Review: Flying Lessons & Other Stories

Title: Flying Lessons & Other Stories
Editor & Authors: Ellen Oh (Editor), Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Walter Dean Myers, Meg Medina, Tim Tingle, Kelly J. Baptist, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, and Grace Lin
Genres: Anthology
Pages: 216
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories.

Review: Technically, Flying Lessons is a middle grade book, not young adult, but my love for these stories overruled small technicalities like that. I was so excited when I first heard that this anthology was coming out, and I’m happy to say that Flying Lessons more than lived up to my expectations.

Flying Lessons featured stories about a wide variety of racially diverse characters and included LGBTQ characters and disabled characters as well. The characters also filled a variety of socioeconomic levels, from a family wealthy enough that the grandmother could take a child away on a several-week traipse through Europe to a family that ended up homeless. There’s a little something for everyone to enjoy, and maybe even see themselves in, in this collection. (However, I will note that I was surprised and disappointed that the titular story “Flying Lessons” by Soman Chainani included the slurs g*psy–“g*ypsy bangles”–and lame–“so he doesn’t think I’m lame.”)

My favorite stories were “How to Transform an Everyday, Ordinary Hoop Court into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium” by Matt de la Peña (a thoughtful account of a summer at a new basketball court and the lessons learned there), “The Difficult Path” by Grace Lin (a fun story starring a servant girl who has an encounter with famous pirates—I’d love a full book on this one), and “Secret Samantha” by Tim Federle (one of the cutest first crush stories I’ve read in ages). The other seven stories are also very good, and they span a wide range of topics, styles, and tones. Some stories are more serious (dealing with the death of a parent or trying to navigate some nasty microagressions), while others are more lighthearted (a story-within-a-story about a family’s encounter with the Naloosha Chitto, the Choctaw equivalent of Bigfoot).

While I love “The Difficult Path,” it does feel strikingly out of place as the only story in this anthology that wasn’t set in the present day. Since it was the second story in the book, it made me think we were going to get more non-present-day stories (e.g., historical, fantasy, sci-fi, etc.), but I was disappointed when that never happened. I would love to see another anthology like this with more non-contemporary titles and with even more kinds of representation.

Recommendation: Get it soon, particularly if you enjoy middle grade fiction! Flying Lessons is a thoughtfully compiled anthology that strove to be as inclusive as possible, and it mostly achieved its goal to celebrate diverse voices.

Extras
“‘We need diverse books,’ they said. And now a group’s dream is coming to fruition.”

“‘Flying Lessons’ Is The Short Story Collection Every Child Needs To Read In 2017.”

“A Collection of Tales That Bind.”

Share

Review: Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 1

Moonshot SOFT CoverTitle: Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Vol. 1
Editor: Hope Nicholson
Book Layout & Design: Andy Stanleigh
Publisher: Alternate History Comics Inc.
Pages: 174
Format: Graphic Novel/Comic, Anthology
Review copy: Borrowed from the library
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Produced by AH Comics Inc. (Titan: An Alternate History, Delta, Hobson’s Gate, Jewish Comix Anthology) and edited by Hope Nicholson (Brok Windsor, Lost Heroes, Nelvana of the Northern Lights), MOONSHOT brings together dozens of creators from across North America to contribute comic book stories showcasing the rich heritage and identity of indigenous storytelling.

From traditional stories to exciting new visions of the future, this collection presents some of the finest comic book and graphic novel work in North America. The traditional stories presented in the book are with the permission from the elders in their respective communities, making this a truly genuine, never-before-seen publication. MOONSHOT is an incredible collection that is sure to amaze, intrigue and entertain!

Here are some of the talented writers and artists who have contributed to MOONSHOT:

Claude St-Aubin (R.E.B.E.L.S., Green Lantern, Captain Canuck), Jeffery Veregge (G.I. Joe, Judge Dredd), Stephen Gladue (MOONSHOT cover artist), Haiwei Hou (Two Brothers), Nicholas Burns (Arctic Comics, Curse of Chucky, Super Shamou), Jon Proudstar (Tribal Force), George Freeman (Captain Canuck, Aquaman, Batman), Elizabeth LaPensee (Survivance, The Nature of Snakes, Fala), Buffy Sainte-Marie (Fire & Fleet & Candlelight, Coincidence & Likely Stories), Richard Van Camp (Path of the Warrior, Kiss Me Deadly), David Robertson (The Evolution of Alice, Stone), David Cutler (The Northern Guard), Menton J. Matthews III (Monocyte, Memory Collectors, Three Feathers), Jay Odjick (Kagagi: The Raven), Ian Ross (Heart of a Distant Tribe, Bereav’d of Light, An Illustrated History of the Anishinabe), Lovern Kindzierski (X-Men, Wolverine, Incredible Hulk, Thor, Spiderman), Arigon Starr (Super Indian, Indigenous Narratives Collective), Michael Sheyahshe (Dark Owl, Native Americans in Comic Books), Fred Pashe (SpiritWolf) and more!

Review: The cover art for Moonshot is simply stunning. When I saw that image, I knew this was a must read. So yes, I did judge the book by the cover, but this powerful painting is just a hint of the treasure hidden within the pages. The many images are vivid and pack a punch. This was a collaboration between Native and non-Native contributors resulting in a spectacular collection of stories from indigenous voices. The art and stories contained in this volume are at times breath-taking, chilling, thought-provoking, amusing, and just plain entertaining.

Hope Nicholson, the editor, explains in the foreword, “There is no single, homogenous native identity and MOONSHOT is an extensive exploration of the vast variety of indigenous storytelling in North America.” In this volume there are many different voices sharing stories that represent their heritage. In his introduction, Michael Sheyahshe (Caddo) explains that there are many stereotypes about Natives in mainstream comics. “The MOONSHOT collection, and perhaps others like it, provide a wonderful venue for indigenous storytellers to shrug off these misrepresentations and amplify our collective voice: here we are.”

With collections, the stories are often hit and miss, but here, each piece was a solid contribution. The words and artwork combined to make a feast for the eyes, heart and mind. I really appreciate the mix of stories. They included tales from the past explaining how things came to be, contemporary stories, steampunk and futuristic science fiction too.

I applaud the design of the book. Every page is used to communicate and tell stories even if there isn’t a single word there. Opposite the table of contents there is an illustration featuring caribou. Opposite the foreword, there is a picture done in blues titled “Water Spirit.” You may see both illustrations on the publisher’s website. Before the first official story, there is a two page spread by Jeffrey Veregge showing a basket weaver. There is a story within decorations on the basket, but animals are also flowing out of the basket into the sky. A brief explanation is included, “Weaving images into the material is a way to capture and preserve their stories and culture.”

The first comic is the story of Maya Lopez, also known as Echo. It’s an excerpt from the Daredevil Vision Quest series. Maya is deaf and she shares how she developed ways to communicate. The comic itself uses many ways to deliver the story. There is text, but there are also representations of sign language and unique ways of manipulating the text and images. There are many layers in the graphics and it reinforces the idea that there are countless ways to communicate our stories. The rest of the collection proceeds to demonstrate this thought.

The stories have entertainment value, but may also share things like history and truth. Coyote and the Pebbles is one example. It shares how something came to be (history) in a slightly amusing way (entertainment), but also delivered a truth: people often find it easy to see the selfishness of others, but overlook it in themselves.

In this collection readers will find tales of love, terror, transgressions, forgiveness, loss, and more.  There are thirteen stories surrounded by vibrant images that also speak volumes. The title of the book came from the song Moonshot by Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree) and the lyrics are featured after the final story. On her website, Sainte-Marie notes Moonshot was “Written after a conversation with Christian scholars who didn’t realize that indigenous people had already been in contact with the Creator before Europeans conquered them.” The song shatters stereotypes and embodies the purpose of this collection. A sketchbook section adds a deeper look into some of the illustrations. Brief biographies of contributors are also provided.

Recomendation: Buy it now particularly if you enjoy comics and graphic novels. Even if you don’t typically read that format, I highly recommend this volume to anyone who loves a good story.

Extras:
Selected images may be seen here.
Review (including many images) at Indian Country Today
7 Indigenous Comics Creators… (includes more images)

Share

Review: Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories

KaleidoscopeTitle: Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories
Editors: Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios
Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Dystopia/Post-Apocalyptic
Pages: 437
Publisher: Twelfth Planet Press
Review Copy: Received review copy from publisher
Availability: Available now

Summary: Kaleidoscope is an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy and science fiction stories.

What do a disabled superhero, a time-traveling Chinese-American figure skater, and a transgendered animal shifter have in common? They’re all stars of Kaleidoscope stories!

Kaleidoscope collects fun, edgy, meditative, and hopeful YA science fiction and fantasy with diverse leads. These twenty original stories tell of scary futures, magical adventures, and the joys and heartbreaks of teenage life.

Review: Science-fiction and fantasy are my favorite genres, but I’ve been painfully aware of how few people like me survived an apocalypse, let alone got to be the main character. So it comes as no surprise that I did a mental fist pump when I came across “A Note From the Editors” in Kaleidoscope:

“…in some ways this is a purely selfish drive: we want to see ourselves reflected in the stories we read. But it’s not limited to that; we also want everyone else to have the chance to see themselves, and we want to see stories about people who aren’t like us.”

Oh, does Kaleidoscope deliver. It’s filled with all sorts of diversity—racial, ability, sexuality—and several stories feature characters who are diverse in more than one way. There are people of color who have disabilities (“Signature” by Faith Mudge), LGBTQ characters who deal with mental illness (“Ordinary Things” by Vylar Kaftan), and a host of other intersectional combinations. Many of these stories don’t have their diverse characters exist in isolation, either. Throughout the 400+ pages of this anthology, the writers have resisted the white/straight/cis/able-bodied-character-as-default way of thinking and have created rich, vibrant worlds that are much closer to representing the real world in spite of the SFF trappings than many other books I’ve read.

Perhaps the best part about this Kaleidoscope is how genuinely entertaining these stories are. Editors Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios did an excellent job of curating this anthology. There are dystopian societies, time-travelling, parallel universes, superheroes, mythology tie-ins, aliens, and more. Chances are, if you’re at all interested in SFF, you’ll find a story in here that you’ll love.

As in all anthologies, not every story is perfect. Some stories simply don’t linger once you’re finished with them, but I don’t remember disliking any of them in particular. My personal favorites were some of the darker ones: “The Legend Trap” by Sean Williams, “Krishna Blue” by Shveta Thakrar, “Walkdog” by Sofia Samatar, and “The Day the God Died” by Alena McNamara. Some of these stories have triggering content, such as suicidal thoughts, violent deaths, or homophobic slurs (“Celebration” by Sean Eads is set in a conversion therapy center). I should note that the anthology as a whole is not all grim—it has a good mix of fun, lighthearted stories, too.

Recommendation: Buy it now. (Or, if you have a U.S. mailing address, you could enter to win a copy below.) Kaleidoscope features a great mix of twenty stories with diverse characters. The variety of stories is a great thing for people who like to read widely in the SFF genres, as I do.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Share