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Killing Summer by Sarah Browning

Source: the poet
Paperback, 100 pgs.
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Killing Summer by Sarah Browning begins in the heat of summer in which a woman walks her neighborhood and does not cross the street because there is a black man there and there is a man stabbing women on the loose.  But look closer at “Pentworth, Early Evening” and you see a narrator who thinks about doing just that, who has fear deep down that she’ll be a victim of violence by a black man.  Like her, we want “to tear history” from us, free ourselves from that ingrained habit that those unlike us are something to fear.

From “Flag of No Walls” (pg. 93)

I want the flag of talking,
of sitting on the disintegrating
wall and gabbing, gossiping,
negotiating, waving that flag
of no walls. That flag.

Through Browning’s open endings, her poems seek change and there is a glimmer of hope that changes are coming and that transformation could be for the better (at least for those who come after us).  Her poems are ripped from the headlines, but they also are reflective of the past — a societal angst that was gone and has returned.  From an adolescent student seeking the courage to be seen by the boys in the courtyard to the pull between the ingrained fear and the inability to reconcile an ancestry of slave owners, there is a tension throughout the collection that simmers, wearing us down.

From “The Blueberry Seasons” (pg. 77)

I can’t stop admiring you, how you run
like that, bring your bucket now to show me.

Summer is often referenced as a time of being carefree, and there is some of that here in poems such as “The Blueberry Seasons,” but Browning is quick to remind us that life is not carefree for everyone — not the amputee, not those touched by foreclosure, and not those falsely imprisoned.  Her poems ask us to view ourselves and our actions through the eyes of others, to see how we are perceived and to begin again and become better, more compassionate, and connected.

Killing Summer by Sarah Browning reminds us that even in the most turbulent political times, we should not be blind to our roles and we should not passively watch or read. We must act if we hope to make change.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Sarah Browning is co-founder and Executive Director of Split This Rock. She is an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and a featured writer for Other Words. Author of Killing Summer (Sibling Rivalry Press, forthcoming 2017) and Whiskey in the Garden of Eden (The Word Works, 2007), and coeditor of D.C. Poets Against the War: An Anthology (Argonne House Press, 2004), she is the recipient of artist fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, a Creative Communities Initiative grant, and the People Before Profits Poetry Prize. Browning has been guest editor or co-edited special issues of Beltway Poetry Quarterly, The Delaware Poetry Review, and POETRY magazine. Since 2006, she has co-hosted the Sunday Kind of Love poetry series at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC. She previously worked supporting socially engaged women artists with WomenArts and developing creative writing workshops with low-income women and youth with Amherst Writers & Artists. She has been a community organizer in Boston public housing and a grassroots political organizer on a host of social and political issues.

Story Problems by Charles Jensen

Source: the poet
Paperback, 39 pgs.
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Story Problems: Poems by Charles Jensen, the winner of 2017 Palooka Press Chapbook Contest, is a chapbook written in a composition exam book style, complete with prose and sample questions for the reader. It’s interactive like all forms of poetry, seeking the readers’ input and self-analysis or even quirky responses to strange questions.

I remember these composition exam books fondly (I’m probably the only one) because I could write out my answers as completely as I wanted and there was no anxiety of speaking in front of the class in a presentation format. There also wasn’t the dreaded multiple choice, on which I always second guessed my answers and changed them, inevitably, to the wrong one.

Jensen’s perspective on grief and loss is as infinite as the universe. Imaging an “Origin Myth” of yourself and then the loss of a parent, how could someone so small in comparison to the rest of the universe contain an entire universe? But isn’t it true that our family is often a universe to us and when it disappears through death or other means, we are drifting and empty?

From “2. The Water Cycle” (pg. 7)

“Breath and words a latticework of ruin.”

From “6. Journey to the Center of the Earth” (pg. 11)

“I told people later grief is the absence of hope, but even then I knew it wasn’t true. Grief is when you have hope, and then hope leaves you.”

From “14. Temporary Death” (pg. 19)

“To watch a loved one breathe out without breathing in makes you stop breathing. There’s a long moment that follows in which no one watching is really alive.”

The prose poems are only as complex as the reader who reads them. With its simple language and in some cases platitudes we’ve all heard before, Jensen is able to pull forth the more existential questions self-actualizing humans find harder to deal with and answer. In this composition exam, the reader is asked to dig deeper into what they know of themselves, their religion, their whiteness, their losses and more to see not only the futility of some of our actions but also how identity is a construct that very few of us understand. He leaps from the broader universality of the human condition to the immediate “you” that we are trapped inside with his probing questions and fanciful instructions.

Story Problems: Poems by Charles Jensen is a chapbook with unending possibilities for the reader.  Self-examination and world examination at its best.  Jensen is becoming one of my favorite poets.  His work is unique and universal, but it also challenges the reader to become more than the passive observer.

RATING: Cinquain

Photo: Philip Pirolo

About the Author:

Charles Jensen is the author of six chapbooks of poems, including the recent Story Problems and Breakup/Breakdown, and The First Risk, which was a finalist for the 2010 Lambda Literary Award. His previous chapbooks include Living Things, which won the 2006 Frank O’Hara Chapbook Award, and The Strange Case of Maribel Dixon (New Michigan Press, 2007). A past recipient of an Artist’s Project Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, his poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review, Bloom, Columbia Poetry Review, Copper Nickel, Field, The Journal, New England Review, and Prairie Schooner. He is the founding editor of the online poetry magazine LOCUSPOINT, which explores creative work on a city-by-city basis. He lives in Los Angeles.

The Art of Drawing Dangles: Creating Decorative Letters and Art with Charms by Olivia A. Kneibler

Source: QuartoKnows
Paperback, 144 pgs.
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The Art of Drawing Dangles: Creating Decorative Letters and Art with Charms by Olivia A. Kneibler has a colorful cover and it is clear from the drawings that your lettering will never be plain Jane again.  When kids doodle adding things to their letters or words, they are often told to write the letters as they should be written.  But this book allows their imaginations to run free, adding all sorts of designs to the dangles hanging from their letters.  There are chapters in the book to guide them through the process of drawing them, and there is no limit to how many dangles or what types of items can be made into dangles.

The introduction explains what dangles are and how different strings on which the charms hang can determine the mood of the lettering — evoking different emotions and reactions from the reader.  This type of lettering is great for stationary, artwork, and other creations.  Create wedding invitations with dangles, create monogrammed stationary, and use a variety of materials and styles.  There is a recommended list of materials in the beginning, including watercolor paints, colored pencils, markers, and more.  This is the perfect companion for Hand Lettering A to Z, which would enable you to create even more elaborate designs.

I loved that there are faint outlines for kids to practice creating some of the designs they see in the book. The Art of Drawing Dangles: Creating Decorative Letters and Art with Charms by Olivia A. Kneibler can help kids slow down and be creative, while providing parents with some quiet time. It also can help parents recharge by having them step away from their day-to-day stresses to create art with their children.

RATING: Quatrain

Find out more about the Author:

“Art has been my bliss since I was a very young girl, so much so that I majored in fine art in college with a minor in psychology. I have been producing and selling my art for many years using mostly watercolor as my main medium. When I began focusing solely on art as my career I freelanced for various companies and continued on that path for years creating illustrations for greeting cards, invitations, promotional materials, fabric, figurines and plush teddy bears. Some of the companies I freelanced for were pcCrafter, Bradford Exchange, Gibson Greetings, Paper Magic Group, Annette Funicello Collectible Bear Company (exclusive artist), Leisure Arts, Gooseberry Patch, Walter Drake and more. I was the in house Senior Designer at DecoArt and worked in all aspects of the creative department and extensively on the Liquid Rainbow product, completing four books and numerous projects. After years of working with different companies I decided I would start working for myself so I opened my site, Olivia and Company.”

Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams

Source: William Morrow
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams tells a twisted and dark tale reminiscent of Rebecca‘s Gothic nature and the secrets held back from the main character Virginia Fortescue — you may remember her sister, Sophie, from A Certain Age.  The narrative shifts between the early 1920s (Virginia’s present) and the Great War where as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross, she meets a charming doctor, Captain Simon Fitzwilliam.  Their relationship starts out as a friendship, but you can tell that there is a spark between them from the start — almost a magnetic pull.  Virginia, unfortunately, carries a great deal of baggage and has an inability to trust men because of her father and the death of her mother. Meanwhile, Simon is bent on protecting her by any means, including keeping secrets and telling lies.  Their relationship seems doomed from the beginning.

The pacing of this novel between the time lines, plus the additional twists and suspenseful moments, can leave the reader fatigued as they try to see through the lies and get at the truth.  Like Virginia, who is the main narrator, the readers is left wandering in a fog of lies with little light to guide them.  The relationship of Simon and Virginia is passionate, but the deeper connection they felt is so easily broken by the lies of others and the circumstances they cannot control.

Many years pass and the darkness has poisoned what was once between them.  It makes it difficult for the reader to have faith in the relationship at all given all that has happened and the inability to find even a little truth in the lies.  It’s like in all the years since WWI, Virginia remains that same naive girl who is easily lead astray.  Simon is a character who is hard to get a handle on because of Virginia’s inability to see who he truly is for nearly the entire novel.

What’s even more frustrating is the last third of the novel seems out of left field in places and overly dramatic (like a soap opera), which again may be related to the Gothic feeling of the novel.  Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams is enjoyable in many parts and definitely dramatic.  There is definitely a lot to discuss with a book club.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz Williams spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons, before her career as a writer took off. She lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore.

Find out more about Beatriz at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 8+ hrs.
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Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah is narrated by the author and is a look back at his childhood in South Africa while it was under apartheid and after.  He is the child of a black mother and a white father, and under apartheid he was classified as colored alongside the Indians, Chinese, and others that were neither black nor white.  Being born colored was a crime because white and black people were not supposed to procreate.  But beyond only the complex and illogical thinking that is apartheid and racism, in general, Noah’s life was anything but plush.  His mother loved him and he loved his mother, but tough love was the order of the day given the fact that his parents had broken the law to have him in the first place. I knew little about this nation other than Nelson Mandela was there in jail for a long time and that whites somehow controlled an entire country of black people (I really couldn’t wrap my head around it as a child or even now).

Noah’s religious mother believed that Jesus could cure any ill and help her through any challenge, but he did not.  Many stories involve them arguing about the role of Jesus and God like lawyers.  At one point, they were arguing in a series of letters.  Despite the tough love and the arguments about religion, Noah seems to have reconciled those actions with her good intentions.  Many of these stories help to establish a line he has drawn between the tough love she showed him and the beatings he received from his step-father later in life.  Readers looking for information on South Africa and apartheid will find some of that here, but this is a memoir about how that regime and its consequences not only shaped the lives of others, but also that of Noah (as well as how he was treated by others).  His adaptability to certain situations and cultures is a credit to his own ability to puzzle out how best to survive in this barbed world.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah is funny, heart-warming, sad, and infuriating.  Like many young men, he chooses the wrong path to make money and get ahead, but he also learns a great deal from his own mistakes. One tragedy clearly shaped the narrative of this letter; it is like a love letter to his mother and how they grew together as a family despite the external challenges they faced.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Trevor Noah is a South African comedian, television and radio host and actor. He currently hosts The Daily Show, a late-night television talk show on Comedy Central.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook; 14 CDs
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Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, Kathleen Gati, and Kathrin Kana — which was our September book club selection — is an expertly woven tale of Caroline Ferriday’s lilac girls, or the Ravensbrück rabbits, who were experimented on in a German WWII camp.  Ferriday, who was a real woman, is a socialite who soon realizes that her work with French nationals is more about helping others than it is about her social status, even as she falls for a married French actor and considers a different life for herself.  Told in alternate points of view — Ferriday, polish teen Kasia Kuzmerick, and a young ambitious German Dr. Herta Oberheuser — Kelly’s trifecta pushes readers deep into the emotional baggage of WWII and the relationships that carry each woman through.  Clearly well researched, Ferriday comes to life as a woman with little else to do but mourn her father and help those in need, while Kasia has a lot to learn even as she plunges headlong into the resistance to impress a boy.  Meanwhile, Herta — the most educated of the three — seems to have learned little compassion for others, instead remaining focused on how to get ahead as a medical professional, no matter the cost.

Even the German doctor appears sympathetic at first, until we see how camp life hardens her against humanity.  Kasia wears her camp damage on her at all times, pushing even her family away when it is clear she needs them most.  Meanwhile, Ferriday’s romantic troubles seem trivial in comparison, though it is clear they will push her into something that will become her life’s work — a search for justice for those who need it most.

It will be hard to look away from these women as they deal with the harsh experiments perpetrated by the Nazis, and they are set on their own paths and learn how best to move on with their lives after the war is over.  Kelly has lived with these women for some time, and it shows in her deeply dynamic characterization of the real-life Ferriday and Oberheuser; Kasia and her sister also are clearly based on real life accounts as their sisterly bond becomes a rock on which they can rely in even the toughest moments.  Even if you think you’ve read everything about WWII, this is not to be missed.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, Kathleen Gati, and Kathrin Kana – is a harrowing look at guilt — misplaced or not — and the affects of bonds between siblings, mothers and daughters, and even strangers during wartime.  Nurturing supportive relationships with other women can ensure survival.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Martha Hall Kelly is a native New Englander who lives in Connecticut and Martha’s Vineyard. She worked as an advertising copywriter for many years, raised three wonderful children who are now mostly out of the nest and Lilac Girls is her first novel. She is hard at work on the prequel to Lilac Girls.

Imagine That! How Dr. Seuss Wrote The Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Source: Random House
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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Imagine That! How Dr. Seuss Wrote The Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, is a whimsical biography of Dr. Seuss and his creation of The Cat in the Hat, which happens to be one of my favorite books from childhood.  The book, which came unbound that promptly became disordered when my daughter pulled it out of the envelope and took a bit for me to get in the right order, has very colorful illustrations of Seuss and his creations.

Young readers will learn that Dr. Seuss had already written a number of books before the Cat, and that the Cat was what came of a list of words his friend challenged him to use when creating a first-grade reader book.  It’s fun how the mind of Seuss is said to have worked to come up with the Cat and his adventures.

My daughter was happy to see the pictures and read some of the words in this one with me.  She would prefer a real bound book, she says.  Something we’ll have to look into.  Until then, we’ll enjoy revisiting the author in Imagine That! How Dr. Seuss Wrote The Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.

RATING: Quatrain

2017 New Authors Reading Challenge

From the Author:

I was born in Washington DC and grew up a few miles away in Falls Church, Virginia. My father was a photographer. When I was little, he took hundreds of photographs of me.

​My mother was a school librarian. She and my father read to me every day, and I learned the words in books by heart long before I could read them myself. Later, they encouraged me to learn longer poems from Alice in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

I began writing and illustrating my own books when I was seven. Sometimes I wrote my school reports in rhyme. I also wrote plays and performed them with my friends. Our favorites were tales of Robin Hood, and the Greek myths.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Annotated by Sophie Turner (Giveaway)

This is not precisely a review of Pride and Prejudice: A Novel. In Three Volumes. (Annotated and Restored to 1813 Egerton First Edition) by Jane Austen and Sophie Turner, as much as it is a look at why this revised edition was created. I’ve read this novel more times than any other, and because I do love it so much, I wanted to take a look at what Sophie Turner found in her endeavor to return the novel as close to Jane Austen’s original as possible. As grammar rules as we know them today were not as established when Austen wrote, there is a sort of free flow with her use of grammar and words.

This is particularly of interest, as the examples cited by Turner indicate how well placed Austen’s commas are in an effort to create a distinct voice for her characters. I also loved that the exclamation points we often think of as part of Mrs. Bennet’s character are not as plentiful as one would assume. I thoroughly enjoyed reading through this novel again, as well as Turner’s annotations. As an editor, I’m obviously fascinated with the choices that novelists make in word choice and punctuation.

Check out Pride and Prejudice: A Novel. In Three Volumes. (Annotated and Restored to 1813 Egerton First Edition) by Jane Austen and Sophie Turner to find Austen’s more authentic voice.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Book:

The novel needs no introduction. But readers may not have realised that we have been losing “Pride and Prejudice” over the years, particularly digitally. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation have eroded significantly from the 1813 Egerton first edition, and many digital copies suffer from poor formatting.

In 2017, the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, her “darling Child” has been painstakingly restored to the three-volume 1813 first edition. Adjustments have only been made where there were errors in the 1813 text, and are noted in detailed annotations at the end of the novel.

Please enjoy this beloved story, restored to Jane Austen’s original voice.

About the Sophie Turner:

Sophie Turner worked as an online editor before delving even more fully into the tech world. Writing, researching the Regency era, and occasionally dreaming about living in Britain are her escapes from her day job.

She was afraid of long series until she ventured upon Patrick O’Brian’s 20-book Aubrey-Maturin masterpiece, something she might have repeated five times through.

Alas, her Constant Love series is only planned to be seven books right now, and consists of A Constant Love, A Change of Legacies, and the in-progress A Season Lost.

She blogs about her writing endeavours at sophie-turner-acl.blogspot.com, where readers can find direction for the various social drawing-rooms across the Internet where she may be called upon. Visit her: Facebook, Twitter, Sophie Turner’s Blog, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Amazon.

International Giveaway:

To enter, leave a comment about why you’d like to read this new ebook edition of Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, annotated by Sophie Turner.  Enter by Sept. 15, 2017, 8 p.m. EST.

Good Luck, everyone.

To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

Source: the author
Paperback, 216 pgs.
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To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie is a collection of short stories pregnant with emotion as characters deal with grief in a variety of ways.  From the WWII homefront to New York, Summie’s characters have experienced deep loss, whether it is the loss of a child or the loss of a father to war.  Grief comes in many forms, but its effects can be devastating, leaving you with a sense of hopelessness and emptiness.

“My father seemed vague and shadowy to me already.  I didn’t think I could lose him any more than I had, but I saw those tags, and touched them, and they were hard and smooth and warm from Jimmy’s constant agitation of them, and I knew this: that I could lose my father completely…” (pg. 14, “Tags”)

Summie has a deep sense of how grief can turn into inaction, reaction, and withdrawal.  She writes from a variety of perspectives, a young boy waiting for his father to return from war, a brother who has removed himself from his family, sisters who have grown apart after the death of a grandfather, and so many more.  These perspectives call to mind the universality of grief and how it impacts us all.  Lest you believe this collection of short stories is too depressing, it is not.

Summie offers characters a glimmer of hope, a moment of clarity, and a way through the grief.  We all struggle with loss, but we all must find a way to move on.  Through this collection, we find the solutions are not always the same, but the journey through grief is often possible with a little will and strength — either from within or through the help of others.

“February rolled in with a storm.  The snow came, and it hung in the air like a bad mood.” (pg. 99, “Patchwork”)

“We leaned against one another, against the pressure of what was coming as slowly and stealthily as that snow, wild in the wind outside yet silent.” (pg. 120, “Geographies of the Heart”)

Summie’s imagery is phenomenal; readers will be swept into the snowy landscapes, heavy with drifts.  Like the grief these characters experience, the snow weighs them down.  It’s devastatingly beautiful and poetic.  To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie is gorgeous in every word.  These stories remind us, “‘The grief never leaves. You just have to learn how to carry it.'” (pg. 199, “Taking Root”)

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University, and her short stories have been published in Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, Puerto del Sol, Mud Season Review, and Long Story, Short. Her first book, a short story collection called TO LAY TO REST OUR GHOSTS, was published in August by Fomite. She spent many years in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with her family in Knoxville, Tennessee. She co-owns the book marketing firm, Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, founded in 2003.  Discussion questions.

2017 New Authors Reading Challenge

Stitching with Jane Foster by Jane Foster

Source: QuartoKnows
Hardcover, 52 pgs.
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Stitching with Jane Foster by Jane Foster is similar to the Suzy Ultman book of stitching with its templates and fun designs.  Many of these are animals, which my daughter loves. You need the same materials for this: embroidery thread, embroidery needles, and a needle threader.  This one also has step-by-step instructions for cross-stitching.  We haven’t gotten to that step yet, but I’m sure we will.  There are other stitches as well, including seed stitching and back stitching.

This one includes bookmarks, which I’m hoping she’ll make me one.  Some of these designs also can be colored by the artist before they do the stitching.  This has so many possibilities for little artists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stitching with Jane Foster by Jane Foster is another great project book for kids as young as age 6.  She has a great time picking out her templates and matching the colors.  She creates her own designs with simple stitches.  Since her and nana started, she can’t seem to stop making them.  Right now, she’s working on a frameable one and it is only 9 a.m.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Jane Foster is an illustrator and screen printer living and working in south Devon. Her work, which is strongly influenced by Scandinavian and British design from the 1950s and 60s, has been featured in many publications including Vogue, Homes & Antiques, and Mollie Makes. She is a designer for Clothkits and has done commissions for Ikea. Jane’s products are stocked throughout the world.

She’s recently been working with the company Make International who are using her designs on ceramics, glasses and kitchen textiles. These are sold globally.  Jane is the author of Creative Craft With Kids (9781909397439) and Fun with Fabric (9781908449900), published by Pavilion. Jane’s recent two books (May 2015) are for pre-school children – 123 and ABC, published by Templar.  Follow her on Twitter. Visit her Website and check out her Instagram.

Fun with Stitchables by Suzy Ultman

Source: QuartoKnows
Hardcover, 36 pgs.
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Fun with Stitchables! by Suzy Ultman is a simple way to get kids interested in creating things through sewing. My daughter and I had to grab some essentials for this book, such as embroidery needles and embroidery thread.  It took me a while to grab these materials, but once we got them, she was off to the races.  She even learned how to use a needle threader when her nana was here visiting.  She already learned how to make knots at summer camp with the Girl Scouts, so she had that part down.

It was good to see her enthusiastic about these designs and learning to use different colors in the designs.  The book includes step-by-step instructions on how to thread the needle, how to tie the knot, and some stitching basics, as well as knotting the end.  The book includes frameable prints, ornaments, embellishments for greeting cards, and so much more.

Fun with Stitchables! by Suzy Ultman is a fun activity for kids to learn about sewing and coordinating colors and creating patterns.  My daughter and her nana had a fun time creating together, and I’m sitting here next to her while she does another one.  She must love it if she keeps going back for more.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Suzy Ultman was born in Pennsylvania, but colorful and vibrant Amsterdam also plays a large part in her work. She has lived on three different continents and embraced the culture and communities of each, allowing them to influence her visual aesthetic. Suzy’s style of illustration is influenced by her childhood, love of nature, and travel experiences. She enjoys being in beautiful habitats among nature’s playful palette of forms, textures, and colors. Suzy explores the worlds within our world, the little details that make us smile, and the connections that make us all part of the global community.

2017 New Authors Reading Challenge

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 592 pgs.
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Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi traces the origins of racism in the United States, noting that it began long before the civil war.  In this volume, Kendi explores anti-racist ideas, uplift suasion (the idea that white people could be persuaded away from their racist ideas if they saw that Black people had improved their behaviors), and racism through the lens of five historical figures — Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Angela Davis.  Through these interwoven histories, the myths of ignorance and hate causing racism and discrimination are dispelled to reveal that racial discrimination begot racist ideas and bred ignorance and hate, which to me should have been well understood by now.  The fact that a comprehensive book of this nature is still needed and probably not as widely read as it should be shows how little we have traveled away from our past.

“But no racial group has ever had a monopoly on any type of human trait or gene — not now, not ever.  Under our different-looking hair and skin, doctors cannot tell the difference between our bodies, our brains, or the blood that runs in our veins.  All cultures, in all their behavioral differences, are on the same level.  Black Americans’ history of oppression has made Black opportunities — not Black people — inferior.”  (pg. 11)

Beginning with Aristotle and the barbarians of old, racism has a deep-seated hold on humanity, and these chains must be broken.  The term “race” first appeared in a poem in 1481 called “The Hunt” by Jacques de Brézé, and it was used to refer to hunting dogs, but over the next 100 years it was used to “animalize” Africans.  Reading this makes it clear to me that the penchant humanity has for categorizing everything into neat little boxes has only divided us for very little reason.  The term “negars” was used in 1627, placing African slaves below servants in a hierarchy following the death of George Yeardley and the court decision regarding his estate.  Africans were little more than cattle under this decision.  It is these moments in history where a lack of understanding and a failure to properly research another culture and people have led European and American societies to denigrate the African people and their culture.

Repeatedly, throughout history, the victims of this failure are abused — sometimes at the hands of their fellow Africans and blacks.  Even W.E.B. Du Bois failed to grasp anti-racist ideals after he was afforded a college education that many of his brethren would never achieve.  But here’s the rub, his education was at the hands of those who already had failed to properly research and understand a culture unlike their own and who had quickly labeled it inferior because of their own failure to understand or wish to understand.

Kendi also delves into the inferiority of the Black woman, who as a group has been placed lower than the Black male because white men could not help but want to sleep with them and their mannerisms were not like the demur, white woman.  Many of the stereotypes heaped on Black women today stem from these times, and they were never more plain than they were in the early suffragist movement.  Even when it was clear that Africans knew more about how to combat smallpox, many white physicians failed to heed their advice because they are an inferior race.  Logic and research again failed to permeate this scientific world.

In more modern history, Kendi examines the role of the NAACP, providing a wider perspective of their role in racism.  Although Kendi makes valid points about the group relative to his over-arching arguments, we also must remember that in our wider failings some good can be achieved — small as it may be — though after more than 200 years of oppression one can see why there is a growing impatience and anger about the continued racism against a people that are not inferior.  There also is a section on Harper Lee’s book in which Kendi decries the classic as more racist propaganda in which Blacks must wait for white saviors like Atticus Finch.  This perspective made me view the book a bit differently because I had always viewed it as a book in which a young girl first realizes that discrimination exists against Black people and that her father was fighting against that discrimination.

One point I thought was really well made was on cultural appropriation, such as when cornrows were worn by Bo Derek and when Eminem rose to rap fame.  “What was the most amazing about the whole uproar … was the hypocrisy of Black people.  Some of those Black people who had permed their hair — an appropriation of European culture — were now ridiculing Bo Derek and other White women for braiding their hair and appropriating African culture.”  (pg. 421)  He also points out the economic policies of Reagan as harmful to not only Blacks, with the “median income of Black families declin[ing] by 5.2 percent.”

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi is a comprehensive look at American racism through the Obama administration’s first years.  It is not only Whites he takes to task for their racism, as he point out how Blacks also held racist ideas about their own culture and brethren.  In the epilogue, he offers some ideas about how racism can be eliminated, such as the elimination of the mechanisms that generate racial disparities and the use of local protests to focus on immediate areas of discrimination and ensure greater equality.  This is a book that should be read in classrooms and by everyone.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Ibram X. Kendi is a New York Times best-selling author and historian located at the University of Florida. He won the National Book Award for Nonfiction for his book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.

2017 New Authors Reading Challenge