Posted in Uncategorized

New Review: Who Are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity

I received an e-book version of this title from Edelweiss for review.

It is a very interesting experience to have a hysterectomy when you still have young children. I don’t know when I might have said the word “uterus” to my seven-year-old if I hadn’t been having it removed. As the information we gave him at his level rolled around in his mind, he asked one day, “Only girls have uteruses?”

I flicked my eyes toward him in the rear view mirror, “Most girls have them, but some 51efag8mt6l-_sy498_bo1204203200_don’t.”

“Because they had surgery?” he asked.

“That’s true for some girls and women. But other girls and women have bodies that don’t have uteruses for different reasons, but they are still girls and women.”

Having a conversation about transgender identity begins with conversations like this. It doesn’t have to lead to a full spectrum discussion in the first iteration. It begins with sharing information that is factual and not making a big deal of it. This kind of openness also creates an environment of trust for a child (or another adult) to ask further questions as the occasion arises.

Who Are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity is a helpful tool in that conversation. It has bright pictures and easy language to describe things like identity, personal expression, and gender. The child-applicable portion of the book is very brief, though engaging. This book Continue reading “New Review: Who Are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity”

Posted in New Review

New Review: Born a Crime

If I could read this book for the first time again, I would get the audiobook version. Trevor Noah’s voice comes through so clearly in his writing that being able to listen to him narrate the story would give it additional charm and character. Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood is Noah’s autobiography that is pretty much summed up in the subtitle.

The book is divided between Noah’s chapters describing his mother, his schooling, his 51wovppbfgl-_sx327_bo1204203200_friends, and his life and interludes that pull back and describe the larger social, economic, or political realities of South Africa – pre and post-Apartheid. The interstitials give a glimpse into what is ahead in the coming narrative, but also give the reader an education into a world in which people immediately try to “know” one another by skin tone, language, and location. Noah never expects the reader to pity him, his mother, or their experiences, but he does clearly expect the reader to ruminate over the ramifications of written social policy and unwritten social codes and their ripple effects.

We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.

Though he is most known from taking over for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, Noah possesses the soul of a social observer. He has the quick wit and astute assessment abilities of someone who grew up, sensing trouble in the air and figuring out how to either Continue reading “New Review: Born a Crime”

Posted in Commentary

Commentary: Huckleberry Finn

My seven-year-old heard about Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at school. I’m not entirely sure how because it’s not like they were reading it in class. He mentioned it in connection with his music teacher. Regardless of how it came up, he knew that it was a book about a boy on a rafting trip and he wanted to read it or for me to read it to him. Since I’m about all books, all the time- I’ve never not read something he’s asked for. (This would be why I read through three narratives about the Titanic last year.)

However, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn gave me pause. Do I commit to exposing a seven-year-old to the full 300+ pages with dialects, running away, child abuse, slurs, and slavery? Do I select an abridged version, but keep the original language? Should I pick an abridged AND “retold” version that is more age appropriate, but would rob the story of its bite and moral wrestling?

I consulted with teacher friends and reading friends and people on the street and the librarian and my spouse. Finally, I decided to read the Classic Starts edition of the book, 41h-3zilpol-_sx288_bo1204203200_but that I would tell him why we were reading that and not the “real” book. He agreed to those terms. We launched into the book on Saturday and finished it Monday night. He couldn’t get enough and was willing to do all kinds of things for more reading time.

Even reading a heavily redacted Huck Finn meant talking with him about slavery, child abuse, kidnapping and ransom, slave and free states, flirting, getting shot, lying, swindling, and the difference between legal and moral. I would by no means consider any of these conversations closed. In fact, I think reading this book just opened up our conversations on most of these issues.

Huck Finn captivated him so thoroughly that it will easily become a go-to reference point for thinking about moral quandaries and how to make decisions. My son has a habit of talking through things to himself as though he is presenting them to an invisible audience or friend. As I read the book, I could see and hear Continue reading “Commentary: Huckleberry Finn”

Posted in New Review

New Review: Not My Father’s Son

Content note: mentions of physical abuse

In reading celebrity reviews, I either seek out someone I know and like or someone about whom I’m curious. I knew Alan Cumming, but I hadn’t watched any of shows. I don’t live where I could see him in live theater. I wasn’t terribly curious about him. However, I do love  memoirs and when Not My Father’s Son51vw6-jmdsl was a daily Amazon deal ($1.99), I was definitely at least that curious to read the story.

The memoir is a alternating set of flashbacks to a tormented childhood and its aftermath and an account of contemporary events, including a search into the history of his grandfather, who died years before under mysterious circumstances. That description likely makes the book seem choppy, but the narratives flow and the style gives the reader a chance to catch his/her/their breath after the chapters that feel like a punch to the gut.

The power of the story lies in Cumming wrestling with how the past shapes him. Our pasts both inform and form our future. Each of us has to make a decision about whether to live in the negative space (defined by what we are not) or in the positive space (defined by what we are). Cumming is sifting through the negatives and positives of his history to discern his own shape and how it is defined.

Is his father actually his father? If his father is his father and his physical abuser (as opposed to one or the other), how much of that is a defining percentage of his life experience? If his grandfather was a hero, how does he fold that late knowledge into his self understanding? If the women of Cumming’s family history are strong and resilient, how does he embody those own traits within himself.

Cumming writes through how playing roles, including playing himself, helps him to sort through the fire hose of information that is presented to him. He acknowledges that the pace of his acting career, at times, allows him to hide within roles or to use them to parse out his own thoughts. He is fully present in his roles, which is its own kind of exhaustion- something that he welcomes and resists, depending on what else is happening.

For me, the power of the book was within Cumming’s self-analysis. Watching someone Continue reading “New Review: Not My Father’s Son”

Posted in New Review

New Review: The Most Perfect Snowman

It is the rare children’s book that has a surprise ending. My mother-in-law sent The Most Perfect Snowman to my four-year-old for her birthday, among other books and toys. It was the first book that the birthday girl picked to read and so we snuggled in- a seven year-old 514fgysq60l-_sy409_bo1204203200_boy, a four year-old girl, and a thirty-five year old mom.

Drift is a perfectly good snowman, but he was made in the beginning of the snow season and forgotten. He doesn’t have the accessories of the other snowmen and everyone knows it. When he eventually gets a hat, mittens, and other snowman accoutrements, he has a wonderful day. (Did the absence of clothes keep others from including him or him from wanting to participate? Was he naked?)

The conclusion of the story, though, is more than just what he does with his accessories, but why he does what he does. Ultimately, this is another children’s story about what you do with what you have and what is most important. However, the lesson happens as fleetingly as a day of play in the snow. It’s not hit hard, just a resonant ping that reverbs after the book is closed.

My children wanted to read the book the next night again. They giggle at the ending, but still understand what the book is saying. The illustrations are lovely watercolors, so this is a very wintery-looking book. The writing is smooth and understandable. Each page conveys a message in the words and in the pictures, which means a non-reader can still tell the story.

I’m so touched by this book and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Posted in New Review

New Review: You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain

I definitely laughed out loud at Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things61yjosxw87l-_sx330_bo1204203200_ I Still Have to Explain I also heaved some deep sighs and, at one point, I put the book down for two days in frustration. Still, despite its ups and downs, I definitely come out in favor of this book and happy to have spent the time reading it.

Robinson- a stand-up comedian, writer, co-host of the podcast Two Dope Queens, host of Sooo Many White Guys- has been a writer since she was small. That is evident in significant sections of the book, including “A Brief History of Black Hair…” This section roamed through haircuts, styles, and conditions from Lisa Bonet to Diana Ross to Little Richard to Michael Jordan. Robinson not only comments on the hair, but also on the impact of a particular style or hair circumstance on black audiences and, perhaps, on white audiences as well.

Since I am very white, I read the section “How to Avoid Being the Black Friend” as “How to Avoid Being That White Friend”. (Yes, apparently white people can make it all about them- or at least I did.) I read advice about avoiding white people who expect the nearest black person to be the automatic “arbiter of cool”, white people who immediately want to make skin comparisons to lighter skinner people of color (who does this? why?!), and how to call out racist behavior. I need to learn how to be a better friend to black people and continue to improve my overall ally game.

One important paragraph in this section noted that a good white friend will pay attention Continue reading “New Review: You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain”

Posted in Commentary

Commentary: Best of 2016

Since I can most easily make a compilation of 9 photos, I will list my top 9 books out of the 144 that I read this year (not counting re-read). I also add a coupleaeccf95a-89aa-422d-a327-8bfa55a5389d highly recommended honorable mentions.

In no particular order:

1. Anchor and Flares by Kate Braestrap: While many other completists of the Braestrap oeuvre didn’t love this book, I was really drawn into the story. *Spoiler alert*: it is a kind of grief memoir, but the reader does not know that going into the narrative. Thus, one is actually exposed to the reality of how grief affects a train of thought- jumping around, looking for meaning, weaving out of disparate yarns, and wrestling with what could have been. Still really love this book.

2. Craving Flight by Tamsen Parker This is the super erotic story (novella?) about a woman who converts into Orthodox Judaism after her divorce and has an arranged marriage with Continue reading “Commentary: Best of 2016”