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Frankie Sparks and the Big Sled Challenge by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Frankie Sparks and the Big Sled Challenge by Megan Frazer Blakemore, illustrated by Nadja Sarell, is the third book in the third-grade inventor series that combines science, engineering, and social quandaries in one fun story. Frankie wants to enter the Big Sled Challenge after descending Extreme Maximus, the largest hill in their town on her saucer sled. The experience was a bit jarring, especially when her classmate Lila Jones points out that Frankie did hesitate to go down the big hill not once but twice. Frankie now feels like she has to prove something to herself and Lila. She wants to prove that she’s the best third-grade inventor.

Frankie and Maya need a third teammate, but Frankie soon finds out that her practical choice because of her size and smarts is already on another team. She must cope with disappointment. Ravi is enthusiastic to join the team and he brings with him a lot of ideas, but Frankie is very dismissive and seems to think because she’s an inventor that she’s in charge, but that’s not the meaning of teamwork. In this book, Frankie must expand her horizons, learn patience, and understand what it means to be part of a team.

These books can be read out of order, but you’ll have a greater understanding of Frankie and her struggles in social situations if you do read them in order. Frankie Sparks and the Big Sled Challenge by Megan Frazer Blakemore, illustrated by Nadja Sarell, as always tells a story using science in a kid-friendly way, offers tips for kids at the back of the book on how they can do their own inventing, and provides life lessons about working in teams, socializing with others, learning how to compromise and develop patience.

RATING: Cinquain

love, loss, and the enormity of it all by Kelly Catharine Bradley

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 68 pgs.
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love, loss, and the enormity of it all by Kelly Catharine Bradley is like a letter to her children and the family who have passed on too soon. These poems weave through the grief and out of it, plunge into it, and emerge from it, but at the root of that grief is love. The poems are like stories told through a lens of motherhood.

From "untitled mom" (pg. 26)

I almost facetimed you this morning
I'd cut my hair to donate it...

but then I remembered
and sobbed

We can experience that grief because we have felt it. The time you forget your friend is no longer here to reach out to, even if you haven’t spoken in many years or the mother you feel with you even though she has passed away. There are other days in grief that we feel ourselves falling into darkness, a darkness we know will be hard to get out of once we’re down there. And mothers also know that they cannot be in that dark place too long when they have children to care for. Bradley takes us on this journey acknowledging the struggle and the sorrow, but also the love and the unexpected joys.

Sunfall (pg. 18)

sunfall
snowfall
moonfall

don't fall

love, loss, and the enormity of it all by Kelly Catharine Bradley is a very intimate collection of poems, mirroring a memoir. For me, the collection was more like reading an diary of moments, but the poems seemed rough or unfinished in some places. In others, I felt the poems resembled those that are popular on Instagram these days. While these poems were less polished, they do provide a look at the roller-coaster of grief.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Kelly Bradley is a tech writer and Sr. Product Manager in the Washington DC area where she writes stories and creates apps based on data. She wrote her first poem in Second grade, a requiem to her cat, Petey. Her first collection, “love, loss and the enormity of it all” addresses themes of grief, joy, love, heartbreak and perseverance. When not working or writing poetry, Kelly writes songs and rap lyrics, dances to electronic dance music, and hikes year-round with her dog, Winter.

Political AF: A Rage Collection by Tara Campbell

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 74 pgs.
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Political AF: A Rage Collection by Tara Campbell is a slim collection with a powerful anthem and story arc that begins with “The meadow.” This prose poem sets the reader up for the themes to come — self-indulgence, dark desire and hate, outrage, and pain. That meadow is the nation that certain people have built, hiding it behind the ideals of liberty, while at the same time bleeding its people and waiting for the blood to spill.

The anthem of this collection, “Shut up and dribble,” is a chant that calls us to action. We [and I mean everyone, not just the oppressed] should not be silent like they tell us, we should rise up for the ideals and equality denied. This is personified in “Four-cent Father,” a poem in which the death of a Black man in his own garage is settled with four cents. How can a man’s life be worth so little, and how can a man who plays music in his garage be killed by bullets? He was minding his own business, he was spending time at his home — his home was not his castle, he was not safe.

There is a deep, simmering rage in this collection. A raging against injustice, a raging against the expectations of a society that’s created a false sense of justice, and a rage that builds against the circumstances created by these illusions. “Would my grandmother’s/German immigrant bones/have ached for the man/she would never have known/but for the slavers’ greed?’ (“After the Pedestal,” pg. 21) The “American Beast” rears its ugly head, slithering under the covers and slipping into rooms where “rumbling in the voices of grownups/speaking softly after dinner/about the problems of the world.//” (pg. 25) and becomes commonplace.

The poems in Political AF: A Rage Collection by Tara Campbell will get under your skin, making you uncomfortable not just in the dark but in the light of day. These poems call on us to break the silence, acknowledge the horrors of the past, see the bleak present, and get off our butts and do something about it.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Tara Campbell is a Kimbilio Fellow, a fiction editor at Barrelhouse, and an MFA candidate at American University. Publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Jellyfish Review, Booth, Strange Horizons, and Luna Station Quarterly.

She is the recipient of the following awards from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities: the 2016 Larry Neal Writers’ Award in Adult Fiction, the 2016 Mayor’s Arts Award for Outstanding New Artist, and Arts and Humanities Fellowships for 2018 and 2019. She is also a recipient of the 2018 Robert Gover Story Prize.

Her novel TreeVolution was published in 2016, followed in 2018 by her hybrid fiction/poetry collection Circe’s Bicycle. Her third book, a short story collection called Midnight at the Organporium, will be released by Aqueduct Press in 2019.

Out of No Way by Rojé Augustin

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 156 pgs.
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Out of No Way by Rojé Augustin, which toured with Poetic Book Tours, is a poetic drama that explores not only the complex woman of Madam C.J. Walker, but also her relationship with her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, who continues the Walker legacy. Sarah Breedlove, who became Madam C.J. Walker, was the first free born child to former Louisiana slaves. Her life was far from easy, orphaned at age seven and married at age 14, but she never let that stop her. She was determined to give her family a better life even as the obstacles like Jim Crow mounted and hatred were everywhere and out in the open. After years of back-breaking labor, earning very little, Madam C.J. Walker invented a hair care formula for Black women and she built an empire, training a number of women as sale agents.

“Out of No Way (which takes its title from an old saying in the African American community to ‘make a way out of no way,’ or to thrive against impossible odds)” (pg. xi)

This title is ever present throughout the poetic drama. It explores the mother-daughter relationship through not only narratives and lyrics, but also sonnets and haiku, elegies, and so many other forms. How can a daughter live up to her mother’s legacy — a mother who struggled to provide the best for her family and did little mothering? From “Le Wa. Ro,” “I became beautiful but bored, and now I find that my things do nothing to my shadows, they are merely sharpened and darkened and cast in high relief…” (pg. 12) Could she live in the shadow of the empire or would she break out on her own?

Augustin chronicles not only the mother’s building of her family and the business, but also the struggles of a daughter who feels abandoned by her traveling mother. “The Lost Letters, 1905-1908” are a testament to these struggles — “Forgive me if I sound hopeless,/It’s just so lonely in St. Louis.” (pg. 27)

Augustin’s poems go beyond the relationship of these two women, touching on the empowerment these women found in their own careers, building their own inner strength. Like in “Why Our Hair is not Straight,” Black women’s hair is not straight because they “curve while dancing” or because “we swirl with high hopes” or because “we bend in prayer.” These women needed to be flexible, to meet the obstacles and find a way around them. Although not always the best or ideal option, some choices left scars.

Augustin’s blackout poem, “Sculptures of Envy,” takes on advertisements for Walker’s hair care system to explore the envy felt by women everywhere when they see another with the appearance or the job they want and how appearance, and hair especially, is a must if women want the job. Black women are particularly held to a different standard. Each of the blackout poems in this section are very exploratory about appearance, envy, desire, and how Black women can take back their power through hair care.

Like the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Out of No Way by Rojé Augustin explores how oppression harms not only the oppressed by the oppressor. Her words in “Resilience: Making a Way Out of No Way” (a fictitious speech by Madam C.J. Walker), “For the oppressed, the damage is self-evident. For the oppressor, it gives rise to a violent and divided society where the unbridled pressures of injustice rise to a level of self-destruction. White supremacy is the moral ignorance that will destroy America if left unchecked.” (pg. 90)

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Rojé Augustin is a native New Yorker who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her first novel, The Unraveling of Bebe Jones, won the 2013 National Indie Excellence Award in African American fiction. She wrote the novel while living in London and Sydney as a stay-at-home-mom. She established Breaknight Films shortly after her move to Sydney in 2009 to develop and produce television projects across a range of formats, including television, web, and audio. Her first Sydney based project was a podcast and visual web series called The Right Space, which explores the relationship between creatives and their workspace. Rojé continues to work as a television producer while also writing in her spare time. She is an Australian citizen who currently lives in Sydney with her Aussie husband and two daughters.