E-book Review: Negro Explorer at the North Pole

“Another world’s accomplishment was done and finished, and as in the past, from the beginning of history, wherever the world’s work was done by a white man, he had been accompanied by a colored man.” page 136


A Negro Explorer at the North Pole by Matthew Henson, forward by Matthew E. Peary and introduction by Booker T. Washington.
Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York, 1912.
Available online at www.gutenberg.org/files/20923/20923-h/20923-h.htm
Accessed in September 2017.
Nonfiction, 200 pages.

Matthew Henson was the black man who accompanied Peary on most of his expeditions, including to the North Pole.  He received scant notice from the white people of the time, but his life story was very much in demand among African-Americans.  Eventually he used his journals from the trip to write this book.

Henson In His North Pole Furs After His Return
“Matthew A. Henson in his North Pole furs, taken after his return to civilization.” Facing page 139, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.

The book is a curious mix of direct entries from Henson’s journals, summations of journal entries, and his direct writing covering periods of time when he couldn’t write or adding information he felt was helpful.

Racism is very present in this book.  For the most part, this is overt, although it does come out more blatantly.  There are two main forms of racism present – against African-Americans, and against Native Americans.

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Good News and Bad

So you may have noticed things were really weird and random around here the last few weeks.

Bad News

Our internet went down and it took a few weeks to be reconnected.  I did have some access at the library or on my phone but wasn’t able to update the blog as RL had to come first.  A few posts that had been scheduled seemed to have still posted, but it probably seemed a little off – sorry about that!

Good News

Since we had no screen time at home for WEEKS, I ended up reading far more than I possibly expected to for Nonfiction November.  Honestly it may have been the best (outside of required reading for school or work) that I’ve done at nonfiction reading in my life!

It will probably take some time for me to sort things out and catch up on the blogs I follow.  Meanwhile, I hope everyone is having a good winter so far.

Review: Gloria’s Way

“My dad was supposed to take care of me, but I didn’t know if he could.” page 83

Gloria’s Way by Ann Cameron, illustrated by Lis Toft.
Puffin, Penguin Putnam books for Young Readers, New York, 2001.
Realistic fiction short stories, 96 pages.
Lexile:  600L  .
AR Level:  3.1 (worth 1.0 points)  .
NOTE: Technically part of the Julian/Huey/Gloria series, but could stand alone.

Six short stories about Gloria, best friends with Julian Bates and his little brother Huey.

Gloria's Way

Some of the stories in this collection include Julian, Huey, their dog Spunky, or new friend Latisha while others focus on Gloria.  As I usually do with short stories, I’ll briefly discuss each individual story.

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Review: Saints and Misfits

“I stand and cringe at the sucking sound as my swimsuit sticks to me, all four yards of the spandex-Lycra blend of it.” page 2

Saints and Misfits: a novel by S.K. Ali.
Salaam Read, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017.
YA contemporary, 328 pages.
Not yet leveled.

Janna just wants to live her life – hang out with her friends, study, work her very part-time jobs, pray, and maybe dream a little about her secret haram crush.  But something has changed her world, something unthinkable, horrible, and so big she doesn’t know what to do.

Saints and Misfits resized

For some reason I thought this was a light and fluffy read.  However, I completely misunderstood, because by chapter two we’re reliving one of the worst moments of Janna’s life, when she is assaulted by a man who is supposedly holy, the man she calls the Monster.

Indeed, the title of each short chapter (Saints, Misfits, or Monsters) relates to how she sees the main people she’s interacting with in that chapter.  Some chapters contain more than one category, or a comment as she begins to realize that some of those she sees as Saints are really Misfits, etc.

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Review: Dressmaker of Khair Khana

“To him it was his highest obligation and a duty of his faith to educate his children so that they could share their knowledge and serve their communities.” page 27

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.
Harper Perennial, Harper Collins, New York, 2012 (first published 2011).
Nonfiction, 270 pages including extras.
Lexile:  1090L  .
AR Level:  not leveled

The story of one young woman and her five sisters who stayed in Kabul and started a home dressmaking business under Taliban rule that not only provided for their family, but also allowed them to teach other women sewing and positioned them to be leaders in Afghanistan’s economy.

Dressmaker of Khair Khana
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.

I’d been traveling and was hoping to visit a specialty gift shop to pick up some diverse books, only to find it closed, so I found a nearby library.  The library wasn’t so diverse, but had extremely cheap books, so I purchased a bunch for under $1 total, including this one.

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Why Books About Holidays?

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might have noticed that I tend to turn onto rabbit trails quite a bit.  Sometimes the causes are obvious – I started collecting and reviewing board books after Baby arrived, I started the Diverse Disabled booklist because I wanted to read more books specifically about people of color who were disabled and couldn’t find a similar list anywhere else.

At other times the causes are less obvious.  I started the 30 Day Project because I couldn’t find anything like it at the time (but later found plenty of places with similar information).  There are lots of booklists for indigenous #ownvoices books, but I wanted to record my own progress on the subject and keep the info about each author’s ancestry or tribal membership in one place rather than scattered across various reviews.

This year I’ll be posting some reviews of holiday-themed books, but with a twist.  These books look at popular holidays from a different perspective.  So while I will be posting reviews of some books that look at minority holidays or celebrations, what I mean by this is books that look at Thanksgiving from a Native American or immigrant or Latino perspective, or a book about the Fourth of July from a Chinese-American perspective.  Some of these are more recent publications, while others are classics that I wish were better known.

This particular series has the distinction of being the longest-planned yet on my blog, being that I had the idea and started gathering and reviewing the books a full year ago.  It was set in motion by a particular incident around the book How Many Days to America?, and originally I planned to share the story when I reviewed that book, but it got too long to include in a review, so here it is now.

How Many Days to America? is the book that got me interested in multicultural Thanksgiving stories.  It’s a rather unusual topic and not the easiest to find books about, yet there are many available.  Thanksgiving Day is a uniquely American/Canadian holiday, but most books about it are rife with inaccuracies and downright offensive to the indigenous peoples whose land was stolen, whose way of life was destroyed, and many of whom were outright killed off when Europeans entered the Americas.

Yet… Teachers are still teaching Thanksgiving in classrooms today.  I even occasionally do a lesson with that theme, with a focus on modern Native Americans to counter the dominant culture a little bit and inform my students.  Every so often a teacher comes to me on library day with a desperate request to read something that will help them meet their learning objectives for the week.  That’s how I came across this book.

A teacher needed me to change my prepared read-aloud to something relating to Thankgiving.  I let her know I would not be reading any of the popular texts that perpetuate disinformation.  She was okay with that, so then I had a few minutes to find something currently in the library before class started.

That particular library is quite small and didn’t have many books on Native Americans, those I would normally recommend were already checked out for the holiday.  So I grabbed this text instead.  It was too heavy for the young class in that day, but it worked out okay, and got me interested in other diverse Thanksgiving titles.  (I also after that time made sure to have one in reserve in case this happened again.)

After keeping a lookout for Thanksgiving books of this nature, I started to notice books about other holidays as well.  Having noticed them, of course I wanted to read and review those too…

And that’s how I ended up down this rabbit hole, and you’ll get quite a few quirky offbeat holiday book reviews this year, as I’ve been doing them for the past year and saving them up!


Review: An XL Life

“I had loved myself at 500 pounds. I loved myself now, even with my loose skin.” page 203

An XL Life: Staying Big at Half the Size by Big Boy (Kurt Alexander).
Cash Money Content, 2011.
Autobiography/memoir, 237 pages.
Not leveled.

The autobiography of Los Angeles radio personality Big Boy, once known for his size as much as the music he played.

An XL Life resized

This book opened with Alexander talking about the father he never knew and how he didn’t feel that contributed to his weight at all.  It’s a marked contrast to the last biography of a black man I read, Un-Ashamed.

On the other hand, Alexander was greatly impacted by constantly moving around as a child.  His stories about homelessness and frequent moves reminded me more of Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness, although he wasn’t moving from relative to relative.  His mother must have been truly remarkable, because his six siblings stayed with the family through various moves and hardships, even after they were adults.

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