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Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire

Source: NetGalley
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire is a collection that pushes readers to their limits with her beautiful, tragic poems. Their dark beauty with their sometimes violent images reach inside us, pull out our hearts, and ring them until there is little left but open love and empathy.

In the opening poem, “Extreme Girlhood,” the birth of a girl is a sign that suffering is to come, whether it is from parental expectation, abuse from within the home, and other malodorous events. But “Mama, I made it/out of your home/alive, raised by/the voices/in my head.//” the narrator reminds readers that there is another side to that dark tunnel. In this poem, Shire has set up the reader for a wild, emotional ride, but if we can just hold onto that hope, we’ll be OK.

Part poetry collection about abuses and darkness, part collection about accepting the people we are, Shire is unafraid to call out our platitudes and attitudes:

From "Assimilation"

...
The refugee's heart has six chambers.
In the first is your mother's unpacked suitcase.
In the second, your father cries into his hands.
The third room is an immigration office, 
your severed legs in the fourth,
in the fifth a uterus -- yours?
The sixth opens with the right papers.

I can't get the refugee out of my body,

There is always that push and pull between the homeland of the past (a home nostalgia tells us is placid) and the new home refugees are seeking (a home that is not as welcoming as expected, if at all). Shire tells us in “Home” to remember that “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. You only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.” and “No one would leave home unless home chased you.” When times are troubling, refugees sometimes would love to return home, but “home is the mouth of a shark. Home is the barrel of a gun.”

Unbearable Weight of Staying

I don't know when love became elusive.
My mother's laughter in a dark room.

What I know is that no one I knew had it.
My father's arms around my mother's neck.

A door halfway open.
Fruit too ripe to eat.

Shire infuses her poems with her Somali culture, paying homage to rituals and loved ones, while at the same time exploring the struggles of her homeland with famine, the murder of women, kidnappings, and more.

 Filial Cannibalism

From time to time
mothers in the wild
devour their young,
an appetite born of
pure, bright need.
Occasionally,
mothers from ordinary
homes, much like our
own, feed on the viscid
shame their daughters
are forced to secrete
from glands formed
in the favor of men.

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire is a stunning collection in which “the trapdoor to heaven/opens its mouth” and “girlhood an incubation for madness.” There are so many themes in these poems from racism to gender bias, but is Shire’s search for grace that holds these poems together.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Warsan Shire is a 24 year old Kenyan-born Somali poet, writer and educator based in London. Born in 1988, Warsan has read her work extensively all over Britain and internationally – including recent readings in South Africa, Italy, Germany, Canada, North America and Kenya- and her début book, ‘TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH’ (flipped eye), was published in 2011. Her poems have been published in Wasafiri, Magma and Poetry Review and in the anthology ‘The Salt Book of Younger Poets’ (Salt, 2011). She is the current poetry editor at SPOOK magazine. In 2012 she represented Somalia at the Poetry Parnassus, the festival of the world poets at the Southbank, London. She is a Complete Works II poet. Her poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Warsan is also the unanimous winner of the 2013 Inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize.

Will by Will Smith (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 16+ hrs.
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Will by Will Smith, narrated by the author, is a phenomenal memoir about his family, his rise to fame, his will to be the best rapper and movie star, and his struggles with emotions. Narrated by Smith himself is like a trip and Audible has me at go when the music of these icons is included for listening. Smith still has those rapping chops — don’t think he doesn’t. But even with his struggles, it is clear that he’s in a place where he is still projecting a little bit of that personal, rather than actual self that he seems to be still searching for. After all, this is a memoir that he hopes will entertain and sell a lot of books.

There were things I already knew in this book from the Fresh Prince Reunion and from conversations during Jada Pinkett’s Red Table Talks. But I will say this, it is clear from Will’s point of view that he does what he does because he loves his family and he wants to give them the life that he didn’t feel like he had, but what he failed to see is that they are not him — they have different needs and desires. Even with Jada, he clearly wanted to create memories as he believed they should be — much of what he does is to create cinematic movies of his memories. He wants to will things into being to reach some sort of ideal. Jada, for her part, clearly loves him and all his faults, but she failed (at least from what I could tell) to express her wants/needs/desires in a way that he heard her and acknowledged them.

But this book is not about just his relationship with Jada. Like many creatives, there are visions we want to achieve and sometimes they work as we see them and sometimes we need to adjust to how those visions can actually be achieved. Gigi, his grandmother, was a wise woman. She believed in being kind and helping others no matter what, and this is something Will took to heart. You can see that in how he helps his friends, family, and even strangers get a leg up and achieve their own dreams, but one piece of advice from his mother that he forgot to embody was only speaking when it improved on silence.

Will clearly loves to talk and joke, but there is something that scares him about silence. This can be traced to those memories of domestic violence by his father against his mother. He stood in silence as his mother was hurt by his father – that inaction shaped him into the boisterous, charismatic clown he is.

Will by Will Smith is vulnerable, reflective, and harsh as Smith examines his past, present, and future. Like many of us who seek to be better and learn from mistakes, he is still on that journey. Is there stuff for the gossip rags? Yes. Will it be exploited? Probably. But was this journey cathartic for Smith and the reader? Definitely. We’re all deeply flawed, and Smith shows us that even our flaws can be channeled to make ourselves successful at least financially, but is that enough? Or should we be learning to adjust our lives and lead richer experiences with those we love?

RATING: Cinquain

Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 336 pgs.
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Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron is like Nancy Drew set during the time of Jane Austen’s life. Part of the title is inspired by the historic eruption of Mount Tambora, which caused some series climate effects, including crop failures, and led to the “Year Without a Summer” in 1816. I loved that Barron stayed true to the whereabouts (based on historic record) of Austen and her sister, Cassandra, when they took a trip to Cheltenham Spa in Gloucestershire.

Things in the Austen household are not all roses, but even as uncertainty lays claim to the family’s fortunes and to the reputation of Austen’s brother Charles, Jane and her sister take the time to travel to the waters, hoping to improve Jane’s health. Once there, the ladies encounter some very dull and dark characters who many of the other guests seem to be avoiding. The spas themselves are not at all what either lady expects, and in fact, they begin to wonder if the waters are bad for people’s health.

When a young lady in a basket chair turns up at Mrs. Potter’s where they are staying, Austen and her sister are even more intrigued. A captain, a devoted friend who protects her friend in the chair, and a mysterious theater dialect coach all add to the mystery when a Viscount shows up claiming the woman in the basket chair is his wife! When a pug ends up dead at Mrs. Potter’s and later a murder occurs at the local masquerade, Austen and the smitten Mr. West work together to uncover the truth of the murder.

Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron is a delightful who-done-it mystery whose main protagonist is one of the great observers of human nature, Jane Austen. I loved that Austen used her keen observation skills to unearth the truth of the mysteries within these pages. All of the characters have their own secrets, and there is even a bit of romance for Jane herself. Highly recommend for Jane Austen readers and those who love a good mystery!

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Francine Mathews was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written twenty-five books, including five novels in the Merry Folger series (Death in the Off-Season, Death in Rough Water, Death in a Mood Indigo, Death in a Cold Hard Light, and Death on Nantucket) as well as the nationally bestselling Being a Jane Austen mystery series, which she writes under the pen name, Stephanie Barron. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Pinterest, and GoodReads.

Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 256 pgs.
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Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans is a collection of poems that explore mother-daughter relationships, identity, and the racism many Blacks face every day. There are so many moments in this collection where your heart will break, just as the relationship between mother-daughter breaks. The narrator of these poems struggles with who she is and how to reconcile that with her mother’s disappointments about that identity.

In “We Host These Variables,” she says, “There’s something I want to honor here. I/ want to honor the silent story, the emotions/unaccompanied by human language. I want to/honor the weight of stillness. I want to/honor the silent ceremony between mother/ and daughter.” In this poem she explores the silence that become tense between mother and daughter because they are mirrors of one another. Later, she says, “I know the/distance between mother and daughter. How/we are many burned bridges, as well as a/wealth of brick and clay, ready to be made/anew from everything unmade of us.”

Mans explores the harsh history facing Blacks — women who get the worst part of it all. Men with the dreams, but the women who bear the burden of those dreams. One of the most powerful poems in this collection that brings this history to the forefront is “Nerf Guns: Christmas 2019 Tulsa” where the past and the burdens of racism are never far away. “The/only way a bullet becomes laughter is when it/plays pretend in its own foam shadow./” In this poem, little boys play with nerf guns and play dead and the narrator was never allowed to until she was grown and playing with her cousins. She realizes the ironies and implications of this game, while her cousins do not. “My father knew death too well to let us mimic it. Or, maybe death mimicked us too well for him to allow it’s ‘pretend’ in his house.” She wraps “herself in/that joy. The joy that nothing spilled of them/but the sound of their own silly.”

Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans is a journey of identity and learning how to cope with the past to bring oneself into the future. There are truths in this collection that shouldn’t be shied away from, especially for Black men and women. We need these stories to remind us that we can do better. “I know trauma uses silence as a survival mechanism.” Let’s break that cycle and break that silence.

Rating: Cinquain

Finna by Nate Marshall

Source: NetGalley
eARC, 128 pgs.
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Finna by Nate Marshall explores identity within the Black community, while looking not only at the dark past of America but also its hip hop present. “when America writes/about Black life/they prefer the past/ tense,” the narrator says in “When America Writes.” Many of the early poems explore identity, a young man who wants to learn and go to college, choosing something more than the gangs and drugs he sees in the community. But even then, there is that push and pull of becoming a learned person and the person the community nurtured.

In “another Nate Marshall origin story,” the narrator says, “perhaps our rage at the other is just the way we fill what we don’t know about ourselves.” A deep look at who we are is integral to our development no matter what stage of life we are in, but many times we skip this step and force ourselves into certain roles in our environments or in our families. For a young boy of five to already know lyrics about the deaths seen regularly in the Black community is a strong judgment on our society’s treatment of those who are not white. He delves further into the saddest commentary on our society in “I thought this poem was funny but then everybody got sad” — “what has a black body/& is read all over?/I mean is read all over/I mean/that’s the punch/line.”

publicist

a mentor told me
to consider writing
essays that commemorate
days that relate to my book.
it's a good way to insert
your work into the public
conversation. well motherfuckers
spend every day killing
a Black somebody in Chicago
& every next day the whole world
practices saying silences like
Black on Black
gang related
violent neighborhood
so I guess I owe a
million essays.
i guess my book
will be huge.

Finna by Nate Marshall expresses the struggles of Black America using familiar cultural vernacular and Hip Hop to bring readers into a world masked by white institutions and standards that are imposed upon these Americans. Nate Marshall’s narrator speaks about the other Nate Marshalls of the world and how he is not like them. But they are connected in how their life’s struggles can emotionally wear them down. What Marshall brings to life in this collection is that we are all human and empathy is something we need to relearn in order for us to connect.

RATING: Quatrain

Isadora Moon Goes Camping by Harriet Muncaster

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Isadora Moon Goes Camping by Harriet Muncaster is a delightful book that stretches the imagination of young early readers in which Isadora Moon, half vampire and half fairy, finds herself nervous about show-and-tell at school. But once she starts telling her class about her summer vacation camping near a beach, she becomes so engrossed in her own tale she and you will nearly forget she’s nervous to speak in front of her classmates.

Isadora’s dad is the glammed-up vampire in the family and his hygiene habits become a bummer for some of the other campers over the summer, and her mom just takes it all in stride, helping him pare down his suitcases for their vacation in the rough. It must be fantastic to have a mom who is a fairy because she can create anything you’d want, but it’s all in the boundaries she sets for Isadora. What my daughter loved was the adventure and the Isadora’s favorite animal, Pink Rabbit. I loved that he was a stuffed bunny who had expressions and ould walk around wherever Isadora did.

This book is a little above where my daughter’s reading level is now, so there were times when she struggled with certain words, but we worked on how to sound those out and what those words meant. It was a good way to stretch her reading skills without losing her interest in the story. We’ll likely be looking for the first two books in this series, since somehow we ended up with only book 3. Starting with this book, however, didn’t seem to be a problem. We didn’t feel like we were missing anything. The cover of our book suggests a lot of color, but most of the illustrations were black and pink. We’re not sure why, but it didn’t detract from the things that mattered in the story. The illustrations did enhance some of the action for us. We also loved the family photo album at the end of their summer camping trip. That was a nice touch.

Isadora Moon Goes Camping by Harriet Muncaster is a wonderful book about learning to take risks outside our comfort zones. I love how adventurous Isadora is and how willing she is to make new friends and go the extra mile for her family. My daughter often wanted to read “just one more chapter” each night, which is a tell-tale sign that she enjoyed the book and loved the characters.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Harriet Muncaster studied illustration at Norwich University College of the Arts before going on to get an MA in children’s book illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. In creating the art for her first book for children, she was thrilled to have found a good outlet for her lifelong fascination with miniatures. She lives in Hertfordshire, England.

Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus

Source: Gift
Paperback, 68 pgs.
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Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, is another adventure with kindergartner Junie B. She’s a child whose had the full attention of her parents for all five years of her life, but things are changing, and she’s about to get a baby sibling.

What happens when she learns her baby brother is a cute little “monkey” is hilarious.

Junie B. believes her brother is unique and now sees why her parents wallpapered the baby room in a jungle theme. This little monkey will make her the most popular kid in school, especially when her two best friends vie for the honor of the first to see him in person. My daughter and I are having a grand old time laughing at Junie B. when she often repeats “and so” and “guess what … that’s what.”

My daughter is also still correcting Junie B.’s words like “bended.” I love that she’s paying attention to what she’s reading and correcting Junie B. This means she’s making progress in her reading skills, and that couldn’t make me prouder after these last two years of struggles.

Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, is a fun story about not taking advantage of your friends and learning to pay closer attention to what adults are saying and not taking it so literally.

RATING: Quatrain

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus

Source: Gift
Paperback, 69 pgs.
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Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, is the first book in the series, and it is clear that Junie B. is not ready for kindergarten. But really, what kid is ready? She struggles with riding the bus, how to behave in class, and a whole host of other things, but this is normal behavior for a kindergartner.

My daughter and I have been reading these together, though she’s the one reading to me. The “wrong” words like “bended” and “funner,” etc., do continue to make her stumble while reading but she seems to be getting a better handle on correcting Junie B.’s words as she reads. In some ways, these “wrong” words appear to make her a stronger reader. She’s critically thinking about what she’s reading as she goes. While these words make me cringe, I can see how they’ve helped my daughter with her reading struggles over the last two books.

Junie B. can be a bit sassy and so can her friends, but this is part of finding our place in the world as a kid — learning boundaries, and making friends of strangers. Park really understands how children at this age think and act. What happens when Junie B. doesn’t get on the bus to go home after school? Will she be found out? Are her parents frantic? Is Junie B. scared? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, was a fun read and gave us a lot to think and laugh about. We learned about how kids can be mean sometimes, and how we have to learn how to cope with change.

RATING: Quatrain

OTHER Reviews:

Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus

Source: Gift
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus is the fourth book in the series and is riddled with actual dialogue that a younger kindergartner would use. Junie B. loves to sneak around and spy on her family but when they explain that she shouldn’t be doing that, she still considers herself a sneaky spy. When she spies on the wrong person, it could spell big trouble.

My daughter had a hard time with some of the misspelled words. But she started to learn to correct them as she read aloud. We like Junie B. and her antics, even if she gets in trouble, but her misspelled words were troublesome, especially for my daughter who continues to struggle with reading. This is a fun series, but I’m not sure we’ll read more of these as part of her nightly practice.

Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus is a cute book with a mischievous girl who likes to see the world without anyone knowing she’s there. She just doesn’t understand the concept of privacy.

RATING: Quatrain

Polar Bears Past Bedtime by Mary Pope Osborne

Source: Gift
Paperback, 71 pgs.
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Magic Tree House: Polar Bears Past Bedtime by Mary Pope Osborne finds our intrepid adventurers, Jack and Annie, on a night time excursion to the Arctic. Sadly, they fail to plan ahead and arrive in only their PJs, but lucky for them Morgan La Fey has sent them some help. A seal hunter soon arrives with his huskies and dogsled and offers them some warm clothes and parkas. Although we have not read these books in order, we are aware that the ultimate goal for Jack and Annie is to become Master Librarians. To achieve this, each adventure includes a riddle they have to solve, with each successful journey, they get closer and closer to their goal.

My daughter loves the adventure of these books, and I love that she’s learning new things. She’s studied Arctic foxes in school, as well as a little bit about polar bears, but this was an eye opener for her regarding seals and polar bears alike. When the ice is cracking and Jack and Annie are in trouble, she was surprised that they learned how to save themselves by watching a polar bear. What’s even funnier, is that we saw a similar situation in a Christmas movie after finishing this book and she told the characters in the movie what they should do to escape the cracking ice.

Magic Tree House: Polar Bears Past Bedtime by Mary Pope Osborne enables early readers to see and read what the protagonists are facing, understand the dangers, and realize that solutions can be found in nature and in books. We love this series, and these kids are intelligent with different personalities. Jack’s reserve and bookish nature balance out Annie’s intuitive and adventurous spirit.

RATING: Quatrain

Vacation Under the Volcano by Mary Pope Osborne

Source: Gift
Paperback, 74 pgs.
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Vacation Under the Volcano by Mary Pope Osborne, a second book in this series gifted by my aunt to my daughter, finds Jack and Annie in Pompeii. This is not the time to be in the popular vacation city, but our kids don’t know it until it might be too late.

On a mission from Morgan La Fey, Jack and Annie are on the hunt for a story scroll. Where could the library be that has the scroll they need. They run into Gladiators, soldiers, shop owners, and a soothsayer. My daughter learned so much from this little book, and I was amazed that she could remember how to say “Mount Vesuvius” and “Pompeii” pretty quickly.

Vacation Under the Volcano by Mary Pope Osborne offers kids pronunciation keys to help with difficult or unknown words, and this story has a great deal of tension. It also offers some cliffhangers, which my daughter has learned about in school. She really enjoyed this book and couldn’t wait to finish it.

RATING: Cinquain

Tigers at Twilight by Mary Pope Osborne

Source: Gift
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Tigers at Twilight by Mary Pope Osborne is one of a bunch of books my aunt sent my daughter over the summer. It is book 19 in the series, but kids can follow along pretty well reading them out of order. Personally, this would drive me crazy not reading them in order, but my daughter is not bothered.

Jack and Annie are siblings who have adventures in a magic tree house. In this book, the kids are sent to India in search of a gift to free Teddy the dog from his furry state. Using a nonfiction book as their guide, they meet langurs, elephants, a hermit, and a tiger. There is danger, fun, and a bit of fear that they won’t uncover the gift or find their way home.

My daughter took to this book instantly, and part of it is the mix of fiction and nonfiction. She likes to learn about the natural world while reading fiction and this has both. Tigers at Twilight by Mary Pope Osborne was a good adventure story that’s not too scary, but packs in enough information about a real place to help kids learn about the world.

RATING: Quatrain