Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup May 4-8, 2020

Book of the Day Roundup art for May 4-8, 2020

How to Talk to Your Kids About Climate Change

Turning Angst into Action

Book Cover
Harriet Shugarman
New Society Publishers
Softcover $17.99 (208pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

It’s easy to feel anxious and overwhelmed about the accelerating impacts of climate change. Parents face even more angst about what kind of Anthropocene apocalypse lies ahead for their children. Harriet Shugarman’s How to Talk to Your Kids about Climate Change addresses these concerns with thoughtful ideas for channeling feelings into positive activism.

Clear and persuasive, the book communicates complex issues and the urgency of acting with a mix of passion, diplomacy, and steel-eyed determination. Shugarman is the executive director of Climate Mama, and the organization’s three core axioms are present in her work, underscoring the need to acknowledge, but then push through, fears about climate chaos, armed with resiliency. The book expresses hope that there is still time to mitigate environmental damage and to transition to more socially just and sustainable economies.

Specific, age-appropriate ideas for reassuring and educating children about climate issues are delineated. These are followed up with an extensive resource list of books, climate action groups, websites, and news sources. There is a useful range of suggested projects that parents can undertake with their children as they move toward direct action, from organizing student strikes and plastics collections at schools to having family discussions about rethinking savings and financial investments.

Sidebars quoting other climate change activists and historic figures result in different perspectives about teaching children about the natural world and the importance of environmental action. The book notes that children’s honesty makes them trusted messengers and activists, and it is quick to laud Greta Thunberg and other young environmental leaders for their impressive roles in affecting public awareness and change.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Climate Change is an inspiring toolkit for helping families, communities, and the planet.

RACHEL JAGARESKI (April 27, 2020)

White Blood

A Lyric of Virginia

Book Cover
Kiki Petrosino
Sarabande Books
Softcover $15.95 (112pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In the opening poem of White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia, silent ancestors elude the speaker, keeping her history and that of her family forever enshrouded in smoke, but modern science lights some small match, scattering the ghosts. Haunted, historical, formal and rigorous, these poems explore the power of genetic research combined with archival research and literary invention to make sense of family history and identity.

In erasure poems whose titles are “What Your Results Mean” and that end with a world region and a percentage, Kiki Petrosino explores ethnic breakdowns that mirror those of many black Americans: part African, part European. With the erasure form, the poet highlights only those parts of identity that resonate for her and that make sense of her story in the US. She combines this formal invention with a crown of sonnets about the burgeoning and painful disillusionment she felt as a young woman of color: entering the university system, thinking she had made it, and fulfilling the long-fought-for dream.

But Petrosino moves the goal, walking back across time to invoke Sally Hemmings and the black women of Monticello, while a contemporary speaker talks about the commodified bodies of black women in American history, continued today with plantation tourism and the like. The poems look ahead to another family branch, the Free Smiths of Louisa County, too.

In each section, Petrosino makes inherited forms fresh, including the sonnet, the villanelle, and the erasure poem. The cycling, elusive memory-making of the villanelle is most apt as the speaker tries to wring more clarity from the static nature of written history. The form makes real the frustrating, solipsistic nature of such endeavors.

The result of deep historical research, impressive formal dexterity, and savvy storytelling, this volume of poetry combines genealogy, history, and verse in a way that reflects many American experiences.


Metaphrog’s Bluebeard

A Feminist Fairy Tale

Book Cover
Hardcover $19.99 (176pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

The graphic novel team known as Metaphrog presents a stunning adaptation of a famous French folk tale in Metaphrog’s Bluebeard.

A poor village girl, Eve, has a happy life with her family and best friend Tom, but atop a mountain in the distance, Bluebeard’s castle looms. Stories have circulated, but no one has ever seen the man.

The year of Eve’s eighteenth birthday, famine strikes the town. Bluebeard invites the village to come and enjoy his hospitality, but once there, the villagers discover the cost: Bluebeard wants to marry either Eve or her sister, Anne. Their options limited, the girls’ parents decide Eve will marry Bluebeard.

In the castle, Eve is given a set of keys with a prohibition against using one in particular. Trapped in the house that’s increasingly foreboding, Eve uses the key and discovers a grim secret: the fate of Bluebeard’s many former wives. But within this feminist retelling, Eve rescues herself, rather than being saved by her brothers, and Eve and Anne’s sisterhood proves stronger than Bluebeard’s entrancing spell.

Every page of the work is beautiful and dreamlike, rich in atmosphere for what is tantamount to a horror story. The artists make expert use of color: red and orange hues indicate happiness and good times, while blue is used to illustrate frightened animals and the ominous corners of Bluebeard’s mansion. Shifts from red to purple foreshadow events to come, as does Eve’s narration: “some insects spend their whole lives not realizing they have wings. Not realizing they can fly.” Eve learns to take hold of her fate and soar in this gorgeous adaptation.

PETER DABBENE (April 27, 2020)

The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana

Book Cover
Maryse Condé
Richard Philcox, translator
World Editions
Softcover $16.99 (368pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Maryse Condé’s The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana is a gripping story in which a twin brother and sister grow up in the turbulent atmosphere of Guadeloupe. Exploring extremism, corruption, desire, immigration, poverty, and exploitation through the twins’ stories, which are more and more divergent from one another’s, the book reveals that pain affects each person in a different way.

The twins’ parents are Simone, a sugarcane worker, and Lansana, a musician. After their brief affair, Lansana leaves to chase a musical career, and Simone cares for Ivan and Ivana alone. Ivan is strong-willed with little interest in school, and Ivana has a beautiful voice and loves learning. As Ivan grows, he experiences humiliations and arrests; he is influenced by criminal adventures and the teachings of Islam. The intense bond and desire between Ivan and Ivana is too difficult for either of them to break, even as they move from Guadeloupe to Mali to Paris in search of economic opportunities and education.

Rich atmospheres are established in each locale. Gritty, dank surroundings are contrasted with the clothes, neighborhoods, and homes of the well-off. This contrast proves to be a catalyst in Ivan’s us-versus-them mindset; for Ivana, it becomes motivation to provide for her mother. The narrator sometimes interjects themselves into the story to warn against accepting things at face value.

The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana is a searing literary portrait of the exploitation of immigrants, the corruption of governments, and the powerful emergence of radicalism, with astute commentary on how these elements breed trauma, generation after generation.

MONICA CARTER (April 27, 2020)

Keith Among the Pigeons

Book Cover
Katie Brosnan
Child’s Play
Hardcover $17.99 (32pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Poor Keith is always being told that he is not a proper cat. Proper cats do not want to eat, fly, and balance on branches with pigeons, but those are exactly the sorts of things that this patchwork tabby has always longed to do. Follow along as Keith gets himself into all manner of mischief as he attempts to blend in with the birds in this lighthearted tale about individuality, acceptance, and being true to yourself.


Barbara Hodge

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