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.”

Standing Behind Our Young Writers

Within days of the surprising outcome of our election, students around the country left class and took to the streets to protest against the newly elected president. Because I teach at a middle school, our students were not so inclined to protest, but the neighboring high schools did. I participated in discussions with other teachers about the protests (some supported the students, some did not) but the overall consensus was that we  were all proud of these young teens who were standing up for their rights because they felt like their future was in danger. We all agreed that these students should be encouraged to continue to express their hopes and fears about a changing world and their role in it.

Young voices that definitely need to be encouraged over the next four years are those of marginalized youth. Not only must continue to strive for more diverse and #ownvoices novels, we must encourage the next generation of writers of color to be fearless and truthful in their own writing. We must encourage them to find their voices and believe that their stories are just as valid, as important as their white counterparts. We need to help them find their truth and not be afraid of the blank page. We need to be there for them when the writing is hard, gut-wrenching, and celebrate them when they achieve their goals.

Teachers & School Librarians, we are on the front lines and the ones who can make or break a potential writer. Remember that over half of our students are of color, therefore you have the responsibility to assist a young writer in achieving their dreams. What you say, or what you don’t say, can have lasting effects. If you see one of your students has a talent for writing, encourage them to keep writing. Share with them teen publishing sites and/or encourage them to seek out after school or summer writing programs; better yet, create writing clubs of your own.

Parents, & everyone else who interacts with a young person, you have a responsibility too. You have to encourage the young writers in your lives by giving them the space to write. Help them seek out after school or summer writing programs, take them to see their favorite authors speak who, by just being in that author’s presence, will inspire your young writer to create. Most of all, however, is to give them your support. Remind them that their voice is important and needs to be heard.

Lastly, the next four years will definitely be challenging for all, but especially for marginalized peoples. Some of our kids are scared, uncertain of what the future may bring, but it is our job as the adults in the room to provide them with the support they need to overcome any challenges that come our way.

Below are just a few organizations that cater to helping young writers. If you know a young writer, share with them these organizations, become involved and/or donate. These organizations will need your support, as they encourage our youth to create, over the next four years.

WriteGirl is a LA based organization that pairs authors with teen girls.

 

826 is a national organization with with chapters in Los Angeles, New York, Boston & Chicago, to name a few, that works with students and teachers for tutoring and creative writing classes.

National Writing Project is a program that partners collage campuses with K-12 teachers in working together to improve writing. Teachers, look for a site near you.

National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) is a fun writing competition that is held every year in November, with their “summer camp” series in April and July. Nano can be done individually, or as a class (I did it with my Honors classes this year and we had fun). If a student/young writer meets their word count goal, they receive all sorts of goodies including having their book printed by CreateSpace so they have a copy of their novel.

Interview with Jenny Torres Sanchez

Today, we’re welcoming author Jenny Torres Sanchez to the blog! Her YA books include Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia, The Downside of Being Charlie, and (drumroll please) the newly released 2017 book Because of the Sun! Check out our interview with her below — and be sure to enter her giveaway for a copy of Because of the Sun!

A few years back, I read Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia — and I was blown away. I loved the way the issues of relationships and mortality were woven together with Emily Dickinson’s poetry. You’re including classic literature once again into your writing with Because of the Sun. What inspired you to take this path?

I wrote an author’s note in the book this, about how Meursault was such a compelling and memorable character to me when I first read The Stranger. But I also just really love classic literature. In my high school English classes, we read a lot of classic literature and it always resulted in my teachers saying think about this, ponder this, what do you think? And when you’re used to parents telling you what to do and what to think, having the chance to really think for yourself and talk about and discuss the world and your opinions and different issues, just seemed so cool to me. I love the way literature lends itself to that. It’s not just about the story; it’s about the human condition. The discussions we had about various works in my English classes impacted me in such a way that has stuck with me my whole life, that inspired me to major in literature in college, and eventually also go on to teach it. Now I find it often makes its way into my writing. I think if I had to really break it down, I owe this love of literature to my English teachers. I was very lucky to have smart, open-minded, intelligent, inspiring English teachers.

I just know that reading Because of the Sun will make me want to pick up The Stranger again for a reread. What would you say to a teen who’s having trouble relating to their classic literature reading for English class?

I’d say, don’t feel like you have to understand all of it at once. And don’t be afraid of it. Classic literature can be a little intimidating. You think if I don’t get this, maybe I’m not smart. I still feel that way. But it’s just because language and styles change and what we see in classic lit is the language and style of another time. It can be a little unfamiliar at first, but the core of who we are as a people, the human experience, is covered beautifully in classic lit and it’s worth the struggle you might feel at first. Keep picking it up, don’t be hard on yourself, get what you can from it and think about it. It might just be a sentence sometimes, but sometimes that sentence will stick with you for some reason.

Given the advice of “write what you know,” how much of your writing is about what you know? How much (or how little) of yourself did you put into your books?

Well, writing, it’s a very personal thing. And I do feel like there’s probably a lot of me in my books, even when I work hard for there not to be. I really try to get into my characters’ heads and see the world through their eyes with their past experiences. I try to let them be themselves, but then, ultimately I’m the one interpreting all of that with my own thoughts and experiences so, you know, I’m kind of always there. Sometimes when I’m writing a book, the stress my characters are going through kind of bleeds over into my real life and I find myself feeling stressed and I realize, oh…it’s because such and such character is going through this.  Anyway, it’s kind of strange because yeah, it’s this made up story, but I do see some of myself in it. Sometimes just barely, and other times more so.

Going off of that… The setting feels incredibly crucial to Because of the Sun, as the heroine Dani moves from Florida to New Mexico. What are your experiences with these places?

The setting is very crucial, which is funny because when I first started writing this book, I didn’t know it would end up largely set in New Mexico. It starts off in Florida which is where I live. And the heat is unrelenting here pretty much all year round, but amazingly so in summer (which is when I started writing Because of the Sun). That summer heat can be a very hallucinatory kind of thing, with how blinding and scorching the sun is, and I find myself thinking about it a lot. Just how hot it is. It seems a silly thing to think about, but I do. So anyway, the sun was on my mind when I started writing this book (and bears because there were several encounters with bears in the headlines around that time) and it made sense to set it in Florida to start. But then when Dani’s mother dies and Dani is hollowed out, I just saw her somewhere else. Somewhere just as hot and feverish, but bare and isolated, like she felt. I was familiar with Columbus, New Mexico because my in-laws live there, and suddenly I saw Dani there. And I saw the connection with the sun and the heat from The Stranger because it’s an important element in Camus’ book. And it all just clicked.

What do you hope readers will take away from your newest book? What are you most excited for them to discover?

You know, life is unfair. It can be heartbreakingly cruel. There is no justifying the suffering some people go through simply because of circumstances beyond their control. And I am always astounded by a person’s will to survive. To endure and rise. I believe in that. I do. And I want others to take that away from reading this book. I’m excited for them to discover their own ability to survive.

At Rich in Color, we’re always on the lookout for great books. Have you read anything lately that you would recommend?

I just started Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson and I absolutely love it so far. It’s rich and beautiful and I was immediately pulled right into the story. And I recently finished My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. It’s impressive for so many reasons, but particularly for how much story she packs in such a slim book, how much she can conjure up in the reader’s mind with just a few details. Pretty amazing.

And there you have it! Enter the giveaway below for a copy of Because of the Sun! The giveaway ends January 31st, and is only open to USA mailing addresses. See terms and conditions for further details! Good luck!

Because of the Sun by Jenny Torres Sanchez

New Releases

Happy early book birthday to two books coming out on Tuesday, 1/17. What’s on your 2017 to-read list?

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
OCD-afflicted Griffin has just lost his first love, Theo, in a drowning accident. In an attempt to hold onto every piece of the past, he forges a friendship with Theo’s last boyfriend, Jackson. When Jackson begins to exhibit signs of guilt, Griffin suspects he’s hiding something, and will stop at nothing to get to the truth about Theo’s death. But as the grieving pair grows closer, readers will question Griffin’s own version of the truth both in terms of what he’s willing to hide and what true love means. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt
Told in alternating first person points of view, The Radius of Us is a story of love, sacrifice, and the journey from victim to survivor. It offers an intimate glimpse into the causes and devastating impact of Latino gang violence, both in the U.S. and in Central America, and explores the risks that victims take when they try to start over. Most importantly, Marie Marquardt’s The Radius of Us shows how people struggling to overcome trauma can find healing in love. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

2016 End of the Year Giveaway + Hiatus

Thank you so much for your support of Rich in Color! This year turned out to be a very trying one for a lot of the members of our community, but it also provided us with a number of fantastic young adult books by or about people of color and people from First/Native Nations. If you haven’t checked out our 2016 favorites lists yet, you should! (Audrey’s Favorites, Crystal’s Favorites, Jessica’s Favorites, and K. Imani’s Favorites)

As usual, we will be taking a bit of a break in order to spend some time relaxing and recharging for the new year. We will be on hiatus until January 16, 2017.

In the meantime, we have a giveaway to wrap up the year. This year, we have a total of twenty prizes up for grabs: The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash, Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung, Shame the Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda, Playing for the Devil’s Fire by Phillippe Diederich, The Door at the Crossroads by Zetta Elliott, Open Mic edited by Mitali Perkins, X a Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon, Caminar by Skila Brown, The Smoking Mirror by David Bowles, When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters, The Rose and the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh (audiobook), and five Winner’s Choice books.

This giveaway is open to people with U.S. mailing addresses only. See terms and conditions for further details. The giveaway will end at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve (EST), so make sure you enter to win some of our favorite books, both from this year and years before!
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May the new year bring you joy–and lots of wonderful books to read!

Jessica’s Favorites for 2016

I gotta admit. I didn’t read as many books as I would have liked in 2016. Nevertheless, I still managed to pick up a few YA books that I truly loved. None of them quite fit the mold of your average YA novel, and they were all the more amazing for it. Here are my top favorites from 2016:

Fierce and Subtle PoisonA Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry
[Review here]
Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl–Isabel, the one the señoras whisper about. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, and she feeds on the poisonous plants that fill her family’s Caribbean island garden. Some say she can grant wishes; some say her touch can kill.

Seventeen-year-old Lucas lives on the mainland most of the year but spends summers with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico. He’s grown up hearing stories about the cursed girl, and he wants to believe in Isabel and her magic. When letters from Isabel begin mysteriously appearing in his room the same day his new girlfriend disappears, Lucas turns to Isabel for answers–and finds himself lured into her strange and enchanted world. But time is running out for the girl filled with poison, and the more entangled Lucas becomes with Isabel, the less certain he is of escaping with his own life. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

25331997Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki
[Review here]
Mariko Tamaki has created a thoughtful, funny, and painfully honest story about family, religion, ignorance, and other unsolved high school mysteries. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

 

 

 

abyssThe Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
[Review here]
For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea. But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she’s not about to stop. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Not Your SidekickNot Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
[Review here]
Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether. [Image and summary via Goodreads]