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Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 40 pgs.
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Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a brief look at the extraordinary lives of these brilliant mathematicians — Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dr. Christine Darden. My daughter and I read this book together and were learning a great deal about not only the role of math in the building of airplanes and spacecraft, but also the history of the time when segregation still existed and women were not allowed in meetings or even on scientific teams.

In one illustration, my daughter commented about the separate water fountains and noted that the one for “coloreds” looked more like a toilet with a spout than a water fountain. I think this was her interpretation of the differences between those facilities and she was taken aback at how awful just that aspect was. Kids are far smarter than adults sometimes.

As we read, we looked up the real women on the internet to check out more of their accomplishments and look at the projects they worked on, and my daughter was particularly interested in the wind tunnels that Mary Jackson worked with. I think it was because the visual of the giant fan behind Jackson and her team didn’t demonstrate the airplane models being tested. The internet helped with that.

While we loved the illustrations and how vivid they are, we wondered about the earrings the ladies wore — stars, planets, moons — were these accurate to their daily accessories or just a nod to their role in the space race? My daughter also loves learning about the landing on the moon and what was said, and the biographies in the back about each woman was fantastic because we learned more about each of them, though we were saddened to learn that only one of them is still alive, as Katherine Johnson passed away in 2020.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a delightful introduction to these stellar women and their accomplishments against all odds — racism and sexism. This generated some great discussion with my daughter and since she loves history, it was a great read for us.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Margot Lee Shetterly is the author of  Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. She is also the founder of The Human Computer Project, an endeavor that is recovering the names and accomplishments of all of the women who worked as computers, mathematicians, scientists, and engineers at the NACA and NASA from the 1930s through the 1980s. She is a Hampton, Virginia native, University of Virginia graduate, an entrepreneur, and an intrepid traveler who spent 11 years living in Mexico. She currently lives in Charlottesville, VA.

About the Illustrator:

Laura Freeman is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honoree. Her work on “Hidden Figures” written by Margot Lee Shetterly, was recognized with an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Children, reached the New York Times Best Seller list and was listed as one of “Ten Books All Georgians Should Read”. Her art has been honored at the Society of Illustrators in NYC and in the Annuals for Communication Arts and American Illustration.

Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 11+ hrs.
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Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen, narrated by P. J. Ochlan, is an exploration of the lasting impact of war on individuals and the memory of war long after it is fought, incorporating the role of governments, individual and national ethics, and the media and film industry, as well as novelists, etc.

The narration of this book doesn’t do much for the dry academic text, which made this a harder read than it probably would have been in print. I definitely do not recommend this audiobook. The narration is dry and lifeless. With that said, if you are looking for a dynamic look at the Vietnam War and memory, this is more speculation, analysis of previous thoughts on memory and ethical remembering, as well as a look at how the entertainment industry in the United States shapes the views of war over time.

In some ways, Nguyen takes on too many subjects in this book. I feel like the whole section on first-person war-based video games could be a dissertation or a book in itself with data on the impact of these war video games, etc. This happens with other topics as well. This was far too academic and focused on theories and philosophies with little data, which was a drawback for me. I would have preferred more dynamic text and narration, as well as some data to back up some of his arguments.

My overall takeaway from Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen, narrated by P. J. Ochlan, is that to remember war, we need to remember the good and the bad on both sides, not just the humanity of one side and the inhumanity of the other. We need to recall that all actors in war are culpable to some extent and that they are all round “characters” not flat. Humanity is not something that only applies to the righteous or the just act, especially as my grandmother once said, “there is always more to the story than you know and there is no one person at fault.” We all need to be better at accepting our inhuman actions and the humanity of those we do not know or understand well.

RATING: Couplet

Other Reviews:

The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes by Silke Vry, illustrated by Finn Dean

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 96 pgs.
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The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes by Silke Vry, illustrated by Finn Dean, and being published in September and is certified as climate neutral and FSC certified, is full of history and insight into the differences between labyrinths and mazes, includes fun experiments and exercises, and is beautifully illustrated. The first section explains both and their differences and offers a fun psychological experiment with a spiral. It’s a fun activity for the kids and parents.

In the second section, the book explores Labyrinths in history and myths. You can picture the Minotaur, can’t you? From Egypt to Europe and Asia, labyrinths have fascinated many cultures and have been used for different reasons. Some have been uncovered by archaeologists, while others are still a mystery and may not have existed at all. Kids will love the sample mazes and labyrinths in this section and be eager to try them out.

In the third section, the author explores mazes all over the world. Rulers often built mazes out of hedgerows as a form of entertainment for guests. The author elaborates more on the features of mazes. Throughout every section of the book, the author connects the love of mazes and labyrinths to the often winding journeys of our lives, and our need for patience to make enjoy the journey and take it one day at a time.

The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes by Silke Vry, illustrated by Finn Dean, is a delightful read that has a good deal of history, mystery, and fun activities for kids and parents. The illustrations are detailed and each page has tips and fun facts. There are instructions in how to draw your own maze, which is also a fascinating experiment for both parents and their kids. I see challenges in the future where we create mazes for each other. In the back of the book, there are a list of corn mazes and other ways to find modern mazes in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

RATING: Cinquain

The Weather Pop-Up Book by Maike Biederstaedt

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 14 pgs.
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The Weather Pop-Up Book by Maike Biederstaedt, which publishes in early September, is a great introductory book for elementary school kids to learn about tornadoes, storms, drought, and more. Earthquakes are not touched on, but the author does speak to the benefits of storms and the destruction they can cause. Moreover, the pop-up storms are larger than life and well executed. The book opens and closes easily without any snags.

Younger kids may need help pronouncing some of the terms, but the explanations are on the right level for kids to understand. Older elementary kids will grasp these concepts more easily as they begin to study Earth science in school. This would make a great addition to any teacher’s library to provide students with visual representations. The author does make the push for a move toward renewable energy and more sustainable agriculture, but it isn’t overly preachy.

The Weather Pop-Up Book by Maike Biederstaedt is definitely a good starter book for kids to learn about their environment, natural disasters, energy use, and agriculture. Weather can be something that seems not only destructive but also magical, if you understand it.

Rating: Quatrain

Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter

Source: FSB Associates
Paperback, 352 pgs.
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Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter is a book focused on not letting rejection and negative thoughts get in the way of your dreams. Carter’s book guides writers through the doubts, negative thoughts, roadblocks, and obstacles of writing and publishing, helping them review their own perspectives and how to change their mindsets.

She begins by talking about her hammock where she daydreamed and thought about her writing, but one day, her neighbor cuts the shade tree down in his yard and the hammock is now not “perfect.” Carter’s thoughts are consumed by the loss of shade and the bright sun, but her husband suggests she moves the hammock to another spot. She’s unwilling to do that, until she realizes that sometimes obstacles pop up when we need to change direction.

“I had traded the powerful peace that I am for the illusion that somebody had taken it,” she says. “You may think, as I did, that someone or something outside you is responsible for your upset. As convincing as this appears, it’s a misconception. Our peace and happiness come from within.”

Our internal demons and thoughts are those that keep us from reaching our dreams, and she urges us to stop being rats on that spinning wheel and get off. We need to release ourselves from the “cage of our own making.” In order to do this, however, you need to know wholeheartedly what you want, especially from your writing. You need to have a clear vision of the writing and its purpose. Without it, agents and external forces can push you in directions that are not a perfect fit for you. While some may provide additional opportunities that you may want to pursue, other opportunities may not be a right fit. The trick is to have a clear vision at the start to recognize those right opportunities.

“We cannot control outside circumstances or thoughts, we can choose how we relate to them.”

Carter does offer some writing advice, but her book is less about craft itself and more about the mindset you need to create freely. She does offer a great deal of insight about choosing agents and publishers and learning what route is best for your writing. Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter is part spiritual journey, part publishing advice, and part writing craft advice.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Bella Mahaya Carter is a creative writing teacher, empowerment coach, speaker, and author of an award-winning memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, and a collection of narrative poems. She has worked with hundreds of writers since 2008 and has degrees in literature, film, and spiritual psychology. Her poetry, essays, fiction, and interviews have appeared in Mind, Body, Green; The Sun; Lilith; Fearless Soul; Writer’s Bone; Women Writers, Women’s Books; Chic Vegan; Bad Yogi Magazine; Jane Friedman’s blog; Pick The Brain; the Spiritual Medial Blog; Literary Mama, several anthologies’ and elsewhere.

The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield (audio)

Source: Freebie
Audible, 2+ hrs.
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The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield is a hommage to Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac that relies on Rolling Stone magazine’s extensive archives. It is clear from Rob Sheffield’s effusive narrative that he loves Stevie Nicks, considers her songwriting genius, and her style transcendent. He clearly loves Stevie Nicks and he takes listeners on a journey through her music with the band and as a solo artist. I loved learning that Nicks wrote songs and that none of them were earmarked ahead of time for the band or her solo albums. She just couldn’t help but write songs all the time.

I liked the light-hearted nature of this nugget, as I’m not as familiar with Nicks’ work as others might be. I’ve listened to Fleetwood Mac many times, and I enjoy their music, but I was interested in her as an artist, who seemed to be a force in the band and on her own. I would probably seek out a more in-depth look at her work and her life, but this provided a nice overview without too much “romance/breakup” gossipy stuff, which I tend to not like as much.

The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield is one fan-boy’s love of Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks told by the man himself. It does provide a great overview for the curious who might not want to be too invested, but if you want something more than squealing about how great she is, you might want to try something different.

RATING: Tercet

Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals Shells

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 128 pgs.
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Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals Shells from National Geographic Kids is another stunning book from this publisher. The full-color pictures, the facts throughout the book, and just how the book is put together is fantastic. For kids who are curious about the world around them and pick up rocks and stick them in their pockets as they walk through the park, this is a book for them. This book will open their eyes to the wonderful world of rocks, minerals, and shells.

The introduction gives parents some basic information about how the book rolls out its information, from fact boxes to interactive questions for the kids and the parent tips at the back of the book. This book offers parents a starting point for exploring the natural world with their kids and rekindling some of the curiosity they once had as children. I remember taking earth science in school, but this rock cycle graphic is a great refresher about how all rocks can come full circle.

In addition to pictures of mountains and natural formations that are comprised of rock, the book points to man-made structures that use different types of rock. Kids will learn about rocks in their own backyards, as well as rocks they don’t see every day. I learned about rock that floats like an island in the South Pacific. The interactive map of rocks in different locations is a fun matching quiz for parents and kids alike.

Kids also will learn about shells and mollusks and turtles and so much more. Don’t forget about the minerals. We love discovering new minerals and the matching game where kids are asked to match minerals like topaz with their natural forms, rather than their refined gem looks.

My daughter has collected rocks for as long as I can remember and when we visited Myrtle Beach she started collecting shells. This book has so much information, you may get overloaded if you read it in one day, but as a resource you can come back to again and again, it is a gem of a book. We’re always amazed by how National Geographic Kids puts its informational books together and makes them interactive, and Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals Shells is no exception.

RATING: Cinquain

Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise and Marcus Brotherton (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 12+ hours
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Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise and Marcus Brotherton, read by the Gary Sinise, explores his upbringing, wayward years, and his stumble into acting and building a theater in Chicago from the ground up. These stories are full of antics, and spontaneity, but they also demonstrate the tenacity of a young man who has found his calling. It is this determination that will carry him not only throughout his acting career, but family trials and his charity work with veterans and children.

Sinise is most well-known for Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump and CSI NY but among veterans, he’s Lt. Dan — yes, military personnel have called him that more than one time. While not a veteran himself, Sinise understands the sacrifices many military men and women make for our country and how heavily the PTSD and wounds weigh on not only those sustaining them, but also those caring for the wounded. Listening to this on audio, I was engaged in the story most of the time, unless he was listing accomplishments.

Despite that drawback, Sinise provides a good look at how his wayward early years and stumble into acting not only set him up for success in film, theater, and television, but also in using that success to help others tasked with protecting our freedoms. While there are moments in the memoir where he references things that later proved false (like WMDs in Iraq), the focus on his work is not political — it is humanitarian. This is the work and the part of the memoir that was the most “real” to me. He seemed to genuinely care about the people he tries to help through his foundations and other organizations, and it is clear that he believes in his purpose.

Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise and Marcus Brotherton is an exploration of one man’s journey away from his own concerns and career to a life of service. He’s clearly done a lot of good from uplifting the morale of troops overseas to providing children with school supplies in war zones and ensuring that veterans return home to a place where they can thrive and do more than just survive from appointment to appointment. This is the work to be proud of, work he plans to continue, and work that will leave a lasting impression.

RATING: Quatrain

Go Wild! Sea Turtles by Jill Esbaum

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Go Wild! Sea Turtles by Jill Esbaum from National Geographic Kids offers a look at the sea habitats of sea turtles, including the leatherback, green turtle, hawksbill, and more. Like Go Wild! Pandas, this books includes vibrant photographs and a ton of facts about turtles. There is so much variety in these turtles and what they eat and where they live. The book opens with a beautiful photograph of a sea turtle gliding through the water and a child-like poem about turtles, the reptiles of the world’s oceans.

Turtles live in so many oceans around the world, except the Arctic. The book talks about the turtles’ anatomy, and you learn about how the leatherback doesn’t have a traditional shell and that sea turtles cannot retract their head and legs inside their shells like land turtles can. We learn about how vulnerable these animals are to our own trash, which are dumped in the oceans, as well as how we can help turtles recover and thrive by protecting their habitats and dimming city lights so the babies can find the sea. There are simple things each of us can do, including take a few hours to clean up our own waterways and beaches.

Go Wild! Sea Turtles by Jill Esbaum has a great deal of information about habitats, eating habits, dangers, and human interventions. Like the other book reviewed this week, this one offers tips for parents on how to engage their children in learning more about turtles from writing stories to holding plays. It also has a few games for kids so they understand what they’ve read. Definitely a book you’ll want for your little naturalist.

RATING: Cinquain

Go Wild! Pandas by Margie Markarian

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Go Wild! Pandas by Margie Markarian from National Geographic Kids is chock full of panda facts and vibrant photographs. Kids will open the book to find a panda hugging a tree, but when they turn the page, they’ll be greeted by the smiling panda face and a riddle. Kids will be learning in a fun and interactive way with this book.

We loved all of the facts, the pictures, the riddles, the quiz at the end, and the call to action on how kids and parents can help pandas. Pandas, as many know, are endangered and most of that is because their habitat is disappearing. There are also tips on how to engage your children in learning about pandas beyond reading the book. Some of the ideas include adopting a panda online, doing some math about how much pandas eat vs. how much the child eats, and putting on plays about pandas. The book also contains a glossary for words in the book from “habitat” to “reserve.”

Go Wild! Pandas by Margie Markarian is a great starting point for young readers interested in the natural world. From its interactive quizzes and riddles to its plethora of facts and photos, National Geographic Kids has created a book that can create a lifelong learner and spur kids to explore the world beyond the page.

RATING: Cinquain

Forward by Abby Wambach (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook; 5+ hrs.
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Forward by Abby Wambach, read by the author, explores her need for soccer in her life and her early hatred of the game and her talent. But at its heart, it is also a memoir that explores identity and self-love. A lot of her high school and soccer years are spent trying to be seen, but even as she is seen by the public more and more, she feels more unloved. This vacancy in her heart leads her to destructive behavior and she becomes very unbalanced. There is one moment where she turns the tables on herself — asking herself if she knows who she is.

Her life is a roller coaster of emotion where she is on highs and slumps into lows, exchanging booze for pills. However, I feel like when she decides to kick these habits, they are still there but she places less emphasis on them. She talks a lot about getting fit and kicking habits, but she still allows for medications that can be addictive. I found this a bit hypocritical, especially since they mask a larger problem. I sense that there is still denial here in how these pills mask her underlying issues. It begs the question of whether more time apart from soccer and the publicity would have given her more time for reflection and self-assessment, perhaps growth.

Forward by Abby Wambach is an inside look at a woman who has a hard time letting go of control, cannot have faith in others, and learn to love herself and know that she is worthy of love. Soccer is always there for her, even when she doesn’t want it to be. Soccer fans will love the recounting of her championships, Olympics, and more, but these are wider examples of her need for adrenaline and attention. Wambach struggles to be alone and love herself, but she never really recognizes this in the memoir. I think with more distance and further reflection, she would have written a deeper memoir.

RATING: Tercet

On the House by John Boehner (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 7+ hrs.
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**Caution: foul language throughout**

On the House: A Washington Memoir by John Boehner, read by the author, is an insider’s look at how the House of Representatives works from backroom deals, challenges with fellow party members, and camaraderie between representatives when the media is not in their face or fundraising isn’t front and center. I loved his no-nonsense attitude, but what I found lacking was his own self-reflection on how he could have steered his party and others in different and better ways during his time as Speaker of the House. Much of what he imparts in his years in the House are more “I was right and others were wrong” commentary, which I don’t feel to ring true.

It was great to see his relationships with Presidents Gerald Ford, George Bush, and Barack Obama, especially as Speaker Boehner tried to navigate “Crazytown.” I found it ironic that Boehner started his career in the House as a radical who wanted changes to the House bank, but ended up fighting against “radicals” (Tea Party and otherwise) in his days under the Obama administrations. He has more colorful words for people like Sen. Ted Cruz and others, which I’m sure you’ve heard about online or TV.

Much of the issues facing Boehner were related to the 2013 government shutdown, which he had warned his fellow Republicans that such a standoff would fail against the Obama administration. He may have been right, but allowing the party to hang itself out to dry to prove a political point (which it didn’t) runs contrary to the earlier set up of the book where he hails his respect for the country and its institutions. Mind you, he’s still a Republican with ideals that lean toward smaller government, but in this case, it seems he could have fought Cruz (who was not in the House) harder by pushing his own party away from shutting down the government.

What I did find interesting were the yarns about his childhood and his early House years, including his assessment of Sen. Ted Kennedy and others. Some of these stories seem a bit inflated, but that’s typical with memoirs focused on making the speaker sound more upright and honest than they may have been. We all want to remember our past actions in the best light.

As an aside, I had no idea that the Speaker could make their own rules for their office, including being able to smoke inside! But Boehner did just that! Another fun fact, according to Boehner, Bernie Sanders is the most honest and non-cynical politician in government.

On the House: A Washington Memoir by John Boehner is his review of his time in the House from his early years scrapping his way to the top and as Speaker of the House, one of the most powerful positions in government. What I got out of this is that you are only as powerful as the relationships you build and the consensus you can achieve through those relationships. However, as more politicians become “radical” — adhering to their beliefs without room for new information or compromise — the government is likely to become far more dysfunctional.

RATING: Tercet