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.

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“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.


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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.


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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: “Obsolete: A Teacher’s Tale (of tomorrow, today!)” by Kevin Vachna

“Obsolete: A Teacher’s Tale (of tomorrow, today!)” by Kevin Vachna

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

For teachers and students ages fourteen and older, Kevin Vachna’s Obsolete: A Teacher’s Tale (of Tomorrow, Today!) is a thrilling sci-fi graphic novel set in the not-so-distant future, where technology is engrained in every aspect of life, even finding a home inside of us. There’s a big society problem: the kids are all becoming hyperactive, disconnected screen addicts. And then Professor T finds himself with a personal problem: After giving an unauthorized history lesson, Professor T is reassigned to one of the worst-performing schools. There, his challenges and the world’s collide, as unlikely allies and hidden threats lead T to revelations about a conspiracy with sinister roots that could threaten to overturn the very foundations of society itself.

Vachna is a teacher and administrator in New York City’s public schools with an expertise in themes involving technology and culture. The what-if nightmare scenario of where he sees our educational system leading are realized in the world and characters of Obsolete.

REVIEW:

Within minutes of picking up Obsolete: A Teacher’s Tale (of tomorrow, today!) I was already thinking back to the “dsytopias” unit I’d studied back in 2003 or 2004 as a part of my high school English syllabus. At the time, I was living abroad, and the materials we studied for the unit reflected that, but we still hit some of the major literary highwater marks of dystopic literature familiar to all: 1984, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Brave New World, and even the original (director’s cut!) Blade Runner. At the time, the word “dystopia” wasn’t a part of mainstream American conversation much at all, but I remember how quickly that changed after the publication of the first Hunger Games book in 2008. At that point, I was back in the USA, finishing up a college degree, and it seemed like the word became popular overnight! The meaning was altered somewhat from what I’d studied before, which was tied as much if not more to the notion of social commentary than a projection of our current society into the future as some kind of thought experiment. Several of the novels we studied in that unit weren’t futuristic in any way! Then, along came Hugh Howey’s self-published sensation, Wool, in 2011, and the floodgates were officially wide open to dystopic stories featuring more futuristic shenanigans, and now common definitions of the word reflect that.

All of this history is important, I think, to better understand what’s at work in Vachna’s Obsolete; as much as this is a graphic novel set in a frightening future, it is also a sharp social commentary about the way things are today, much in line with works like 1984 and Brave New World. Obsolete could be happening today, and much of it I believe already is! We are all, like the students in Professor Tieh’s classroom, firmly entrenched in our dependence on technology for daily living, whether consciously or not. Our cars and fridges have computers in them, our light switches and microwaves can be turned on remotely and our doorbells monitored by phone using apps, and our friendships are built and maintained digitally as much as through personal contact. This is the world of Vachna’s book, even though our present world is not quite to the point where “schooling” takes place in spheres designed to brainwash and then expel students, assembly-line style. It may seem like it sometimes, though, and all it would take is a bit of technological advancement to get us there.

Technological advancement, and the resignation of teachers to the new mode of education. And that is where Professor T (as he is called) comes in.

In his world, Professor T is the last bastion of critical thinking in a classroom of tech-addicted teenagers. When he goes off script during one class, his students barely know how to respond––at least, the ones who look up from their equivalent of tablet computers long enough to notice something is different. Professor T is immediately reassigned by the powers that be in Obsolete‘s education system, and must once again weigh his own personal security against the importance of deprogramming the next generation of children in order to allow them to sift through all of the white noise of propaganda and think for themselves.

Of course, you can probably guess what happens next ….

There has always been something appealing about the underdog, the rebel within an unfair system. Without giving too much away, I think it’s fair to say that Professor T (and a couple of other secondary characters) is anchored firmly in that literary type. I haven’t seen many teachers play this part, particularly in dystopias, so it is exciting to see how T’s relationship with his students differs from those relationships popularized in other recent dystopias. He’s in a position of some limited authority within the system against which he rebels, in that he has the authority to contribute to or alter the trajectory of his students’ worldviews, but he is managed and counteracted by an education system, which is not often seen in those other books. But there’s a plot twist lying underneath this choice of Vachna’s, so I won’t go into more detail there.

The other interesting deviation from the norm when it comes to dystopias is Vachna’s use of the Socratic Method, wherein a question-and-answer approach to public dialogue was used as a tool of education. (There are many more fascinating details to the Socratic Method, too many for me to go into, but I highly recommend reading about it sometime.) It has been far, far too long since I’ve seen this on the page, and to find it in a dystopic graphic novel was a pleasant surprise. I’d tell you more about it, but Obsolete is pretty much the perfect example of what it looks like on the page.

Of course, there is a third deviation from the norm, and that is Vachna’s decision to publish Obsolete as a graphic novel rather than as a text-based work. It’s not absolutely unheard of for a graphic novel to be published first, but it is far more common for books to start first as text, then be adapted into graphic novel or even a film format. I appreciate Vachna’s willingness to defy norms and to make the choices that best fit his vision for his book. I also appreciate the deliberate references to some of those works of social commentary that I referred to before: Vachna begins each chapter with a quote, including words by William Gibson and H.G. Wells. Even the art direction is designed to emphasize key points, reflecting a dimness of perception and propaganda-based black-and-white thinking in its largely monochromatic color scheme. Blue is used to highlight the workings of the ubiquitous technology, and more colors are introduced as Professor T begins opening his and his students’ eyes to the range of possibilities that lay beyond their screens and tracking devices.

There are other neat references woven into Obsolete, this time by way of the art direction instead of quotes: the arbiter of Professor T’s carefully curated world looks an awful lot like those that populate the popular comic series Saga, and the all-seeing eye of technology hints at the computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. None of these cross the line that keeps references and direct representations distinct from each other, but there are enough similarities to tease the reader’s brain. And the all-seeing eye … could it represent both the ever-watchful technology as well as the eyes of Tieh’s students as they are opened to the world around them?

As much as this is a graphic novel and therefore appealing to all sorts of readers, I believe adults will find it particularly rich in allusions and conversant with the public debate over the mediation of public education by technology, especially as a consequence of COVID-19.

IN SUMMARY:

Kevin Vachna’s Obsolete serves as a timely reminder that both technology cannot always mediate and can never serve as a full replacement for quality personal connections with others, be they friendships, the bond between teachers and students, or professional working relationships. This graphic novel prompts readers to examine their own use of technology and the ways in which it can operate, undetected, as a tool of social development––and even control.

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 Kevin Vachna’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I have a number of books on my TBR pile as I rush to catch up on (and close out) books published in 2020. There have been some fantastic new additions to that shelf, too––so I haven’t quite decided between all of the options!

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

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


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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.


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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: “When the Bullying Stops,” by Bernice L. Dunlap

Welcome to 2021!

And … on to the review!

When the Bullying Stopped by Bernice L. Dunlap

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

KEEPING SILENT ABOUT BULLYING ENABLES IT TO CONTINUE

This story is about an eight-year-old boy named Peter, who was in the third grade at Leonard Street Elementary School. Alex and his friends, Max and Jax, picked on Peter every day. These boys were also in the third grade at the same school. This bullying made life miserable for Peter, and he knew he had to find the courage to tell his parents how Alex and his friends were terrorizing him at school.

REVIEW:

Oh, how the world needs more books like this one.

In When the Bullying Stopped, written by Bernice L. Dunlap and nicely illustrated by Julia Andrzejewska, we start with three bullies and one victim: Peter. Peter is a bit less muscled and a whole lot less of a dominant personality than Alex, the bullies’ ringleader, as well as Max and Jax, Alex’s sidekicks. (I am curious why the author chose to end all three bullies’ names in ‘X’s! I found it interesting––but that may just be coincidental.) Alex and co. give poor Peter a rather rough time, trashing his lunch one day and stealing his lunch money the next. Peter is a good boy, although he feels mighty small when faced by those bullies, so while he is at first afraid enough to go hungry, he eventually brings his parents and the school principal into the conversation, and just desserts (suspensions) are handed out to the three villains. Two of these villains, Jax and Max, move out of town (and therefore the narrative) at this point, while Alex continues on.

The book then transitions to following Alex instead of Peter, and here is where the bully becomes the bullied. Some kids from another local school rough Alex up, and he is left injured and frightened by the experience. Peter, who is indeed a very good boy, attempts to help his former bully despite Alex’s protests and the other kids in the schoolyard keeping well enough away. (I assume this is because they themselves had been hurt by Alex and co. in the past, and were hesitant to get near him––but this might prove an interesting point for discussion.) Peter then searches out the principal on his own and finds Alex the help he needs. Receiving assistance from someone he has wronged in the past proves a good learning experience for Alex, who eventually changes his ways and makes friends with Peter, gaining the confidence of his other peers as well.

All of this, and in only 24 pages!

The book pages are divided evenly between alternating full-page illustrations and full-page text-centered pages. There is quite a lot of text on those latter pages, proportionate to the page number, so I do recommend that readers take it slow and spend ample time pointing out what they see mirrored in the illustrations. The text is nicely edited and formatted for When the Bullying Stops to be an easy read for those who, like me in my library life, have to read their picture books upside down. I appreciate a readable-while-inverted book!

While I did not notice any negatives while reading, I do have two suggestions in order to ensure that those using this book meet with the best possible success. Parents, grandparents, teachers, and other caregivers will want to make sure to define and contextualize some of the more advanced words or terms used by Dunlap; a word like “protruding” or a term like “fetal position” are entirely possible to explain, especially in context, but they are unlikely to prove easily understandable to younger readers in kindergarten or, possibly, first grade. My other suggestion for these same youngest readers would be to break up the reading of the book into two distinct readings with some discussion in between as well as after. While the story itself is straightforward, the first section deals with a victim of bullying making the great decision to report his experiences to his parents and principal, and the second section deals with the bully, who after he is suspended is bullied himself. The book ends with some possibilities for rich future discussion with young readers. Why did the other children, many of whom had been bullied themselves, not assist the bully when he was beaten up? What does this book tell us about forgiveness and compassion? How would you respond if someone threw your lunch in the trash? … and so on.

I’m excited to see what all this book can do out there in the world, in homes and classrooms. And speaking of classrooms, I’m very interested indeed to see how this next year of hybrid/remote/classroom education settles out. Here’s hoping we achieve a new (and healthy, happy) normal sometime soon!

As a final note, consider this book’s title: When the Bullying Stops. What does happen afterward? As Dunlap suggests, it may just be an opening for personal growth, change, and classroom rapport. I’m sure you all might have some suggestions, as well!

IN SUMMARY:

In a world where bullying is tragically common, an accessible picture book like When the Bullying Stopped by Bernice L. Dunlap might just make a big difference in a child’s life. I also highly recommend checking out Dunlap’s other books for children.

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?

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

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


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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.