Monthly Archives: October 2020

Powwow Summer by Nahanni Shingoose

by Nahanni Shingoose
4 out of 5 stars

River is looking forward to starting university in the fall, but then her mother’s life upheaval, which also affects her, is too much and she runs away to her father’s house in Winnipeg. He lives on the reserve and she is soon in over her head with reserve life, which is much different than her life on a farm surrounded mostly by white people like her mom. River finds herself making bad decisions and in trouble with the Indian gangs, but she is saved by the grace of a kind soul and a healing circle before things escalate too far. However, she grows and changes over the summer and is a different person when she comes home – to her new home, with her mother’s new partner.

I am aware that other cultures’ storytelling norms are different than what I’m used to, so I want to not be too critical. I will say that I was surprisingly compelled by River’s story, even though the writing did not always follow conventions that I’m used to. Shingoose is a contributor on If I Go Missing, so it was not surprising that the story included some real teaching about missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women. River makes some truly bad decisions, most fueled by being drunk for the first times in her life. That she was encouraged to drink by her father, and not punished for it by her grandmother, is addressed by her father during the healing circle and also highlights the difference between her farm life and her reserve life. I appreciated the chance to spend a summer on a reserve with River and her dad and Nokomis, learning along with her about her culture.

There are parts where River’s boyfriend is pressuring her to have sex, but playing the role of patient boyfriend. (As an aside, I sure would love to see a story where a boy isn’t ready to have sex!) There’s also a pretty violent scene near the beginning where River’s stepfather is smashing plates, and one where River gets beat up.

Jada Jones, Rock Star by Kelly Starling Lyons

by Kelly Starling Lyons
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Jada Jones is a 4th grader whose best friend has just moved away. Now she’s faced with sizing up the rest of her classmates for potential substitute friends. I won’t give away what happens, but I loved her process. This seems like a solid early chapter book series, especially for those readers with a love for science. Jada – and her jokes and love of rocks – are utterly loveable. Lyons nails the complicated lives of elementary students and their interpersonal relations.

Double Review: Two by Jason Reynolds

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Reynolds says over and over that this is NOT a history book, and I have to agree because this was way more readable than a history book, especially because it felt like Reynolds was talking directly (and pretty informally) to me. Also, though it went chronologically, Reynolds made connections between different historical events that I had never seen before (some events I had never heard about). He did seem to be very focused on Angela Davis; the last section of the book sounds like the whole history of the country comes back to her. And maybe it does – I’m new to learning about her life. The main thing that blew my mind was the idea that the American Revolution was fought over slavery – in the same way that the South wanted to keep slavery in the Civil War, apparently the colonies wanted to keep slavery in the Revolutionary War. There were other interesting connections and explanations but I don’t want to spoil them – go read it!

Ghost
by Jason Reynolds
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

In the first book in the Track series, we meet Ghost, aka Castle Cranshaw, as he is discovering an innate ability to run and learning for the first time what it means to be on a team. He stumbles across a city track team with a cab driver for a coach who becomes almost a guardian angel for Ghost, bailing him out of a few scrapes. Ghost struggles to deal with his feelings and trauma of being chased by his abusive father out of the house with a gun. (His father has been in prison for the past three years because of it.) Befriending the other team newbies, not to mention Coach, helps Ghost start to work through it, while giving him something productive to do with his youthful energy rather than continuing to get in trouble.I read this as an audiobook and the reader was great – really nailed Ghost’s voice!

Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! by Sarah Kapit

by Sarah Kapit
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Vivy Cohen is an 11-year-old knuckleball pitcher. See, three years ago, she met the great VJ Capello, her hero, who showed her the knuckleball hold, and she’s been practicing it ever since. She’s gotten pretty good and even gets herself on a team! Her mom isn’t quite so enthusiastic, because she’s afraid to let Vivy do things that are risky, either physically or socially, since Vivy has autism and needs to work on her social skills. Part of that is going to social skills group, which she hates, but one assignment the kids get is to write to their hero. Of course she chooses VJ Capello, who to her surprise writes her back! This begins a correspondence that carries the whole epistolary novel. Mostly they talk about pitching, but also Vivy’s family, including her brother (spoiler alert: he comes out as gay), and her best friend, who is also the catcher on the team she plays for. When Vivy gets pretty seriously hurt, her mom bans her from playing and her great challenge is to convince her. The way she finally does (oops, I mean, spoiler alert) was a little surprising and gratifying – everyone in the story grows a little as a result: mom, dad, Vivy, even VJ, but nothing comes of the coach’s son bullying her. One additional aspect to the story is that VJ is Black and has some reflections on being a Black knuckleball pitcher, a minority of minorities, in a sense.

I won’t make the mistake again (see the comments) of claiming that an author who is writing about an autistic character is not themselves autistic, but it is not clearly the case whether Kapit is autistic or not. So the jury is out on the authenticity of the experience, though it certainly felt very real from an outsider’s perspective, especially the descriptions of Vivy’s emotional meltdowns and her hand flapping of excitement, even if Vivy seemed a bit too in tune with others’ body language and with her own mental process. Regardless, Kapit certainly has down the non-autistic adults in Vivy’s life, especially her mom, who arguably does the most growing. One argument that Vivy makes about making her own decisions is that next year she will have a Bat Mitzvah and “doesn’t that mean something? I think that it should.”

The Hidden Rainbow by Christie Matheson

by Christie Matheson
Overall: 2 out of 5 stars

My coworkers and I agreed that this book had a lot going on – almost too much. It’s a color book. It’s a counting book. It’s an interactive book (sorta). It’s about bees. I had such high hopes as I absolutely adore Matheson’s Tap the Magic Tree for storytime with my toddlers. My colleague thought this one might work for a slightly older audience who can handle multiple themes at once, which it might. What I love about Tap the Magic Tree is the creative movements that the story calls for: tapping on the book, blowing, clapping, shaking the book to make the apples fall. In this one, the movements are much less creative and also much more vague: wave the bees back to their hive, point to the crocus shoots, trace a line. On top of that, it was just a bit didactic for me: though bees are certainly important, I was hoping for more magic and several page spreads had nothing but dry lessons on how important bees are.