Category: Book Review

The Struggle Book Series (Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020)

The Struggle Book Series is written by Patrice Smith, Donna Smith, Shannon Smith, Charity Smith and Faith Smith. Published by Real Food is Good, these books were sent to me by the author Patrice Smith to review for the Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020.  A set of three, these books follow the journey of four young girls Diamond, Sheila, Crystal and Felicity. The books give a wholesome view of a young black Christian family living in Southern US.

 

Book1: Mom and The Summer Time Blues

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Four sisters, a mother who is Vegetarian/Vegan and summer, that is the gist of this book. On surface seems simple enough, four sisters, Diamond, Sheila, Crystal and Felicity are typical teenager/tweens wanting to have a fun summer. Unfortunately for them, their mother is a vegetarian/vegan who would like them to follow a healthier diet/lifestyle and considering the prevalence of lifestyle diseases, the mother is not wrong. The girls, however, feel that the mother is spoiling their summer vacation by: a). giving them healthy food, not giving them junk food and making them exercise; b).making them do extra school work in the vacation, including writing the book. Considering the age of the sisters you can agree why they called the book Summer Time Blues. Each of the four girls have individual, rather strong personalities and each of the girls gets her own chapter where she talks about what she likes or what she finds infuriating, making each of the girls’ someone whom you may know.

Reading about the four sisters and their grievances against their mother reminded me of my childhood days, being one of three sisters I could relate to them, especially middle child Sheila ( I too am a middle child). The final chapter of the book is written by their Mom and being a mother myself, I can empathize with her. In fact, I think her chapter was my favourite! All we want is for our kids to be happy, to have good values and good habits, unfortunately, that wish seems to put us in opposition with our children.

 

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Book2:4 Girls and 1 Bathroom

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The stories of the Smith girls continue in this book. They are in a new grade with Diamond being a freshman, Sheila going into seventh grade, Crystal into grade5 and Felicity into grade4. The title of the book mentions the bathroom and you can understand the struggle of four girls sharing one. All four are different, with different sensibilities and attitudes, for them to share and get along while sharing the bathroom is understandably difficult. The book starts off with them describing their new grades and how they feel about it and how they cope in a new grade. Their description of the bathroom and how they share it speaks volumes about them individually. The book though, doesn’t stay on the topic of the bathroom only, the four girls also describe their trip to Chicago. The girl’s description of the trip was relateable for any middle-class family. It actually brought back memories of our family trips, with each one having their own agenda and own schedules but having to follow what “Mom and Dad said”. Each of them had their own perspective and reactions to the trip, which is what makes it a family.

Felicity’s description of the return flight had me in splits, her annoyance at a late-night flight with small children was very real. There have been many a time when I have sworn to myself not to travel with kids and many a time when I have been that mom whose child would create a ruckus in the flight (So have been on both sides of the fence for that one). As always the chapter written by mom is my favourite, it is almost if she is reading my mind and writing the chapter. Guess moms all around the world think the same!

 

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Book3: The Struggle is Wheel

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The last and final book of the struggle series, this book follows the four girls in two grades, until Diamond is about to step into the college.  The elder two girls, Diamond and Sheila learn driving and get their licenses, while the younger two, suffer through their driving practice. You can sense the girls getting more mature and more aware of themselves and the world around them. They are still a unit though. There is a part where Diamond and Sheila compare as to how Diamond is the parenting guinea pig as compared to the younger three sisters. How, when the parenting hacks by their mother and father didn’t work on Diamond they changed their techniques for the other three. This is something which I think all of us parents will be able to relate to. You can feel Diamond wanting to be an adult and yet having the uncertainty if she can handle all the responsibility. My favourite bit in this book is, however, Felicity’s take on loopholes and on group projects. I am quite sure if I made my teenager read it, he would also nod in agreement with her views. This book also has a very helpful list of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and also tips for ACT and SATs.

All three books are written in an engaging narrative style. You, the reader somehow, becomes their confidante and the girls, a treasured part of your family. It is almost as if the girls are complaining to you about the injustices wrought on them or trying to explain their feelings to you. There are illustrations (by Patrice and Faith Smith) interspersed with the narrative making it more entertaining.  To make the books more “Teachable” (to quote the girls), there are a lot of instances in the book which happens in regular lives which might be mundane but still are precious enough to make them a life lesson.

Each book has a list of questions which can be asked to the children after reading the book. There is also a vocabulary list at the end of each book, I am guessing in the hope that the children might pick up a dictionary to look up the meanings. The most precious, however, are the photos of the family at the end of each book.

 

*********************************************************************MultiCulturalChildrensBookDay 2020 poster

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 (1/31/20) is in its 7th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.

Seven years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.

MCBD 2020  is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board

 Super Platinum

Make A Way Media/ Deirdre “DeeDee” Cummings,

Platinum

Language Lizard, Pack-N-Go Girls,

Gold

Audrey Press, Lerner Publishing Group, KidLit TV, ABDO BOOKS : A Family of Educational Publishers, PragmaticMom & Sumo Jo, Candlewick Press,

Silver

Author Charlotte Riggle, Capstone Publishing, Guba Publishing, Melissa Munro Boyd & B is for Breathe,

Bronze

Author Carole P. Roman, Snowflake Stories/Jill Barletti, Vivian Kirkfield & Making Their Voices Heard. Barnes Brothers Books,  TimTimTom, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee & Low Books,  Charlesbridge Publishing, Barefoot Books Talegari Tales

Author Sponsor Link Cloud

Jerry Craft, A.R. Bey and Adventures in Boogieland, Eugina Chu & Brandon goes to Beijing, Kenneth Braswell & Fathers Incorporated, Maritza M. Mejia & Luz del mes_Mejia, Kathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry Blossom, SISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. Norrgard, Josh Funk and HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER, Maya/Neel Adventures with Culture GrooveLauren Ranalli, The Little Green Monster: Cancer Magic! By Dr. Sharon Chappell, Phe Lang and Me On The Page, Afsaneh Moradian and Jamie is Jamie, Valerie Williams-Sanchez and Valorena Publishing, TUMBLE CREEK PRESS, Nancy Tupper Ling, Author Gwen Jackson, Angeliki Pedersen & The Secrets Hidden Beneath the Palm Tree, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 by Mia Wenjen, Susan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay Fletcher (Founders of Inner Flower Child Books), Ann Morris & Do It Again!/¡Otra Vez!, Janet Balletta and Mermaids on a Mission to Save the Ocean, Evelyn Sanchez-Toledo & Bruna Bailando por el Mundo\ Dancing Around the World, Shoumi Sen & From The Toddler Diaries, Sarah Jamila Stevenson, Tonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book Series, Teresa Robeson  & The Queen of Physics, Nadishka Aloysius and Roo The Little Red TukTuk, Girlfriends Book Club Baltimore & Stories by the Girlfriends Book Club, Finding My Way Books, Diana Huang & Intrepids, Five Enchanted Mermaids, Elizabeth Godley and Ribbon’s Traveling Castle, Anna Olswanger and Greenhorn, Danielle Wallace & My Big Brother Troy, Jocelyn Francisco and Little Yellow Jeepney, Mariana Llanos & Kutu, the Tiny Inca Princess/La Ñusta Diminuta, Sara Arnold & The Big Buna Bash, Roddie Simmons & Race 2 Rio, DuEwa Frazier & Alice’s Musical Debut, Veronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series  Green Kids Club, Inc.

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

Co-Hosts and Global Co-Hosts

A Crafty Arab, Afsaneh Moradian, Agatha Rodi Books, All Done Monkey, Barefoot Mommy, Bethany Edward & Biracial Bookworms, Michelle Goetzl & Books My Kids Read, Crafty Moms Share, Colours of Us, Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes, Educators Spin on it, Shauna Hibbitts-creator of eNannylink, Growing Book by Book, Here Wee Read, Joel Leonidas & Descendant of Poseidon Reads {Philippines}, Imagination Soup, Kid World Citizen, Kristi’s Book Nook, The Logonauts, Mama Smiles, Miss Panda Chinese, Multicultural Kid Blogs, Serge Smagarinsky {Australia}, Shoumi Sen, Jennifer Brunk & Spanish Playground, Katie Meadows and Youth Lit Reviews

FREE RESOURCES from Multicultural Children’s Book Day

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Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

The Courtesan, The Mahatma and The Italian Brahmin ~ Manu Pillai

On reading the above title one might wonder about the correlation between the courtesan, the mahatma and the Italian brahmin. The correlation is that these three colourful characters made an impact in their times but were lost in the fogs of time. They were not as important or influential as the Mughals or the sultans, but yet, they were important in their own way in their own part of India. Like these three, there were many other characters from all strata of the society, ones who were once deemed not important enough, who have now been given a voice in this book. The third book by Manu Pillai, following the Ivory Throne and Rebel Sultans, this book is a selection of essays on topics from the seventeenth century onwards with the last essay being on our modern times. This book travels from Deccan to Nagaland to Paris and has characters ranging from Dara Shikoh to ordinary people, covering topics ranging from history, religion and culture.

If you followed Manu Pillai’s column in The Mint ( which has now sadly been discontinued), you might find the topics familiar as most of the essays are curated from the column. If, however, you haven’t read his columns then this book is a treasure trove of anecdotes and forgotten footnotes of history. Moving away from dry facts, his style of writing history makes it more personal, more relatable, more approachable.

Personally, my favourite two essays from the book were “The Engineer and the Rice Bowl”  and “The Essay for our times”. The former is on Sir Arthur Cotton, the man who laid the foundation for PWD, the ubiquitous government entity found in each and every city. The essay makes you aware of an Englishman who came not only to rule but who also fought for better conditions for Indians. The latter essay, “The Essay for our times” is an interesting take on Nationalism and Hindutva, something which is critical and pertinent in the current political situation of India.

The blurb of the book says “To dip into these essays is to be absorbed in India’s story and reflect on the experiences of men and women whose lives were full of passion”. “To dip into India’s history” is true with this book as it tells you stories about the forgotten bits of history, which in some cases, also make you go “A-ha!”. Since the book is a collection of essays, it is easy to read, without the reader having to bother about the continuity of chapters. It is not a historical treatise, but for the fringe history lovers, the ones who would want to know more about Indian history, but don’t have the patience to sit with a dry history tome, this book is definitely recommended.

Emperors of the Peacock Throne ~Abraham Eraly

The Mughal rule forms one of the most important periods of Indian history. Whichever side of the fence you might be sitting on, you cannot deny that the Mughals left an imprint on future generations in terms of culture, art and architecture. There have been countless books written, innumerable movies made on them. Their era is one of opulence, decadence, intrigue, immortal love stories, and path-breaking architecture.

This book is based on the remarkable three centuries from the establishment of the Mughal dynasty by Babur, whose destiny led him from Samarkand via Afghanistan to India, to the much-reviled Aurangzeb, the last of the “Great Mughals”.It shows how piece by piece Babur laid the foundation of the empire; Humayun lost the empire and lived life as a nomad; Akbar’s reign in which the empire reached the pinnacle of power; Jehangir, who even though an opium addict, held on to the empire, giving it a much needed peaceful time, leading to greater riches; Shah Jehan, who built architectural marvels, ushering in an age of culture; Aurangzeb wresting the empire from Shah Jehan and how at the time of his death the empire had become so big and unwieldy that he spent the last years of his life suppressing rebellions.

This is a balanced book, it portrays the Mughals as they were without sugar-coating their faults or unnecessarily trying to malign them. However, the author can be harsh and even acerbic at certain times. The author draws from medieval sources especially the in-court chronicles along with works from European travellers. Drawing from two diametrically opposite sources gives his work a more balanced approach. Apart from concentrating on the Mughals, he also gives a glimpse of other characters important in that age, specially Sivaji. In fact, about five chapters are on the rise and fall of the Marathas. Such is the impartial approach that two versions of Sivaji’s meeting with Afzal Khan( of the famous tiger claw incident) are given, leaving it on the reader to decide which version to believe in.

The book includes the lifetime of all the first six Mughals ( as well as Sher Shah Suri), but it is by no means an abbreviated history. This book is for people who want to read an unbiased history of the Mughal rule and for those who have a serious interest in history. Even though the book is entertaining it does get a bit heavy and dry in places, thus a more serious approach is needed. Are there fallacies in the book, quite certainly, for instance, there is hardly any mention of the rise of Sikhism and the events leading up to the start of Khalsa during the Mughal rule. But on the whole, the book gives an insightful view of the Mughal rule. It is an exhaustive body of work which needs to be appreciated for an in-depth and unbiased view.

Pachinko ~ Min Jin Lee

The book Pachinko travels through decades, from Korea’s fishing village to Osaka, Yokohama, Tokyo, Columbia and then finally back to Yokohama. It is the story of Sonja, from being an innocent Korean village girl to being a  grandmother, of her grit and determination to survive. It is the story of Yoseb, who despite saying he is not brave, has the courage to take care of his family. It is the story of Mozaru, who wants to succeed and make a better life for his son. It is the story of Noa, who follows all the rules, just wanting to fit in.  It is the story of Hansu, who wants to control Sonja and later Noa.

Korea is famous for K-pop and Korean skincare, but its history is something most of us are unaware of. Pachinko is the Japanese form of pinball and quite a few Koreans of Japan are involved in the Pachinko industry, though it might be a very simplistic way to think about this book. Pachinko introduces you to the colonization of Korea by Japan. It shows the racism in Japan against the Koreans, a part of history which Japan will most probably want to forget. It depicts the struggle of ordinary Koreans in Japan, the expatriate life; the sense of alienation; the struggle to make a new, better life; the feeling of belonging, yet not being accepted even though it might be the third or even fourth generation to be born in the country.

 It is the first book I read about Koreans and their history. The book is about a forgotten chapter in world history which, even though lost, is still relevant. The story ensnares you, you want to keep turning the page to see what happens next. There is no melodrama and yet there is pathos. There are no detailed descriptions but yet, the writing is such that you can see the events unfolding before your eyes.

Pachinko is the story of ordinary people who only have one aim, to survive and to make a better future for their children. It is something , which all of us can relate to at an instinctive level, and therein lies the beauty of this book.

Book Review: The Radiance Of A Thousand Suns (Manreet Sodhi Someshwar)

“History was alive and entangled in everyday stories of India, and it needed to be coaxed onto the pages of a book”.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns” is the story of Niki Nalwa who undertakes to finish her father’s lifelong work of writing a book. A book about the oral stories of Partition of India and the riots of 1984. The Nalwa family’s history is intertwined with the history of the country, starting from the Partition of the country to the days of emergency to the riots of 1984 to the turbulent years of militancy in Punjab to 9/11 to modern-day racism in New York. Also intertwined is the story of Mahabharat, the story of brothers at war, of Draupadi and of reminding us, that violence begets violence.

This book is like Nooran’s bagh, a colourful tapestry of stories, of Nooran’s fearlessness, Zohra Nalwa’s desire to get justice for riot victims, Niki’s feminism and the desire to complete her father’s work, Meher’s innocent adolescence and Jyot’s sacrifice and suffering. It might feel very simple, but sometimes even simple has the power to move you, raise gooseflesh, draw tears in your eyes and break your heart. Nooran, Zohra, Niki, Meher and Jyot are not only characters in the book, but they are a part of us all. They are amongst us when we love our children, scold them, motivate them, teach them to be good humans.

The author evokes memories of simpler times when she mentions “choori” or “karah prasad”, you smile as you read as it brings back comforting memories of your own childhood. However, like in Niki’s childhood, there are wisps of dark in your childhood too, you remember the hushed whispers of massacres in 1984, of the curfew and the soldier keeping guard on your street. With Jyot’s story, the generic becomes personal, you are horrified by the violence in Jyot’s life. Jyot’s life becomes a metaphor for all the women in conflict areas, the ones who face violence and destruction over and over again, all because of the games that men play, the games of war and power.

In the book, Niki mentions that while there have been countless books/movies about the Holocaust, the Partition of India ( which was no less catastrophic) has been relegated to the footnotes of History, even Indian history. A deeply disturbing , yet a true fact. Quite a few of us also forget that so many people who had to bear the horrors of Partition had to again face the horrors of 1984 as well. It is almost as if the violence followed them irrespective of where they were, they couldn’t escape its bloody clutches.  Partition on the surface may have affected Punjab and Bengal the most, however, it’s repercussions are felt even now, not in the least in the instinctive acrimony between India and Pakistan.

Even though this is a Punjab/Sikh centric book its appeal is not limited to that region as this book, at its heart, is about women. Women who give birth and are yet relegated to the shadows; women whose bodies are to be conquered to show-off manhood; women whose bodies become battlefields when brothers fight wars over land; women who are made to follow rules and archaic customs in the name of religion.

There are certain books for which writing a review is very difficult. The book might have touched you, moved you to tears, left you heartbroken, stayed with you constantly. You want people to discover the beauty of the book, but as you sit down to write, you struggle to find words that would do justice to the author and to your emotions on reading the book. Yet you somehow persevere as you know such books are required in current times of mistrust when humans are against one another. When once again, the price will be paid by women. I hope I have done justice to the book and can motivate people to read this beautiful book, a book which will make you pause and think, about your actions and how they affect us all.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

World War II was one of the darkest periods of the world’s history with the sheer scale of destruction around the world. It was also a period where the so-called common men showed sheer courage and grit to inspire future generations. There have been countless movies, books, documentaries about this dark period. “The Tattooist of Auschwitz”  written by Heather Morris joins the list of books about this dark period which succeeds in touching you.

Lale Sokolov was a Jew who along with countless others, was taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. He ended up becoming the “Tattooweir” or the tattooist who engraved numbers on countless Jewish wrists entering the camp. The numbers which became the identity and symbol of Nazi atrocities against the Jews. Lale Sokolov by his sheer courage and intelligence managed to not only survive but also find his love in the hell-hole. Lale lived with the motto “If you wake up in the morning, it is a good day”. Everyday Lale walked a tightrope, being a tattooist, trying to survive and in his own way impacting lives around him positively. Lale and Gita were ordinary people on the street, with their dreams and life, but fate brought them together in a concentration camp and thrust them into history. They faced inhuman conditions, reduced to a number, incarcerated for more than two years, facing death each day and yet, they survived. They proved that being a hero doesn’t always mean to fight and resist always, sometimes it just means to survive each day, however possible.

The book is based on a concentration camp, with death all around, with moments that are bleak, moments that make you question the darkness of the human race, moments where you wonder if the tattooist will ever survive. The book, however, uplifts you, the book makes you believe the good even a single human can do. Gita and Lale make us realise the power of hope, the courage to believe that the bleakest of times have to, sooner or later, end.

It makes you believe “To save one is to save the world“.

 

Tissue Paper ~Neha Soi

 

I write in borrowed ink.

Borrowed from those

Who have abandoned it somewhere inadvertently

or lost it absent-mindedly.

 

~Tissue paper, Neha Soi

“Tissue Paper” is a slim anthology of Poems by Neha Soi. Covering different facets of life these poems are about finding the words to express the mundane or routine. Even though I was surprised by the title “Tissue Paper”, as I read through I realised how apt the title was for the book. The topics on the surface are mundane, ones that would randomly pop into your head walking down the street. And yet, the poet has framed those topics into words, giving them a life much more than ordinary. The poet is not untouched by the happenings of the world around but rather than pointing directly she writes words which you interpret with your thoughts.

The book is divided into nine sections like divine, alive, parenting etc. The poems in each section do not have a specific title, you can read them as one flowing into another (as the topic holds them together) or you can randomly read each poem on its own. The poems are about the world around us, the one which we try to ignore as it doesn’t concern us directly. The words used are simple day to day words, words which you will not have to look up in the dictionary. These words are beaded together by the poet to make verses which stay with you and make you think about their power. There is an underlying sarcasm in a few of the poems.  My personal favourite poem in the anthology is in the divine section which is about God and of reducing god to a marketing gimmick as a decoration.

The school trained us to read and understand poetry as part of the board curriculum. We were exposed to traditional poetry with rhyming words, poetic devices, interpretation of the verses given by the teacher. After school, I did read some poetry for pleasure but realised I am more of a traditionalist who prefers Keats and Frost to the new age poets. To read a book then, filled with verses which didn’t have a rhyming scheme seemed like an uphill task. I, however, was pleasantly surprised when I did climb that hill. Poetry, at its heart, is about metaphors. The book “Tissue Paper” is an anthology filled with metaphors.

Poetry is languidness of words, softer than stories, poetry meanders and yet leaves an imprint on you. Poetry is an art of speaking, using minimum words, not directly and yet the words convey the meaning. The anthology “Tissue Paper” succeeds in conveying the meaning.