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Pride Month Book Review – No Way, They Were Gay?

NO WAY, THEY WERE GAY?:

Hidden Lives and Secret Loves

by Lee Wind

(Zest Books; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

No Way They Were Gay book cover

 

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.

 

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Interior design and image from No Way, They Were Gay? by Lee Wind, Zest Books ©2021.

 

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.

 

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Interior design and photograph from No Way, They Were Gay? by Lee Wind, Zest Books ©2021.

 

 

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.

 

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Picture Book Review – The Tempest

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE THE TEMPEST

Retold by Georghia Ellinas

Illustrated by Jane Ray

(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 6-9)

 

The Tempest retold cover

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

 

Introducing classics such as William Shakespeare’s The Tempest to young kids seems both important and, well, hard. Let’s face it, adults sometimes need a synopsis when seeing one of his plays. However, this lovely picture book by Georghia Ellinas successfully conveys the heart of the story without overwhelming young kids. Told from Ariel’s viewpoint, the book opens with the irresistible line, “Can you do magic?” The androgynous Ariel goes on to explain that they are a spirit of the air and made of magic—how awesome is that?!

 

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THE TEMPEST. Text copyright © 2019 by the Shakespeare Globe Trust. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Jane Ray. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

Boosted by Jane Ray’s lovely watercolor images, this retelling comes to life. We feel for Ariel when they are imprisoned in a tree and crying out for help. The scene with Miranda and Caliban delights me the most. Monstrous Caliban’s moping darkness is offset by Miranda as a young girl, brightly dressed and playing in a tree.

 

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THE TEMPEST. Text copyright © 2019 by the Shakespeare Globe Trust. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Jane Ray. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

Though full of lively images and fantasy, The Tempest’s key message remains “forgiveness is greater than revenge,” an important reminder for an audience this age who may struggle with conflict resolution. I’m happy to see Candlewick is continuing with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, another favorite, out in April 2021 by this same talented writer and illustrator duo. Available for pre-order now.

 

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Famous Phonies: Legends, Fakes, and Frauds Who Changed History by Brianna DuMont

Famous Phonies: Legends, Fakes, and Frauds Who Changed History by Brianna DuMont
(Sky Pony Press, $14.95, Ages 10 – 14)

Famous-Phonies-cvr.jpgIt’s time for some historical horizon broadening courtesy of Famous Phonies, a new nonfiction book from Brianna DuMont that will not only enlighten young readers, but will make them eager for the next book in The Changed History series. Kids will enjoy this middle grade book written in a quirky, playful tone. “It’s especially aimed at reluctant readers, but it engages the parents too. (Always a bonus!),” says DuMont and she’s spot on! And don’t you just love that cover?!

Read the review then enter our Rafflecopter giveaway below for a chance to win one copy of the book.

Review:
Meet a dozen individuals whose legends are often larger than life: Confucius, George Washington, Pythagoras, Hiawatha, Gilgamesh, Major William Martin, William Shakespeare, Pope Joan, Homer, Prester John, Huangdi, and The Turk. Some you’ve heard of and others may initially produce a hunch of the shoulders. Either way, after reading Famous Phonies, you’ll know them all, learn how easily the facts of their lives got blown out of proportion and have a greater appreciation for the weeding out history buffs like DuMont do so that readers can see the whole picture. Plus it doesn’t hurt that she’s honed in on some fascinating details and shares them in a tongue in cheek way that middle graders will adore. The interesting factoids included for each personage also add to this book’s  appeal.

For example, how many disciples did Confucius really have – was it three thousand or seventy-two? And all this before social media! What facts were bent after his death and what were legit? Was he really over nine feet tall? I found out that Confucius’s father died a couple of years after his birth, and his wives (neither one Confucius’s birth mother) kicked him and his teen-aged birth mother out of the house. He traveled around seeking recognition, but it turns out, he wasn’t always the nicest or sharpest knife in the drawer. In fact, as a result of “his nasty personality, the actual Confucius had very little influence over others during his lifetime. But that just wouldn’t do for his followers, so they decided to jazz things up after Confucius’s death.”

And George Washington, who cannot tell a lie, actually lied through his removable teeth all the time. Here’s an excellent example: “When calling upon the Continental Congress to boycott all imported goods from Britain prior to the Revolutionary War, he was secretly ordering carriages, fancy clothing, guns, and Wedgewood pottery from London for his own personal use.” It’s not that DuMont was deliberately digging only for dirt, although she does have a degree in Archaeology, it’s just that finding out the truth is easy if you look for it. It’s also fascinating.

Being a huge Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond) fan, I’d have to say my favorite chapter was the one about Major William Martin. It seems that prior to penning his novels, Fleming worked for an Admiral concocting plans to trick the enemy, aka the Axis powers during WWII. To move the direction of the war from losing to winning, Britain and America knew they had to secure the island of Sicily because, “The Axis Powers used Sicily as a base for German Luftwaffe bombers to launch surprise attacks on the rest of Mediterranean Sea, destroying anything that flew or floated past.” However, the Allies couldn’t let the enemy know that this was their ultimate goal hence the need for a major deception or in this case “disinformation,” putting out false info to fool the Axis powers. This particular ploy, #28 to be precise, was originally devised by Fleming with his boss, as part of the secret list known as the “Trout Memo.” It would be implemented by a British spy named Ewen Montague and “use a dead body as a fake spy in order to plant false information in the mind of the enemy.” Brilliant, right? Ah, but it was a lot more difficult and complicated than it sounds involving a frozen corpse, fake documents and a backstory for said dead body (Major William Martin) that would not alert the Germans to the plot. Success could mean the tides of the war might turn in favor of the Allies. I won’t give it away, but suffice it to say that DuMont’s got all the elements of a gripping spy movie here that are guaranteed to pull your child into the intrigue and excitement that grabbed me.

Okay, so you know I thought Famous Phonies was a fabulous, fun read, but I think parents, teachers and librarians will like it, too. That’s in addition to your kids, of course! Nowadays lots of students do their research online. They think Wikipedia is the be all end all, but here’s a chance to get kids engrossed with historical figures and let them see that there are multiple sources for their fact finding missions. They can read the book in one sitting, or return to it on multiple occasions absorbing one chapter at a time. DuMont’s done a wonderful job of selecting subjects whose stories are interesting, and presenting them in a middle grade friendly manner sure to entertain even the biggest history-phobe. And that’s the truth!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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