Lies We Tell Ourselves

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

I’m not big on issues books.  So when I picked a book about integration with a interracial lesbian romance, believe me, I had concerns.  This can’t end well, right?  And getting to the end is going to be pretty painful too?  But I had heard so many good things and I also know that it’s important to go outside your comfort zone sometimes, so I went for it.

First off, it’s important to acknowledge that I am white.  And because of that, my knowledge of integration is pretty basic and I’ve had the privilege and luxury of not having to think beyond the n-word and the photos of menacing crowds, threatening well-dressed black children as they enter their new schools.  Spending time with Lies We Tell Ourselves refuses to let you walk away after day one.  You don’t just see the bravery required on the first day of school. Every single day you spend with Sarah and Ruth and Ennis and Chuck at school is one where every moment is fraught with tension.  Of course, there are a group of instigators responsible for the bulk of the trauma, another group that joins in with taunts and cheers, complicit, but the overwhelming, deafening silence and lack of action on the part of bystanders is mind boggling.  It is the same silence that has stretched across decades to the present day, allowing those who are violent and fueled by hate to run the narrative.

But even though this is a story of integration, it’s also story about two girls, their families, their struggles, their perceptions of themselves.  Although their interactions begin the way you might expect between a black teenager and the white daughter of a hate-spewing newspaper man, they learn that there is more to each of them than what they seem to others.  Their connection is one that is not simple.  Each girl must struggle with her own feelings regarding her sexuality, especially weighty considering the time period.  Sarah in particular is quite religious and does a lot of soul searching about why she hasn’t been punished for her feelings.  Beyond that, there is the question of race.

In the end, this was a book that I could not put down, except for short breaks to get a breather from the tension that Talley builds.  Although it was really hard to read about how difficult integration was for the students, it was also really compelling and impressive to realize their strength.  And the constant push-pull of the relationship will also keep you racing through, waiting to see what happens next.  I won’t spoil the end at all, but I will tell you that things do not end terribly for our heroines.  Lies We Tell Ourselves hardly shirks from violence or hatred, but some secrets are kept, some are spared.

WARNING: Since writing this, I have read many black people’s comments that this book is harmful and hurtful. I defer to their experience completely. If you are black and reviewed this book, I would be happy to link to your review here as your experience far outweighs that of a casual white reviewer.

Age Recommendation: I think this is suitable for Grades 8 and up, probably even a bit younger if you have readers who can handle the violence and tension.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – White parents fear their daughters might “get in trouble” with black teens. A teen has kissed and held hands, but not French-kissed. A teen looks at pictures of girls in swimsuits in a magazine. A high school girl has a 22 year old fiancee. A girl will reportedly “go all the way” with anyone who will give her his football pin.  A girl has never done more than kiss her fiance because he believes a girl who will be his wife deserves more respect. People discuss their dates to a dance.  A teen wouldn’t play seven minutes in heaven. Teens have sexual and romantic feelings towards each other. Two girls kiss.  Girls are told to keep their skirt down and their panties up.  Boys and girls kiss.
Profanity – “n—r” the whole word, no letters omitted is used repeatedly, other racist slurs include “mau maus, tar baies, coons”, “hell”, “God”, adult male blacks are called “boy”, “Dang it”, “shit”, “shut up”, “damn”, “goddamn”, “bullshit”, “bitch”,
Death, Violence and Gore – People are threatened.  Someone throws something at a teen.  People are spit upon.  A teen wishes she could use a knife to slice someone’s tongue in two.  People are pushed, shoved, physically bullied. A teen is injured on her neck.  People are tripped. People are poked with pencils, nearly to the point of bleeding.  They are threatened with violence. There’s mention of a black boy down in Mississippi who was killed for being with a white girl.  A teen has milk poured all over her.  A teen is tripped and then surrounded.  People are kicked.  There are threats of setting people on fire.  There are legitimate fears of lynching.  Rocks, sticks and pencils are thrown at the black students. Students have gum spit at them. Students receive death threats. A white male grabs the breasts of a black teen.  A father draws back his hand to hit his child, but does not strike. A teen is hit in the back of the neck with a baseball.  Most witnesses laugh.  White throw bottle caps, trying to slice the skin of their targets. The violent murder of Emmett Till is described, that he was beaten, shot, his eye gouged out and that he was thrown in a river. He was 14.  This recounting is a true story.  A cross is set on fire in a black teens yard. Teens have a legitimate fear of being lynched, hung.  An adult tells of a time a black man was accused of theft and was beaten so badly he never walked again.  A teen raises his arm to defend himself after being hit and is beaten by at least 15 others. They use a bucket to break his ribs and continue the beating with a mop handle.  His nose is broken, his face bloody.  His whole body is bloody.  He has broken bones and took a blow to the head.  When he is taken to the hospital they are unsure if he will ever regain consciousness.  A teen is given a note showing a lynching as a threat. A man hits his child.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – An adult has a glass of sherry. Adults have a drink.  A teen smokes cigarettes. An adult smokes cigarettes.  A teen has been drinking. Men smoke pipes.
Frightening or Intense Things – A school is about to be integrated and the black students are rightfully concerned about the harassment and violence they are likely to face.  Some white girls scream when black teens walk past.  There is a lot of talk about white superiority, what black brains can and can’t handle, how they will bring down social standards.  It’s a lot of explicit racism, the kind white people might like to think doesn’t happen but is foundation of a society than continually represses minorities.  There is also discussion of racial purity and the need to keep the races from intermarrying and having children.  White students urinate on a black teens seat.

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Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel: A Novel by Sara Farizan

Sara Farizan does an amazing job of capturing high school romantic angst; from the unrequited crush to the captivating newcomer, from misread signs to the one who’s been there all along, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel really has it all.

But there’s a lot more going on here than just a romance. Leila is not just trying to figure out how to tell people that she likes girls.  And she’s not just trying to figure out if a certain girl is right for her.  She’s also trying to figure out how to manage her parents’ expectations, her seemingly perfect sister and what types of activities actually interest her. It’s a true picture of high school, trying to find someone and find yourself all at the same time.

Farizan also does a masterful job at depicting a high school that is filled with the types of kids that actually go to high school.  Kids with different backgrounds, social cliques based on assumptions, the capricious nature of friendship, it’s all here.  I particularly was impressed with the amount of casual racism.  While this is clearly not the main focus of the book, Farizan makes it obvious that this is very much a part of life.  The peer pressure here was also subtle but impressive.  As in life, it’s not always a group of people actually standing around saying “come on, do it”.  So much more common is the way that teens just fall into things to please a friend or love interest, without even giving it much thought.

Great for: This is a great choice for someone who wants to read about girls crushing, kissing, stressing out, misreading cues and falling for each other.  While issues like coming out are covered, this is not a weighty or heavy book.  It is an absolute treat to read.  And as such, it would make a lovely Valentine’s present (look at that cover, it’s practically wrapping paper)!

Age Recommendation: Middle school and up.  There’s no onscreen sex and the one use of the f word is censored part way through.  I’d say as soon as kids are really interested in reading about romantic relationships, this would work.  I do think some parents may want to address the choices teens make regarding cigarettes and alcohol, but that’s pretty much it.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – A teen wants a girlfriend.  A teen speculates that another teen is seeing a teacher and that two teachers are dating each other.  Two teens kiss, tongues are mentioned.  Two teens dance “grinding”.  A teen scratches his balls.  A bong is penis-shaped. People make out at a party.  Two people discuss sex (not with each other, just about how it changes).  A teen says that she and her boyfriends “mate like rabbits”.  A teen offers to order an adult movie. Teens kiss. Two teens have sex, one is a virgin.  A teen complains her partner has little stamina and prefers a certain position.
Profanity – “shit”, “screwed”, “goddamn”, “bitch”,  “shut up”, “sucks,” “assholes”, “dyke”, “fu-“, “damn”, “hell”, “ass”,
Death, Violence and Gore – A teen’s brother died in a car accident. A teen is harassed for coming out.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A teen drinks Gatorade mixed with vodka during school. A party for teens involves people chugging beers, drinks that will become spiked.  Adults drink wine with dinner.  Teens drink mixed drinks.  One of these teens has never had more than a sip of champagne prior to this. They get drunk.  At a party, a girl takes hits from a bong.  Teens smoke cigarettes. A teen snorts Adderall. A teen drinks from a flask. A teen vomits from drinking to excess.
Frightening or Intense Things – A college student is seen kissing someone of the same gender which forced him to come out to his parents.  They choose to kick him out.  A teen mentions there are parts of the world where people are imprisoned or even killed for being gay.  Public outing.

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The Summer I Wasn’t Me

The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi

We’ve probably all familiar with the premise teen goes to camp and falls in love. But The Summer I Wasn’t Me offers a very different twist as the camp in question is a religious “de-gayifying” retreat.

After Lexi’s father passes away, her mother slips into a deep depression.  When her mother discovers Lexi’s feelings for a girl in town, it seems like this news will shatter their tenuous grip on each other.  Desperate to hold what’s left of her family together, Lexi is willing to accept her mother’s plan to cure her of her gayness.  Raised in a church going community, the religious camp serves to reinforce many of the messages she’s been given her whole life.  What Lexi doesn’t count on is that one of the other campers will be the most beautiful girl she’s ever seen,  a girl who undoubtedly also likes girls.

The summer yields friendships, so much romantic longing and no actual curing of homosexual feelings, but it also uncovers some very dark secrets.

Since I’m reviewing this as a potential Valentine-y love-y read, I can say that it certainly delivers on the longing and the mounting tension.  There are so many delicious moments where you wait, wondering if now is when things will start to happen.  And of course, as is a requirement for a true romance, there is a happily ever after.

However, those dark secrets?  Well, they do bring the book down a bit.  They serve to fully discredit the idea of a camp being able to change someone’s sexual preferences, but it is done through a very dramatic and violent turn of events. I’ll use a spoiler, but I would strongly encourage everyone to read the spoiler.

Spoiler Inside SelectShow

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Counselors watch kids unpack to make sure they don’t have any “homosexual pornography” with them. People date people of the same gender. A teen reports having been seen in an “inventive position” with a partner.  There’s discussion of same sex marriage (in the book it is not legal nationally as it is currently). Lube is mentioned but not in conjunction with any sexual act. Leviticus is quoted in Chapter 15, including “you must not have sexual intercourse with a man as one has sexual intercourse with a woman”. Two girls kiss during a game of spin the bottle.  Tongues are involved.  The kiss is in front of an audience and one of the participants meant it only for the benefit of the audience.  Campers are advised to avoid satanic influences by not masturbating.  Two teen girls shared the same bed.  A teen had a year long relationship with a same sex partner.  Two teens kiss.  Teens touch under their shirts.
Profanity – Lexi reports that “gay” and “fag” are used as slurs at her school. “crap”, “hell”, “screw you”, “fucking”, “God”, “Jesus Christ”, “Asshole”,
Death, Violence and Gore – Lexi’s father has passed away prior to the start of the book. We learn later it was from pancreatic cancer. An 11 year old is hit across the face by someone he has kissed. A teen is routinely beaten by a parent. Leviticus (a Bible book) states that men engaging in sexual intercourse with other men should be put to death.  A teen was sexually abused by a cousin. An adult in a position of power threatens a teen.  He demands sexual favors.  The teen is able to use violence to escape but is forced to kiss the adult first. There is every reason to believe that this is a pattern of predatory behavior. A teen is violently beaten under the guise of it being an “exorcism”. The teen is refused medical care after this incident.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Teens drank beer (does not occur on page, just a reference to past behavior). A teen’s father is a heavy drinker.  Drugs are mentioned.  Teens drink vodka and get drunk.  A teen mentions drinking beer and mulled wine in the past.
Frightening or Intense Things – Lexi’s mother suffers from depression.  A teen is faced with being kicked out of his home due to his sexual orientation.

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Where Do You Find Love?

Like many teens, I liked reading about love. I loved the classics: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Anne and Gilbert, Betsy Ray and Joe Willard. You see, I’m old enough that YA wasn’t really a thing the way it is now.  But during family pilgrimages to Philadelphia, I discovered a whole series that made me swoon.  My parents would take me to Borders on Chestnut St, which was one of the biggest bookstores I had ever seen and I would make a beeline for the Sunfire Romances.  There I could find exactly what I wanted to read:  a historical setting, an adventure, a choice of beaus, a happily ever after.

Just as I believe every person has a right to love and be loved, I believe everyone should be able to find exactly what they want in a YA romance.  Everyone should be able to find a book that makes them feel as satisfied as I did after reading Anna and the French Kiss. Unfortunately, for some, that’s pretty difficult.  Currently most books, especially those with big publicity budgets and lots of press have characters that are cisgender (anyone whose gender identity corresponds with their biological sex as assigned at birth) and heterosexual (feeling sexual desire for the opposite sex).

In the past, I used the really dreadfully inadequate tag of LGBT to mark books that contained characters who were not heterosexual.  In the future, I’m hoping to be a bit more specific.  After all, if you’re looking for a book about a boy falling in love with another boy, you don’t want a LGBT book, which is maybe about girls being in love, or is about a character whose parents happen to be the same gender. If you want a book about two girls falling for each other, you want a f/f, not just a generic LGBT.  On top of that, LGBT omits so many sexual identities that are every bit as valid as those four. For many, QUILTBAG is an acronym that works to include a far greater number of people. QUILTBAG stands for: QUeer/QUestioning Intersex Lesbian Transgender Bisexual Asexual Gay.

So this month, with Valentine’s Day lurking just a few weeks ahead, I want to share some books that spread the love, but not the easy to find, grab any number of books at the bookstore kind of love.  I wanted to some happily-ever-after-ing for people who should have be able to read about exactly the kind of love they want to read about, even if it is a bit harder to find.  I got some great recommendations from Dahlia Adler, who loves nothing more than recommending QUILTBAG books to anyone who asks.  In fact, check out her blog post from February 2014 with lots of lovely links.  As you can see, it’s not that there aren’t books available, it’s just that you may not have heard of them.  And of course, there can always be MORE!

And get ready to fall in love, something that everyone should have the opportunity to do.





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Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

For Ha, the staggering loss of leaving her home and her father, the indignity of life on a refugee ship, the struggle to find her place in a new land are a story that can be told through food.

She grapples with complex situations and emotions and throughout. The story of her journey also one sustenance. As her home in Vietnam is threatened, food becomes more scarce, sweet potatoes stretching rice to make meals last longer. Leaving as a refugee doesn’t just mean abandoning her home and life, it means leaving the beautiful unripe green papayas still growing in her yard.  The journey by ship certainly details the difficulties of bathing and bathroom use, but it is the moldy handfuls of rice stowed consumed while smelling the delicacies hoarded by shipmates that render Ha the most homesick.  Her first meals off ship reflect the trauma of eating an entirely unfamiliar cuisine and the pure relief when someone has supplied fish sauce, nuoc mam, for the use of the refugees.  As Ha and her family settle in, their hopes and aspirations are tempered by disappointments, often reflected in the foods, the fried chicken which has an alluring crust is texturally wrong for people used to eating poultry fresh from their own yards.  As Ha finally begins to feel at home, her crushing disappointment at being given dried papaya is alleviated by her mother’s clever solution to soak the pieces to make them closer to fresh.

Books connect in different ways to each reader.  Some will surely associate most with Ha’s lunches, spent hiding in school bathrooms, her skin color leaving her somewhere in between the two main groups of children.  Others will appreciate her neighbor who provides her a safe environment for working on her English.  The protection given Ha by her brothers will strike a chord many.  I know many young girls will bristle at Ha’s Mother’s proclamation that “only male feet can bring luck” just as Ha does.  As a reader, I cannot resist books about food, the ones that make your mouth water with longing (and yes, if you have good access to Vietnamese food, you might want to plan a dinner out in Ha’s honor after reading this) and so the way that Thanhha Lai used food to help describe Ha’s journey spoke to me.

Great for: We are currently facing a major worldwide refugee crisis, so this is a very timely read.  If you want to get readers thinking about what it means to leave your home, what challenges will be faced by refugees, this is a great starting place.  In particular, the way that Ha’s family was sponsored by an American family is quite similar to how the Syrian refugees are being handled in parts of the world.  Reading this in conjunction with recent articles would provide a great opportunity for comparison, especially with older readers.  A major point of discussion should be how Ha’s family is awaiting sponsorship, longer than some others, because in America people are more willing to help Christians. This is definitely something to reflect upon in relation to the current refugee situation.

Age Recommendation: Grades 3 and up Despite the difficult topic of a father missing during wartime, I would feel completely comfortable reading this with third graders and I’ve certainly taught many who would have been strong enough readers to enjoy it.  I don’t know that there’s really an upper limit on who would enjoy it, I think it could be very useful for even middle school and high school students.  There’s nothing babyish about it and it will resonate with ELL readers.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – War is coming.  The presidential palace in bombed. Bombs fall, gunfire can be heard. A baby chick dies, it is carried dead, with someone for quite some time.  People try to commit suicide (one tries to throw herself off a ship, another stabs himself with a toothbrush).  At school a girl is pushed and touched.  She is followed home. A brick is thrown through a window with a threatening note.  Students are shown a photo of a burned, naked girl, of skeletal refugees. A girl’s hair is pulled, not as a tease, but in violent bullying.  A student fights back after being bullied.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – An American man smokes a cigar and chews tobacco.
Frightening or Intense Things – Her father was captured.  His fate unknown.  Families are poor and don’t have enough food.  The family’s house is egged, their yard toilet papered.  A child is teased and mocked.  They decide to say goodbye to their father despite not knowing his fate.

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Verdict: Just About My Favorite Book to Read Aloud Ever

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah O’Hora

I don’t know if I’ve ever been as in love with reading a book aloud as I am with this one.

Read alouds were always my strength as a teacher and now are one of my favorite parts of sharing books with my own child. I’m good at.  I could show you a stack of teacher evaluations that praised my amazing dramatic reading skills.  Give me a room of small people and I promise I can have them sitting still and relatively quietly, gazing at the pages.

But you can’t do a great read aloud without a great book.  And in all of the picture books I’ve read over the years, I’ve never met characters that I’ve heard quite so clearly as I hear Dot and her well meaning, but perhaps obliviously smitten parents.  There’s something magical in this small family that Dyckman has created.  Stories about a new sibling have been done before, but certainly never like this, never with a small wolf arriving on the front stoop of a bunny family’s home.  While Mama and Papa are immediately enamored with their new addition, Dot is quite rationally skeptical.  Echoing children everywhere, she becomes increasingly exasperated as her warnings to her parents are repeatedly ignored.  Trust me, if you’ve ever spoken with an actual teenager or even (as parents of young children know) a 3 or 5 year old who is going on 13, you will feel her tone in your very soul.

Dyckman’s characters are brought to life by O’Hora’s striking illustrations.  The style and colors are so distinctive that my toddler ID’d the book in a bookstore display while parked outside, and still in his carseat. But O’Hora does more than just contribute notably adorable characters.  He’s your ally in the read aloud game as well, providing the hand-lettered exclamations throughout the text.  Even if drama doesn’t come naturally to you, you should be able to give this an admirable turn.

Age Recommendation: While my toddler adores Wolfie, I know my third grade class would have greeted the book just as warmly.  Definitely a picture book that will be enjoyed by even older children.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – None.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – There are concerns about animals eating other animals, but everything turns out well!

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Reading Rut

Somewhere over the past few months, I got off track.  At first, reading, writing and processing were just physically too much, the casualties of my body needing to do all of its work recovering and none of its work actually working.  But then, I became an active participant.  Repeatedly, I walked past the bookshelf filled with titles I’d carefully selected and placed on hold without so much as a guilty glance.  During downtime I chose to sit mindless in front of the computer rather than take the few steps needed to find a new book and fall in.

Most of the times in my life when this has happened, I’ve wanted to go back.  As soon as time and life have allowed I have returned, refreshed and energized, excited for what lay ahead.  But this time?  I’m not so sure.  I find myself questioning whether I should be writing this blog.  Whether I should invest so much time in something that matters to only me.  I know that the answer lies somewhere in exactly how much this matters to me.  Whether it is more fun and fulfilling than the other things I could be doing.  But right now, all I do is give an unsure shrug.  I don’t know.

So I’m going to try to find my way back to loving reading. And writing about reading.  And sharing my love of reading with whomever wants to listen.  So I’m making a plan.  (Literally, right now, as I type this, MAKING A PLAN).


1. Read whatever I want! Those of you who follow this blog know that I do a theme per month. But sometimes, books call to me and they don’t fit with my current theme. So I add them to my goodreads list. Sometimes, I manage to build a future theme around them. Some of them, sit taunting me for a very long time. So this January, I’m just reading what I want. Truthwitch: A Witchlands Novel, A Snicker of Magic, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda who knows what else?

2. Write when I want Writing a blog is work. But when I’m trying to keep tightly to a posting schedule it can really feel like it. Since I’m having so much trouble getting back into things, maybe relieving a bit of pressure is the right away to handle things.

3. Snacks Don’t snacks help everything? Really, there’s no treat I like better than a cup of tea or hot cocoa, something delicious to nibble and a good book.

4. Ask? For help? What do you do when you’re stuck and can’t get back into reading (or something else you’ve always loved?) Strategies and alternate plans welcome!!

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How to Read Greenglass House, A Guide

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Step 1: Purchase Greenglass House.  Go to your local indie bookstore or click on the link and order it, but it’s best to own it.  That way you can read it at the perfect moment and not worry about library fines or hoping your hold comes in.  Also, you can then re-read it whenever the mood strikes.

Step 2: Lay in provisions.  You will absolutely need hot cocoa.  Probably some whipped cream, the real kind if you can manage it, not the spray kind in a can.  Maybe marshmallows.  Possibly a cake?  But certainly nothing with blue frosting.

Step 3: Prepare your reading nook.  Ideally, you will have stained glass windows and a high backed loveseat. But if that’s not possible, aim for a cozy chair or sofa.  Maybe near the fire, but ideally also near a large window.  You may want a candle, or better yet, an old fashioned lantern nearby just in case.

Step 4: Wait. If it is at all possible, arrange for a pre-Christmas blizzard. A snow day would be ideal. Really, any snow day.  Trust me, this would be an amazing way to spend one, either curled up alone or as family read aloud.  IF you live in a part of the world where it does not snow, arrange a vacation to a ski lodge or the like.  If that is impossible, turn up your air conditioning and bribe someone to sprinkle shredded toilet paper around you while you read.

Step 5: Read!  Greenglass House is part mystery, part scavenger hunt and thoroughly engaging.  Milo is ready for a quiet Christmas holiday with his parents when unexpected guests begin to turn out at their inn, Greenglass House.  It’s certainly curious that so many people have come at once and Milo’s definitely wondering about the mysterious map he’s found, but once they discover there’s a thief in their midst, things really get interesting.

Greenglass House is truly special.  Milo manages to have his adventures while living in his own home with two parents who love him very dearly.  In books, far too often parents are either killed off or woefully absent in order to give children the freedom to explore.  It’s great to see an example where a kid can be loved, taken care of and never really outside of his parents’ care but still manages some excitement!  Milo is also a great character.  He’s adopted, which comes up frequently, but this book is not about finding a pat solution to his adoption story (I’ll admit, I worried periodically, but Milford did not let me down).  Milo also has some issues with anxiety.  It’s clearly part of his daily life, but it doesn’t define him, it’s one of his many characteristics.

Age Recommendation: Grades 3 and up.  On the surface this should be a scary story. There’s a mystery, some sabotage, smugglers and a ghost story.  At one point weapons are drawn and people are in danger. There is some violence, drama and death, but most of it takes place in the past. Despite everything the tone just isn’t dark and threatening.  It’s fun and exciting!  The hardest thing for readers will be the fact that two characters are playing a game which requires they create new names for themselves.  These sobriquets are used interchangeably with their own names sometimes within the same page.  Less experienced readers may find this to be too complicated.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – A story is told about two people who fall in love with the same person.  A couple holds hands.
Profanity – “heck”,  “hell” at least twice, “darn”, “crap,” “good God”,
Death, Violence and Gore – There’s a mention of swords in a game-playing sense. Meddy speculates that a trap that decapitates you could be set, but this idea is deemed ridiculous. In a story Milo reads a cat is sacrificed.  We are told the cat is about to be killed and then later it says “when all that was left of the cat were its bones”.  A smuggler was supposedly captured and killed when Milo’s mom was little.  A man died under suspicious circumstances in the past.  A man with a knife was looking for someone (again, this happens in the past, so there’s no real worry for current characters). An illustration shows someone holding two knifes. A man was beaten, tortured for information (also something that took place in the past).  A man pulls a gun on a group of people.  A character’s mother died when that character was young.  A few people died in the past, one both by falls.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A character smokes a pipe. Adults are offered whiskey in case they would like a hot toddy.  A woman (who is referred to as a girl, but seems to be an adult) drinks whiskey in her coffee.  Another character smokes a cigarette.
Frightening or Intense Things – Milo’s mom tells a ghost story which of course, includes ghosts, one of whom was a child. <spoiler>A character is a ghost. </spoiler>

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What’s Happening

So.  November didn’t exactly turn out to be as bookish as I’d hoped.  And that is in no way the fault of the subject I chose.  I have lots of great books about Native American characters out from the library.  That wasn’t it at all. The problem is simple.  I got sick.  There was an urgent care visit and an afternoon in the ER and lots and lots of medication.  And when I got better, I was just so overwhelmingly tired.  I’ve always had asthma and every once in awhile I get something lung-related like bronchitis or pneumonia and it just shuts me down.  And so, trusting in so many people I believe to be wise, I didn’t force myself to buckle down and blog.  Reading?  That I can do even when sick, but the structure of this blog, where I report content to you as accurately as I can, is not easy to do without my full focus.  And when I’m sick it’s also pretty near impossible for me to string coherent sentences together when trying to recommend a book.  So…I just didn’t.

So what of December?  I’m going to try.  There’s a lot on my plate this month, which I’m sure is true for many people.  And I am still not feeling 100% myself. But I hope to have some great wintery books for you, of course, in keeping with the season.

Instead of admonishing you to have a happy whatever, I’m simply going to wish you all some peace and joy as you close out 2015.


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In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III Illustrated by Jim Yellowhawk

Author Joseph Marshall III is an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota tribe.

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse is an exciting journey through history, as Jimmy McLean’s grandfather share stories about the famous warrior and hero.

Jimmy McLean’s light brown hair and fairer skin have always set him apart from his fellow Lakota.  At school, he is accepted by neither Lakota nor whites.  Smaller and younger than his bullies, Jimmy chooses to avoid confrontation rather than stand his ground.

His grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, has the perfect summer plan to help Jimmy gain confidence while learning about his heritage.  He takes Jimmy on a road trip following in the footsteps of Crazy Horse, a Lakota warrior who had lighter coloring, much like Jimmy.  At each stop, he shares stories, detailed accounts of battles, and observations about how Crazy Horse fought back against the white encroachment on tribal lands.  Jimmy soon learns about courage, struggle, facing impossible situations and what it means to be a hero.

For many readers, this will be a first opportunity to gain a non-white perspective on the settlement of the west and one that it is critical that they understand.  Too often stories of western expansion choose to omit details regarding the US government’s actions to force Indians from their own lands and the tactics that were used by white settlers to achieve their goals.  In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse provides a valuable counterpoint, showing the heart of the resistance by the Indians and the ultimate tragedy of their final decisions to surrender.

Although set in the present, when Nyles shares tales about Crazy Horse, his stories draw the reader into the past. The stories capture the mood and tension surrounding some of Crazy Horse’s most important life moments, often battles.  As such, there are many highly detailed battled scenes throughout the book.  While not explicitly gory, Marshall does not minimize or skim over the absolute devastation and loss that occurred on both sides.  Because of this honest portrayal, this book will be best for readers who are mature enough to handle and discuss this.  This makes it an excellent choice for classroom use or discussion.

The choice to frame the historical tale with the modern story of Jimmy and his grandfather is an excellent way to draw in readers who might otherwise not consider themselves fans of historical fiction, which is fantastic as this book deserves a large audience.

My review was done based on an e-ARC.  As such, there may be slight discrepancies between the version I read and the hardcover publication.  I checked out the printed edition and was delighted that it comes with maps that help readers follow Jimmy and his grandfather on their journey.  The book does offer a comprehensive glossary, which from the perspective of a teacher is always a huge bonus.

Great for: All libraries should examine their holdings regarding American Indians.  If the highly problematic Indian in the Cupboard is constantly displayed and showcased, it is time to re-evaluate.  Books like this and Tim Tingle’s excellent How I Became a Ghost, written by Native American writers, should be taking the places of outdated, often racist texts.  Although it offers an invaluable look at history through the eyes of the people most affected by it, In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse will appeal to many readers for the action and battle sequences it presents.  While I personally struggle to reconcile with violence in children’s books, I believe the book does an excellent job of providing both context and honesty regarding the pain and loss involved.  There is no glorification of the violence here.

Age Recommendation: I would recommend this for Grades 5-8, primarily due to the violence, although I do believe the comprehension level would be manageable for some fourth graders as well. The flashbacks are not always in chronological order which may be confusing to some readers.  There is quite a bit of background knowledge that I drew on as an adult that younger readers may not have and In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse may raise lots of questions for them.  This is a good thing!  Be prepared to research and discuss together!

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Crazy Horse’s father had two wives at the same time.  It is explained in the book that it was just something some men did in those days.  No fuss is made about it, just a clean statement of fact.  Crazy Horse had a girlfriend but he did not marry her because her father didn’t like him.  He married someone else.
Profanity – “darn”,
Death, Violence and Gore – Crazy Horse’s mother died when he was little. People are killed in a village.  White soldiers, known as Long Knives were likely responsible for deaths and setting fire to a village.  The Lakota find bodies of people, including children, killed by the soldiers.  A woman must bury her baby.  Others are wounded.  Sicangu fight back.   People have rifles, bows and arrows.  People on the wagon trains would shoot at Indians.  There is a fight between the soldiers and Indians.  The soldiers fire a cannon at a village. In turn, warriors attack them. People die in this fight. There’s mention of how people can lose fingers, toes, even the tip of the nose to frostbite.  An ambush conducted by the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne is detailed.  Some warriors are hit by friendly fire.  Many white soldiers are hit, killed or injured.  We’re told that the fight ended with hand-to-hand comment and was gruesome, but no gory details are provided.  The white soldiers were all killed.  Many warriors were killed as well.  Crazy Horse had a close friend die in the battle, he had been shot through the chest and his blood froze in the cold.  Animals are hunted for food.  Crazy Horse’s daughter tied of cholera.  Jimmy’s uncle died.  There were concerns that white soldiers would kill or capture Crazy Horse and his people if they did not surrender. Warriors are armed with guns, bows, arrows, war clubs and lances.  In several battles there are no survivors of one side of the combatants.  Soldiers fall from their horses, shot. In some cases, the soldier’s dead bodies were stripped, robbed and mutilated (and yes, mutilated is explained).  The same thing had been done to Indians previously.  Wounded men scream and moan in pain.  Men have dried blood on their clothes and bodies. A man is stabbed with a bayonet and mortally wounded.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – a grandfather has pipe tobacco.
Frightening or Intense Things – A boy is bullied.  A village is burning.  We learn how the settlers from the east forced his people off their own lands.  White kill many buffalo, making food scarce.  Indians were sent to prisons in Florida.


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