March 02, 2015

Cybils Finalist Review: THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS by Max Brooks and Caanan White

Summary: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II are, by now, well-known to American and African American history. But the regiment known as the Harlem Hellfighters--the Army's 369th infantry unit--were the first American unit to reach the Rhine in the First World War, and yet despite being highly decorated, they faced racism and discrimination during their time. Less violent, but no less shameful, is their relegation to the sidelines of history that is arguably still going on. (For more information on that, check out this Time/Life article.)

Peaks: Obviously those who like history, war stories and/or action will be the most interested in this one. It is violent, hard-hitting, and pulls no punches – something that will appeal to some readers and not others. It is definitely one for older YA readers because of the raw honesty with which the ghastliness of war is depicted--and because readers with less knowledge of the historical context and/or less life experience might find some aspects of the story hard to figure out. (I relied heavily on my experience with other WWI stories and war stories.) Beyond the war story aspect, though, it's a wonderful story of a little-known group of courageous men, a history that should be better-known, and it's great to see it brought to life.

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Valleys: There were some confusing aspects to the graphic storytelling in particular that tripped me up here and there. While the art overall was very good, the noir-ish style of the drawing became confusing and hard to follow during the chaotic war scenes, or other busy scenes. At times this affected actual story transitions and I had to take a moment to speculate about what had just happened. I couldn't help wishing that the book had included one or two colors, or at least more values of gray, instead of using only line art.

Conclusion: This graphic novel, a gripping story, brings to life some lost voices from our own historical past. The story is sure to inspire both pride and outrage, and readers will be shocked to see in "graphic" detail the realities of what it was like to be a black man in this era, not to mention the horrors of war that did not spare anyone regardless of skin color.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my local library. You can find The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks and Canaan White at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

February 27, 2015


"Have you ever had the feeling that you aren't the main character in the story of your life? That you fill a more minor role - supporting cast, maybe, comic relief, or even antagonist? If that is true - if you aren't the big deal in the story of your life, if your whole purpose is to act as a foil or a catalyst for someone else - then maybe it doesn't matter what you do. Or what you don't do.
Maybe all that matters is what others do to you."

- INFANDOUS, by E.K. Arnold, from an Advanced Review Copy.

Infandous is an old, old word from the Latin infandus, which straight up means abominable. Indeed, there is something fairly horrible hiding behind a corner in this novel - a horrible, meaningless error that the reader knows could have been prevented. Where does one go from something unspeakable? This novel is a series of snapshots - before - after - during of a truly bad moment in sixteen-year-old Sephora's charmed beachfront life -- but is it really charmed? Is there more to life than finding your art or following your bliss? What if you find out that not all is blissful? What then?

Summary: Yeah, so Sephora is pretty sure she was named after the cosmetics store, no matter what her mother says about it meaning "beautiful bird" or "independent." She's a realist, is our Sephora; cynical, jaded, smart and too hip for words -- but in her heart of hearts, no matter how snarky she is, she has a small child's adoration for her mother. She says repeatedly throughout the novel how beautiful she is, how heads turn when she goes anywhere -- but Sephora's same adoration is tainted with an edge of dis-ease -- if her mother hadn't gotten pregnant with her by some nameless tourist so many summers ago, who would she have risen to be? In the fashion world, where she was already making waves? In the larger universe, which was open to her, before her conservative, religious parents and sister turned their backs? Rebecca Golding is so amazing now, shimmering in the beachfront firmament, making do as a worker bee hygienist, when she could have been a runway model. Without the mistake that was Sephora, that cost her youth and beauty and freedom, her family and her options, who could she have been?

And, without her losses and mistakes looming over Sephora - doubled and compiled and repeated - who might Sephora be? Who does Sephora WANT to be?

Peaks: While this isn't the sort of book that you can say that you LIKE - at least I can't - the voice is arresting, as is the conceit of prefacing pivotal points in the protagonist's narrative with chapters of fairytales for context, the real tales, in all their brutal, misogynistic hideousness. This is the sort of novel writers pore over in grad school, and has the requisite intellectual mentions of Greek mythologies, Nabokov's LOLITA, and Latin and Greek vocabulary words. This is a novel about sex and power and the use and misuse of both. The voice is compelling, and this is definitely a grown-up feeling novel for young women who want to be serious thinkers but still like a narrative.

The book is also about extremes in relationships - blind mother love vs. informed distance from our parents; a Disney simplicity and innocence contrasting with highly sexualized, original fairytales; loyalty vs. betrayal; Sephora's cynicism vs. Sephora's wistful hopefulness about what the world could be; art vs. real life and the intersections between said. Even Sephora's relationship with her best friend is caught between public performances of erotic behavior and closeness, and private needling, as her friend bullies, blackmails, and otherwise tries prying away secrets Sephora hangs onto with both hands - despite claiming to love her best of everyone. Indeed, this is a book about tangled webs of lies, lives, and loves.

Valleys: NB: Due to these themes, this book is obviously not a good choice for every young adult reader.

While the voice in this novel is compelling, the character herself, with her sometimes jaded, cynical, very self-aware nature, is hard to engage with emotionally. Sephora's passivity is at times disturbing, in the face of her best friend's actions on her person, the actions of random boys on the beach, on her person -- and maybe it was just me, but I read the novel with a faint sense of nausea, the disturbing aspects of the fairytales pointing more and more clearly to the inevitable reveal, which wasn't surprising for me, but which may catch many readers off-guard. Sephora feels very acted-upon in the world, a character without her own agency, and while this is a large part of adolescence, feeling like you have no control over anything, Sephora just sort of going along with the tide feels disturbingly fatalistic, as if she in no way could have prevented her own tragedy. Because we don't feel quite as deeply for this passive, flaccid doll, the revealing moment her secret is discovered doesn't gut us - or at least, it didn't gut me. IT was more a moment of, "Huh. Well, lie down with dogs, rise up with fleas," and a pained shrug, which I doubt the author intended. Also, as is a common objection of mine, despite this novel taking place in Venice Beach, in the less wealthy part of it, even, where real people live and work, the characters are overwhelmingly white.

Conclusion: While not emotionally gripping for me personally, this is an intelligent and craftily plotted novel about nothing in general, and everything in particular, this one summer on the beach.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of Carolrhoda Lab. After March 1, you can find INFANDOUS by Elena K. Arnold at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

February 26, 2015

10½ Questions with Reshama Deshmukh, creator of THE PIED PIPER

One of the big draws of KidLitCon is getting a chance to meet your fellow bloggers, find out what their interests are, and discover where they intersect with yours. As you may know by now, here at FW our main focus is on Young Adult fiction, with an emphasis on diverse speculative fiction and graphic novels and, a bit more secondarily, the odd Middle Grade book which catches our attention. We aren't experts in MG anything, which is why we're excited to feature a change of pace today and interview our fellow KidLitCon co-organizer Reshama Deshmukh of the blog Stacking Books. She's a fellow blogger, yes, but she's also done something we know absolutely squat about: she's created and produced a book app from start to finish--one that's aimed at helping kids learn to read with their parents and on their own.

Based on Robert Browning’s well-known story The Pied Piper of Hamelin, this app has been a labor of love to produce, and now it is available for purchase on iTunes and Google Play.

We wanted to know more about what goes into the making of a book app, and we also wanted to do a good turn for one of our fellow KidLitCon peeps, so without further ado, here is the scoop on the brand-new app The Pied Piper.

FW: Where did you grow up? What's your educational background?

I grew up in suburban Mumbai in the late 70’s and 80’s. Mostly middle class commuting, apartment community, the city was well known for its amazing performing arts center. I remember looking forward to summer drama marathons, children’s theater classes and swimming lessons.

I went to school in my hometown and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce. I was very fortunate to attend a school with a fantastic library. My parents were voracious readers. Growing up, I remember the pile of newspapers at our doorstep each morning and number of local library visits that my mother would take me to. At school too we all read a ton! The love for reading started at school and continued at home.

In US, I completed my Masters in management with a focus on Finance and Marketing.

FW: Can you briefly describe the process of getting a book app made, from concept to a finished product ready to buy?

Creating an app is much like directing a movie. From script, art, music and voiceover, the many pieces need to be put together to make an app. But it all starts with a story :)

Our Pied Piper App story started with a re-writing of the original Robert Browning’s Pied Piper of Hamelin. Once the script was in place, we re-imagined the story book as an app. At Stacking Books, we want to make sure we inspire children to engage in literacy and excite them. That meant making a book app with incredible art, music and voice experience.

Our artist, Andrea Dailey created the original story board for the script and from there we narrowed it down to specific interactivity for the smart platform. While we envisioned the interactive aspect of a story book app to be integral, we had to constantly keep a fine balance between distracting from the reading and keeping the reader actively engaged. Andrea worked tirelessly to create the right texture, palette and characters for the story. Her high resolution art work makes it easy to fit the book for many screens.

Then came the voice over, sound and music. We interviewed several voice over artists but one voice stood out. Lucas Schuneman, with over 10 years as a voice over artist, expertly modulated his voice to suit the many characters of the book. We loved how he was able to capture the mood of the story right off the bat. Lucas successfully captures the various emotions of distress, joy and treachery of the story.

Mark Kueffner, our brilliant music and sound editor, finished the creative aspect of the app by providing original soundtrack and sound effects. We asked Mark to give this book app a sound that will take you back in time and imagine the setting of the original story. Mark experimented in his lab and came up with a tune that does exactly that. Again, our focus was to not distract but add to the experience of story- telling through the medium of an app. Mark with his many years of experience in TV and Movies, created the original soundtrack and worked from there to create mini tunes as the Piper’s magical tunes.

Parallely, at Stacking Books, we were hard at work putting all the pieces into software. Our goal, right from the beginning, was to create book apps targeting the most popular devices. Our publication as of this writing works on both iOS and Android devices worldwide.

FW: What was the inspiration for this app?

The goal of creating book apps was to create rich content for little readers. To give them a choice of reading on all platforms. Our libraries and book stores are filled with amazing literature. At Stacking Books, we hope to provide similar rich kidlit for the next generation digital readers.

We grew up reading stories by Brothers Grimm. The story of Pied Piper is one among the many stories. Robert Browning’s version of the mystery man called the Pied Piper was intriguing. Bordering on fact and fiction this was a tale that we found we could recreate with easier to understand language. We hope we got a chance to capture the same mystique from the original telling in our story book app.

FW: Who is its ideal audience?

We have seen many book apps designed for the very young. At Stacking Books, we believe that children who have a basic foundation of reading, and are engaged readers are ideal to use book apps. Our Pied Piper App, was thus designed for children 4 years and above.

FW: What made you decide to go with the app format instead of a traditional book or ebook?

The Book App is a unique story telling platform. The audio visual components of a book app are perfect for many types of readers, but especially for reluctant readers. Also, by nature book apps are interactive, which lends to more immersive experience when done correctly. At Stacking Books, we were thrilled to leverage the creative aspects of storytelling on tablets and extend, moderate and design books for this media.

FW: What was the hardest part in developing this app?

I think there was no one piece that was more or less challenging than others. Different tasks had their own unique challenges and we had to constantly re-think and re-work on our assumptions. For example, while we had worked out a storyboard, we stumbled into a particular page that simply did not work towards the flow of the story. We had to go back a re-work on the page several times before we could finally say “done”. Another time, we had a major software stumble when the software capabilities fell short of what we had envisioned as the interactive piece. We finally had to write code outside of the software and plug it in to make it work.

FW: Did you have to gain any new technological skills in order to create a book app?

Yes! In the beginning we had decided to outsource the technology piece. But we soon realized that we had less control over the creative pieces if we did so. Subsequently, I decided to simply “DIY” and dove right in. The decision paid off. We now have critical software, skills as well as processes in place to streamline the next book app production.

FW: What was the easiest part of production and development?

I wish I could actually honestly say there was an easy part :) The Pied Piper app is our first production, and it has been a thrilling yet challenge all through the way. I think once we had the software piece and skills in place, the time to create and build the latter half of the book app was slightly easier or faster than earlier.

FW: What's next for you? Is this going to be an ongoing thing, building apps?

Our fantastic group of KidLitCon organizers, including Reshama (2nd from right)
We are thrilled to release our first production. We loved every aspect of building it and look forward to making more. We are, at this point, looking for content and partnerships with publishers who might be interested to add book apps as potential extensions to their portfolio.

FW: Bonus question: What do you hope people will ask you as they interview you that no one's asked yet?

We have a wonderful blog where we share our favorite children’s books. We hope you can stop by and take a look.

Our minds are pretty well blown at the whole project -- what a huge learning curve, and what a beautiful end product! Definitely do go visit Stacking Books, and check out the charming and visually impressive Pied Piper for yourself. Our sincere thanks to Reshama for stopping by and giving us such a vivid behind-the-scenes look at creating a book app!

February 24, 2015


This book is a 2015 Cybils Award YA Speculative Fiction Finalist.

This is a review by a finalist judge, so will focus more directly on summary. We hope you pick up this Cybil nominee, read, and enjoy!

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Ava is a dichotomy - living in a polygamous, patriarchal, rigidly gender-divided, hunter-gatherer tribe-style life... on a deep-space merchant trading ship called Parastrata. She's different from everyone else in her crewe as it is, because her father was from Mumbai, so her hair is black, not red like the rest, but her stepmother bleaches it, so she'll fit in. The "so" daughter of the ship - the Captain's child - she is the perfect age and bearing to become a bride - traded to another crew and another spaceship. Ava has perfected following the rules - but has such hopes, when she finds she is to be traded to the Aether, a ship on which lives her friend Soli, and Soli's brother, Luck. It is over Luck that Ava falls short of the perfection she once exhibited. Now having lost her value to her clan, she is declared dead. Only the timely intervention of a strong and determined auntie saves her -- and she is saved, time and again, by people who can see the big picture far more clearly than she can. When Ava finally finds her feet again, she is on Earth, in a future Mumbai, trying to find the last scrap of blood relatives she might have, desperate to try and keep her tiny adopted family - and her ship - and her life in balance.

Peaks: The language in the novel from the first lets the reader know that there's been some... shifting in attitudes and beliefs since modern times. Ava's archaic cant brings the feeling of a 19th century trader. The reader, expecting a traditional YA since we do have a girl lying prostrate in a floofy dress on the cover, is scrabbling for familiarity, but won't get any reassurance from Ava, anyway. She's a fish out of water within the first fifty pages. This is a good thing.

There are choices to be made - and the first is to choose to survive the explosive realization that her society is not the end-all, be-all and that there are other ways to live. This is a harder realization for many than others. I like that this is included and is something Ava has to consider. I like that her decisions about men are not either/or (despite a triangle thing), but "Is this what I want, or not?"

There is a lot of detail - which is why this is a very long book - a lot of landscape, knowledge of the way things work, and basically process -- processing everything from the simple questions of survival and "how do you learn to read" to how should a society function. The detail makes the book.

Valleys: Despite this book being quite a tome, I still felt like I was missing some information in basic world-building. Ava's lack of knowledge about even basic science is criminal, and a little terrifying. The reader is left constantly to wonder how this all happened. Why did the crewes initially board ships and go into orbit above Earth? Where they'd come from and who had they been before that event? What was the triggering event for downgrading of the status of women, and why did the women participate wholesale in their own disenfranchisement, striving to each be more perfectly downtrodden? What was behind their drive to obey? Why did they keep silent, still, with eyes lowered? On what cultish faith was their society based that has gone so heinously, so misogynistically off-base? We never get enough information on that, which is a real shame, because I found myself far more interested in questions of structure that mandated that life aboard the spacegoing, the lack of regulated social services, and basic education, etc. -- The women sitting, content, with not being able to read was unconscionable. Surely, if all they believed women were good for was work and bearing, they could be BETTER baby-machines with the ability to read and adequately care for their offspring? Ergh.

There's a lot of discussion about this book as feminist science fiction, but don't look for Ava to become self-actualized or in any way save herself until you're heading WELL toward the end of the book. She is saved, repeatedly, by others... over and over and over again, showing a lack of being the center of her own story, in some ways. Some may find her conversion to self-reliance a little choppy and unbelievable or too slow.

Conclusion: I truly liked this book, though I wanted more. If you enjoyed TIN STAR or ACROSS THE UNIVERSE or THE HANDMAID'S TALE, you will find enjoyment here. The gradual pacing of this five hundred plus page world epic will give readers an entire universe to discover and explore, and they will cheer for Ava's slow but sure growth toward selfhood.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the Benicia Public Library. You can find SALVAGE by Alexandra Duncan at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

February 23, 2015

Cybils Finalist Review: THE DUMBEST IDEA EVER! by Jimmy Gownley

Summary: This book has got a great title. Rest assured the premise lives up to the promise. This was one of my personal favorite titles from this year's excellent crop of Cybils graphic novel finalists. The autobiographical story of how the author decided to become a cartoonist and start drawing comics, The Dumbest Idea Ever! is also one of the funniest books ever--Jimmy is a relatable narrator who endures the usual bumbling toward adolescence that anyone who has ever been a tween will recognize.

Peaks: Creative kids and teens in particular will really relate to Jimmy's story. For the sake of those readers, not to mention the younger me, I loved the final message about not giving up, and being humble enough to know where you still need to learn and to ask for help when you need it. But this is obviously not just a story with a moral message—it's also the story of a regular kid who comes up against obstacles (the normal ones like sports and girlfriends, as well as a few curve balls) and muddles through. He battles his own ego (and its inverse, the nasty voice that tells you you aren't good enough).

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I was impressed by the accurate portrayal of the teen characters in all their awkward, poor-impulse-control glory, the highs and lows of teen life in a small town. Also, the role of the parents and other adults in the story is not minimized, but the focus remains on Jimmy and his quest. And, again, there's a great underlying theme/message of persistence despite obstacles in order to achieve your dream. The visual style is simple and traditional, easy to read as well as very, very funny.

Valleys: There were a few moments here and there when the story's timeline jumped and I was momentarily confused, but that was my only quibble. An all-around excellent title.

Conclusion: This book is so hilarious and endearing and inspiring, too. I laughed out loud many, many times. Really. I keep trying to think of people I can shove this onto, besides my 10-year-old nephew, who is definitely getting a birthday copy. (Good thing he doesn't read this blog!)  If you like graphic novel memoirs, especially ones like Smile by Raina Telgemaier or El Deafo by Cece Bell (this year's Cybils winner), read it.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library. You can find THE DUMBEST IDEA EVER! by Jimmy Gownley at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

February 20, 2015

Odds & Book Ends: Five & Dime Friday, Procrastination Edition

Skyway Drive 069

Yes, I am the big nerd who occasionally has themed bookshelves. In my house.
Because, apparently I am a pretend librarian.

Happy Friday, kids! I'm here because I'm procrastinating. Knowing that, I'm going to keep this short... but I did want to pop in today and say hello. AF and I quietly celebrated ten years here on our blog this month, and both of us are a little sad because we pathetically are overbooked and can't really do much about it. Oh, well! Throw some confetti for us.

♦ Let's kick off this blitzkrieg of links and nonsense with a bit of BOOK NERDDOM, as Mother Reader wins 2015 (thus far, anyway) by being included in the mental_floss List Show broadcast of Weird Awards. Yes, and she will now be known as the "weird ass picture book lady" for-ev-ah. I also love that there's a nerdfighter touch to this whole thing, too. Cheers, Pam!

♦ It's been a quiet week here in Lake... um, at the Treehouse, anyway. We finished out the Cybils in triumph - and then kind of collapsed (did you read Pam ; we dispatched a few questions to a KidLitCon blogger we'll be featuring in the next week or so on the blog; we selected - and then rejected - two books for a tandem read - we're still looking, but the books we keep choosing either both of us have already read, so it wouldn't be an actual tandem READ, or only one of us has access to them - etc. There's a science to this thing, apparently.

♦ This week has been a good one for deep thoughts, as Malinda Lo's four-part critique of ...critique - or, book reviewing raised some good thoughts and questions in our WritingYA writing group about how the historical imbalance of voice and power in the U.S. has influenced the voices speaking about what a book is and should be. (Even with its eye-roll invoking title, TheHorn Book blog raised the topic up and carried it to perhaps a new audience with some in-depth conversation as well.) If you haven't made time to read this whole essay, do. One of the things we appreciate about Malinda is that she articulates things that few other people are talking about as coherently and completely. This is a thorough and well thought out essay.

On the flip side of Malinda's piece, though, was a recent review in Kirkus... a troubling review wherein a reviewer tried to explain why a book was panned, and used their platform as critic to shake a finger at authors and say, "Let's all play inclusively now." In the interests of full disclosure, in my book reviews, I will note when a cast of characters is entirely dominant culture, but first, I don't use that consideration to completely discount a book, and second, I don't consider this blog "professional" space, and neither do I have the scope and audience of Kirkus, obviously. In a blog attached to a national magazine, this awkward, grossly oversimplified blow felt ...convenient, and so unnecessarily slighting to the author. It seems to us a more positive move is to simply highlight OTHER books out there doing the better job of being inclusive, rather than to shake a finger and pan a book for what it's not - and what it never claimed to be. We're just not sure this is the right direction for book reviewing either... it's as if someone heard about inclusiveness in reviewing, but didn't actually understand it...

♦ It's the year of the Goat... or the sheep, or the ram, depending on where you are in various Asian countries. I love the whole goat thing, as I've said before, because I am rather fond of the animal, so here's to a year that will eat anything, jump on anything, occasionally faint, and keep us hoppin'. One of the things I miss from living in Scotland was the Lunar New Year celebrations - the Scots are ready to celebrate ANYTHING in this dreich and cold time of year, and they're ALL about the fireworks, so there were plenty of parades in Glasgow and fireworks and sales at the big Asian groceries. Good times.

♦ Been talking with various people about Black History Month, and what it means to honor that when you're not in school anymore. Some people want to dress as something, because cosplay makes the world go 'round. Rather than donning my nonexistent Ghanian outfit (and let's not say "African outfit," because, all together now, "Africa is a continent, not a country"), I'm puttin' on my kickers today in honor of Bass Reeves, as highlighted in BAD NEWS FOR OUTLAWS by Vonda Micheaux Nelson and THE LEGEND OF BASS REEVES: Being the True and Fictional Account of the Most Valiant Marshal in the West,by Gary Paulsen. For me, "observing" Black History or Women's History or Asian/Pacific American Heritage month is simply trying to find out something new about some historical person, every day. I also learned about Dr. Pauli Murray this month - who was both a lawyer, a priest and was nominated as an Episcopalian saint. (Seriously, I need to work up an outfit for her!!!)

♦ Didja know Gwenda - recently honored with a STARRED REVIEW from Kirkus for LOIS LANE: FALLOUT, her newest book - has a fancy new website? She does.

♦ Checking in with The Brown Bookshelf's 28 Days Later this month has been to happily - and in some cases, ruefully - discover many books and authors I'd never heard of, including C. Taylor Butler and Jesmyn Ward. The Cooperative Children's Book Center just released new statistics that most of us have seen - relating that the number of books for children and teens including African and African American people of color has increased fairly dramatically in the last two years. That's certainly not hard to believe - we've been preaching to the choir long enough for the news to get out beyond the congregation. We've not reached any sort of ethnic parity yet - books for Latino and Asian kids haven't shifted much at all - but it's nice to see a step in a positive direction.

♦ I love Laurie Halse Anderson. I seriously love Buzzfeed (though it's kind of The Website Black Hole Timewater, but whatevs). The two together are a match made.

♦ Aaaaaaand, speaking of Black Hole Timewasters, this day is not going to organize itself. Cheers, and have a good one.

February 19, 2015

Cybils Finalist Review: STRANGE FRUIT, VOLUME I by Joel Christian Gill

Summary: In a recent NPR interview, Joel Christian Gill said, "These stories are quintessentially American stories. I can't say that enough. It's not that I dislike Black History Month. I just don't think Black History Month is enough." I agree completely--most especially with the fact that these ARE quintessentially American tales, and interesting ones, to boot. Yes, these are stories of "Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History," but aside from that, they're just plain absorbing: true stories about nine individuals from black history who made an impact each in their own way--and in some surprising ways, too: for instance, the first American stage magician was an African American, as was Bass Reeves, the most successful Wild West lawman in history.

Peaks: I was drawn in so quickly to these intriguing, fascinating, action-packed, little-known stories from history. Each of the characters was inspiring and brought to life with a lot of personality and humor--with just a touch of the old-style American tall tale to them, though the subject matter is factual--and the stories were all very different and interesting.

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Overall, in fact, this one really does a nice job of combining education and entertainment. The book ends with a Did You Know section containing added facts about each of the nine individual stories, which was a nice touch. There is also ample bibliographic information for people who want to study the subject in depth. But purely on their own merits, the stories have a lot to offer readers, regardless of their level of interest in black history. It brings to life some lost voices from history that are interesting in their own right, independent of adding black history to the standard canon, which this book also encourages.

With respect to the graphic storytelling, I loved the fun and humor and expressiveness of the artwork. It was just very well done—simple but effective, and with great integration of text and image in a variety of ways. Humor is also used well, and I enjoyed the use of "placeholder" images inside word balloons to substitute for racial slurs like the N-word. (Gill addresses this in his NPR interview; I highly suggest checking it out.)

Valleys: Something I couldn't help noticing--as much as I really loved this book--there are no stories in which women are the central figures. Given that this is Volume 1, I'm hoping Volume 2 rectifies this situation, because it seemed a rather glaring omission otherwise...

Conclusion: While the title of this one might prompt some to assume that it is more factual than fun, rest assured that it is most definitely both. I was quite inspired and moved by these tales of heroism and accomplishment, both ordinary and extraordinary, in arenas as varied as the stage, the Old West, the cycling arena and the basketball court. Make sure you read that NPR interview if you want to learn more about the book and its author.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find Strange Fruit, Volume I: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History by Joel Christian Gill at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!