The Book Jam Blog
Read our latest reviews
Much has changed since our previous Book Jam post. Cities have slowed, priorities have changed, our world seems to have shifted a bit on its axis. And yet, two weeks ago we planned a post for today focusing on the theme of kindness — and we still think it appropriate. Perhaps even perfect. Even if most kindness right now must happen from afar.
So, below, we review the five picture books our local bookstore, the Norwich Bookstore, displayed on their wall earlier this month in their attempt to spread kind thoughts long before we were worried about Covid-19. As we all limit our social interactions and many business are closed to foot traffic, remember that you can purchase these books online or by phone from your favorite local indie bookstore (which needs your support more than ever).
SO, here’s an idea: simply request that your favorite bookstore (e.g., Norwich Bookstore, Still North, Yankee Bookshop, Book Culture, Daunt Books, Parnassus Books, Powell's, Elliott Bay, Blackwell's, Island Books, Flying Pig, Galaxy Bookshop, Book Passage, Politics & Prose, any other indie bookstore) mail one (or two or all) of these titles to any family with young children. With schools closed, parents will appreciate enriching activities and distractions. If you don't know a family with young children, send these to your favorite grandma or grandpa. They could then use technology (or simply the phone if ZOOM is too much) and read these books aloud to their grandkids, allowing them to stay connected and engaged. If you don't know any grandparents or families with young children, you could request that the bookstore to send them to your local homeless shelter, elementary school, or public library to use as needed.
One purchase could make a meaningful difference to someone right now as we all figure out new ways to connect. We appreciate Book Jam readers near and far considering the gift of books. Whatever you do, keep on reading.
Sending beautiful words, health, and kindness your way,
Lisa and Lisa, The Book Jam
Be You by Peter Reynolds (2020) - This is truly a joyful reminder by one of our favorite picture book authors that we are all superbly unique, and that the best gift we can give the world is just to be ourselves. What a great lesson for the youngest among us to learn early on. We especially love Mr. Reynold's challenge to "be your own work of art." ENJOY!
I Believe I Can by Grace Byers with pictures by Keturah A. Bobo (2020) - This excerpt by actress and activist Grace Byers and artist Keturah A. Bobo says it all "My presence matters in this world. I know I can do anything, if only I believe I can". This duo also created I Am Enough, reviewed by Kirkus as “a feel-good book about self-acceptance.”
A World of Kindness by Ann Featherstone (2018) - This book, with drawings by twelve celebrated children's book illustrators, shows us all how to be kind; and, it reminds us that we impact the world every day with our actions and thoughts, and the importance of "please" and "thank you" can not be overstated..
The Friendship Book by Mary Lyn Ray (2019) - A charming look at how to be a better friend. Enjoy the slightly old-fashioned illustrations and the kind thoughts. It pairs well with Ms. Ray's The Thank You Book.
Kindness Counts by R. A. Strong (2020) - Illustrations show children using thoughtfulness and generosity. The text emphasises empathy and compassion. Its board book form is perfect for the youngest readers among us, as it is very difficult to destroy.
A recent reading of American Dirt has us thinking about who tells what stories, and about immigration/migrants throughout the world. Quick recap for those who haven't followed any press around American Dirt, the selection of Ms. Cummins and her novel as part of Oprah's Book Club created controversy and highlighted problematic aspects of how we all find the books we read. Latinx authors used American Dirt to highlight that stories similar to American Dirt have been told for years by Latinx authors to infinitely fewer levels of fanfare and significantly less money than Ms. Cummins received. They pointed out that they would also like to be able to tell tales that are not about immigration, but that the publishing industry rarely supports these endeavors.
The controversy also illustrated the lack of diversity among staffs of publishing houses who decide what books are published, of media groups who decided what books receive great press coverage, and of reviewers (yes, we are looking at ourselves here) who discuss the merits of books. (Please see our annual diversity audit to view a small step we take to hold ourselves accountable for who we highlight with the Book Jam.)
We know we can not solve the problem of representation. What we can do is read widely and recommend as many diverse authors as we possibly can. So today, we recommend these nine looks at the lives of immigrants/migrants/refugees written by a diverse group of authors. We hope they lead us all to take hard looks at how we treat immigrants, migrants, and refugees in the policy arena and as human beings. We hope this post places authors you may not have otherwise found into your reading choices. (NOTE: we created a similar post on our old site in April 2018.) As a bonus at the end of this post, you will see an apt poem by the lovely Grace Paley (a fellow Vermonter).
Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luisselli (2017) - Once writer Valeria Luiselli started volunteering in 2014 as a translator for Latin American children facing deportation, she never looked back. Not only has she now published the compelling narrative that we review in this post but also an excellent novel on the same topic entitled Lost Children Archive. (Lisa Christie is in the beginning of the novel and liking it.) In her non-fiction manifesto or “essay”, she weaves together the stories of numerous migrant children caught in the snare of the legal system with her own quest to obtain a green card, with the forty questions she must ask each young person she interviews, and the concern echoed by her own children upon hearing about these youth when they ask “Tell me how it ends?” Of course there is no end, only harrowing tales: tales of coyotes (the people who transport refugees), “la bestia” (the lethal Mexican freight train ridden by those seeking to escape), survival, bravery, risk, separation (and sometimes reunions), politics, and violent gangs that make the reader think deeply about the topic of human migration and the meaning of borders. This, a book that should be shared with people of all ages, is, as Lusielli explains, ultimately “about the nature of childhood and community, and above all, about national identity and belonging.” Yes, this is an essay. But don’t let that word fool you into thinking that these one hundred pages are humdrum, lifeless, or stale. Luiselli’s words vibrate and jump off the page and into the heart and mind of the reader. If you are looking for a book that helps you to better understand what is happening on the American/Mexican border, in our neighborhoods, and in our court system, look no further. It is an excellent beginning. ~Lisa Cadow
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (2018) – We LOVE this novel. It is short, gorgeously written, and covers important topics (e.g., immigration, war). Clever in every way. Two bonus aspects — 1) it is an excellent Book Club choice; and, 2) it is available in paperback. Now, a brief plot summary that in no way does this book justice: two young people — fierce Nadia and gentle Saeed — meet as their home country teeters on the brink and then eventually succumbs to civil war. Their struggle to find and create home, spans this terrific novel about refugees, war, randomness, friendship, kindness, family, and love. Previously reviewed by the Book Jam in our 2018 Last Minute Gifts selection. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga (2019) - I love books by Jason Reynolds (and became a huge fan of him as a person after being lucky enough to meet him multiple times). Thus, the fact he blurbed this novel was the reason I picked it up when looking for a book for this post. In this novel for kids, the main character, Jude, is introduced to us while living in Syria with her family - dad, mom, and an older brother. A few pages in, with her mother pregnant again, only Jude and her mom move to the USA so the baby can be born in a safer place. They land in the home of Jude's uncle, aunt, and cousin, who is around Jude's age. The story follows what it is like for Jude to navigate her new school, being Muslim in America, and worrying about the family she left behind. The story is full of moments of sadness and warmth, told with great heart. Bonus -- the book is written in free-verse poetry meaning fewer words per page - helpful with reluctant readers. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie
The Arrival by Shaun Tan (2007) - This lovely, wordless graphic novel for children has a timeless feel about it. The brown leather-like book cover and the sepia-colored picture frames within make the book feel like an old, treasured photo album and draws readers into a man’s journey by ship away from his home and young family to a strange new land. This land, populated by tall buildings, curious mythical creatures, and unusual architecture, is one that could be set fifty years in the past or perhaps that far out in the future. Once the man arrives at the port, he must find his way, despite not understanding the language, the signs, or his map to a safe haven with a bed. Those turning the pages to follow his journey can feel his sense of isolation, disorientation, and loneliness but also his wonder at all that the new city has to offer. Over time, this brave traveler makes friends and finds a job. Eventually, his wife and daughter come to join him in this fantastical new place. It is finally having them there with him that ultimately makes him - and readers - truly feel “at home.” ~Lisa Cadow
Strawberry Fields (published as Two Caravans in Europe) by Marina Lewycka (2008) – In this devastating, funny, and thought-provoking account of life as an immigrant we leave the USA for a look at immigration in Europe. (Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh provides a look for younger readers at refugees in Europe. That novel was reviewed in Books for Summer Campers.) Ms. Lewycka has created a core of memorable characters, initially united as strawberry pickers in the idyllic countryside around Kent, England, who partake on a road trip of tragic, humorous, political, and loving proportions. Do not let the fact it is a rather quick paced read belittle the importance of what these characters have to say. ~Lisa Christie
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea (2009) – In this tale of a girl who tries to save her town by recruiting men from "up north", readers see first hand the horrors of crossing into the USA without proper papers. And yet, this novel is somehow also full of humor and an ever-expansive heart. As we said in a previous review, this book is as if Jon Stewart wrote a novel of gorgeous prose about Mexican migration into the USA. With this tale you learn about life in a small Mexican town after the men have left for jobs in the USA. It also contains humor, coyote crossings, and apt commentary about all the prejudices we all hold. ~Lisa Christie
Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contretras (2018) - I was so moved by this story and so sad to see it end that I finished the author’s notes at the end and began again, re-reading at least the first 30 pages before I was ready to let these characters go. The novel, set in Bogota during the height of Pablo Escobar’s power, shows the horrors violence breeds through the eyes of seven-year-old Chula and her family’s maid Petrona. Loosely based upon actual events in the life of the author, this debut novel devastates and uplifts with every perfectly placed word. Previously reviewed on the Book Jam in 2019. ~Lisa Christie
Dear America by Jose Antonio Vargas (2018) - Mr. Vargas is possibly the most famous undocumented citizen in the USA and he uses his Pulitzer Prize winning writing abilities to create an insightful and searing look at what being undocumented actually means. What emerges is a portrait of many things I assumed would be part of an undocumented worker’s life – hard work, fear, contributing to one’s community, and hardships associated with maintaining basic dignity. What I had not previously considered is how extraordinarily difficult it is to live a life, as Mr. Vargas states, with a lie at its core. Previously reviewed by the Book Jam as part of a list of must read memoirs. ~Lisa Christie
Dominicana by Angie Cruz (2019) - I am cheating a bit as I was not able to completely finish this novel before we posted today. But I am loving what I have read so far; so, I am including it here. Also, I trust this review by Jacqueline Woodson (another author whose work I appreciate) for Vanity Fair - “Through a novel with so much depth, beauty, and grace, we, like Ana, are forever changed.” ~Lisa Christie
The Immigrant Story
by Grace Paley
One day in my family’s life
I entered the English language
d’s and t’s in my teeth s’s steaming
I elongated i’s
lost a few r’s included
them where they weren’t wanted
I often stationed a preposition
at the end of a sentence
this was to guard against
Much to my surprise strangers understood me
I continued talking I was brazen I said
everywhere I go there are verbs that are doing nothing
it has been years since certain nouns were referred to
by their right names
I must ask a sad question
will the laws of entropy operate in spite of strictness
is there a literature that chants the disappearance
“The Immigrant Story” by Grace Paley from Begin Again. © Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000. Copied from The Writer's Almanac from December 18, 2016.