Queen of the Sea

by Dylan Meconis
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: June 25, 2019
Content: It’s a historical graphic novel, so it’s a bit long. It will be in the graphic novel section of the bookstore, though I’m sure a younger reader, interested in English history, would be interested in this one.

On the one hand, I finished this. And didn’t dislike it. I liked the art, I liked the humor, and I liked that the main character wasn’t the queen or a courtier, but rather an orphan girl, Margaret, stranded on an island with a bunch of nuns. It was an interesting story — of the exile of Queen Eleanor of Albion (read: England) after her sister takes over the crown. Eleanor befriends Margaret, or rather, Margaret befriends Eleanor, and they figure out a way to escape and take back Eleanor’s crown. Kind of. It’s mostly about Margaret’s relationships she has with both the island and those on it.

On the other hand, who is the audience for this? Really? A graphic novel loosely based on the childhood of Queen Elizabeth I, no matter how excellently done, is really really niche.

Hopefully, it will find its audience — whoever they are — and there will be people to enjoy this well-done, but really rather odd book.

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American Dialogue

by Joseph Ellis
First sentence: “Self-evident truths are especially alluring because, by definition, no one needs to explain why they are true.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s a work of scholarship, even if it’s written for a mass audience. There are footnotes and endnotes, etc. It’s in the history section of the bookstore. 

I picked this one up because I was curious after hearing an interview with Ellis on the New York Time Book Review podcast. I’m not quite sure what it was that he said that made me want to pick it up, but after hearing it, I put it on hold at the library. 

The basic premise is this: Ellis takes a look at four of the American founders — Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Washington — each through a prism of an issue that is both relevant back then and today. Jefferson gets race; Adams, equality (monetary, not gender); Madison, law; and Washington, war. Ellis dissects each man’s letters (easiest to do with Adams, most difficult with Washington), speeches, and papers, in order to come up with what they were thinking about when they framed the country — from the Declaration to the Constitution, but especially the latter — and what we can learn from that. 

And I think that the take-aways are striking. Ellis starts from the position that slavery and the genocide of the indigenous peoples are America’s original sin, the things that we have yet to redeem ourselves from. We (especially today) have forgotten that the Constitution was never meant to be written in stone, but is, in fact, a living document that’s supposed to change and adapt to the needs of a growing and changing country. He admits that the founders were geniuses, but they were also human, with flawed logic and changing opinions. 

I’m not sure it’s a book everyone Must Read, but I found it fascinating to learn about these men and the ideas they had. 

March (Book Two and Three)

by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
First sentence: “Brother John — Good to see you.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there (book 2, book 3).
Others in the series: March (Book One)
Content: There is a lot of violence, and use of the n-word. It’s in the non-fiction area of the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

This picks up where March (Book One) leaves off. Lewis is part of student non-violent protests in Nashville in the early 1960s, but soon leaves that to join the Freedom Riders: a group of African Americans who, in 1961-1962, put supposed desegregation to the test. They rode Greyhound buses though the south, stopping at cities in Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, with — as you would guess — pretty disastrous results. They were yelled at, beaten, arrested, thrown in jail, loaded up in cars and left in Klan territory, and the buses were blown up… let’s just say that, in short, white people in the south were TERRIBLE people.

All through this, Lewis (and others) preached the gospel of non-violence (which just makes white people look like terrorists. Really.): they didn’t fight back, they didn’t talk back, they just exercised their right (!) to do what they feel they had a right to do.

The book also follows Lewis through the March on Washington in 1963. (I didn’t know he was there, or even that he spoke! In fact, there’s a side note by him that out of everyone who spoke, he was the only one still living.) It was fascinating, learning about the politics behind that march, and about Robert Kennedy’s change of heart as well.

It’s a well-done graphic novel, one that is still very timely to read. As a white person, it definitely made me more aware of what people went through in the 1960s to get just basic rights, and I’m more aware now of how those rights aren’t still completely equal

March (Book Three) picks up after the church bombing the beginning of 1964 and goes through the march from Selma to Birmingham. My thoughts are pretty much the same as after reading book two: white people are so entrenched in their “way of life” that they can’t abide by change at all. And the thing I kept coming back to was that, in the intervening 54 years, that white people are still entrenched in their “way of life”, we just call it by different things now. It’s still racism. And it still is wrong. This one was difficult to read, and made me think, over and over, that an eye for an eye just makes everyone blind. I hope I’d have the courage to stand up to those who use their power to make others “less than”, those who call others “animals” or “dirty” or “from s-hole countries”, those who want to abuse their power to keep themselves in power… even if it means sacrificing my life. John Lewis and all those who stood by him are true heroes, and I wish there were more people like them now.

Excellent.

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.

Sweet Spot

by Amy Ettinger
First sentence: “Family dinners in my house were a death match.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: I think there might be some mild swearing, but nothing significant. It is in the Creative Non-fiction section of the bookstore.

I knew I had to read this one as soon as it came in, mostly because it hits all my buttons: it’s good writing, mixing history and contemporary observations, and it’s about FOOD. In this case, ice cream. Bonus.

And it was a delightful read. Ettinger knows how to make one involved in the book (not just with recipes!), finding the words to describe the experience of eating ice cream. She’s become, over the years, an ice cream snob, on a continual search for the perfect cone (and the perfect ice cream eating experience). That leads her all over the place, as she looks into the ice cream industry. And it was fascinating. She discovered that it’s pretty difficult for local artisan shops to make their own ice cream base (and most have it shipped in from somewhere else) because of the pasteurization laws She discovered that the best frozen custard, hands down, is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She looked at ice cream truck turf wars in Brooklyn, at the frozen yogurt industry as well as what it takes to make an ice cream sandwich. She looked at corporate ice cream and artisan ice cream. And it make me, well, want ice cream, and to go searching myself for that perfect cone experience. (That said, my ice cream making has gone up since I started reading this. I recommend the Ample Hills Creamery book.)

It really is a perfect summer read.  Just expect to go looking for a perfect cone when you’re done.

Nine, Ten

ninetenby Nora Raleigh Baskin
First sentence: “Everyone will mention the same thing, and if they don’t, when you ask them, they will remember.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It handles the tragedy of 9/11 on a level that is appropriate for the 3rd-5th grade crowd. It’d also make an excellent read-aloud. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Everyone (well, everyone of a certain age and older) knows the story of what happened on 9/11. But fifteen years on, there isn’t as many of the kids who know about that day. And so, Baskin helps introduce the tragedy through the stories of four eleven-year-old kids for the forty-eight hours before the planes hit. There’s Sergio, an African American kid from Brooklyn who is trying to make a better life for  himself but whose deadbeat dad is getting in the way. There’s Aimee, who has recently relocated from Chicago to L. A. and whose mother has a meeting in New York City that week. And there’s Will from Pennsylvania, whose father died in a freak accident and who is trying to get over that. And there’s Nadira, a Muslim girl from Ohio, who is trying to figure out the whole middle school thing. 9/11 changes each of their lives — though I’ll spoil it: no one has anyone they love die — in ways they could not have expected.

The thing I liked best was not so much the stories, or wondering how it would all play out (and wondering if Baskin would kill anyone). It was that Baskin caught the emotion of the day so very well. I was in Mississippi, having recently moved from DC, and I remember being caught up in the worry and horror and concern during it all. I wasn’t in the middle of it; I couldn’t imagine being in the middle of it. But, I, like many Americans, was affected by it. And Baskin caught that feeling perfectly.

I’m hoping this, along with Towers Falling, will spark a discussion about unity and how, no matter what we look like or believe, we can work to get past anger and mistrust and hate and be better citizens together. I hope, at the very least, that this one gets read and discussed.