ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “A Trail of Many Tales: The Discovery of the Fish Lake Cutoff Along the Old Spanish Trail” by Robert W. Leonard, Jr.

(Click and hold the slider icon on the image below to view front and back covers.)

“A Trail of Many Tales: The Discovery of the Fish Lake Cutoff Along the Old Spanish Trail” by Robert W. Leonard, Jr. & edited by Jennifer Strong

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Whether four-legged animals or two-legged humans, trails are followed and retraced by an assortment of creatures through the centuries on the easiest paths through the landscape. They were always on some type of mission whether looking for forage, food, water, or ports of call. Humans, from the 16th through the 19th centuries were most always on some military or commercial enterprise between destination points. The Old Spanish Trail was used for both purposes: Spanish traders from at least 1795 to the railroad surveys of the early-1850s. Commercially, hundreds of mules left Santa Fe carrying woolen goods for the Californios. In return, thousands of horses and mules were herded back to New Mexico and then up the Santa Fe trail to Middle America.

Trail of Many Tales relates the history of the trail in south central Utah by combining first-hand accounts, tribal lore, works of history, archaeology and state of the art scientific methods. Come on along and learn how large groups of animals were herded by not so many men and our identification of their trails, some 1,000 feet wide, that still can be isolated on small sections of the overland route.

REVIEW:

Have you ever spent time obsessing over Wagon Train stories or settlement in the American West–either digitally or as a traveler yourself? Have you spent an absurd amount of time going down the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia when it comes to interesting historical events or social histories? I have, and chances are some of my readers here have done so, too. This book is for you, my rabbit hole and history buff readers!

In structure, A Trail of Many Tales: The Discovery of the Fish Lake Cutoff Along the Old Spanish Trail combines the best features of both academic publications and the sort of widely-used guide books that show up on library shelves. Speaking from my experience checking out books for library visitors, the Falcon Guides book on Italy is extremely popular, but all books of this nature, especially the local or regional ones, are much-looked-for by readers and travelers. This makes Robert W. Leonard, Jr.’s A Trail of Many Tales both extraordinarily practical for those wishing to know more about its story or are hiking in the area, and extremely authoritative and trustworthy from a technical or academic perspective. Photographs pepper sections where they provide both an oft-needed “sense of place” and examples of the sorts of modern remnants of the area’s usage at its several peaks. Everything is properly credited in the academic fashion with short descriptive captions, so the images are both enjoyable from a casual standpoint and compliant with copyright from an academic one. Many of them were taken by the author himself while researching the routes.

The written sections are, I promise you, highly readable due to the author Leonard’s straightforward style of expression, but non-academic readers ought to be able to sense from the outset that the book wasn’t written entirely with them in mind, and that there are some structural differences between the architecture of scholarly publications and commercially produced guides. As an example, the book provides table of contents instead of the more simple chapter listings of creative travelogue nonfiction (I’m thinking here of Travels in Siberia, which I read a couple of years ago, as a popular example of that particular form.) Only the very occasional typo (probably from word processors’ tendency to transpose letters) would indicate that this book didn’t have a bevy of interns and salaried editors scrutinizing every line. There are also some acronyms and unfamiliar terms to those of us not terribly familiar with the sort of technologies available in the 1800s–Terms like swales or the Dixie Harrow project, some Bureau of Land Management and National Forest Service acronyms I didn’t immediately recognize, and some other technical terms that sent me straight to the Index and Appendices included at the very end of the book …. as well as my graduate work at the University of Arizona, where I spent considerable time in various laboratories conducting some writerly research of my own.

Despite its (very occasional) quirks, A Trail of Tales was absolutely engrossing. I got so sucked in by the various histories and experiences of the Old Spanish Trail (acronym: OST) that I stayed up past 3 in the morning reading and re-reading several sections, including the area’s regional pre-Columbus slave trade (horrifying in a True Crime sort of fashion) and its historical importance to the Church of Latter-Day Saints. And let me tell you, I sacrifice my sleep only for the most interesting and readable of books. If I have made any typos in my review, I blame several late nights obsessing over this book. And tree rings. And public land management in America. I have been known to fall asleep even before finishing a single article in home decoration magazines–usually before 10 in the evening–so you get a sense of how this book reeled me right in.

SIDE NOTE: the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research there is absolutely fabulous as both a building and a research institution. It provides a brief summary of the basics of tree-ring research, including some of the technical terms used in this book, on the “About Tree Rings” page on their website as well as by live virtual tours of the building that help give digital visitors a better sense of the place; the Laboratory also makes available live virtual tours of the building for students. (I’ll admit, since March of 2020 the existence of virtual tours was not a fact that I regularly thought about; since COVID-19 has shut down public access to many, many important places, such as the major museums of Europe, the Smithsonian, and even some restaurants have become much more popular–and useful. Useful to, for example, the future college freshmen wanting to know what sort of campus they’ll choose to land on, once on-site learning picks up again.)

While I do think that there is a great deal to interest a wide readership in A Tail of Trails, I know for certain that travelers–both serious hikers and tourists for history like those who follow any of the Wagon Trail routes to the American West)–as well as researchers and American history buffs will find it of particular importance. Author and fellow-traveler–not to mention researcher–Leonard does a great job of contextualizing the Old Spanish Trail and this book’s specific sections of the OST within the larger history of migration (whether the trafficking of slaves or white settlers and adventurers). I feel like I understand the place, what it means to different people as well as a detailed understanding of what it would be like to stand on a riverbank in Tommy Hollow. I’m so glad this book came to my attention, and to have a chance to read it!

IN SUMMARY:

In A Trail of Many Tales: The Discovery of the Fish Lake Cutoff Along the Old Spanish Trail, author Robert W. Leonard, Jr. leads his readers through the documented history and his own boots-on-the-grounds research of a well-used (historically speaking, at least) shortcut of the Old Spanish Trail. Up until the publication of Leonard’s book, there had been no widespread awareness of this cutoff’s importance or its popularity and its usage as a Pre-Columbus trade route between New Mexico (who supplied, among other things, textiles and mules) and California as well as the traders residing in the Fishlake National Forest’s area (who provided, among other things, Indigenous peoples as slaves for manual labor). The author provides a fascinating look into the world of dendrochronology and other scientific research, and keeps readers hooked by his own compelling obsession with–and research trips to–the cutoff and surrounds. I could not have stumbled across either a more interesting guide book or–bonus feature!–a more thorough and authoritative work of historical or scientific research. A Trail of Tales is a fantastic book.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find A Trail of Many Tales: The Discovery of the Fish Lake Cutoff Along the Old Spanish Trail by Robert W. Leonard, Jr. wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about it on the book’s Outskirts Press listing.

WHAT NEXT?

Oh, don’t get me started! I have over twenty items checked out from my local library and a score of non-library books in poorly-organized piles around my physical space … and digital ebook space. Many of these (ten, maybe?) I have already started, but thanks to … (*gestures at all of 2020*) … I have the attention span of a restless cat, so I’m reading them all at once or a bit at a time, sequentially. I don’t have a specific one I’d pull out of that pile quite yet for my next review––but I have a lot of candidates jostling for the space. Very likely I’ll have to keep up a rapid pace with my reviews over the coming months. Thank you for reading my review, and I hope you are able to read this book yourself!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Bookshop.org book listing.


SONY DSC

ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “The Portal” (CORT Chronicles Book 1) by David D. Bernstein

“The Portal” (CORT Chronicles Book 1) by David D. Bernstein; illustrated by Richa Kinra

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

After falling into a time portal during a Little League baseball game in Trinity, New York, eleven-year-old Andy finds himself transported to a ghostly version of his hometown––101 years in the future. Twisted metal, rotten wood, and garbage litter the seemingly empty streets, but Andy will soon discover that the city is controlled by CORT robots . . . and that this reality is Earth’s possible future. When thirteen-year-old Zack receives a strange letter that guides him through the portal, he and his brother are reunited, and together they must journey through a nightmare world that only they can change. But how can two young boys alter the present by saving the future?

REVIEW:

101 years in the future, thirteen-year-old Zack and eleven-year-old Andy find themselves caught up in a new civil war. After various misadventures including time-traveling portals at baseball fields and old abandoned supermarkets, a three-dimensional letter, and a ruined library full of frightful reminders that they are nowhere near home, the boys team up with future teenage resistance fighter Wendy and her crew. The boys face trial after trial as they begin to figure out what, exactly, is going on in this future: fifty years of cultural memory has vanished, and every possible thing is now manufactured by a shadowy organization––CORT. Children and seniors live segregated lives, with children brainwashed into accepting the new system from toddlerhood. One of the boys is captured, leading to the formation of a rescue party and a cliffhanger ending.

Now, I personally am not the biggest fan of cliffhangers! Many a young adult or middle grade novel has been flung across the room in my house because of an unfinished series leaving readers hooked–and frustrated that they can’t keep going the minute they finish earlier books in the series. (I do not condone the throwing of books, whether print or digital. As a librarian, here is my obligatory reminder to take good care of your precious stories.) Having said all of this, I do know that cliffhangers are an effective tool in an author’s toolbox, and that the mere fact I’m still grumbling about those cliffhangers from the distant past indicates those authors have made good use of this particular tool. Still, I am eager to lay my hands on the next book in this series so that I can learn the ultimate fates of Zack, Andy, and Wendy.

Middle grade readers will probably also be familiar with dystopias–future worlds where the systems governing society and/or government have somehow gone awry and are no longer serving to protect and serve those people who remain. There is always some rather mature themes involved in communicating dystopic ideas, and The Portal is no exception. Parents and readers should be aware that bombs fly and skeletons turn up at the most inopportune times, and yet the reading level or difficulty of this series indicates that it is written for those transitioning from Easy Reader (ER) books into chapter books. I could see this being a hit with the demographic currently (if clunkily) referred to as “struggling readers”: in other words, those children struggling to make the transition in reading level difficulty to the Junior Fiction section of the local school or public library. (I’m thinking of the Dork Diaries audience here.) The combination of an action-driven plot. lower-difficulty language, and eye-catching illustrations set these books apart from your more standard chapter books.

And those illustrations–I really can’t say enough about Richa Kinra’s ability to communicate so much in simple black-and-white pencil sketches. The face of each and every character is just so expressive, and important details within the story well featured. I’ve been drawing and painting since I could hold a pencil (or brush) and I absolutely could not even halfway imitate Kinra’s fantastic work.

What’s not to love? There are action sequences: The bombs! The evil robots! The people running! The purple flames! And there are also the mysteries: Who sent the letter? And how? Where do the seniors and children go? What is CORT really after? How did the resistance first get started? At around 75 pages, Bernstein’s first book in this series only just hints at answers still to come. Despite the occasional typographical hiccup, The Portal reads as a fun, immersive romp. Here’s hoping there are many installments left to come!

IN SUMMARY:

Going into this book, I expected it to be solidly good. I’ve never yet been disappointed by any book picked out by the CIPA EVVY process as a merit or award winner, and The Portal was in keeping with that high expectation. As much a work of fantasy as it is of science fiction, this book is very much written with a middle grade audience in mind, and is packed with the kind of zany adventures junior readers love.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find The Portal wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about it on the book’s Outskirts Press listing.

WHAT NEXT?

The next book on my list is rather a pithy one: a nonfiction exploration of both the present and historical past of the Old Spanish Trail, portions of which I happen to be a bit familiar with, but much of which has intrigued me for years! I’m definitely the kind of person that can get lost in a guidebook to (name a national forest or park or monument) or any book along the lines of A Roadside Geology of … book. Much to look forward to!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Bookshop.org book listing.


SONY DSC

ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “Our Story: Jamaica’s Visionary Experimental Secondary Classes (1954-1960)” ed. by Jonathan Goodrich & Owen Everard James

“Our Story” ed. by Jonathan Goodrich & Owen Everard James

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Equal opportunity for children to access “good education” has to be one of the primary obligations of any government. In a developing country like Jamaica, such opportunity is tantamount to ensuring the country’s viability if not its very survival. OUR STORY is a collection of first-person narratives by graduates of one of the most visionary and effective yet undocumented experiments in the history of secondary education in the English speaking Caribbean. The poetic prose of graduate Trevor Thomas highlights this shortcoming: “A brilliant meteor had streaked across the bleakness of Jamaica’s education landscape, briefly illuminating its dark canopy, but attracted scant attention, and the remains were unceremoniously buried without headstone or epitaph.”

The observation of Prof. Emeritus, the Hon. Errol Miller, OJ, CD, Ph.D., DLL (Honoris Causa), an internationally recognized scholar on the subject, further emphasizes the sentiment in his exceptional foreword: “Our Story recounts and reflects upon a unique chapter in the history of Jamaican secondary education told sixty-seven years after it began and sixty years after it ended by some students who assess its impact on their lives.”

Although OUR STORY focuses on the period 1954-1960, it directly references critical antecedents as well as pivotal outcomes from the period, especially in the area of Education Policy. The revolutionary role of the Hon. Edwin Leopold Allen, the then Minister of Education who envisioned and implemented the Experimental Secondary Classes, and the notable teachers that were the definitive agents of the success of the endeavor are recognized. The inextricable connection between the Classes and the broader history of Secondary Education in Jamaica is boldly clarified in the volume.

OUR STORY references Jamaica’s political, economic, and cultural history as these unfolded during the period immediately preceding and immediately following, national Independence in 1962. The absence of the story of the Classes from the larger narrative of secondary education in Jamaica substantiates a void in the history that should be addressed. This history and the related influence of the imposed, traditional, generally elitist, and highly discriminatory, imposed British system of education are well known and documented. This history is therefore not the main driver of this effort. Instead, the effort is driven by the realization that the Experimental Secondary Classes have not received the recognition and credit that they unquestionably deserve.

The historical linkages with our own stories demand that we acknowledge the nature, cause, consequences, and relevance of the international protests instigated by the worldwide recognition of systemic discrimination against people of color. It would be irresponsible not to do so. The common origins, direct relevance, and impact on how we may view our own heritage, and the future of the land of our birth are inescapable. Notably, the protests are in direct response to historical inequities in the opportunity to access crucial socio-cultural prerequisites such as education, justice, and the benefits that generally accrue from a clearly flawed, artfully marketed participatory economy that is extensively dependent on the education status of participants.

Hopefully, as the stories are told and read, the telling will not be in vain.

REVIEW:

If this last year has taught me anything, it’s that our education systems (globally speaking) still leave a lot to be desired. One might say they “need some work.” When students’ education suffers, no matter what grade or level they are at, society suffers––both in the moment and for decades to come. I had the benefit of an unconventional childhood, with a mix of homeschooling with dedicated and deeply invested parents, and a middle and high school education overseas. I can’t speak for the intervening years since I finished high school, but at the time, that particular education system ranked fairly high on the various “best education systems” lists that are released every year. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was challenging in some really good ways that prepared me incredibly well for college.

I can’t say the same was true for my fellow students in college and graduate school––many of my friends struggled, especially in the first two semesters, with the workload and the different ways of thinking that university-level courses require of students. I remember feeling rather proud to have received a “better” education (although to an extent that word is subjective), and now I feel a bit ashamed of having lorded that over my friends. As many research reports have shown, blame for poor performance across American school districts and elsewhere shouldn’t be placed on the shoulders of the students or teachers––the system itself is broken, and the fractures show at every level, from childhood through adulthood.

In Our Story: Jamaica’s Visionary Experimental Secondary Classes (1954-1960), editors Jonathan Goodrich and Owen Everard James have collected the background, methods, and results of a unique educational experiment carried out in Jamaica during a six-year periods ending in 1960. It is, I must say, an exhaustive document––fully book-length––about this educational programme, and yet it is also fascinating. I knew very little about the history of education in Jamaica and the other Caribbean islands, merely that it had been altered irrevocably by the area’s colonization by various foreign actors, namely Spain and Britain, and the import of imperial cultures along with slave labor from Africa (and later, indentured Chinese and Indian peoples). The native Taino peoples had been devastated, so I only expected that the country’s education system would reflect norms established during the British occupation. This book deals with what was essentially an educational experiment carried out in the years immediately prior to Jamaica’s emancipation in 1962, making it an interesting historical document of a time of great change on the island––and the ways in which all of these changes impacted how education was done. And indeed, the first chapter alone documents far to many of these changes for me to summarize effectively here.

As is stated in the forward, “Our Story is about fruitful lives: some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold and some a hundred-fold, made possible by access to good quality education with international currency.” It is, by its mere existence, a document that refutes the argument that educational success ought to be approached in the same way as business success. The book draws on personal recollections collected well after the fact, and the editors acknowledge both the benefits (hindsight and lived experiences) and the drawbacks (erroneous and incomplete memories of events as they happened) of this approach. Its editors set the scene for the unfolding of this particular experiment by first describing the various (and often ad hoc) other competing systems in use during this period. But as Goodrich and James put it, the book exists not to focus on these things but rather the experiment itself––the ESCs (Experimental Secondary Class)––and to remedy the fact that these classes had never “received the recognition and credit that they unquestionably deserve.”

A quick note for those of you who like to know such things: There is a religious inflection to this book and the educational experiment it documents. This is something of an historical artifact of the period being discussed––and of the British heritage and influence that even now persists in an independent Jamaica.

Would the ESC system work today, in 2021, in my country? I have no idea. It would certainly require a complete restructuring of the system––a system admittedly that I’ve previously described as “broken.” In this I’m not exactly unusual; almost everyone I know is unhappy with the current state of things and with the quality of education that children and teenagers are receiving. The challenge isn’t one of motivation, but rather execution: How can a country overhaul its educational system without a period of great disorganization, and without protest against the ways and means of getting it done? Goodrich and James document one possibility, carried out as an experiment with a limited reach that still managed to make a vast difference. I would certainly recommend that educators and administrators take a look at this book––it might just prove the very thing that’s needed going forward.

IN SUMMARY:

Editors Goodrich and James cover the results of the Experimental Secondary Class (ESC) programme in Jamaica in the years before that country’s independence. The book provides a thorough and inspiring template for modern educators to learn from as we continue to face educational systems drained of funds and adequate support, as well as the freedom to innovate.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Obsolete wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about it on the book’s Outskirts Press listing.

WHAT NEXT?

The next book on my list is The Portal by David Bernstein, which won a CIPA EVVY merit award back in 2018 for Juvenile Fiction. It’s a work of fantastical science fiction, and promises me robots and time portals, so I’m quite excited about that!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Bookshop.org book listing.


SONY DSC

ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “I’ll Fix America Tonight” by Nathan Andrew Roberts

“I’ll Fix America Tonight (well, at least by the weekend)” by Nathan Andrew Roberts

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

If you are tired of Democrats and Republicans making empty promises, and their followers dogmatically choosing sides on every debate and issue so their guys can remain in power, you’re a lot like the author of this book. Tackling tough issues like the immigration debate, slavery reparations, minimum wage, taxes, college tuition, the insurance industry, business, the role of government in ordering our lives, prisons, the relationship of society to police, and many more, he proposes revolutionary solutions instead of choosing to spend 70,000 words needlessly criticizing. Coming from the view that every human is an image-bearer of God, and that all man-made structures and agendas are open for debate, he offers up solutions to some of America’s most burdensome problems which can be considered and implemented to make both sides happy. Understanding that too many people nowadays take themselves far too seriously, he also gives the reader many self-deprecating and humorous asides (something sorely lacking in political and social debate). Buy this book and join the fight against poverty; namely his poverty.

REVIEW:

What an unexpectedly timely book!

It just so happens that Nathan Andrew Roberts’ I’ll Fix America Tonight (well, at least by the weekend) hit the top of my reading pile at the same time as the peak of America’s chaotic situation a few weeks ago, and that means I’m posting this review in a bit of a changed world from the one that existed beforehand. I sense that feelings are still running extremely high among both Republicans and Democrats here in the USA, and that not everyone is quite ready to open their minds to entertain the many exciting and interesting thought experiments that Roberts describes in his book––but I also hope and even truly believe (by force of will, maybe) that just as many if note more people are eager to reconcile with their friends and family on the other side of the aisle, and that a book such as this one has a real and useful function as we move forward into our brave new world.

Speaking of, I find our cultural associations with that Shakespeare reference (see below) quite useful indeed. It comes from The Tempest, my favorite of Shakespeare’s works, and is spoken by a young woman named Miranda, who has been sequestered on an island since infancy. When she meets outsiders for the first time, her reaction is:

In the eons since Shakespeare penned those lines, we have also seen the reference given quite the negative connotation, thanks in no small part to the British pessimist Aldous Huxley, who published Brave New World in 1932. Both Shakespeare’s play and Huxley’s dystopic novel are replete with social commentary, particularly on the nature of different worldviews.

For my part, I’ve always been drawn to Miranda’s approach. She falls in love with everything she meets, and is willing to suspend judgment where others leap to the worst conclusions about each other around her.

Nathan Andrew Roberts’ recent book is more or less designed for us Mirandas. He asks us to suspend our judgment of each other and work toward common goals and make daring attempts to heal the breaches between our American political parties.

In his introduction, Roberts writes:

Government (including education and municipalities), business, places of worship, and other societal groupings are the pillars of society. Family is the foundation. When the foundation crumbles, so do the pillars. What I propose is drastic changes to all of these. Mind you, many of my ideas come from a morally conservative Christian viewpoint (if you can’t even bear to listen to my words past this sentence, I would be happy to provide you a refund) but I take a centrist and liberal stance on many different political and societal issues.

“I‘ll Fix America Tonight” by Nathan Andrew Roberts (2020), p. iii.

Having framed his own personal stance in this way, Roberts goes on to say: “Now, there are some ideas pertaining to a lot of facets of our society contained herein.” So far, so good. But Roberts also has a request of his readers! “What I would ask of even the most unreasonable of readers is that if you detest one idea or belief of mine that you refrain from waving off all others.” He describes the book as a buffet, full of various thought experiments from which a reader can pick and choose what appeals, and leave the rest.

And wow, does he cover quite a few topics! It’s worth noting here that my family, too, is fractured between two (or three, or four, or more) radically different worldviews, and certainly represents both sides of the current political system. Running down Roberts’ table of contents is a lot like looking at a list of conversation topics we try not to bring up over the dinner table: the military, reparations, welfare, and education among them. We are not so invested in some of the other topic he covers, like foreign aid––but as this is a buffet, I didn’t feel as though I had to have a clear opinion on what the “fix” should be by the end of that chapter; I was merely curious what radical changes Roberts might suggest, and what funny anecdotes he might share. For some of the chapters that have been topics of serious disagreement among my family and friends, I found myself paying more attention to the suggested “fix” than to the humorous bits. Knowing that I had Roberts’, how shall I put this, permission to move back and forth meant that I didn’t set the book down when I disagreed with a point (or ten). I simply made a note (and probably said huh out loud) and moved on, knowing that I’m not being asked to carry the burden of forming a set opinion, just to entertain a possible future by way of thought experiment.

Roberts is, as my father would say, something of a “goofball.” He loves a good pun, cracks himself up with his own “dad jokes” and stories, and generally keeps the entire book light-hearted. (“That question isn’t rhetorical,” he writes at one point. “I want you to compose your answer in a well-worded essay and mail it to me. Route it through my temporary office at the North Pole.”) That said, he always clearly signals when he wants his readers to take him seriously. I really appreciated that. He’s seen and been through enough to more than fill out a straight memoir, but he chose to take on this project because he wants to help this country heal. I love that about this book: its intentions are so pure.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Roberts also writes well! His language is accessible, and the book has been edited well. It doesn’t dither around, but rather is nicely streamlined. I can’t remember the last time I picked up a book (any book!) dealing with politics that was under 400 pages––and Nathan Andrew Roberts gets all of his work done in fewer than 300. My wrist (and attention span) are eternally grateful. And he ends the book on such a positive note: “I believe in us. Ready?” Yes, wolf pack supervisor, I am ready. Let’s build some bridges.

IN SUMMARY:

In a world absolutely riven with civil unrest (and sometimes, uncivil unrest), there is absolutely a need for more books like Nathan Andrew Roberts’ I’ll Fix America Tonight (well, at least by the weekend). His goal of providing fresh ideas to address social and political inequities that all parties can agree on is a fabulous one. I personally enjoyed the thought experiments he describes in this book, but I have the feeling this will be a book that lands well among people already willing to reconcile and make compromises to improve public discourse.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find I’ll Fix America Tonight wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about Marc McCormack’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


SONY DSC

ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “Stella the Rejected Star” by Marc McCormack

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Stella wasn’t like all the other stars in the skies above Bethlehem. She was a four-pointed star in a five-pointed world, and the other stars teased her because of it. Then one day, the stars heard an important event was about to happen-and God would choose one star to play a crucial role.

Could that star be Stella? Not if the other stars get their way, and they will do anything to stop her!

Stella’s story shows us that often the ones considered different in the world are the ones who shine the brightest through their faith, hope, and love.

Stella the Rejected Star was written by Marc McCormack when he was eleven. Almost forty years later, Stella’s story has turned out to be his son Brady’s story. Brady, who is blind and nonverbal with autism, navigates his way through the world as both a star who has sometimes been rejected, and one of the brightest-shining ones.

Set against the first Nativity, Stella the Rejected Star is more than a Christmas story and is for everyone, especially those young readers with four points in a five-pointed world.

Stella’s story is the perfect one to teach children the importance of empathy and acceptance. If your child loves Christmas and stars, even mischievous ones, they will love Stella the Rejected Star!

Some of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to autism-related charities.

REVIEW:

Once upon a time ….

The first time I read Stella the Rejected Star, I found myself humming “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” aloud to myself. There are definitely some parallels between the stories of Rudolph and Stella––bullying by one’s peers, physical difference as a subject to be grappled with, a sort of “inspecting of the troops” or competition to guide an important process, and a message involving the triumph of the innocent over the cruel––and I think this parallel provides a unique and interesting starting point for discussions between parents (or grandparents, or caregivers) and young children.

How are these stories similar? It certainly doesn’t hurt that both Rudolph and Stella literally as well as metaphorically shine brighter than their peers, or that when Stella and Rudolph are both brought to the attention of God and Santa respectively, they take the high road and refrain from punishing their peers, even though they have acquired the power to do so.

(A quick aside: I still feel uncomfortable about having put Santa into the same sentence as God, particularly since I grew up in a household where the secularization of Christmas was a regular discussion. Whatever your or my personal stances might be on this particular depiction of the divine, I think it’s pretty safe to assume we’re all aware that the Nativity story occupies a sacred and beloved space in many households around the world, and I definitely do not want to imply I do not take the faiths of my friends, family, and neighbors seriously. I do think it’s important to specify that this book resonates specifically with mainstream Christianity as experienced in America, to prevent confusion.)

How are these stories different? Well, we’ve established that God is not Santa (and vice versa). And while Rudolph’s mission is one of spreading good cheer, Stella’s is to lead the shepherds and wise men to the newborn Jesus. McCormack also distinguishes his story with an added twist: in Stella the Rejected Star, faithfulness magnifies a star’s light, while the bully stars discover that their unkindness leads to a loss of this same light. Not only does this provide an opportunity to talk about bad behavior and bullying with kids, but it also introduces the concept of faithfulness and the relationship between faithfulness and behavior.

I find it incredible that an 11-year-old wrote this story, but that’s the background: McCormick wrote it as a boy and published it in honor of his son Brady, who has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). That Brady was himself was a preemie and only surviving twin underscores the importance of this story, both to McCormick, and to those who learn from his picture book. Beyond the value of teaching children to empathize with and be kind to those who stand out for their differences, there is another moral to this story. Hardship, McCormick hints, provides a backdrop against which both heartbreaking and incredibly beautiful stories can play out. All of this in 32 pages, half of them Seth A. Thompson’s colorful and evocative illustrations. I can’t imagine a better way for families of faith to finish out 2020 than with a story of hope, faith, and maintaining joy through hard times.

You can find another detailed review of Stella the Rejected Star on the Readers’ Favorite website, reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford. It is encouraging to me personally that other highly-rated reviewers have begun to pick up on McCormack’s wonderful story.

IN SUMMARY:

Stella the Rejected Star is a sweet and wholesome picture book for those looking to re-invest the holiday season with the magic of love and kindness present in the Nativity story. Marc McCormack’s story and Seth A. Thompson’s illustrations combine to create what will quickly become a modern classic for English-speaking Christian families.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Stella the Rejected Star wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about Marc McCormack’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

There are several more children’s books in my TBR pile for me to get through before the end of 2020, with my next review scheduled for the afternoon of January 1st. I can’t imagine a better way to start off a new year than with a good book!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Amazon book listing.


SONY DSC

ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.