“Stepsister” by Jennifer Donnelly

There are fractured fairytales and there are shattered fairy tales, such as “Stepsister” (Scholastic 2019) by Jennifer Donnelly. This is Cinderella told by the elder ugly stepsister Isabelle. Both Isabelle and her sister Octavia were cruel to Ella. But we all know that (Cinder) Ella won out and got the prince in the end. Our story begins just before that outcome.

The Prince comes around with the glass slipper and the stepsisters’ social climbing mother insists that Isabelle cut off her toes so that she might fit into the shoe. It works for a few moments, until the blood pours out of the slipper and her ruse is discovered.

Donnelly writes, “Mama wielded shame like an assassin wields a dagger . . .How many times had [Isabelle] cut away parts of herself at her mother’s demand? The part that laughed too loudly. That rode too fast and jumped too high. The part that wished for a second helping.” Isabelle’s sister Tavi also fails the shoes test and Cinderella’s fate is sealed. She rides off with the Prince.

It’s not easy to write an unsympathetic protagonist but in Donnelly’s hands we eventually love Isabelle and eventually we understand her younger sister Octavia (or Tavi) who had the historically unappreciated traits of being scholarly and outspoken. What is appreciated in past centuries and continues today is beauty. (Cinder) Ella has beauty.

Isabelle is athletic, bold, and her forthright declarations are considered rude—all traits not valued in girls of yore. Even today, this girl can have issues. But we’ve come a long way in our culture. So from our present American culture we can value Isabelle’s traits. She was a tomboy who, with the groom’s son, Felix, played pirates and fought play-battles and actually rode a moody stallion named Nero. Isabelle wanted to be admired. When she wasn’t, jealousy took hold. “Envy’s fine, sharp teeth sank deep into Isabelle’s heart.”

Isabelle says, “Sometimes it’s easier to say that you hate what you can’t have rather than admit how badly you want it.” She claims to hate Ella. Further along in the story she realizes it’s herself that she hates—and that is what she must overcome.

Fate, characterized as a crone, has cast Isabelle’s lot. But Chance, characterized as the handsome Marquis, wagers that he can change Isabelle’s future. Isabelle would be a pawn in their game of chess except for the presence of Tanaquill (Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother) who is not all goodness and shimmer, but shape shifts into a fox, making her quite fascinating. She tells Isabelle to find the lost pieces of her heart. And Donnelly, a master of similes says about the fairy, “Tanaquill snarled like a fox who’d lost a nice fat squirrel.”

Isabelle has lost Felix and Nero, in her mother’s efforts to smooth out her rough edges—to make her the girl Maman wanted. As you know will happen, Isabelle shows that a mean girl can atone, but it requires love—starting with self-love. And in order to have that, she must follow her dream.

 

 

Patricia Hruby Powell is teaches writing at Parkland Community education and is the author of the award winning Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue among others         talesforallages.com

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“A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919” by Claire Hartfield


Rarely does nonfiction win big awards in young readers’ literature. But nonfiction “A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2018) by Claire Hartfield, is the worthy Coretta Scott King 2019 literature winner.

Hartfield starts her story at a Lake Michigan beach where a black boy is murdered during the extreme summer heat of 1919—right at the color line, between segregated beaches, where the “white” beach meets the “black” beach. She then regresses to the history, starting in the late nineteenth century, and takes us through the years up to the Chicago Race Riot of 1919.

We hear about African American journalist Ida B. Wells, who witnessed the lynching of her godchild’s father, by a white mob. Wells says this sort of lynching was “an excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property.” This “tide of hate” changed her life. She and her husband were among the class of black people known as “the Refined.” They were educated, wealthy and property owners.

The next stratum of black society was known as “the Respectables”—people who were making ends meet. While the Respectables struggled to pay rent, the Refined were mapping out plans to make the heart of the black residential area a vibrant place to live.

During the Great Migration of the early 1900s—black people were moving to northern cities trying to escape extreme racism of the Deep South. The black Chicago newspaper, the Defender was the beacon of information for black citizens. Besides news the Defender published the Do and Don’ts for the newly urbanizing black population—such as: Don’t sit outside barefoot. The black church started social groups for women and children, advising them to stay away from “the Riffraff.” Some migrants resisted changing their ways, but most complied with enthusiasm, taking “the walk toward assimilation.”

While black people were working to assimilate, gangs of whites, such as Ragen’s Colts, crept through the streets terrorizing black people. White police protected white mobs and threw black victims into jail.

You can refer to the Chicago Neighborhoods map ca.1919 published at the front of the book. The Union Stockyards were surrounded by Packingtown. You can see the strict division of the Blackbelt and the White Middle-class, which is cut vertically by the State Street Streetcar.

Packinghouse bosses were “always looking to drive a wedge between skilled and unskilled.” The bosses maintained the upper hand by staying united, decade after decade. White eastern European workers tried to start unions to fight the bosses. They would threaten black workers with meat cleavers to make them join. At times interracial groups of workers would unite. If they got a toe hold, management would instill distrust between the races.

This brings us to the unbearable heat of summer 1919 when thousands cooled off at the beaches. The black boy drowns, tempers rage, the police fire a shot, guns become fair play. Rumors soar—it was a white boy who drowned. Fighting erupts. Terror reigns for three days. The author details arrests of black people rather than white. Eyewitness Ida B. Wells reports the injustice.

Should black people go to work? Or get fired? Death now or later when they starved? Slowly calm is restored. The photos are astounding—this is a must read to fill in your knowledge of Chicago.

 

Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award winning Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue among others         talesforallages.com

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“Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” retold by Ari Folman and illustrated by David Polonsky

I was younger than Anne Frank when I first read, was mesmerized by and devastated by “The Diary of a Young Girl.” And now I’m so much older than she. Yet, if Anne Frank had survived Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and lived on, she’d have turned ninety, this June 14, 2019. Anne is our contemporary. In the 1952 version I first read, passages that her father had deemed unseemly, had been deleted. Those have been returned to the script in newer editions.

The copyright to the original “Diary” expired in 2016 and now there is a remarkable new version, “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” (Pantheon 2018) retold by Ari Folman and illustrated by David Polonsky. It’s not just a reiteration of the classic. The text and artwork take its readers to new places.

Anne tells her story in the first person, as by definition, a diary does. And the very nature of the visual images shows us Anne, her family members and the van Daans. Instead of Anne telling us that Jews are betrayed, there are frames outside the annex showing a gentile asking an SS officer ‘how much per Jew.’ The officer directs the traitor to an address where a man makes “15 guilders per head,” showing one way Jews were betrayed.

There are passages showing Anne’s fantasies as they get news from their intrepid patron, Miep, about the atrocities happening in German camps. We see Anne peeking through her window to see dirty children playing outside. She wants to reel them in with a fishing rod and scrub them clean, the artwork shows us.

We see Anne’s waking nightmare as rows of Jewish people, some carrying crying children, walk to their deaths in gas chambers.

Anne, as most teenagers do, seethes with rage. She feels wounded by her mother and the other attic occupants. “Everyone thinks I’m showing off when I talk, ridiculous when I’m silent, insolent when I answer, cunning when I have a good idea, lazy when I’m tired, selfish when I eat one more bite than I should, stupid, cowardly calculating . . .” She pretends she’s not bothered, but she’s raging.

Big sister Margot is in control of herself, seemingly docile. It makes you wonder what Margot would say. We’ll never know. She died of typhus alongside Anne in the camp in 1945, shortly before the camps were liberated.

Mr. Dussel, who arrives to the attic annex months after the others, receives goodies from his Christian wife who lives ‘outside.’ Despite the Frank family saving him, he doesn’t share.

These poor trapped crowded beings, struggle with each other’s shortcomings, but together, they feel despair. They are entrapped for two years. As time progresses, guns pop all night. Bombs destroy landmark buildings. Sometimes sirens wail through the nights.

Anne is given valerian tea, an herbal tranquilizer, to sleep. She’s depressed. Of course. And then a break-in of petty criminals in the warehouse below changes everything.

The diary wasn’t just Anne’s personal coping tool, as I’d thought. There had been an announcement that personal accounts of wartime would be published after the war. She dreams of being an author. And what an author she is!

 

Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award winning Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue among others         talesforallages.com

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“The War Outside” by Monica Hesse

It’s 1944. World War II is raging across Europe and the Pacific when Margot is taken from Iowa and Haruko from Colorado in “The War Outside” (Little Brown 2018), by Monica Hesse. Now the two teens, each lives with her family in a dusty Texas internment camp for those accused of colluding with the enemy.

German American Margot says, “In the middle of this dust, in the middle of these chaotic arrivals, I feel I am watching a secret.” American families are imprisoned by the U.S. government. What did their parents do? Margot’s father is keeping a secret, clearly, all the while her mother’s health is deteriorating radically. Did her father fraternize with Nazis?

Japanese American Haruko was popular in her Colorado high school. After all, she’s cute and she laughed at the jokes made against Japanese people. Margot goes to the same school as Haruko rather than the German school in Crystal City Internment Camp in order to receive a better education in preparation of her dream to become a scientist.

Each imprisoned family lives in a prefabricated “victory hut,” and the food isn’t bad. The prisoners say, that’s in case the Japanese win the war. The USA wants their prisoners to look well fed. But the Japanese prisoners are fed Chinese rather than Japanese rice—one of many interesting details.

The two girls start meeting in the dark icehouse, sitting on bales of hay. They discuss their families—first tentatively. Then Haruko asks if Margot’s father is a Nazi. No, they just lived in a German farming community—they aren’t Nazis. Her father went to one meeting in Iowa to hear a band and a speaker, as a favor to a friend, just to keep neighborhood peace. Wasn’t that true? Haruko says that she thinks her father is keeping a secret.

Margot says, to survive the camp you must put the experience in a box and keep it there. Tell yourself that you choose to be here, so you have control of the box. Haruko is angry all the time. What did her father do to get them here? He was the one imprisoned but the rest of the family chose to join him.

Haruko’s brother Ken, enlisted as a U.S. soldier, hoping it would help the family cause. When he gets injured he visits his family in the camp. He’s not the same. At the icehouse Haruko cries in Margot’s arms. Their relationship grows more intimate.

Haruko’s father, a hotel manager in Colorado was accused of passing messages to hotel guests. Is he a spy? West Coast Japanese were all evacuated to prison camps, due to their proximity to Japan. West Coast evacuees lost everything whereas Coloradans had the luxury of selling or giving awayt their possessions. Yet, Executive Order 9066 allowed the government to send Americans anywhere—based on the artwork they displayed on their walls or if they practiced martial arts.

There’s so much to learn here. And the girls—is it a crush? Are they in love? One betrays the other. Why? Vulnerability and fear? What is the truth?

 

 

 

Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award winning Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue among others         talesforallages.com

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Book Launch Party – Advice and Ideas

The Book Launch Event

 

In the same way that we bring our experience to writing, we bring our experience to launching a book. I hope to give you some ideas that might help you launch your baby. The book, of course, helps dictate the party theme. Holiday books are great party inspirers. I know what I’d do if I had a tea party depicted in a book. Dog or cat washing? I’d throw a wet and messy bash. If I happened to have a book about a construction site, I’d throw a site-specific event. We have a massive square mile construction site a couple miles west of town. My hound loves it. Boy children would go nuts. Some girls, too.

 

 

TALENT AND COMMUNITY

My book Struttin’ With Some Barbecue: Lil Hardin Armstrong Becomes the First Lady of Jazz (Charlesbridge) will have released December 11, 2018, and is an early jazz story about Lil Hardin Armstrong, Louis Armstrong’s wife and a jazz pianist and composer in her own right. WOW za DOO! I’m throwing a jazz party the very next day—which, praise the heavens, falls before Christmas and Kwanzaa.

 

For planning your party, consider your talents.

 

Talent. I know how to do things on a shoestring. Having run a dance company, One Plus One, for many years, I can attest to the fact that Necessity is the Mother of Invention. Necessity has given me an ability for shoestring operation. Shoestring, folks. I’ve got shoestrings. AND there will be dancing!

 

Next consider your community—both your friends and your town. You know, like character and setting. So, where will your event take place?

 

 

WHERE AND WHEN

Is there an attractive bar/restaurant near you that you frequent? Try them out. Go regularly and sit at the bar. Make friends with the management. Perhaps this is easier after you’ve consumed a beer or a pineapple margarita. Do they have music events at least occasionally? That could help you choose the venue. I guess I’m suggesting you start frequenting nearby bar/restaurants. That can be fun. Start in plenty of time, maybe even before you write the book. Unless you’re a really good drinker who can chug down pint after pint in venue after venue.

You might be thinking, Wait, this is a kid’s book. Why launch at a bar? Well, it’s usually adults who buy the books—even young adult book. Having your book launch before a gift-giving holiday is a plus, of course. But that’s the luck of the draw. Your publisher will be deciding when your book releases.

 

So, the bar part is important (but not essential), because you want your attendees to have the option of drinking. The more people drink, the more generous they become, the more books they buy. Trust me. I know this to be true. And you won’t have to pay for their beverages. Or the food.

 

And the restaurant part is important. The establishment will love you because you’ll bring in a load of people—perhaps new customers—who will buy food and drink so you shouldn’t have to rent the place. It’s a symbiotic relationship: win/win. This is what you must convince the management of your chosen venue, while drinking that pineapple margarita at the bar.

 

“My” restaurant/bar makes a menu item to honor my book. For Struttin’ they’ll make a barbecue sandwich. For Loving vs. Virginia they made Brunswick stew which is, apparently, a traditional Virginia down-home dish. At another wine bar, for Josephine I had soul food catered. Through experience I learned, this expense wasn’t required. Find a restaurant/bar that serves food.

 

 

MUSIC          

Music makes it a party. I want music performed which pertains to my book. This is easy for Struttin’. That would be my husband’s band, Traditional Jazz Orchestra. “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” is the name of a tune that Lil Hardin Armstrong wrote with Louis Armstrong on their back stoop, and is the name of my book. Yep, I’ve got an advantage, having a jazz musician for a husband, but use your perks. (Maybe you married a massage therapist. That’s a good perk). But I married a musician. So for my previous book, Loving vs. Virginia, I hired a string band led by Robin Kearton, because Mildred Jeter Loving’s father and step brothers played in a “hillbilly” string band. Actually, I didn’t hire the band, I traded my husband talking to them about improvisation—their request. That Morgan Powell, jazz trombonist, is quite a perk.

 

If you’re not married to a musician, you’ll need to make friends with musicians. That’s on you. And I don’t suggest you ask the band to play for free. It’s important to pay the band members. That is my only real expense—$50 per player, plus I strutted around with a tip jar for another $150 to add to their pay.

 

I guess you could substitute canned music and make an appropriate play list to be played during the event. But it’s not the same as live music, which actually helps draw a crowd to your event.

 

 

BOOK SALES

Ask your local bookstore to sell books so you don’t have to do the sales. I work with Jane Addams Bookstore, which is, primarily a second hand bookstore in downtown Champaign. Because we hope to sell 100 books at that party, they make out. They’ll sell your book at its full amount and you’ll make your complete royalty.

 

Yes, some people will come with books that they’ve purchased from Amazon and that’s fine. But, if you book your launch party the day after the release date, people probably can’t get your book through the mail in time. Just a thought. And how mine happened to work out. And you can explain to your friends, your students, interested people, that they are supporting the author/illustrator by purchasing your book at its full amount. They don’t want you to starve or anything, so they’ll usually (oftentimes) understand and be willing and excited to pay the publisher’s list price for your book.

 

 

PUBLICITY

Chronicle Books gives its authors and illustrators business cards, displaying the image of the book cover. On the backside are the creator’s social media contacts. That’s all you need. Back in the day, Salina Bookshelf made postcards of my books. I made postcards for my first book, Blossom Tales. I’d hand out my Vista Print-made postcard, with a notice of a book event and watch people fold my $.25 card in half and put it in their pocket. Agh. No one has to fold a business card. It fits in pockets, wallets, palms, you-name-it. So I begged Charlesbridge to make me a business card of Struttin’ With Some Barbecue. If they hadn’t, I would have gone to Vista Print to make my own. But I’d have asked my publisher/publicist to design the card (to my specifications), because I don’t even own PhotoShop. But, yep, you could design it on Vista Print too.

 

So let’s say you have 1000 beautiful business cards with the image of your book on the front. Leave enough room on the back—at least 1 ½” wide by 1” high—where you can affix your specific announcement.

 

Then go to Staples or some other Office Supply denizen and purchase full-page labels (that is, 8 ½ x 11). Format a page on your computer, using Times New Roman, 8 point font, which is compact and legible. Format 6 columns and margins set at .2. Succinctly designate:

What: Book Launch Party

When:

Where:

Music by:

Book Sales by:

Print, slice lengthwise or whatever direction allows the peeling seam to be accessible. Peel, cut one announcement, affix to back of business card, and repeat. I only do a few at a time so I don’t go nutty. Or nuttier.

 

I hand them out months ahead of time as I see people who I think might be interested (aka everyone I know or meet who lives locally). This way you get to a whole lot of participants and build excitement for your book birth. I tell anyone who’s interested some pithy detail about the book. For instance:

Lil was Louis were each other’s second marriage.

We named our Tree Walker Hound Lil after Lil Hardin Armstrong.

Lil’s papers, including the first 5 chapters of her autobiography, were stolen from her house at the time of her funeral, which is probably in part why so little is written about her.

Lil’s extended family is owed loads in royalties, but they can’t be found; their names would probably be Hardin or Martin and might live in Tennessee.

Louis remarried a couple times but Lil never remarried.

A month after Louis Armstrong died, Lil collapsed while playing the piano at a commemorative concert in his honor in Chicago; she died shortly after.

 

I give a stack of the cards to Jane Addams Bookstore, a stack at my body-worker’s waiting room, and wherever people might pick one up. I still won’t use all 1000 cards, so I’ll leave some without the affixed Book Launch invitation and will hand them out whenever I meet people. My husband hands them out, too.

 

I’ll make a few 8×10 images of the book for a poster announcing the party. I’ll post one each at Jane Addams Bookstore, my public library and the Esquire Lounge where the party will take place.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA INVITATIONS

About a month before the party, I create a FaceBook Event page and invite all local FaceBook Friends. This has become so easy on FB. Check out “Create” on your home page. It’s so straightforward it nearly does itself.

 

I also send an e-mail message with the book image to local friends, first as a Save the Date, then a week before. After all, not all your friends are on FB. But if you overlap, I think it’s okay. To receive occasional announcements is a way to help create buzz.

 

I also send a press release to my local newspaper, the paper for which I review YA books. They’ll definitely list the event. Maybe they’ll even write an article. We’ll see.

 

What will I do at the event? Tell some anecdotes about Lil, about the research, and read a bit. Then talk to people as I sign books. But mostly the band, the community of people, and the venue provide the entertainment.

 

Outcome: Some people bought multiple books. Some people didn’t buy books, but just came for the party, which is fine. More than 150 people attended, Jane Addams sold about 90 books. I signed the rest of the books and the bookstore expects to sell those. We created buzz for the book. And the party was extremely fun.

 

 

 

First published in The Prairie Wind, the newsletter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Illinois. https://illinois.scbwi.org/files/2019/01/PW-Winter-2019-Interactive.pdf

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“Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster” by Jonathan Auxier

Nan Sparrow has been a chimney sweep ever since she can remember, in Jonathan Auxier’s “Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster” (Amulet 2018) set in nineteenth century London. In the beginning, the Sweep was her guide, but he disappeared five years ago. Now twelve, Nan is changing into a young woman while working for Wilkie Crudd, a cruel master with a pack of boy sweeps. They all live together in a coal cellar. The story and writing is reminiscent of Charles Dickens, specifically, Oliver Twist.

Nan is canny and lithe, but that doesn’t keep her from getting stuck in a narrow bending flue where a competitive boy “nudges” her—or shoves her deeper into the flue—when a chimney fire breaks out. Did she die? If not, where could she have escaped to? And who is with her?

The Sweep had given her a fistful of char—soot and ash—which has lived in her pocket these past 5 years. This clump of char begins to awaken and grow. The glob comforts and eventually protects her. It develops legs and arms and can move about. She names him Charlie. He’s sweet, innocent, but is growing larger and becoming frightening, but not to Nan. Nan protects Charlie from ridicule and her own fear. She doesn’t want him to become fearful. With research, she decides he’s a golem. Research also tells her that golems become obsolete—but what does that mean exactly?

Nan and Charlie move into the House with a Hundred Chimneys, which has lain vacant for years. They use an upstairs window as their front door. In fact, they prowl the city along the rooftops, which the reader will find exhilarating—at least this one did. They watch the streets below and stay hidden from the cruel Crudd who is searching for his best sweep, Nan.

Nan and Charlie assign each room with a purpose—the Tantrum Room (lined with cushions), a Dress-Up Room with all the capes and hats left by the previous owners, and the Rubbish Room, which becomes too smelly to use.

Back in the days when they’d roamed the streets together, the Sweep had sung to her, so now Nan sings. She sings to advertise her service—sweeping chimneys. And it’s effective in getting work.

Toby, a street boy and junk seller, is cocky and sweet and clearly fancies Nan. She’s dismissive of him, but the reader is grateful for Toby’s occasional presence in Nan’s hard life. Nan says, “Toby was one of those irritating people who got on with everyone.” Toby notes that Charlie woke up Nan’s heart—which had been pretty hardened.

At times the writing is lyrical, as when the sun comes out and Nan sees the light “erasing the shadows, street by street.” Reading this book is both comfortable and comforting.

The story addresses child labor of the late nineteenth century and the beginning of laws to protect children. The Sweep, Toby, and another friend, Miss Bloom, are all Jewish and the issue of anti-Semitism is an important thread running through the story. Together, Nan and Charlie, experience wonder, love, and grief—in spite of having no mother.

And on this Mother’s Day, I’m so grateful to the mother I had. Happy Mother’s Day, Mama.

 

Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award winning Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue among others         talesforallages.com

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“The Chaos of the Stars” by Kiersten White

This is a guest post written by Megan Sutton

Things aren’t easy when you’re the daughter of ancient Egyptian deities. No one knows that better than Isadora, who is the mortal offspring of Isis, the goddess of magic and wisdom, and Osiris, the god of the dead and ruler of the underworld. The Chaos of Stars traces her steps as she runs off to California in the hopes of escaping their clutches and living a separate life, but she soon realizes that her connection to her parents is much more complicated than mere geography. Dark, terrifying dreams haunt her at night and they’re dangerous enough to kill a god.

Here, author Kiersten White puts a spin on family drama with Egyptian mythology. Other than having immortals for parents, Isadora leads a typical life. She makes friends with interesting fellows like energetic Tyler and the Greek boy Ry, and her days in California are an odd mix of interior design and worshipping god. Although she may resent her parents, she still plans to build a museum dedicated to them someday. It’s confusing, but totally understandable.

Isadora’s feelings, as White relays them, are relatable. She thinks her parents never truly loved her, especially since they made her mortal while the rest of her relatives get to live forever. The grudge grows as soon as she finds out about her mother’s pregnancy. Isadora also has a difficult time with love, like most people her age do. Her witty charm and sarcastic views of the world makes for a delightful read, but sometimes come off as a little too self-absorbed.

All in all, fans of White and her work will understand that her fascination with ancient Egypt runs deep; the first book she ever wrote was set in Egypt. White has said many times that Egyptian mythology is blunt and straightforward, and its family feuds are even more complicated than that of Greek myths — which is delightfully reflected in her printed work.

But the effect of this deep respect and reference to the ancient is that it encourages readers to explore well-known deities and characters in a new light. After all, Egyptian mythological icons have survived generations and become an interesting part of modern pop culture, so much so that both Isis and Osiris are familiar names, regardless of how well versed people are about the lore. For one, they both appear as characters in the 2016 film Gods of Egypt. In the well-known video game Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which is also set in ancient Egypt, both Isis and Osiris are referenced numerous times. On a smaller scale, they are featured in Egyptian-themed games on online portal Slingo. Titles like Temple of IrisPyramid: Quest for Immortality, and Crown of Egypt feature the deities’ common images so that players can recognize them immediately. And although not everyone is familiar with Egyptian mythology that doesn’t mean that Chaos of the Stars isn’t for everyone – as it is. It is an enthralling read that doesn’t solely focus on in-depth knowledge about the ancient Egyptian gods.

So, while the book certainly leans on Egyptian mythology, the narrative focuses less on the details of the lore in favor of highlighting common family issues. This may be a disappointment for readers who picked up the book to expand their understanding of Egyptian gods. But if you do enjoy it, it’s important to understand that White has written books with similar fantastical themes. Her latest novel, Slayer, is a story set in Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe. She is also author of the Paranormalcy trilogy, a highly acclaimed series that landed on the New York Times best-seller list.

For more book reviews, feel free to explore Tales for All Ages.

 

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“Pride” by Ibi Zoboi

“Pride” (Balzer & Bray 2018) by Ibi Zoboi is a remake of “Pride and Prejudice.” If you’ve read Jane Austen’s masterpiece, this is, in part, a fun puzzle. How will Zoboi—a National Book Award Finalist of 2018 for her work “American Street”—translate 19th Century white mores to the hood? And who is who?

Austen’s heroine Elizabeth Bennet becomes Zuri Benitez, one of the five Benitez sisters whose parents are Haitian and Domincan-American. So we get Haitian santoria culture as well as Hispanic flavors and foods. Mrs. Benitez isn’t as ditzy as Mrs. Bennet, although she does love the culture of gossip and matchmaking for her daughters. She has charisma that Mrs. Bennet lacks, and throws block parties in Bushwick that are renowned in their section of fast-gentrifying Brooklyn.

So not only does Zuri feel pride in her culture and her Bushwick neighborhood we have the theme of being driven out of one’s neighborhood by gentrification—due to soaring real estate costs. The rich African-American Darcy family moves in across the street to a luxuriously renovated mansion helping to drive up the price of property.

Zuri detests Darius Darcy for this as well as for his snobbery. Darius’s older brother Ainsley (yep, you got it, Misters Darcy and Bingley are brothers in Zoboi’s version) falls for Janai Benitez, Zuri’s older sweet and lovely sister.

Kayla and Layla Benitez are the boy crazy younger twins whose gossipy prattle includes speculation of who is “digging pockets” or gold-digging. Darius overhears, misunderstands, and alerts Ainsley who backs off from poor heart-broken Janae.

Mr. Benitez is less long-suffering and more heroic than Mr. Bennet, in raising his five daughters. And yep, there’s a Colin, but nowhere near as colorful as the despicable Mr. Collins. He’s present nevertheless.

What about the scandal? And the villain? Warren is a poor smart black kid from the hood who won a scholarship to attend Darius’ spiffy Manhattan private school. Warren speaks Zuri’s language, has the right swag, likes the right music, and shares her “ghetto” experience. So she falls for him and despises Darius for not backing up Warren—until she finds Warren compromising the reputation of her thirteen-year-old sister Kayla at a party.

It all comes clear for Zuri with the help of Darius Darcy. We we cheer for her and her aspiration to attend the traditional black Howard University outside of Washington DC.

This is such a fun and informative read! Rural and white reader learns a lot about urban African American culture. I’d have called “Pride” a resurrection if I thought that “Pride and Prejudice” were dead. Burt for some young readers “Pride” might indeed be a resurrection.

 

Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award winning books: Struttin’ With Some Barbeuce; Josephine; and Loving vs Virginia. She teaches a community class in writing at Parkland College. talesforallages.com

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“Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam” by Elizabeth Partridge

“Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam” (Viking 2018) by award winning author Elizabeth Partridge is a great read for all adults—young and otherwise.

If you grew up in the 60s or 70s, you can follow the history and marvel at your junior high (elementary, high school or college) understanding of the events.

How do you organize a book about this complex politically shameful war? Partridge follows each American President—Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. None wanted to be the first president to lose a war. They were winners, not losers. But American and Vietnamese boys were dying by the thousands.

Interspersed throughout the President-sections are chapters following diverse selection of individuals “on the ground” or “in country.” We follow a gung-ho Hispanic foot shoulder who enlisted for a year-long stint early in U.S. involvement, 1965-1966. His aim was to leave behind gangs and drugs to get on the straight and narrow. You see him and his buddies in impossible situations, seeing friends die, getting drunk and stoned back at base to alleviate the pain of it.

A mixed-race “dirt poor” machine gunner from Selma, Henry Allen, had been a civil rights worker, a member of SNCC registering black voters—a disciple of Martin Luther King, Jr. and nonviolence. Once drafted he had to decide to shoot or disobey orders and be court-martialed.

Martin Luther King Jr. claims a powerful chapter, as “protestor” to the war, and leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King, in spite of his work with LBJ on black rights and getting the Civil Rights Act signed in 1964, followed his conscience to the monstrous dismay of LBJ. MLK said, “If I am the last, lone voice speaking for non-violence, that I will do.”

A medic is haunted by those he cannot save. A young infantryman says, “I was ready for combat, but I wasn’t ready to see people die.”

A Japanese American Green Beret is called a “gook” by fellow soldiers, and assumed to be an enemy spy by some. After his year in Vietnam he is relieved to go home but suffers the classic survival guilt. Why did I survive?

Country Joe McDonald, an early veteran of the war later became a protest singer. Largely by happenstance, filling in at the famous Woodstock Music and Peace Festival, he sang “And it’s one, two, three, What are we fighting for? Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn, Next stop is Vietnam; And its five, six, seven, Open up the pearly gates . . .” It became an anti-war anthem.

Lily Lee Adams, an Asian-American nurse and war protester, was tricked by a recruiter to serve in Vietnam. She treated “blown up” boys, from both our side and the Viet Cong North.

There’s a chapter for a young Vietnamese refugee and her family attempting to escape the country when America pulled out in 1975 and the Communists of North Vietnam rushed in.

All these soldiers speak of the distaste with which they were met on their return home—another reason for American shame—and why it’s so important to read this award-winning book.

 

Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award winning Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue among others         talesforallages.com

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“Hey, Kiddo” by Jarrett J. Korosoczka

“Hey, Kiddo” (Graphix/Scholastic 2018) is a graphic novel and a memoir by author/illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Its subtitle, “How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction,” is a pithy description of this important, page-turning book.

Jarrett was raised by his grandparents who drank heavily and smoked constantly. But they loved him dearly. His absent mother, a heroin addict, wrote him heart-felt notes and occasionally showed up for visits, but always missed the big moments, like his graduation, in spite of her promises.

His working-class grandparents raised five of their own children, the younger ones overlapping Jarrett’s time with them. The grandparents scraped together money to send their grandson to comic-making classes.

One of the more poignant scenes has Jarrett not notifying his grandparents of his eighth grade graduation ceremony. Of course they discover this and are understandably crushed. When his young aunt, Holly, expresses her concern, thirteen-year-old Jarrett rectifies the matter, feels deep shame, and the entire family attends the ceremony. Clearly the whole family—barring his mother and father—was raising the kid.

The author’s unwavering honesty is what gives this story its depth—along with the unusually accurate cartoon depictions of the entire “cast.” The renderings of Jarrett at all his various ages, up to about eighteen, are remarkable. There are photos of his grandparents as part of Krosoczka’s Ted Talk linked to his website, studiojjk.com, and his renderings of them are right on. But even before I saw the photos of his grandparents, I knew from Jarrett’s cartoons exactly what they looked like.

The author outlines how art saved him. He says, “When I was a kid, I’d draw to get attention from my family. In junior high, I drew to impress my friends. But now I draw to survive.”

He tells us that his mother started using when she was 13. Krosoczka heard the stories. “She’d walk into a store with a trash bag, fill it with batteries, and then run out of the store—selling the batteries on the black market to fuel her addiction.” She stole from Joe and Shirl, her parents and Jarrett’s grandparents. She even stole her mother’s diamond ring, and sold it to feed her habit. She’s a mess.

In his early years, Krosoczka never considers his biological father—doesn’t even know his name. But in his teen years, that changes. Jarrett finds him and now he has a relationship with him.

It’s a heart breaking story, yet sweet and uplifting, because Krosockzka finds his way.

This book was a Finalist for the National Book Award for Young Readers. Wow!

 

 

Patricia Hruby Powell’s most recent book is Struttin’ With Some Barbecue: Lil Hardin Armstrong Becomes the First Lady of Jazz.   talesforallages.com

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