‘Starfish’ by Lisa Fipps is a sensitively written middle grade novel in free verse about image and bullies

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

“Starfish” is Lisa Fipps’ debut novel, and it’s a winner. Think Jennifer Weiner for middle grade readers and you will come close to picturing this book. It’s about Ellie, who is known as Splash for an unfortunate exclamation made by her older sister when she did a cannonball into the family pool at age five. It’s tough being a five-year-old and having your mother and everyone in your family berate you for your weight. The only one on Ellie’s side is her dad, but it’s not enough.

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Attack dogs do not belong in jails

There have been many allegations that inmates in Virginia jails have been attacked by guard dogs, even when the inmates are lying prone on the ground — clearly not a threat. A Washington Post article dated March 6th, “Virginia is using dogs to ‘terrify and attack’ prisoners, say lawsuits that describe one man as mauled in his cell,” outlines how Curtis Garrett was mauled while standing with his hands behind his back, waiting to be put in handcuffs. The two dogs not only bit his arm and leg, but when he fell from the attack, the guards lifted him up while the dogs still had their teeth in him, biting him.

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‘Separate No More: The Long Road to Brown v. Board of Education’ by Lawrence Goldstone is an important nonfiction young adult history of segregation and bigotry

separate no more

“Separate No More: The Long Road to Brown v. Board of Education” by Lawrence Goldstone is an important nonfiction young adult history of segregation and bigotry beginning in 1892 in the famous Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson. Goldstone writes the story of segregation and institutionalized racism and bigotry as if writing a novel, and many of the historical figures and events he shares become real and present. Continue reading

The Conservative Party? Jack Kramer opines

The malignant tumor generally known as Donald Trump may have been excised before it could fully metastasize, but Trump was not, of course, the only cancerous cell in our ailing body politic. Neither was he the cause of the disease; he was simply its most glaringly obvious symptom. The other malodorous, noxious cells are alive and all too well. Unlike the ex-president, they are still all around us, multiplying and spreading as they surely and not-so-gradually go about their business of destroying the body they inhabit. Make no mistake: those cells must be investigated and isolated in order for the healing process to begin before the offending organisms are allowed to fulfill their singularly horrific goal.

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‘They Called Us Enemy’ by George Takei is a graphic memoir that brings home the horror of racism and judging people by their race and is a must-read for teenager readers

I’ve read about the internment camps for Japanese Americans during WWII, and there are many historical fiction books for children that are set in those camps (see some listed at the end of this review), but George Takei’s powerful memoir instilled in me a broader sense of what this country was like when this atrocity was implemented — taking away the property and rights of American citizens because of their ancestry and separating them from their homes. Continue reading

‘The Night Swim’ by Megan Goldin is a gripping story with a universal theme

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In “The Night Swim,” Megan Goldin explores the male domination that exists to this day in rural America. Especially the male dominance that white, wealthy men feel endowed with, along with the usual arrogance that comes from those who feel entitled. They feel entitled to special treatment from the authorities, special treatment from shops, special treatment from their friends who may not be as entitled as they are, and special treatment from girls who, in their view, really have no right to say no to their advances.

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“Lockdown”: Disgustingly Superb Short Stories

lockdown

“Lockdown: Stories of Crime, Terror, and Hope During a Pandemic” is a set of twenty excellent short stories dealing with the terrible effects of pandemics and lockdowns on both normal and abnormal human beings — and on normal people who become abnormal as the result of attempting to cope with viral plagues. The editors, Nick Kolakowski and Steve Waddle, have done a fine job of collecting and presenting the material; the stories range in intensity from quite intense to horrifyingly compelling.

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Unions: The good, the bad, and the ugly

With all the news regarding police abuse of power, police assaulting and killing innocent people (like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd), and the fact that police unions support their officers no matter how heinous the crime, unions are going to come out of this as the bad guys. And you know what? Some unions deserve that bad rap. However, I was president of my local teacher’s union, the NSEA, for eight years. I think I can share what unions should and should not be about with a clear and unbiased voice.

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‘Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes’ by Kathleen West: a must read; especially now

minor dramas

Reading “Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes” by Kathleen West was a perfect way to escape from staying at home and remembering days gone by when our children actually went to school and adults were able to meet in person. Here we meet several people — each of whom is imperfect in some way — and we grow to, if not like them, at least understand them and sympathize with them.

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‘The Lost Orphan’ by Stacey Halls is a fascinating trip back to 18th century England and two very different mothers

lost orphan

What would you do with your newborn baby if you were a poor, uneducated, unwed mother in 1747 London? In “The Lost Orphan” by Stacey Halls, main character Bess is a seller of shrimp. She lives with her father and brother in a tiny two-room apartment, and they struggle to pay the rent and stay warm in the cold London winters. They rise before dawn and, no matter the weather, venture out to sell shrimp in the streets. It’s no life for an infant, and Bess doesn’t have the ability to stay home to raise a child. But she does have the opportunity to leave her baby at a foundling home where they will care for her infant, and when she is ready to reclaim her baby, she will be able to. Continue reading

‘Efrén Divided’ by Ernesto Cisneros is a middle grade story of family, friendship, and finding one’s voice

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On one hand, “Efrén Divided” by Ernesto Cisneros is the story of a middle school boy whose undocumented mother is deported and the effect of that terrible event on his life. But as important as that part of the story is — and it is central to what happens — “Efrén Divided” is also about family and friends, because when Efrén’s mother is deported, he and his family must find out whom they can trust and who really cares for them. And finally, Efrén also discovers that to truly help others, he needs a voice to speak for them and a platform from which to do so. Continue reading

‘American Dirt’ by Jeanine Cummins; review of the audiobook

americandirt

When I received the audiobook of “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins, I was not aware of the controversy surrounding it. All I saw was a story about Lydia, a Mexican woman, the owner of a bookstore in Acapulco, whose entire family is slaughtered by narcotraficantes (drug dealers) after her journalist husband publishes an exposé of the local drug cartel king. It’s about her journey with her 8-year-old son north to America with other migrants trying to hide and escape the killers’ search for the two of them.

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