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Advanced Lift-the-Flap: How Your Body Works by Rosie Dickins

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 16 pgs.
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How Your Body Works by Rosie Dickins from Usborne is full of information in easily digestible chunks for young kids. From the organs to growth and eating, this book covers a lot. Some of the book covers nutrition and the importance of exercise, but there is a lot about immunity, germs (good and bad), and about different levels of maturing the body goes through.

My daughter could read most of this on her own as an elementary school student, which is great because it provides her with interesting facts, real microscopic images of the tongue and other things, and engaged her. She was eager to lift the flaps to learn more, and she was excited to share what she learned with the rest of the family.

The book is visually engaging with full-color images of the body and germs and other things. How Your Body Works by Rosie Dickins is a book that children can read over and over. It’s definitely a fun way to introduce important topics like eating healthy and exercising as well as puberty to young kids. My daughter enjoys science, and this book really held her attention, even when she knew some of the facts already from school.

RATING: Cinquain

The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis takes another look at Aline Griffith, a small town girl looking for big adventure and to serve her country. Loftis uses source material from the National Archives, Griffith’s own fictionalized accounts of her time as a spy with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and many are source materials to suss out the truth of her time as a spy. Aline was a model who trained to be a spy at The Farm and her own accounts of her exploits are likely to have been embellished because as publishers will do, they want to sell books and car chases, murders, and more sell books. While Aline may have wanted to recount her life honestly, other marketing experts were at play and Loftis strives to piece out what was true from those accounts with secondary sources. I also think some people have a glamorous view of spies and what they do (e.g., James Bond), and the reality is much more mundane and nuanced — it’s about building trust and relationships that can be leveraged for information.

Was Loftis successful in finding the truth? For the most part, he did his best based on what was classified and what isn’t any longer. What I loved about Loftis’ narrative is that it read like historical fiction, and I think with any book based on research there’s a tendency to be too dry in the narrative. Because he chose to narrate it more like a novel, it was easier to eat up the pages and get engrossed in Aline’s story. Her time at The Farm was fascinating, and some may wonder why her family wasn’t in the book and asking about her whereabouts, etc., but I think it’s clear that when you become a spy and have a cover story, the family must accept it as truth and you make sure that they do. Adding those conversations would have bogged down this narrative.

Being part of the OSS coding room in Spain (considered neutral in the war) to send information to the U.S. State Department during WWII is not a glamorous job but no less important than being a spy. She spent much of her career in that room, but she also attended parties, social events, and had a semi-romance with a bullfighter. When she finally became a field agent, it is clear that all those parties and social events she was invited to opened the door for her career because she was in places where she could probe without drawing attention and could overhear conversations that might be of importance with regard to Nazi movements.

Loftis also creates a wider link between espionage and the Spanish bullfights. Like the matador, Aline lures her targets closer to her with the hope that she can evade capture, jail, and death. She’s weaving her spell on the crowd around her and she’s masterfully moving her cape to lure the bulls and create an illusion of a career woman learning about her current home — Spain. It probably helped that she was genuinely captivated by the Spanish culture.

The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis is engaging, thrilling, and insightful, and he provides a great deal of information about the spy business (but I’m not an expert). I do think there are holes and gaps that could be filled, and I would love to know more about her time doing “odd jobs” for the CIA after her marriage and her life in Spain was in full swing, but alas that information is still classified (my guess is it had a lot to do with preventing communism’s spread). Aline Griffith served her country with honesty and dignity, and she enjoyed doing it, even if she was in danger. She clearly was a people person and the relationships she maintained throughout her life are a testament to her personality and care for others. Loftis has humanized a spy who believed her efforts helped the country during WWII, but I’m still curious about some of the characters in her life like Pierre and Ryan (two figures who are much more mysterious — perhaps there’s a fictionalized account of them in Loftis’ future).

RATING: Quatrain

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 6+ hrs.
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White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo, narrated by Amy Landon, takes a sociologists’ approach to race (which does involve generalizations). White Americans must remember that we are products of our socialization and culture, and no aspect of society lies outside the forces of racism, even if you come from a mixed-race family, had ancestors who were once discriminated against (Irish, Italian, etc.), or experienced poverty, etc. The trick is not to see our unique experiences as making us exempt from racism but to see how those experiences shaped who we are within a racist society and to see the larger picture of how racism impacts others. Secondly, she says we need to redefine the term “racist” — we’ve been taught that racists are immoral and mean and that they consciously hate/oppress others based upon their race. However, this assumption is a societal definition propagated by a racist society. White people need to first examine what it means to be white and what that has brought them in society and cost others — this examination will be a struggle for many.

Superficial differences between races and genders are a result of geographical location and evolution, but biologically we are all the same. The race construct is just that – made up. White supremacy has taken that construct and divided resources based on a false hierarchy, hence the accessibility gaps for non-white groups and non-male groups. Many of these discussions are ones I’ve had before in college with courses and other groups — open dialogue is essential about things that are not “fact” even though they were credited as such. She does touch on exploitation as the catalyst for racism (I would read Stamped From the Beginning for more on this).

Imagine going to court to proclaim you are white because you were misclassified as another race! This actually occurred and scientific experts were called into these cases to provide “expert” testimony. DiAngelo indicates that those European immigrants are the only ones who were successful in becoming “white” after assimilation, etc. Assimilation — think about that — casting aside their customs, speaking English only, and eating only American foods, etc. Those assimilated people now benefit from their whiteness. DiAngelo also points out that if poor and working class Americans across all “races” worked together – they could become a powerful force against the upper “white” classes. However, many perceived as “white” also tend to look down on other poor and working class peoples because of their “whiteness” and the system that oppresses them both. The irony!

“Scholar Marilyn Frye uses the metaphor of a birdcage to describe the interlocking forces of oppression.16 If you stand close to a birdcage and press your face against the wires, your perception of the bars will disappear and you will have an almost unobstructed view of the bird. If you turn your head to examine one wire of the cage closely, you will not be able to see the other wires. If your understanding of the cage is based on this myopic view, you may not understand why the bird doesn’t just go around the single wire and fly away. You might even assume that the bird liked or chose its place in the cage.

But if you stepped back and took a wider view, you would begin to see that the wires come together in an interlocking pattern—a pattern that works to hold the bird firmly in place. It now becomes clear that a network of systematically related barriers surrounds the bird.

Taken individually, none of these barriers would be that difficult for the bird to get around, but because they interlock with each other, they thoroughly restrict the bird. While some birds may escape from the cage, most will not. And certainly those that do escape will have to navigate many barriers that birds outside the cage do not.”

We all have prejudices (it is the way our brain operates) or a sense of discomfort around certain people or groups — acting on those prejudices is discrimination. Racism is a structure (white supremacy) and we need to remember that we have a role to play in that structure. We need to learn to recognize our prejudices and work toward not acting on them and dismantling the structures that employ discrimination against groups different from white males. This is a tall order because many of these ideologies are reinforced in our daily lives.

One notion that came to mind, however, is the “kafkatrap” by which an accused is guilty by merely being silent. Many of us are silent, many of us fail to stand up and point out discrimination (even subtle discrimination), and does this mean we’re all complicit in racism? While this may be true, I prefer less circular arguments and prefer that we work as a human race to improve our systems for all of us. THIS will require us to have discomforting conversations and require actions that run counter to our normal daily actions. It will require us to reform and dismantle white supremacy. We’ll need to widen our view of history, particularly in schools, to acknowledge both the good and the bad, highlighting those who have exploited and committed racism to obtain the upper economic hand, among other things.

My only complaint is that DiAngelo was very repetitive toward the end. She would bring up examples she already used and talk about them again in the same manner she did in the previous chapter. I wouldn’t have noticed it as much if it wasn’t back-to-back repetition. Perhaps she believes repetition will stick with readers more and help them to see the situations she discusses in a new light. I’m unsure.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo, narrated by Amy Landon, asks us to recognize our faults, work to fix them, and to question ideologies that are considered the norm. There is much work to do. Challenging racism starts with recognizing your own prejudices and being conscious of how to modify/change your reactions and behaviors going forward. This is a very academic look at racism, which some may find too high-brow for them. Racism is real and present today (across the globe) — it is not a thing of the past, and we need to tackle it head on and in a multitude of ways. While some of her arguments are circular, she provides a good overview of racism in today’s society and the reactions that white people have when confronted with its subtleties.

RATING: Quatrain

The Other America – A Speech from The Radical King by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 25 min.
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The Other America – A Speech from The Radical King by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., read by Wanda Sykes, is as relevant today as it has ever been. It is one of 23 speeches and essays from The Radical King, curated by Dr. Cornel West, including words never recorded in public. This is a speech was given at the “Salute to Freedom” organized by the Local 1199 in New York City and outlines his Poor People’s Campaign.

I am on the fence about Sykes’ rendition of this speech. At points I felt like she was passionate about it, but at others I felt like she were merely reading by rote.

“You see, no labor is really menial unless you’re not getting adequate wages. People are always talking about menial labor. But if you’re getting a good (wage) as I know that through some unions they’ve brought it up…that isn’t menial labor. What makes it menial is the income, the wages.”

While not from a Black family, I can tell you that as a women from a working class family, this is no less true. My father toiled for pitiful wages most of my childhood, even if he worked 40+ hours a week. The plague for the Blacks in this country is also compounded by their involuntary work as slaves — forced labor. When you can barely afford food to feed your family after bills are paid even if the labor is honest and hard work, it is clear there is something wrong with the way those jobs are compensated. People in the working class and elsewhere are as equally frustrated as they are now.

Take that 25 minutes to listen to The Other America – A Speech from The Radical King by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., read by Wanda Sykes. All men are created equal, but not in a society where wealth gaps continue to grow and justice is not served. We need to DEMAND justice.

RATING: Quatrain

Keep Moving by Maggie Smith

Source: Purchased
Audible, 2+ hrs.
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Keep Moving by Maggie Smith, read by the author, is read in that dreaded “poet voice” that’s been in a number of articles, and it drove me crazy. I had to look past that cadence to hear Smith’s words clearly. So if that cadence bothers you, you’ll want to read the book, as opposed to listen to it.

Beyond that, this book offers notes on loss and grief of a recently divorced woman who is continuing her life journey in a way she never expected – without a life partner. It is clear that “keep moving” was a mantra she used to get through the loss of her marriage and the deaths of others. She speaks about living in the present each day and not dwelling in the past that can pull you deep into sadness and make you immobile. Her notes and stories can help those facing similar losses move forward, but in many ways it is like Smith is speaking to herself. We’re getting a sneak peak into her diary.

I love that she focuses on post-traumatic growth in one section of this memoir. This helps us to see beyond the darkness to see the positives in our trials and losses. I liked this the most about the book. Focus on that beginning, push past our fears and explore new avenues for growth. You can even think about professional growth as a way to fill the emptiness left behind.

There is, however, very little about being creative during this time. This is more of an emotional journey and there are snippets of some creative pursuits and nods to the literary community, but no advice on that front, which is what I wanted when I decided to check this out.

Keep Moving by Maggie Smith is about moving forward after irrevocable change, and we need to learn to move beyond our expectations and sadness to see the good, the moments for growth, and how small steps can lead to great, gratifying changes. She also speaks about how you can snowball that movement into helping others. Moving toward living, not just coping.

RATING: Tercet

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 1+ hours
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The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, narrated by Vanessa Redgrave, is an adaptation of Joan Didion’s memoir of the same name. It has been transformed into a one-act play. The devastation felt by Didion is immense but the undulating way in which this story is told is as disjointed as her emotions must have been during this time in her life, losing a husband and daughter. This shattering loss propelled the author into a world of magical thinking.

There’s an examination of marriage and its push and pull and the motherly promise that you’ll never leave your child. There is that magical thinking that your own motherly focus can keep things moving forward into the future as you’d like them to be.

Redgrave is the perfect narrator for this play. Her voice lulls you into the story and breaks your heart when Didion’s is broken. But Didion’s narrative is also very factual and linear in some parts. I honestly think this is probably best viewed as a play, rather than on audio because my mind would wander away from the story when it was a bit too clinical. I might read the memoir at a later date.

RATING: Tercet

Nerdlet: Animals by T J Resler

Source: Media Masters Publicity

Paperback, 216 pgs.

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Nerdlet: Animals by T J Resler is another fun and fact-packed book for kids to learn about the animal kingdom. The book includes some fun and unusual facts about animals, including spiders (which we are not too fond of). The pictures are gorgeous as always. Even though we’ve seen some of these animals in other books before, this little gem includes some quirky and fun facts about these animals. You’ll learn about why lemurs sit up and stretch their arms wide and how the cute faced platypus can be dangerous.

One of our favorite parts of the book are quizzes that you can take to find out what superhero you are based on animal characteristics, what species of fox you are based on how you like to play, and what kind of pet is best for you. These are the types of quizzes we love to take and enjoy as a family. We learn how we’re similar and different, but sometimes the choices are hard, especially for my daughter who definitely wanted the pet quiz to demonstrate to her parents that she was best suited for a pet cat.

Nerdlet: Animals by T J Resler can be read together as a family or dipped into occasionally on your own. What we love is that this is a book for sharing. We love animals and this is definitely something we’ll enjoy on more than one occasion. The only thing we wanted more of were those quizzes. We had a blast with those and would have liked at least 3 or 5 or 10 more. A good gift for the animal lover in your life.

RATING: Quatrain

Cold Moon: On Life, Love, and Responsibility by Roger Rosenblatt

Source: publicist

Hardcover, 98 pgs.

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Cold Moon: On Life, Love, and Responsibility by Roger Rosenblatt is an undulating wave of stories that the author uses to illustrate the lessons: appreciate being alive, recognizing the gift and power of love, and exercising responsibility toward others. Rosenblatt relies on the image of the Cold Moon, which occurs in late December as winter solstice arrives, as a symbol for the later years of his own life. He reflects on the stories he had written for Time magazine and other outlets and what they have taught him about the resiliency and love that is still present a world that sometimes seems cold and unwelcoming.

“The only thing I’m certain of is my uncertainty.” (pg. 27)

So much of life is uncertain for all of us, despite the plans we make or the directions we wish to go. Like these times of isolation and social distancing during COVID-19, Rosenblatt’s words ring true. “And to the little mechanical hand of the self-defeating box? In the few-second interim from when the time on becomes off, why don’t you learn to play the mandolin?” (pg. 28) He also reminds us that like termites, we’re dependent upon one another. We are responsible for our survival and that of those around us, even if it seems as though we are separate and unlike others around us.

Like writing and music, life happens between the noise. Cold Moon: On Life, Love, and Responsibility by Roger Rosenblatt is a meditation that reads a little disjointed, but the messages are sound.

RATING: Tercet

America the Beautiful: A Story in Photographs

Source: TLC Book Tours

Hardcover, 400 pgs.

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America the Beautiful: A Story in Photographs, published by National Geographic, tells the story of our country in photographs and is broken down by region: the West and Pacific, the East and mid-Atlantic, the South and Caribbean, and the Midwest and central plains. Katharine Lee Bates and her work are the spine holding the volume together from her poem/song “America, the Beautiful” to her 1893 pilgrimage across the United States. Like the divisions in America today politically, Bates saw much the same debates and divisions on her journey, but she saw the merciless beauty in all of it, and documented her journey in a diary. What’s beautiful about the poem and this collection is that it not only praises the beauty of our country but never fails to criticize its flaws and call for evolution/improvement. “America! America!/God mend thine ev’ry flaw.”

The photographs in this collection are stunning. Some state photographs are accompanied by stories from authors, actors, and others who are from those states, including Tara Westover and Maya Rudolph. The glorious gray wolves in their natural habitat and the Zuni women of Arizona in their finery and dresses awaiting a celebration. Imagine yourself flying high in the traditional blanket toss in Alaska during whaling festival. Hear about the glories of Las Vegas beyond the gambling and the Neon lights from Wayne Newton. Even Barack Obama makes an appearance to share his memories of Hawaii, and the celebration of the Harlem Hellfighters in a photograph of a granddaughter holding her grandfather’s portrait, draped in an American flag. Some of my favorites are the portraits in sepia; they are gorgeous and there is so much depth in these American faces.

There is a serene calm of Walden Pond in Massachusetts, contrasted with the crowded beaches of New Jersey (at least before COVID-19). Play hide-and-seek with a young boy in Idaho in his father’s cornfield. So much joy in these photographs and stories told in captions and quotations. Fruit so bountiful and children joyous in the streets of Washington, D.C., as they take the summer heat in stride. Tattoo artists, American flags in a field, gray seals playing in the ocean, the weary faces of coal miners in West Virginia the sleepy faces of Appalachian Trail hikers, the camouflage of an alligator in duckweed, the fields of cabbage in Arkansas provide a snapshot of America and all of its faces and landscapes.

America the Beautiful: A Story in Photographs, published by National Geographic, is a love story for our nation. There is beauty in the harvest of Kansas, as rows of wheat give away to what begins to look like a race track, alongside the children in Illinois sharing the spray of water in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Photographs speak a thousand words, and what this collection tells me is that America may have differences and at times be at war with itself, but we are more similar than we think. We are one nation, something we need to remember.

RATING: Cinquain

National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Science by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld

Source: Media Masters Publicity

Hardcover, 128 pgs.

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National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Science by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld is so well organized with fact boxes, interactive questions, and tips for parents to use with their kids who are interested in doing more with science. The full-color photographs are gorgeous, and my daughter didn’t want to stop reading this one. It definitely opens kids’ eyes to the world around them, the simple ways in which science can be done, and explains how they too can become scientists.

From what our senses tell us about the world around us to how we can find answers to our questions, this book provides a great foundation for kids. My daughter has already kept a science journal for class in 2nd and 3rd grade when they were studying clouds and the growth of seeds, but this book also goes more into depth about hypotheses and theories and the difference between them. I loved the “Branches of Science” tree included in the book, though the branches of engineering, ecology, and physical science seemed a bit short to me; I’m sure there are more branches coming off of those. There is so much more that this book could cover in each chapter, but as a “first” book of science for kids, it does a wonderful job.

We loved how easy to read this was for my daughter. She read it to us on more than one occasion when she got excited about something she learned. I hope that this is just the first in the series and that there are more of these books about the other branches of science that are not covered in this volume. National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Science by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld is a great addition to any library and will be fun for both parents and kids with plenty of activities to share.

RATING: Cinquain

5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!)

Source: Media Masters Publicity

Hardcover, 224 pgs.

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5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!) from National Geographic Kids packs a lot of information into its little more than 200 pages, and many of these pages have full color photographs. The layout of the pages differs, but they are each packed with some fun and unusual facts from the 15 facts about mysteries throughout history to facts about animals (like penguins and dolphins) and facts about women, transportation, robots, paranormal activity, space junk, the Olympics, swimming, and Antarctica, among others.

We did notice that certain lists of facts are super long and don’t fit well into a fun and engaging bubble or other format, which means they were simply listed with one large photo or two medium photos. For instance, the two pages of sharks were just a list with one photo of a Great White Shark, and the text was a bit small. While my daughter loves watching shark week, this page of facts was not engaging to her. Neither were the two pages about skeletons and muscles, which was similarly arranged.

However, this book is chock full of information that kids can explore at their leisure and share with their parents. We love using these books to quiz each other and share what we found interesting. It’s fun to see our daughter say, “I knew that.” And then she’ll share a fact that she found interesting by first asking, “Mom, did you know…” I love these kids of books for this reason alone. My daughter also loved learning about inventions and some other things that she wouldn’t think to ask about. This book provides her with new thinks to explore on her own and with help.

5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!) from National Geographic Kids is a great gift for kids who are curious about the world around us — including the man-made parts of our world. My daughter loves nature, so those parts of the book were most interesting, but we did have some conversations about space junk and other things she had no idea about. We’ll likely turn to this book again and again, especially when we can get back to doing road trips.

RATING: Quatrain

Weird But True: Halloween 300 Spooky Facts to Scare You Silly by Julie Beer

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 208 pgs.
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Weird But True: Halloween 300 Spooky Facts to Scare You Silly by Julie Beer contains all things Halloween, the quirky, the factual, the fun, and the ghoulish. I wanted to review this one on Oct. 13 because it is a mirror for Oct. 31 and because 13 is considered an unlucky number.

My daughter loved the fun facts in this book and was awed by the spectacular displays throughout that people made with carved, lighted pumpkins. These displays are massive and inventive. I was riveted by the unusual: did you know that Halloween was once associated with love and romance? Or that in Scotland, people peeled apples in one long strip and tossed the peel over their shoulder to see what the first letter of their future love would be? Or that people in England used to take the front doors off their neighbors’ homes and hide them? And one I never would have known without reading this book is that the filling of Kit Kats is made from ground up Kit Kats.

Some of the fun facts I knew in here, especially the ones about Macbeth and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but there wasn’t much about my favorite Halloween reads, but then again, perhaps my personal readings of Edgar Allan Poe are not traditions elsewhere.

There are even some goodies in here that I hope to try with my daughter on Halloween in lieu of Trick or Treating — some mummy wrapping, apple bobbing, and carving challenges. Weird But True: Halloween 300 Spooky Facts to Scare You Silly by Julie Beer is a delightful look at the holiday and all the craziness that it inspires. Definitely a great gift to offer kids when candy and door-to-door stops is ill-advised.

RATING: Quatrain