Audiobook: Tyrant

Shakespeare on Politics
by Stephen Grenblatt
Read by Edorado Ballerini
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen on Libro.fm
Content:  There’s some in-depth Shakespeare analysis, which might make it uninteresting to some. It’s in the Shakespeare/Theater section of the bookstore, but it could go in Current Events/Politics as well.

The basic premise of this book is simple: Greenblatt, a noted Shakespearean scholar, takes a brief — by no means scholarly — look at some of the  tyrants in Shakespearean plays. He primarily looks at Richard III, Macbeth, Lear, and Coriolanus: dissecting their motives, their pasts, and their rise to tyrant-dom. It’s, on the surface, an interesting look at these four plays (there’s a bit about Julius Caesar, as well), a fascinating and well-written exploration of these characters.

But — and maybe this is my politics showing — there’s a lot of similarities between the current administration and the tyrants in these plays. It serves as a reminder that these things are never new: there have been tyrants and tyrannical behavior for a long time. And those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it. In fact, I had to keep reminding myself that this was a work of Shakespearean analysis. Greenblatt never comes out and says “Trump is like this” but the undercurrent is there (if you choose to see it). It’s a smart analysis of the plays, and I learned a lot about them (I’ve never seen King Lear, and that is something I should fix; and I’d like to see the Richard III with Ian McKellen again), and the book is definitely worth it for that.

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Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini

by Sid Fleischman
First sentence: “I have been a fiction writer by choice and instinct for a long professional life.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some risque photos (Houdini did a lot of his tricks in the nude for honesty’s sake) and some intense moments. It would be in the middle reader biography section of the bookstore, if we had it.

I’ll be honest: while I enjoy illusions, I’m not obsessed with it, and while I knew who Houdini was, I really didn’t know much about his life or his magic tricks. So, when my class hit a biography section and this was on the list, I figured why not read a kids’ biography on Houdini.

(First: are kids still interested in Houdini? Hubby saw this on my nightstand and remarked “I adored Houdini as a kid.” Does that still happen?)

I learned that Houdini was a workaholic, a bit of a jerk, and definitely competitive. He’d put himself in pretty much any situation to prove that he could do whatever it was that was put before him (challenges were his favorite thing!) regardless of personal safety. Fleischman, a fellow Jew and magician, is incredibly enthusiastic about Houdini (even though he keeps the actual secrets of how Houdini performed his tricks, well, secret) and that comes through in the biography. I don’t know if it’s something I’d refer kids to in order to do research on Houdini (though maybe: Fleischman does work to debunk some of the myths surrounding Houdini, ones that Houdini himself perpetuated), but it does make for entertaining reading.

Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II

by Martin W. Sandler
First sentence: “It was a heroic achievement.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some difficult moments, especially for younger readers. It would be in the middle grade history section of the bookstore.

I’ve known vaguely about the Japanese internment that happened during World War II for a while now (though it wasn’t something that was taught in school), but I had never read anything that detailed the actual experience of Japanese Americans in America.

My thoughts? White people are awful. (This is not a new realization. Just an additional confirmation.) My reservations about this book? It’s written by a (very nice) white guy. The book — which goes through the experiences of Japanese in America from the turn of the 20th century through World War II and afterward — seems really well-balanced and fair, and Sandler has done his research. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this is a story that would be better told by someone who had gone through the experience, by someone who could first-hand explain the experiences of racism they had while they were trying to make a living here. Sandler doesn’t really hold those in charge accountable (really: what were the politicians thinking?!) and while he is sympathetic to the plight of the Japanese and forthright about the conditions they lived in, it lacks the emotional punch a Japanese writer could most likely give it.

Still, not a horrible book.

Module 14: Yes! We are Latinos!

Ada, A. F. and Campoy, F. I. (2013). Yes! We are Latinos. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Genre: Poetry with non-fiction mini-essays.

Book Summary: A series of narrative poems, followed by a brief narrative non-fiction essays about different aspects of Latinx history and culture. These are not based on any one person, but are a composite of the different variety within the Latinx world.

Impressions: I loved this one! I don’t often read poetry collections (and when I do, they are usually the humorous ones. My current favorite is I’m Just No Good at Rhyming) and I didn’t quite know what to expect. What I got were some narrative poems, each telling a story about a different child’s Latinx identity. It served as a reminder that even though we (white people, the media, etc.) lump all Latinx people together, there’s a lot of diversity and richness of heritage within the culture. (And, I was reminded, that they don’t all get along!) I really enjoyed the historical information that came after each poem, which told a bit about the history and culture of the person in the poem preceding. I knew quite a bit of the information already, but it was good to be reminded of the history (and some of it recent history) and how much of the United States was originally Spanish. (And that the Brits weren’t the only oppressive colonizers in the world.) Definitely a highly recommended collection.

Review: While the review was short and more oriented to the plot than any opinions about the book, Leon-Barrera did remark that the book was “refreshing” especially because of the vast representation from the Latinx world. She also wrote, “The vignettes also help to illustrate the meaning of being mestizo–the blending of indigenous, African, and Spanish lineage-mentioned in the introduction and explored throughout.” This was something I noticed but didn’t realize was as important as it is. She also commented on the inclusion of Asians in Latin America, which, she wrote, “is often overlooked in children’s literature”.

Leon-Barrera, M. (2013). Yes! We are Latinos.  School Library Journal. 59 (8), 94.

Uses: This was used as part of our city’s Big Read a few years back. It could also be used in a poetry writing workshop for middle or high schoolers, since these are all accessible, free-verse, narrative poems.

Readalikes:

  • Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle – This is the most obvious read-alike, as it is a non-fiction memoir in verse about Engle’s childhood and her family in Cuba.
  • The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya – Another Cubano novel, this one focusing on the struggle to keep history and culture and family together in America. It’s also a David vs. Goliath book, in that a big developer wants to take out Arturo’s family’s restaurant in order to put in a huge multiplex.
  • Gabi a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – A young adult book about Mexican-American culture and the struggles between older generations and their traditions and younger generations.

Module 11: Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX

letmeplayBlumenthal, K. (2005). Let me play: The story of Title IX. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.

Genre: Non-fiction, history.

Book Summary:  A history of how Title IX came to be passed as law, the reasons behind why it was proposed and the effects it had on girls’ education and sports, focusing mostly on sports equality.

Impressions: I loved this! Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I vaguely knew about Title IX, but I didn’t really pay attention to the details. Going back and reading this made me realize just how much work not only had to be done but how much progress was made. I liked the insets featuring the people who were the primary movers and shakers behind the law. My only complaint was that it wasn’t terribly diverse, but maybe that was a side-effect of the times. The effect of Title IX on minority populations would be an interesting topic to explore, though.

Review: The reviewers called it a “thoughtful, enlightening and inspiring” look at Title IX and the effects it had at on womens’ education in America. They were really critical of the design of the book calling it an “absolutely criminal treatment from the designer”, which effected their overall view of the book.

Staff. (2006). Let me play: The story of Title IX: The law that changed the future of girls in America. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/karen-blumenthal/let-me-play/

Library Uses: This one would be good on a library display about sports, feminism or in a women’s history month display or programming.

Readalikes:

  • Undefeated by Steve Sheinkin –  The story of the Carlisle Indian School Football Team in 1907 and how they became the “team that invented football”. Written by one of the great non-fiction writers of our time, this is a remarkable story.
  • Women in Sports by  Rachel Ignotofsky –  A collection of one-page biographies of women in sports from the 1800s to today. It also includes interesting facts about muscle anatomy and statistics about pay.
  • Rising Above: Inspiring Women in Sports by Gregory Zuckerman – A series of short biographies of women who rose above challenges in their lives to compete at the top of the game in their various sports.

Lincoln: A Photobiography

by Russell Freedman
First sentence: “Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the sort of man who could lose himself in a crowd.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s written for a slightly older audience, maybe 4th grade and up. It would be in the middle grade biography section if we had it in the bookstore.

Since everyone knows all about Lincoln — seriously: I didn’t learn anything new — I’m just going to stick with my impressions here.

First: I’m not sure why it’s called “A Photobiography”, unless — and this may be the case — biographies before this didn’t include pictures and documents. BUT, everything I’ve read that’s come out recently pretty much follows this format. So, if this was the first one, then I’m glad Freedman changed it! It makes for a much more interesting biography then just text, especially for kids.

Second: this read a lot like Steve Sheinkin’s work. It was simply written, but not condescending to its readers, and included fascinating facts and information told in a way that would compel a kid to keep reading.

It was a good, quick read, even if I didn’t learn anything.

Audio book: When They Call You a Terrorist

by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it on Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Sociology section at the bookstore.

This book, from one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter Movement, is small, but it packs a punch. It’s basically Cullors’ life, growing up poor in LA in the 1990s, and how that experience — along with the arrests of her biological father and brother — propelled her to activism and the forming of the Black Lives Matter movement.

I am a white, cis-gender, hetrosexual woman, so I don’t really have a lot to say, really, about this one. Except to stand as a witness to Cullors’ experience and pain and try to be better about my behavior and opinions and actions in the future. I do think this book, much like Between the World and Me is a vitally important one. We, as a society, need to open our eyes and recognize that experiences like Cullors’ are not only valid, but that they should NOT be happening in a first world country. That the world that she experienced is not the world I experienced, and that there is a fundamental wrong happening there.

The audio book is excellent as well. I highly recommend listening to Cullors’ experiences in her own voice; it adds a power to it that may not have existed in print. There is an interview at the end of the book, as well. I recommend sticking around for that.