Book Reviews: Stamped and The Lost Tribes

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You  by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Based on (a Remix of) Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

I expected this book to be well-written, thought-provoking, and engaging. And it truly was, starting with the Introduction by Ibram X. Kendi (how often are Introductions themselves absorbing?) It was also painstakingly researched by Dr. Kendi, (a professor of history and international relations), as revealed in the twenty pages of source notes.

What I didn’t expect was that it would be so hard to put down. But that’s how Jason Reynolds made his remix of Kendi’s book. Once I started reading, I didn’t want to stop. Even though I am decades away from Jason Reynolds’ target audience, I had to keep turning the pages.

The book traces the history of racism over six hundred years, from its roots and through its introduction to newly-colonized America, up to the present day. But it is not, as Reynolds emphasizes, a history book. It is a book that contains history – a history that is most often troubled and troubling.

It was hard to read about some people I admired from the past. Jason Reynolds paints nuanced portraits that shows how complex these people were, and how they changed and evolved over time. It was harder still to read about people from my lifetime – some of whom I voted for. This book is eye-opening and revealing, including about some of my own unconscious assumptions. Because, as Jason says, this book is about all of us.

This is a vital, riveting book. I read it months ago and have wanted to review it ever since, but, well, it’s been a fraught year. Also, I was daunted by the knowledge that I can’t begin to do the book justice. Read it and let it speak for itself. I highly recommend it. If you don’t think a Young Adult book is for you, consider Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi. It may be the next book I read on this subject.

These two authors held a very interesting discussion about their book with some high school students you can read about and listen to.

As  Christine Taylor-Butler wrote in June of last year, “I’m a parent, author, and a former college interviewer. Please hear me – in this time of stress people want to “flood” their kids with books about racism. Please provide 20 joyful books for every one book on racism. They also need to know POC kids are like every other kid.”

I began to take her advice for myself, and read her book The Lost Tribes. It fulfills her suggestion perfectly! Five friends from diverse backgrounds have adventures while just being kids. And what adventures! They’re given a high-tech computer puzzle to solve, with virtual reality that takes them to Egypt, Easter Island, Peru, and sub-Saharan Africa among other far-off places. The computer simulations become eerily realistic. And when their parents disappear, they have to undertake a dangerous journey. The kids discover that nothing is what they thought. The truth is amazing and empowering.

I can’t really capture the story, especially without giving too much away. Science and history are woven throughout in fun and interesting ways. There are puzzles and codes the kids have to solve, and readers can try out, too. And the website has a couple of fun challenges with more to come (delayed by the pandemic). But you can watch the cool trailer, meet the kids, and get introduced to their parents.

Kirkus Reviews calls it “Well-written and well-paced: a promising start to what should be an exciting and unusual sci-fi series.” See the full review here.

I recommend this book if you’re looking for a good story for kids who like adventure – or if you’re such a kid at heart yourself.

The next book, Safe Harbor, is out, and a third is expected later this year. I’m looking forward to continuing the adventure!

Happy Juneteenth!

Happy News for Enola Holmes Fans!

I’m emerging from my deep Cave of Projects to sing out some good news. I just found out this morning that there’s more Enola Holmes on the way! I’m so excited, I hardly know what to announce first.

Ok, here goes: there’s going to be a second Enola movie on Netflix!

I really enjoyed the first one, so much so I’ve watched it twice and look forward to watching it again for a future review I hope to post.

Even better news: there’s going to be a NEW Enola Holmes book! Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche.

As much as I enjoyed the movie – the books are some of my favorite books ever. They are mysteries with clever, riveting plots, great atmosphere, codes the readers can work on, and the deeply appealing Enola herself.

I thought the series was complete, with the very satisfying (and more than a little moving) The Case of the Gypsy Goodbye. So my surprise at another book is exceeded only by my delight.

And there’s more! A new short story: Enola Holmes and the Boy in Buttons. That particular boy is a lot of fun, so I can’t wait to get the e-book.

On top of all this, last weekend I had the great pleasure to attend an online workshop with Nancy Springer as part of the online Pennwriters Conference. She was such fun! And had so much good advice for writing. I intend to share some highlights of the conference and what Nancy had to say.

Meanwhile, I have seven projects I’m working on, only one of which is my fantasy novel in progress, so it may be a while before I emerge. Back into my Cave of Projects! (Ok, it’s sunlit and infused with fresh spring air, but still – I’m trying to work on several of these things at once, so it’s a little hectic in here…)

In the meantime if you like a good Victorian mystery, read the Enola Holmes books!

Tell a Fairy Tale Day

Two days ago, February 26th, was National Tell a Fairy Tale Day. I am a long-time lover of fairy tales, and I’ve blogged in honor of this day twice before. Over the years, I’ve collected a good shelf’s worth of fairy tales,* and I’ve been reading a lot of them lately. One of my favorites is World Tales, in which Idries Shah has collected tales that have been told in many different cultures around the world, with striking parallels. Did you know there are over 300 known variations of Cinderella? I think my favorite is the one in this book, “The Algonquin Cinderella.” As in the well-known tale, the heroine, marred by cinders, suffers from the cruelty of two sisters. But the result of her goodness is much greater than simply marrying a charming prince. Because she can perceive wonders, she becomes the bride of the beautiful and powerful Invisible One.

Reading in my own fairy tale collections over the years, I’ve often felt a shiver of recognition while reading a tale, an echo that this tale reverberates in some other land, some other time. One is the story of “Catherine and Her Fate.” Catherine is given a fateful choice by her Destiny in both World Tales and The Pink Fairy Book (edited by Andrew Lang): she can be happy in her youth or in her old age, but she must choose which.

The shiver of recognition became a thrill of pleasure when I realized some of my favorite stories have been told in many places over many centuries. One is “Mastermaid,” which I found both in World Tales and Tatterhood (edited by Ethel Johnston Phelps).  A good-hearted but rather bumbling young prince is saved from his dangerous naïveté by Maj the Mastermaid. When he forgets her wise advice, they both have trials to go through.

Another tale I love goes by many names and the heroine has many faces: “Clever Manka” in Tatterhood, “The Maiden Wiser than a Tsar” in World Tales, and “The Innkeeper’s Wise Daughter” in Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters (edited by Kathleen Ragan). The young woman’s wit and wisdom not only saves her father (sometimes his very life), but restores harmony, love and respect to her marriage.

I was excited to stumble upon a much-loved tale twice in my recent reading. It is known as “The Tsaritsa Harpist” in Fearless Girls, and “The Lute Player” in both Tatterhood and The Violet Fairy Book (edited by Andrew Lang). A brave lady seeks to ransom her beloved husband by becoming a wandering minstrel. I feel I have also encountered this as an ancient ballad. This tale echoed in my mind for so long, it turned into a song which came out in a novel I’ve written, where it takes on the yearning for homecoming after long journeys.

These are excellent collections of fairy tales and I deeply enjoyed reading them. But for some stories I have wanted to write a different ending. Like the kind Fisherman who saves the life of a magical, wish-granting flounder, and whose wife demands ever more grandiose and outrageous things. When the wife orders her long-suffering husband to tell the flounder she wants to be Ruler of the Universe, I dearly want the fisherman to say, “No, Wife – I’m done. You tell him if you dare!” In my mind, when the wife gets her comeuppance (very merciful in the old story, I think), the fisherman returns to the humble life he loves, blessed with abundant catches.

And then there is “Kari Woodengown.” Of all the fairy tales I’ve read and heard, I’ve only encountered this one in Tales from the Red Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang.

Kari endures some of the troubles of Cinderella, with absent or dead parents and unkind stepmother and stepsister. But Kari befriends a great blue bull, and they face and overcome hardships together as they flee her cruel stepfamily. I have a faint memory-impression that I was charmed by this story when I read it decades ago as a kid. No doubt that was partly because of the wise and powerful talking bull. But this time I was not charmed. When I reached the end, I was so indignant, it spurred me to actually write my own retelling. But that’s a tale for another day.

Speaking of retelling…folk tales are closely intertwined with fairy tales, sometimes only lacking outright magic. For a fine retelling of the Stone Soup folktale, have a look at VT Dorchester’s “Horseshoe Nail Stew” in Frontier Tales. I may be a bit biased, but I think there may be some quiet magic worked in the hearts of some of the story’s people by the end.

*In case it’s not always evident, all books pictured are my own well-worn copies.My copy of Tatterhood, is lacking its dust cover so I’m showing the title page.

A Recipe of Memory and Imagination

Three events conspired to instigate this post. First, I read VT Dorchester’s blog about “Cookies from 1890,” actually about two kinds of cookies. It made my mouth water, but I didn’t have the ingredients nor could I easily procure them.

Second, a magazine put out by a museum uncharacteristically included a recipe, for ginger cookies. That made my mouth water, too, but I still didn’t have the ingredients.

Third, while dusting my bookcase I came across a forgotten magazine article about baking from historical recipes – particularly “Mince Piyes My Mother’s Way.” Mince pies have been one of my favorite things since childhood, but I sure didn’t have those ingredients.

All three things happened in one day! With stomach growling, I began plotting my revenge.

Twelfth Night seemed a perfect time to write this and Epiphany a perfect day to post it. So, here is a recipe of memory and imagination, how my mother used to make…

Mincemeat Pie

First, enlist your family’s help.

Take an entire beef rump. Roast it.
Take a beef tongue. Boil and skin it as usual. Prevent your youngest from taking slivers of her favorite meat.
Procure a good quantity of suet.

Cut all three things into handleable pieces. Grind them in a hand-cranked food grinder. If your grinder isn’t the kind with a clamp, get your daughters to help, one to hold down the base with might and main while another of you grinds. Trade off.

Get the very large earthenware crock your family bought for a failed experiment in home-brewing beer; be glad you have it and make sure it’s clean. Get a wooden spoon so large you’ll only use it for this annual task. Mix the ground meat and suet in the crock.

Mix into this:
A full pound of raisins.
A pound of sultanas (golden raisins).
A pound of currants.
Keep mixing. When everyone tires out, have your children scrub from fingernails to elbows and mix by hand.
Add: a container of candied fruit, and another of candied orange and lemon peel.
An entire jar of very good raspberry preserves.
Another one of strawberry jam. Keep mixing.
Add a good mix of spices.
Moisten it all with sherry or cognac.

Procure a good quantity of patience, for this should best age for several months.

Alternatively, procure a reliable time machine. If you go with the latter route, take the crock back to, say, August or September. Place the crock somewhere dark, cool, and quiet, like a basement,  where it won’t be disturbed and where it won’t damage the time-stream.

If you’ve used patience, then it is reasonable to occasionally taste small samples – just to make sure it’s aging well, of course. If you’ve used the time machine, best not to risk the time continuum.

When the mincemeat has aged for several months, sterilize several large Mason jars and fill with mincemeat, to give to friends. Keep a good portion for your family.

When you’re ready to make the most delicious pie your family has ever tasted, cut up some tart apples and add to a good amount of mincemeat.

Make two good pie crusts; line the deepest pie dish you can find with one, fill with mincemeat. Top with second crust and cut decorative designs in the top.

Bake until golden.

Feast and revel.

Happy Twelfth Night and Epiphany!  

Winter Solstice, 2020 — Celebrate the Light

Happy Winter Solstice! For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, today marks the turning of the year from the shortest day, and a return to the light.

I plan on celebrating with some good stories, coming sometime today to All Worlds Wayfarer. I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve read in their publication so far, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us today. You can read the current issue for free on their website or buy a copy for your e-reader, which I’ve done. I’m particularly looking forward to reading VT Dorchester’s story.

I’m also going to celebrate by reading “The Shortest Day” by Susan Cooper, a poem to celebrate the solstice from the Christmas Revels.

Celebrate the Light!

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