standards. A highly recommended read.
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia
by Candace Fleming is reviewed today by Ronna Mandel.
⭐︎Starred Reviews in Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and The Horn Book
I spent several evenings during my recent vacation immersed in the late 1800s and early 1900s thanks to the riveting writing of Candace Fleming. Her latest historical nonfiction young adult novel reminded me of why I devour these types of books. I may know the ending, but it’s getting there that’s the best part, and essentially every chapter of The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia( Schwartz & Wade, $18.99, Ages 12 and up) is the best part!
How many teens know the fascinating story behind the last Russian royal family – the real story, not the glamorized version of films and legend? While I’ve traveled to Russia a handful of times, I clearly was not aware of all the details and all the players Fleming wrote about. I felt certain that The Family Romanov would fill in all the gaps and enlighten me so I couldn’t wait to head off on holiday for some quality reading time. I just didn’t realize how conflicted my feelings would be about this fateful period in world history and have been thinking about the book and its characters ever since.
Reminiscent of an Erik Larson novel with its intertwining plot lines, in-depth character exploration and deft mixing of current events and first hand accounts, The Family Romanov takes readers on a journey through history that eventually leads to the rise of Lenin, the disastrous Romanov downfall and the Russian Revolution.
Nicholas II, Imperial Russia’s last tsar, we learn, was not only unprepared to take the throne in 1894 following his father’s death, but he was uninterested in the role as well. That alone explains his pathetic attempt at running of his country. In fact, Fleming takes us further back to “a frosty March day in 1881 …,” for it was on that day that thirteen-year-old Nicholas’s grandfather, Tsar Alexander II, was killed by a bomb that “landed between his feet,” laying the groundwork for events that would ultimately change the course of the 20th century geopolitical world. The deceased liberal tsar was replaced by Nicholas’s father, Alexander III, whose harsh autocracy would reign for 13 years only to be succeeded by the ill-equipped son for whom he held contempt.
We are also introduced to a young Alexandra, granddaughter to Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Once married to Nicholas, the Empress Alexandra bears him four daughters (including Anastasia) and a hemophiliac son and heir to the throne, Alexei. She also encourages her husband to retreat from public life and begins depending more and more on a charlatan named Rasputin whose alleged healing powers help keep Alexei alive. This mystic manages to wield much influence on the Romanovs and, despite the scandal that their dependence on Rasputin brings, they naively allow him to dictate many political decisions that further alienate the family from the Russian people.
Add WWI and immeasurable loss of life to this scenario of two immensely wealthy and privileged “Imperial Majesties” who are in total denial as to the deplorable lives the vast majority of their citizens lead, and you have the classic makings of a truth is stranger than fiction story guaranteed to keep your eyes glued to the page. Get ready for a gripping novel that warrants more than one read and a place on every bookshelf.
An homage to Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas, The Night Before College(Grosset & Dunlap, $9.99, Ages 17 and up) by Sonya Sones and Ava Tramer makes an ideal graduation gift, so pick up several copies at your local independent bookshop and who knows, you may even get a hand-written thank you note or phone call instead of a text or email! Please scroll down for details about our grad giveaway.
You know the Moore version, but did you know that … ?
‘Twas the night before college, and from East Coast to West, all the soon-to-be freshman could simply not rest.
Parents, do you remember the drama of your child writing essays, all the waiting for email word of admissions, all your discussions with everyone from your Facebook friends to your family doctor? This rollicking rhyming tale will take readers through all the humor, stress and anticipation the academic world throws out at students. From Junior year junkets to colleges across the country to SAT exam prep, from the dreaded college interview to dreaming of dorm rooms, it’s all there for parents to relive and grads to kiss good-bye. For families fortunate enough to have their children finish high school and go on to college, The Night Before College is an up-beat celebration of the school years starting with a swift ode to preschool and elementary school.
By nine, they’d discovered some new Mayan ruins. By twelve, they’d been courted to play for the Bruins.
Max Dalton’s cartoon-like artwork invites some careful viewing. My favorite illustration was of the college fair with table cloths of the various schools labeled “This State College,” “That State College” and “Yet Another School.” I honestly couldn’t stop grinning as Sones and Tramer hit all the highlights of pre-college life I first experienced courtesy of my daughter three years ago. I sure hope they’ll think about penning a sequel, The Night Before Real Life, for college grads! – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
We’re giving away one copy of The Night Before College to one lucky winner. Enter now by completing private form below. The giveaway ends at midnight PST on Tuesday, May 27th. One winner will be selected using Random.org and notified on Wednesday, May 28th via email. Good luck!
1) Use private entry form below.
2) Be sure to include your name and address in the COMMENTS box.
3) LIKE us on Facebook and/or Twitter and let us know you did. LIKING us twice gives you an extra entry!
Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler, (Little, Brown and Company, $17.99, YA), is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.
Writing an engaging memoir is tricky business, and writing one about a personal faith-based journey even trickier. Aaron Hartzler manages to convey his coming-of-age story with an earnest, often funny and sometimes heartbreaking memoir, Rapture Practice. In it, he grapples with trying to be the young adult that his parents desire him to be while coming to terms with who he really is and living the life that he wants – no easy feat and especially so as he is raised in a strict Christian household. Seemingly innocent everyday activities such as listening to pop music, watching movies and hanging out with friends become causes for lying, hiding and rebelling. Whether he’s performing a taboo song at the school vocal ensemble, sneaking into forbidden movies such as Pretty Woman or secretly forging a friendship with an individual whose parents are divorced, Aaron earnestly tries to balance his desire to please his parents and to experience adolescence as he chooses. Ultimately, however, he knows that he cannot have one without imposing consequences on the other, and that is the heart of this book. Rapture Practice is a moving story and an important one for adolescents struggling with identity and parental expectations.
Here at Good Reads with Ronna we only review books we have read cover to cover and love. I’m thrilled to share Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America ($19.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 12 and up) because it just happens to be one of those books, and I just could not put it down. I had to read every single word, and I can see myself reading this book again one day.
This hard cover book is the diary of Joan Wehlen Morrison, beginning in the pre WWII year of 1937, when she was 14 years old, through the spring of 1943 when she was 20. Joan was a witty and insightful teenager from Chicago who wrote her thoughts, dreams and experiences in her journal on a regular basis. Following her death in 2010, her children discovered her written treasures, and her daughter, Susan Morrison, set out to get them published. Home Front Girl is the glorious result of those efforts.
It was fate that I was asked to review this book because not only was I born in Chicago where Joan lived, but my family has a long history with The University of Chicago, where Joan attended school. My grandfather received his degree from UC in the 1920s, my uncle (my father’s brother) was a well known professor of Economics at UC, my cousins – his daughters – attended the Lab School where Joan went, and my brother received his MBA there in the early 1990s. And although I have lived in Miami most of my life, I am very familiar with all the Chicago places Joan writes about in her diary.
Nothing can match the raw honesty of a teenager’s diary, especially when that teenager is highly intelligent, insightful, sensitive and hopelessly optimistic. I suppose all who write in a journal write for themselves not really contemplating who will read it after they are gone, and that is what makes them so honest and real.
“By the way, I’m a genius. I found out my I.Q. rating accidentally yesterday. It’s 141. And the biology book said people with I.Q.s of 140 or more are ‘usually considered geniuses.’ Only 1 percent get that.”
Throughout the diary, readers can step inside Joan’s thoughts and read of her experiences, from the every day to the extraordinary – her latest crushes, her talents as a top student, her friendships, a tuberculosis scare, how she is always hungry and how she is perpetually late for nearly everything. Most importantly, Joan is sensitive to the pre-war atmosphere and writes with great wisdom about what is happening globally as well as what she dreads with the impending doom of America going to war looming in the air. Her WWII comments are really quite perceptive and educational.
Joan’s academic abilities led to a prestigious scholarship to attend The University of Chicago’s Junior College for her last two years of high school. Later she got her college degree in Anthropology there. Considering the time period in which her writing takes place, when women in academics were the minority, her accomplishments were quite impressive. I love that some of her actual diary pages and doodles are included in the book and footnotes are used to help the reader understand details about Joan’s entries.
What I enjoyed most about the diary is Joan’s intellectual insight about what is most important in life. In a passage about a friend’s father who passed away suddenly she writes:
“Vera’s father is dead. Gee, I came home and Mom told me. I used to play cards with him and tell jokes and I saw him last Sunday and he is dead . . . and the Spanish War is over and the Chinese War is going on and 8,000 people died in the Chile earthquake and people all over the world are eating their suppers and doing their homework (as I shall) and laughing and reading and moving about in lighted rooms and a man I know is dead.”
Other than a whole lot of wisdom about the WII era, what young readers will take away from this book is that teenagers from more than 70 years ago were not much different in most ways than teenagers of today – minus technology of course. The fact that Joan did not have a typewriter or computer to write her diary is perhaps the very reason her written thoughts were preserved as well as discovered by her children. Computers fail over time, CD roms are almost obsolete, but pen and paper endure.
I highly ecommend this book for any young readers, particularly girls, who wish to broaden their horizons and make friends with an American girl from decades ago who was honest and real. I now feel as though I know Joan Wehlen Morrison personally, and I only wish she had written more journal entries about her life so I could read more.
I commend Susan Morrison and her brothers for sharing their mother’s private words with the world. Oh how I wish my mother or grandmothers had left me with a treasure of a diary such as this!