Documentaries for Black History Month, a saucy Jane Austen adaptation, ideas for family movie nights, and more stuff that might be fun to watch with your homeschoolers this month.
Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!
Hope you had a great Memorial Day weekend and are getting ready for some summer reading! We’re done with homeschooling for the school year so now I can get serious about checking things off the TBR list. It’s the most wonderful tiiiiime of the year… (Except for the miserable Georgia heat and humidity of course, but I solve that problem by never leaving the air-conditioned house except to go in the air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned library.)
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
I was a science fiction junkie growing up. And the first sf I fell in love with was hard sf, from the likes of Asimov, Heinlein, Niven, and Clarke. In hard sf, science is the star—the pleasure is in exploring scientific and technological problems, imagining what it would be like to live on this sort of planet, or how to build that sort of spaceship. Characters often exist primarily as tour guides to show you around, with a plot to move them from one piece of the carefully-constructed, scientifically-accurate set to the next. This novel, first in a trilogy by Chinese science fiction master Liu, is firmly in that tradition, exploring the repercussions of a first contact situation with a fascinatingly original alien race. All the while, the narrative voice remains calm and detached from the action—I’m not sure if that’s Cixin Liu’s individual style, or if it has more to do with Chinese literary tradition (being as I’m pretty much entirely ignorant of Chinese fiction). These days, I generally ask a bit more from the plot and characterization in a novel (and I may have less patience for pages of scientific explanation), but a novel like this hits all my nostalgia buttons and of course I’ll have to find out what happens next. The aliens are coming, after all.
(Bonus modern-day hard sf suggestion: Andy Weir’s The Martian.)
(LC Score: +1)
Paper Girls Vol. 2 written by Brian K. Vaughn, art by Cliff Chiang
Lumberjanes Vol. 3 written by Noelle Stevenson & Shannon Waters, art by Carolyn Nowak
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1 written by Ryan North, art by Erica Henderson
This Week In Comics: Last week I was excited about Paper Girls and Lumberjanes, so this week I want to rave about The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. <deep breath> OMG SQUIRREL GIRL IS SO AWESOME! Buddies with Iron Man, victor over Marvel’s biggest-baddies including Doctor Doom and M.O.D.O.K, friends with the crush-worthy Chipmunk Hunk, she is the BEST and the MOST PERFECT and y’all should run out and buy her (on-going!!!) series right now. Seriously, this is funniest comic I have read in years (my husband kept coming over to see what I was giggling about) and it’s appropriate for ALL AGES, so send your favorite 5-year-old an issue or three to get their comics habit going. I know I’m using a lot of all-caps here, but check out her adventures with sidekick squirrel Tippy-Toes and tell me I’m wrong. The only problem I’m having with all these wonderful comics collections is that I read them too fast—I go through ‘em like a bag of chips and ending up craving MORE immediately.
(Bonus cheer-you-up-if-you’re-having-a-bad-day suggestion: google ‘Squirrel Girl cosplay’. You’re welcome.)
(LC Score: +2, Lumberjanes borrowed from daughter)
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
Atwood is such a Giant of Modern Literature that it feels slightly blasphemous to critique her work in any way, but I have to admit that I don’t often enjoy her writing. I find her work compelling, important, fascinating - but a fun read? Not so much. This retelling of The Tempest, though, was a very pleasant surprise. Shorter than usual for an Atwood novel, her Tempest involves a prison production of Shakespeare’s Tempest, created by an unfairly ousted theater director as a vehicle to get vengeance on those who wronged him. It’s a satisfying, enjoyable, and occasionally very moving read.
(Bonus homeschool suggestion: This would make a great side-by-side read for anyone studying The Tempest. HOMESCHOOL RECOMMENDED.)
(LC Score: +1)
The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
I haven’t yet read Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Underground Railroad—I know it’s going to be difficult so I’m working my way up to it—but I was excited to pick up this novel, his debut. Set in an alternate recent past, where the highly respected calling of Elevator Inspector is divided into opposing camps known as Empiricists and Intuitionists, we follow the career of the first black female inspector as she navigates a professional and personal crisis. Yeah, I know, it sounds weird when I say it, but you should go read it anyway. Whitehead is exploring issues of race and gender (and elevators, I guess?) and I would never have guessed it was a first novel - clearly the man knew what he was doing.
(Bonus zombie-novel-authored-by-Pulitzer-Prize-winner suggestion: Whitehead’s Zone One. And if you know of any other zombie novels authored by Pulitzer Prize winners, please let me know ASAP because I will read the heck out of ‘em.)
(LC Score: +1)
This book, which came out in 2016, is important and perspective-changing and everyone should read it. In clear and readable prose, Kendi untangles the confusing and contradictory ideas fueling/created by American racism, from the early colonial days through the Obama presidency. It’s not a short book, and the material is emotionally challenging, but it’s an absolutely necessary read for those of us who missed out on ‘the history of racism’ in school (meaning pretty much all of us) and want to understand what’s happening today.
(Bonus suggestion: PLEASE READ IT, I MEAN IT. Which I guess isn’t much of a bonus, but I feel strongly about this.)
(LC Score: +1)
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Still catching up—y’know, I can’t think of one book, nonfiction or fiction, that was required reading in my high school lit classes that was written by a person of color or had a person of color as the protagonist. I’d say 'oh, look how embarrassingly backward things were 30 years ago,' but my daughter, who just finished her sophomore year at the local high school, not only has never had a person of color for required reading, but she’s yet to read ANY female authors. And the only female protagonist(ish) was Lady Macbeth. (When they can pick a book from a list, the authors are fairly diverse, but in terms of required reading that every single student has to get through before graduating? So far, ALL white guys. BURN IT ALL DOWN, PEOPLE.) ... Anyway, sorry, got distracted. This slim volume is a classic for good reason—I’m glad I had a better idea of the context from Kendi’s work.
(Bonus side-by-side reading suggestion: one of the essays here is a letter from Baldwin to his nephew that would be really interesting to read side-by-side with Ta-Nehisi Coates’s letter to his son, Between the World and Me. HOMESCHOOL RECOMMENDED, of course.)
(LC Score: +1)
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Are you looking for something to fill the Harry-Potter-sized hole in your reading heart? Do you want to provide your middle school/YA readers with a more diverse bookshelf so that they don’t end up exclusively reading books by white guys about white guys for their entire educational career? (Not that I’m BITTER over here or anything.) I’ve got the book for you! This fantasy novel is about 12-year-old Sunny, born in America to Nigerian parents who have since moved Sunny and family back to Nigeria, where she discovers that she’s a Leopard Person, heir to certain magical abilities. Like Rowling, but in a completely different setting, Okorafor creates a magical world existing next to and within our own, and we get to see Sunny explore this world, making friends, finding teachers, and shopping for magical items. (Is it weird that I LOVE the magical-shopping parts in fantasy novels?) It’s a great read - highly recommended.
(Bonus long-awaited-sequel suggestion: Akata Warrior comes out this October!)
(LC Score: +1)
The Way It Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia by Donald L. Grant
Looks fascinating but it’s due back and I really do need to take a break from Georgia for a minute. RETURNED UNREAD.
(LC Score: -1)
- Library Chicken Score for 5/30/17: 7
- Running Score: 39
On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (since I enjoyed Hag-Seed so much, thought I’d check out Atwood’s version of The Odyssey)
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (more SPACE OPERA for my summer reading)
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (and some fantasy so that my sf/fantasy pile doesn’t get too unbalanced)
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward (follow-up from Baldwin)
Are you going to the SEA homeschool conference this spring? Suzanne and I will be there from June 1-4 giving away copies of HSL and feeling socially awkward, so please stop by and say hi if you’re there!
around the web
Just when the weight of the world feels like too much to bear, someone makes a list of book-ice cream pairings, and you know you’ll make it through.
I really love these alternative approaches to high school math.
I have so many feelings about the new James Baldwin documentary, but the main one is that everyone should go and see it.
Ursula Le Guin on "alternative facts" versus science fiction
one year ago: Rebecca reviews a curriculum for young philosophers
two years ago: Why boredom is an important part of learning
three years ago: Simple strategies to turn around a bad homeschool day
I love when you think you’ve read everything by an author and then discover that nope, in fact, you are wrong, and there is another book. So I was delighted to discover Mischievous Meg by Astrid Lindgren, and we’ve been enjoying it as a readaloud.
in the kitchen
Now that we’ve actually gotten back to some semblance of routine after the Tragic Ankle Breaks of 2015, I’m finding my way back to the kitchen on a regular basis. My kids mock me relentlessly, though, because I always fail Taco Tuesday—I plan tacos for Tuesday every week but something always goes sideways and we end up having them a different night. We did not have them on Tuesday, but these beef picadillo puffy tacos were much enjoyed anyway.
It’s definitely still comfort food season, and this wild rice-mushroom soup hits the spot.
Cookie of the week: Salty oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies
I’m having trouble finding balance between staying informed and active politically (which feels important to do right now) and staying sane and available to my everyday cooking-dinner, reading-books-together, doing-the-laundry (who am I kidding? I would take any excuse to skip the laundry) life. Political happenings are like chicken pox—I’m just constantly aware of them in an uncomfortable kind of way, so much so that the rest of my life suffers, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. And yet, how can I not pay attention every minute? How are you guys handling this? Is this just the new normal?