Two children’s picture books that would be banned in Florida — each one powerful and important

Perhaps the threat of certain books being banned makes it even more important that those books be shared and read. Two books that certainly fit the bill are “That Flag” by Tameka Fryer Brown and Nikkolas Smith and “Love is Loud: How Diane Nash Led the Civil Rights Movement” by Sandra Neil Wallace and Bryan Collier. While the books are very different—one is a very touching story about the Confederate flag and its effect on the friendship of two girls, while the other is a nonfiction account of a valiant woman whom few have heard of. Both are books about topics that would certainly damage the fragile sensibilities of those who cringe at any reference to our racist past and our often-uncomfortable current racist reality.

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‘Not So Perfect Strangers’ by L. S. Stratton is a story of abuse, revenge, and the lengths we go to for those we love

There’s a saying that no good deed goes unpunished, and in “Not So Perfect Strangers,” L. S. Stratton takes that adage to the max by showing how Tasha Jenkins suffers from the good deed she does late one night when she gives a stranger a ride. Tasha has been planning to leave her abusive husband, and she and her teenage son are staying in a hotel just prior to getting on a plane and going back South, where Tasha has family, to live. She is determined to leave D.C. and Kordell Jenkins, whose abusive tendencies have kept her basically a prisoner in her own home. To “punish” her, he took away Tasha’s car keys, her phone, her credit cards. And he hasn’t let her work. So when she finally makes plans to get away, she is shocked when her son disappears and she finds a note in their hotel room that he doesn’t want to leave his dad or his girlfriend.

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‘The Woman with the Cure’ by Lynn Cullen is a fascinating look at the eradication of polio that celebrates the women who were instrumental in that success

In “The Woman with the Cure,” Lynn Cullen’s masterful historical fiction, she focuses on Dr. Dorothy Horstmann, a little-known woman scientist, who made important contributions in the race to find a way to eradicate polio. Cullen also brings to life familiar figures in the race against polio such as Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. We learn much about both men, and of course, they are the scientists who come to mind when we think of those who created polio vaccines that saved so many lives. Cullen brings to the forefront the women who also performed important work, work that enabled these two famous men to create their vaccines. But as with so many brilliant women in history, the real women we meet in this story, especially Dorothy Horstmann, have remained largely invisible until Cullen’s research demonstrates their dedication, their determination, and their desperate attempts to destroy this horrific disease.

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‘The House of Eve’ is a stunning historical fiction novel about Black history and two women’s lives

In “The House of Eve,” we read about three years in the lives of two young but very different Black women, Ruby and Eleanor, and we learn great deal about their situations. We also learn not only about life in the early 1950s, but about the abusive and sometimes misogynistic treatment of women in those times before any real emphasis on women’s rights. And that on the ladder of social ills and mistreatment of women, Black women were on the lowest of the rungs. A college student at Howard University, Eleanor learns right at the start of the story, after being denied admittance into the desirable ABC (Alpha Beta Chi) sorority, “that Negroes separated themselves by color.” There is an irony that being Black and attending a Black university did not exempt the students from being subject to cruel prejudice based on the color of their skin. Eleanor’s roommate, Nadine, is from a wealthy Washington, DC family, unlike Eleanor, whose family comes from very modest roots in a small town in Ohio. Eleanor’s parents scraped and saved, and her mother baked and sold pastries to help Eleanor go to Howard University.

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‘The Winners’ by Fredrik Backman is a heartfelt conclusion to the ‘Beartown’ trilogy

The first thing you notice about “The Winners,” Fredrik Backman’s conclusion to the “Beartown” trilogy, is that it’s huge—over 650 pages. But that’s because Backman has a lot to tell us, and we are immediately immersed in the small towns of Beartown and Hed, it’s neighboring town, watching as hockey brings the townspeople together and almost destroys them. Backman excels at displaying the extremes of human emotions through his at-times visceral narrative.

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‘A World of Curiosities’ by Louise Penny is a brilliant and gripping mystery with many twists

Louise Penny’s latest entry in her Chief Inspector Gamache series is brilliant and addictive. While it begins slowly as Penny is creating the backstory, that narrative becomes all-important later in the novel when the action and the connections are so fast and furious that it’s almost impossible to put the book down. We feel compelled to keep reading to see what clues will be uncovered next, who will die or be in danger, and what connection to the past an item or person has that we are just learning about.

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Two must-read middle grade novels are ‘Attack of the Black Rectangles’ and ‘Island of Spies’

Two books published in 2022 that on the surface seem quite different, but share an important theme, are “Attack of the Black Rectangles” by Amy Sarig King and “Island of Spies” by Sheila Turnage. Both are about children who are determined to deal with problems that they are told are best left to adults. One of the books is about censorship and speaking out for what is right; the other is a WWII historical fiction in which kids are told they have nothing to contribute even as spies come ashore and ships are sunk on the east coast of the US by German submarines. In both novels, we meet kids who are strong and not afraid to speak out against wrongdoing. We see adults who want to shield the children from unpleasantness only to find that the children are determined to understand the truth and deal with it. We see girls being underestimated and adults who think only they know best. The children know otherwise. Both books are inspiring, and both definitely deserve a place in every library and classroom bookshelf.

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‘Sugar and Salt’ by Susan Wiggs a story of strength and sacrifice and love

Sugar and Salt by Susan Wiggs

“Sugar and Salt” by Susan Wiggs is a touching and important read. The novel is rather provocative and significant as it deals effectively with many vital women’s issues. What is a tad perplexing is that the book is billed as a romance, but actually the romance plays second fiddle to the more important issues regarding misogyny and race that Wiggs quite effectively raises. The cover image also seems to not reflect the actual novel; in the story, Wiggs cleverly reverses the stereotype of male barbecue cook and female baker. The person who would be making the pink-iced, flowered, decorative cake on the cover is not main character Margot Salton; she’s actually the pitmaster who learned barbecue in Texas and opened her restaurant in San Francisco next to a bakery. The baker is her romantic foil, Jerome Sugar, which seems an entirely appropriate name for someone who makes sweet bakery goods all day.

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‘Upgrade’ by Blake Crouch is a thrilling sci-fi novel about the future

Upgrade by Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch’s newest novel, “Upgrade,” doesn’t start with a bang but rather a slow, uphill journey that draws us in gradually. But don’t relax, because before Chapter 2 begins, the action ratchets up, and by the end of the second chapter, you’ll find you want to keep reading to find out what happens next — quickly. That level of excitement and wonder continues to the very last page. Crouch is a master at creating stories about fantastic events and the people who are affected by them. There are few real bad guys in this story; instead, there are characters who, because of their arrogance, believe they can save the world.

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‘The Cage’ by Bonnie Kistler is a very enjoyable mystery that will keep you reading until late

The Cage by Bonnie Kistler

I stayed up way too late finishing “The Cage” by debut author Bonnie Kistler. Because of the promo material, I was expecting a sort of “escape room” mystery. That’s not at all what I got, and I’m not disappointed at all. I loved how Kistler alternated past and present, first and third person. The dated entries are clearly to show events leading up to the present predicament in which Shay Lambert finds herself. One Sunday evening, she and the head of HR, Lucy Carter-Jones, both leave the office at the same time and find themselves sharing an elevator. Shortly after they begin their descent, all power goes off, and their only communication with the world outside the elevator is a short 911 call. When they arrive at the first floor, Carter-Jones is dead. But was her death, from an unregistered handgun, murder or suicide?

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‘Memphis’ by Tara M. Stringfellow is an ode to generations of Black women and a view into the conflicting issues of motherhood

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

In her historical fiction novel “Memphis,” Tara M. Stringfellow introduces us to three generations of women. We meet Hazel, who was born in 1921; Miriam, born in 1957; her sister August, born in 1963; and Miriam’s two daughters, Joan and Mya, born in the mid 1980s. It’s through the eyes and words of four of these women that we learn the story of one Memphis family, and this family—these strong women who suffer through so much adversity yet remain pillars of strength—is based on Stringfellow’s family and her ancestors.

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