“All the Women in My Family Sing is a tribute to the many voices of women in a chorus of cultural refrains. Each essay is a personal story about the victories and challenges women face every day as innovators, artists, CEOs, teachers and adventurers. All of the essays reveal how glorious it is to live authentically in our identities.”
p. ix-x, Foreword by Deborah Santana
All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World – Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom, edited by Deborah Santana.
Nothing But The Truth, San Francisco, CA, 2018.
Adult anthology, 365 pages.
NOTES: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Because this book contains 69 pieces, I decided to review it in three parts.
The essays and poems in AtWiMFS are roughly grouped into 8 categories, each containing between 7 and 10 pieces. Most are quite short, but I do like to comment briefly on each one, so I’ve decided to break this up so it’s not excessively long.
“And I think, what must it be like to be raised by well-meaning strangers who may love you but who do not speak your language, or know who you are, or have anything but an outsider’s intellectualized and generalized understanding of your culture and people, and of your life for that matter.” page 76
In a Rocket Made of Ice: the Story of Wat Opot, a Visionary Community for Children Growing Up with AIDS by Gail Gutradt.
My edition Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015 (originally published 2013).
Nonfiction/memoir, 322 pages.
Traveling retiree Gail Gutradt made a chance connection that sent her to volunteer in this community with an initial five-month commitment. The experience was so moving that she returns again and again, finding a deep love for Cambodia and a personal passion for improving the lives of children affected by HIV/AIDs.
Notice I say “children affected by”, not “children with”, because that’s one of the interesting parts about Wat Opot – the community is open to any children and many adults whose lives have been affected, whether they themselves are positive, a sibling or parent is, or if one or both parents have died from AIDs. That’s an important aspect of this community surviving in Cambodia, where family connections are crucial – families can stay together, dying parents can know that their children are well cared for and gently transition them, and siblings are not separated based on HIV status.
“I have to suck up as much pride and dignity as I can while it’s there for me.” page 200
Fire from the Rock by Sharon Draper.
Speak, Penguin Group, New York, 2007.
YA historical fiction, 231 pages.
Lexile: 760L .
AR Level: 5.0 (worth 9.0 points) .
Sharon Draper detours from her usual realistic fiction for a historical novel set in 1957 during school integration at Little Rock.
The novel opens with a bang as a white man’s vicious dog is turned loose on Sylvia’s 8-year old sister. Several incidents throughout give a realistic portrayal of what it was like to live during that time period. For example, although Sylvia takes great pride in her mother’s sewing ability, it’s also a practical necessity since she explains that at the time only white people were allowed to try on clothes in department stores or return them if they didn’t fit. The nature of historical fiction also makes these glimpses more interesting and memorable to the reader than say, a textbook. I think this book would work well in a high school history course.
“I know this, but honestly, part of me still feels like I could end up homeless again at any point in time, and then all I’m going to have is a bag with a dog on it. ” page 265
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Hadish.
Gallery books, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017.
Memoir/autobiography, 276 pages.
The life of comedian Tiffany Hadish from foster care to Hollywood stardom.
Yet another Target pick. I’ve been finding some gems (and a few duds) randomly choosing books at Target that have POC on the cover. Before reading this book, I didn’t think Hadish was familiar to me, but then realized I’d seen her before. I’m not very informed on pop culture so the name wasn’t as recognizable to me as it might be for others.
Although the cover isn’t particularly fantasy-ish, the unicorn of the title interested me. Alas, it’s a comedian’s memoir, not a fantasy novel. But the last comedy memoir I read from Target was excellent, so I decided to give this one a try. This is the story of Hadish’s life from high school until her more recent Hollywood success.
The twelve chapters are topical, arranged in roughly chronological order. Some of her stories are laugh-out-loud funny, while others, particularly the chapter about her ex-husband, are much more serious. Hadish has been through a lot, and she’s open about her experiences both negative and positive.
Between a rambunctious good morning to adoptive parents to a good night to everyone, our 39th board book manages to show a wide variety of families.
Good Night Families by Adam Gamble, illustrated by Cooper Kelly.
Good Night Books, 2017.
Board book, 20 pages.
A showcase of a wide variety of families going through their days.
This book is a bit of a mixed bag. First, let’s get some of the negatives out of the way. The font is awful – a dead giveaway that this wasn’t produced by a regular publishing house. There also isn’t a great flow to this book, it’s a series of vignettes that at times feels choppy and awkward.
“How does a teenager come to hold such a view? The answer is simple: people taught him.” p. xii
Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation by Eboo Patel.
Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 2007.
Adult nonfiction/autobiography, 189 pages.
Part autobiography, part nonfiction, this is the story of Eboo Patel’s life, how it could easily have been so very different, and what he feels is most important for young people today.
This was a very unique read. Patel intersperses the story of his own life with a look at the way various Western minority youth were influenced by religious extremists and carried out various acts of violence.
“All his life in Vietnam my father had been a farmer. Here our apartment house had no yard. But in that vacant lot he would see me.” page 3
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Judy Pedersen.
Scholastic, New York, 1999 (first published HarperCollins 1997).
Adult realistic fiction, 69 pages.
Lexile: 710L .
AR Level: 4.3 (worth 2.0 points) .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, I would not recommend this to middle grade readers.
Seedfolks is a collection of 13 short stories by different first-person narrators, all revolving around the first year of a community garden in Cleveland, Ohio.
Normally with short story collections, I comment on each story and then give thoughts on the whole. Because these stories are so short, I’m going to write two or three sentences about each one and then give my general thoughts at the end.
“There is a bit of Japanese folklore that made Chiune’s parents think that perhaps their son might be special.” page 1
A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara: Hero of the Holocaust by Alison Leslie Gold.
Polaris, Scholastic, New York, 2000.
Nonfiction, 176 pages.
Lexile: 980L .
AR Level: not leveled
The story of one Japanese diplomat who followed his conscience to issue life-saving passports to Jews during World War II, against the orders of his superiors.
Sugihara was such an interesting figure. Many of his choices, starting with the one that caused him to eventually become a diplomat, were quite unusual for Japanese society. His early experiences defying his father look, in retrospect, like preparation for his major act of defiance in issuing the passports.
“In February of 1987 when I went on Nightline to discuss Gallaudet University’s controversial Deaf President Now movement, the show was captioned for the first time. Anchor Ted Koppel used most of the intro to explain to the audience about the captioning they would see – technically open captioning, since anyone could see it – interpreters they would hear, signing they would also see.” page 182
I’ll Scream Later by Marlee Matlin, with Betsy Sharkey.
Originally published 2009 Handjive Productions, my edition Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2010.
Autobiography/memoir, 327 pages.
Marlee Matlin is one of the few Deaf performers well-known to hearing audiences, but there are also many other aspects of her life and self. She was catapulted to fame with a Best Actress Oscar on Children of a Lesser God. Now twenty years later, she’s written a tell-all memoir about drug addiction, abusive relationships, and more.
This was a book full of surprises. I was moved by what an important part her Jewish faith has played in her life, especially how her childhood synagogue was fully inclusive as a hearing/Deaf worship space, with a signing rabbi. How beautiful that her early use of language included a rich religious environment where she was able to learn about God through her own language, ASL.
Isabelle Lee cannot believe her mom is forcing her to go to group therapy. Sure, her little sister caught her throwing up one time, but it’s not like she isn’t handling her dad’s death just fine. Then pretty, popular, smart, wealthy Ashley Barnum walks into group, and Isabelle knows there has to be a mistake. Because Ashley is perfect – every girl wants to be her and every guy wants to date her. But as sessions pass, Isabelle starts seeing the cracks in Ashley’s, and her own, life.
This was a pretty random choice. Some of my students were reading it so I wanted to see why it was so popular. I’m glad I read this library book because I definitely won’t be checking this out to fourth or even most fifth graders. This is a fast-paced novel and very realistic.