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broodings from the burrow

March 6, 2016

into the stacks: february 2016, part 1
posted by soe 2:54 am

I read nine books last month, so in the interest of getting through them all, I’m going to divide them into two posts. Tonight, I’ll give you the first four:

Honest Engine: Poems, by Kyle Dargan

Poetry is the one type of book that I’m regularly tempted to buy even if I know nothing about the book or the author. If the blurb or cover are appealing, I’ll pick it up, and if I like a poem in it, there’s every chance it’ll come home with me. Poetry, being more immediate than prose, has a way of bypassing all that getting-to-know-you crap that prose needs to engage in and beelines to your soul. It’s like it skips the small talk and jumps straight to either sucker punching you in the gut or stroking your hair (in a totally not creepy kind of way). So, when, last summer, I was browsing the new releases table at Politics and Prose, and I came across a cleverly designed cover and a blurb that suggested the poems inside would examine “the mechanics of the heart and mind as they are weathered by loss,” I was hooked, still recovering, as I was, from my grandmother’s death.

I’ve already recommended this accessible collection from a D.C. resident once before, and I’ll underscore that again now. Dargan’s poetry runs the gamut from the State of the Union to sleep deprivation to a dozen or so poems about loved ones gone from this earth, with a surprising amount of science fiction fandom thrown in for good measure.

Published: 2015.
Pages: 96.

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia

The Garcia sisters — 11-year-old Delphine, 9-year-old Vonetta, and 7-year-old Fern — have traveled from Brooklyn to Oakland to visit their mother who left them when Fern was a baby. Set in 1968, the story focuses on the girls striving to navigate the unknown waters of life with a woman who rejected them and of an unknown city, where the Black Panthers, who run the recreation center where the girls spend their days, are gaining power and recognition. Just as they discover that the Black Panthers are more complicated than White TV and their Southern grandmother has led them to believe, so, too, do they find that their mother, a poet, and her reasons for leaving are equally complex. The girls may never get to the beach or to Disneyland, but they will definitely feel like they’ve seen a lot by the time they head back home.

The third book in the Garcia girls’ story just won an award this winter, which reminded me that I hadn’t yet read the first novel, also a prize-winner. Destined to be a classic, this middle-grade novel is an enjoyable read about a girl whose world is going to change over the course of one summer, but just maybe not in the ways she’s expecting it to. Combine that solid story with the book’s parallels to our modern day at a time when police violence toward Black citizens across the nation is regularly making headlines and when protests against that violence feel the need to echo the plea and refrain that Black Lives Matter, and you have an important book for us to read, particularly with our kids. The distance afforded by the fifty years between its setting and today allow a safe lens for exploring some of the roots of the movement while simultaneously underscoring why it’s frustrating that so many of these conversations (and the events that prompt them) still happen today.

Published: 2012.
Pages: 218. Library copy.

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie

I don’t review every picture book I read, but if I read them at home for myself (as opposed to reading them in the bookstore with an eye toward gifting them to small children), I count them. I requested this non-fiction book from the library without realizing it was a picture book, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. Nelson tells the story of her great-uncle, who opened a Black-centric bookstore in Harlem in the 1930s, from the perspective of his son who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. Lewis loved the sense of community the store brought to the neighborhood, the vehicle it provided residents for protesting injustices, and the celebrities, such as Muhammed Ali and Malcolm X, who visited the shop. Christie’s illustrations help bring the store and the period of time to life.

While this is a picture book, I would not recommend it for youngest readers, because the climax of the story focuses on the day Malcolm X is killed, at an event Lewis’ dad is attending and will be upsetting to particularly small kids. It is a great way, though, to share a piece of history with older elementary and middle school readers in an accessible way that may inspire them to further investigation into the topic and which will certainly help them appreciate the power of the written word.

Published: 2015.
Pages: 32. Library copy.

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, by Laurie Ann Thompson, with illustrations by Sean Qualls

I requested this picture book with Rudi in mind, because bicycles. But after he’d finished it, I couldn’t help but read it myself before returning it to the library. Yeboah was born disabled in Ghana, where disabilities are considered a curse and where the disabled are expected to become beggars. His mother and his grandmother, though, don’t just see a bad leg, but a curious and bright child. They make sure he goes to school and instill in him a sense of industry and ambition, which lead him to playing soccer with his schoolmates and, eventually, to learning to ride a bike. Later, in 2001, as an adult, he will ride 400 miles across Ghana to raise awareness of what disabled people are capable of, if only people will give them a chance to show it. He used that fame to raise funds to further that cause and to build schools across his country.

This nonfiction picture book is appropriate for even the youngest readers and offers lots of opportunity for discussions about disability, poverty, and international differences.

Published: 2015.
Pages: 40. Library copy.

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