Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Halfway Home: Drawing My Way Through Japan

Christine, a half Japanese, half American teenager shares her 15 year old journey in Japan to visit her grandparents. Although born in Japan, she was mostly raised in America so her lens in looking at tourists, Japanese style bathrooms and traveling in country very American teen. The angsty humor in her drawings is hilarious because I too was a teenager traveling through Japan. It captures this lens perfectly and brings me back to that time.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Black History In Its Own Words

From the Publishers:
A look at Black History framed by those who made it. BLACK HISTORY IN ITS OWN WORDS presents quotes of dozens of black luminaries with portraits & illustrations by RONALD WIMBERLY. Featuring the memorable words and depictions of Angela Davis, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kanye West, Zadie Smith, Ice Cube, Dave Chappelle, James Baldwin, Spike Lee, and more.

My Thoughts:
This is a "picture book" but this is not a children's book. The concept is so graphically simple and stunning. Open the book, picture book style and the reader has a very micro synopsis of the person highlighted and then a portrait by Ronald Wimberly with one quote that is cited in the preceding page and referenced at the end. Like Mr. Wimberly says, this is just enough to make you curious to do your own research. It is just the portal in. What I like is that for the most part he stays away from the often biographied black movers and shakers in history. This allows students to learn more from the perspective of others that may not be as well known.

For example, he chose Sojourner Truth over Frederick Douglass, Audre Lord over Maya Angelou, Mary Ellen Pleasant over Harriet Tubman, Assata Shakur over Malcolm X. In other words, there is no Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Oprah Winfrey, Alice Walker, Rosa Parks. This is about finding out about people that history may not spend as much time or paper space on. This book encourages students to head to the library, Google away and immortalize these people, still living and long dead that make up the wide swath of black history.

Who will do this for the other marginalized others? Who will bring enough of their story to the foreground so that others take up the mantle to write about them, research them, say their words in another generation? This feels like a fabulous project.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Heartbreak wrapped in cartoon: Kobane Calling

I started this book and put it down, not because I was confused and thought this was going to be about Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Although that may be why I put it down after all. I put it down because the frenetic narrator who is almost sneaking off to Syria and creating alternative worlds for his mother in order to go to Kobane at first reminded me of the drug addled Hunter S. Thompson from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Even in its graphic form, I am not really a fan. So maybe the whole Cobain, drugs thing got me connecting Zerocalcare with someone whose motives are fueled by paranoia and alcohol. Yes, the character seems addicted to chai, but other than that, once he left for Syria, I was hooked.

Let me back up and let the publishers talk about it. Like the middle east itself, it's complicated. What helps is that the cartoonist is not American so his lens is less, well, American, which right now, is a fabulous thing.

From the publishers:
KOBANE CALLING is the autobiographical memoir of a young Italian cartoonist, writing and drawing under the nom-de-plume Zerocalcare, who volunteers with the Rojava Calling organization and heads into the Middle East to support and observe the Kurdish resistance in Syria as they struggle against the advancing forces of the Islamic State. He winds up in the small town of Mesher, near the Turkish-Syrian border as a journalist and aid worker, and from there he travels into Ayn al-Arab, a majority-Kurd town in the Rojava region of Syria. As he receives an education into the war from the Kurdish perspective, he meets the women fighting in the all-female Kurdish volunteer army (the Yekeineyen Parastina Jin, or Women's Defense Units), struggling to simultaneously fight off the Islamic State even as they take strides for Kurdish independence and attempt a restructuring of traditional patriarchal Kurdish society. In a story and style at once humorous and heartbreaking, Zerocalcare presents clear-eyed reportage of the fight against the Islamic State from the front lines. Originally published in the Italian weekly INTERNATIONAL, and then collected and expanded in an edition by Italian publisher BAO Publishing.

My thoughts:
This feels authentic, unfiltered by censorship and propaganda. Maybe I am naive but I think it just tells his story in panel form without agenda except to tell the truth. I was especially interested in the YPJ, the all-female Kurdish volunteer army. What we would call them in the Pacific are mana wahine which represent those powerful females who can save themselves, and their men too. 

I like how confused the author is when it seems like the enemy is the neighbor is the ally. I also have been shying away from watching and reading too much news, so Kobane is new to me and I just found this story both wrenching and heart affirming at the same time. I started re reading certain passages just to hold onto these people's stories, knowing that many of them will not live to see an end to this battle and will not live to go back to their homes just across the fence. In the end, the dead are still buried together, but in life, it is so very complicated. 

For those students in the middle, this is living history told by the people on the front lines. This is happening now,  not centuries ago. They need to know that people cannot be lumped in together and stereotyped because all we see are certain views from the media. Kobane Calling: Greetings from Northeast Syria is a portal in.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

As You Wish

From the Publishers:
What if you could ask for anything- and get it?
In the sandy Mojave Desert, Madison is a small town on the road between nothing and nowhere. But Eldon wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, because in Madison, everyone gets one wish—and that wish always comes true.
Some people wish for money, some people wish for love, but Eldon has seen how wishes have broken the people around him. And with the lives of his family and friends in chaos, he’s left with more questions than answers. Can he make their lives better? How can he be happy if the people around him aren’t? And what hope is there for any of them if happiness isn’t an achievable dream? Doubts build, leading Eldon to a more outlandish and scary thought: maybe you can’t wish for happiness…maybe, just maybe, you have to make it for yourself.

My thoughts
I like the premise of this book. As someone who reads a lot of YA, As You Wish feels new. I like that I could not figure out what Eldon was going to do until the moment he did it. I like that Sedoti doesn't just leave it at the decision nor does she just tie it up like a neat little gift. That kind of jarring even at the end is a welcome change. 
If you have students that struggle to finish a book, this is a great option for SSR because even if you are just reading in 20 minute chunks or 15 minute chunks, this story is easy to pick up again. The characters and situations are different so it is easy to just pick it up again.
Publication Date: January 2018
An advanced copy provided by the publisher and Net Galley for an honest review.

When I am Through With You

From the Publisher:
“This isn’t meant to be a confession. Not in any spiritual sense of the word. Yes, I’m in jail at the moment. I imagine I’ll be here for a long time, considering. But I’m not writing this down for absolution and I’m not seeking forgiveness, not even from myself. Because I’m not sorry for what I did to Rose. I’m just not. Not for any of it.”

Ben Gibson is many things, but he’s not sorry and he’s not a liar. He will tell you exactly how what started as a simple school camping trip in the mountains ended the way it did. About who lived and who died. About who killed and who had the best of intentions. And he’ll tell you about Rose. But he’s going to tell you in his own time. Because after what happened on that mountain, time is the one thing he has plenty of.

My thoughts:
I just did not like Ben. I felt like he was whiny and weak and I just could not sympathize with him, but I kept reading because I needed him to change, grow a spine, do something worthy.

The power of the writing is that I could dislike the main character, dislike most of the characters and still keep reading until I was through. 


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