Flying Lessons and Other Stories: A Book Review

Hello friends!

Happy Sunday! Did you have a relaxing weekend? Can you believe it’s almost March? I sure can’t, especially given that I head back to school tomorrow to kick off what is sure to be a busy – but fun! – spring. On today’s agenda, however, I have a tech rehearsal this afternoon {our one-act play festival is a mere week away}, plans to watch the Oscars tonight {I have my fingers crossed La La Land, Moonlight, and Hidden Figures score big!}, and hopes to finish Here We Are, a collection of feminist literature and essays, in between my English questions and physics problems. If you too are looking for a literary escape, I hope today’s review, a look at the middle grade anthology Flying Lessons and Other Stories, provides you with your next read.

flying-lessons-and-other-storiesTitle: Flying Lessons and Other Stories
Author: Edited by Ellen Oh
Published: January 3, 2017, by Crown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 240
Genre: Middle Grade / Contemporary
Source: Library / Hardcover
Series: N/A

Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology — written by the best children’s authors — celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers. From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories. {Goodreads}

As I’ve done with other short story collections, I’ve decided to review each installment separately, but a general note before the fun begins: there’s never been a better time to read more diversely than now. It’s for that reason that I find Flying Lessons and Other Stories so important for young audiences. As a collection, it’s not perfect, but it succeeds in doing what it set out to accomplish: celebrating a wide range of voices from a variety of backgrounds.

how-to-transform-an-everyday-ordinary-hoopThe collection opens with a story by Matt de la Peña, in which the protagonist recounts the summer he spent on the basketball court. The story is heartening, and the author approaches the topic of police profiling with care, but what stands out most is the voice of the main character, a middle-school student whose dreams of a big basketball career read as realistic as his conversations with his soft-spoken dad. I think it’s clear: I’m a Matt de la Peña fan.

the-difficult-pathGrace Lin is an author whose work I remember fondly from my childhood, but it’s been several years since I last picked up a novel of her own. Reading The Difficult Path, however, reminded me of why I fell love with her writing in the first place: she crafts compelling narratives; her protagonists are flawed and fully-dimensional, and she weaves her Asian heritage into her work. The story takes an unexpected turn, but Lin pulls it off masterfully, sharing with readers of any age the power of words.

sol-painting-incIf there is one element that defines Meg Medina’s work, I believe it’d be her excellent portrayal of families on the page. It’s no different of a case in her contribution, Sol Painting Inc. in which a young girl is made aware of the sacrifices her family makes when she accompanies her dad at work. It’s a short story, but ultimately a sweet one, made even better by its summertime setting and sibling banter.

secret-samanthaI’ve been meaning to pick up a book by Tim Federle for what seems like ages at this point, and so, I was excited to see a piece of his own in Flying Lessons. My expectations were high, but Federle delivers: Secret Samantha, a short story about a friendship that blossoms over a classroom Secret Santa, is nothing short of daymaker. Readers may not share Sam’s sense of style or the strained relationship with her mother, but anyone can relate to the glee of finding a “kindred spirit.”

the-beans-and-rice-chronicles-of-isaiah-dunnFrom its inception, the We Need Diverse Books organization has made an effort to support aspiring and debut writers, such as newcomer Kelly J. Baptist, author of the short story The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn. There are a number of elements that make up the story – the death of a parent, a writing contest, struggling financial situation – but never does it feel disjointed. If this is an indication of her work to come in future years, we bookworms are in for a treat.

main-streetIt can be daunting to write about race in a manner accessible to middle grade readers, but if any writer can do it – and do it well – it’d be Jacqueline Woodson, whose story, Main Street, follows a friendship of two races in a small, predominately white town. Her writing lacks dreamy and descriptive language, but the story doesn’t ask for it; rather, its simplicity allows readers, even young ones, to ponder the ideas she presents. I wanted more.

choctaw-bigfoot-midnight-in-the-mountainsTim Tingle’s short story, Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains, builds upon the age-old tradition of storytelling as the protagonist listens eagerly to a tale told by his fun-loving uncle. While I’m delighted to see Native American representation, I can’t say I ever grew into this one. Would expanding upon it in a longer format or hearing it read aloud changed my mind? I don’t know, but in that lies the beauty of literature: it wasn’t my personal favorite, but that’s not to say the next young reader won’t fall in love.

flying-lessonsSoman Chainani is known for his magical fantasy stories, but his installment in Flying Lessons allows him to flex his contemporary skills – and he nails it. Following the fierce and adventurous Nani and her grandson on a vacation trip, the story is as humorous as it is profound. It’s light-hearted, in other words, but it still holds many a gem of advice, prompting readers to reflect on what they do out of a sense of obligation and what they do out of pure enjoyment. Needless to say, I loved it.

seventy-six-dollars-and-forty-nine-centsWhile I have yet to read the other books by Kwame Alexander, namely the Newbery winner The Crossover, I was nevertheless excited to read his installment about a boy granted with the ability to read the minds of his classmates, Seventy-Six Dollars & Forty-Nine Cents. It didn’t disappoint: Alexander’s prose is to be praised, as is his understanding of middle school life and its diversity of emotion.

sometimes-a-dream-needs-a-pushFinally, the anthology finishes with a contribution from Walter Dean Myers, a short story titled Sometimes a Dream Needs a Push. It’s another basketball tale, and yet, it feel fresh, standing out from not only the other stories in the anthology, but also the current titles available on shelves (it helps that it approaches it from a different perspective: that of a young boy who uses a wheelchair). At the very least, it proves that a story need not be long to have an impact.

Have a wonderful Sunday!
Bella

High Five / 12

Hello!

high-five-12How are things, friends? Anything planned for your Sunday? Yesterday kicked off my February break, and so I’m relishing the time I have at home, taking the opportunity to catch up on calculus problems and yearbook spreads, try a few recipes I’ve bookmarked {like this one!}, and make my way through the growing pile of books by my bed {Currently on my nightstand is Corey Ann Haydu’s The Careful Undressing of Love and Mara Wilson’s memoir Where Am I Now?}. 

This vacation also gives me the chance to return to Ciao Bella – it’s been left untouched too long for my liking, if only because I wanted to wrap up my first semester and start my second on a good note. As a means to catch up – and a way to jump back into this blogging thing once again – I thought I’d share another edition of High Five. Any highlights of your own to share?

[1] First, Teen Vogue has been receiving widespread acclaim as of late, and for good reason: their editorial and artistic direction has been top-notch over the past several months. Editor-in-Chief Elaine Wentworth, digital director Phillip Picardi, and creative director Marie Suter are a team to be reckoned with, and I’ve found their content not only enjoyable, but informative, with a range of everything from an interview with their cover model Bella Hadid to fact checks on the Trump administration. ith the recent unfounded attacks on the press, I can think of no better way to resist such claims than to support the publications that consistently do it right. The new issue, a different approach from previous years in that it’s pitched more as a “collectible” than a monthly magazine, has yet to hit my mailbox, but I’ll be sitting down to read it cover to cover as soon as it does.

[2] More often than not, if I’m not reading or working on homework, you can find me at rehearsal, a statement that sums up my afterschool schedule over the past few weeks. This month has had me working on three productions: I’m coordinating auditions and early rehearsals for the local community theater’s The Great American Trailer Park Musical; I’m stage managing my school’s entry into the state one-act play festival, and I just wrapped up the tech week and performances for this year’s Cabaret, the choir showcase at my school. Needless to say, I feel as if I’ve seen enough cue sheets and rehearsal schedules to last me a lifetime, but it helps that I’m having a blast while doing so :) Cabaret marks the beginning of the end for us seniors involved in the drama department, and I know graduation and my last musical and “Tony Night” will be here before I know it. For any other high school seniors, is your year flying by as quickly as mine?

[3] In other theatrical news, my mom, sister, and I were lucky enough to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time when it stopped in Providence on its national tour, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the performance. Tony winner of Best Play in 2015, the production tells the story of fifteen-year old Christopher as the he unravels the mystery of the relationship between his mother and father. The actors were all stellar, as was the intricate choreography, but the stage manager in me was most impressed with the projections, used to give a sense of time and place {you can a glimpse in the photo above}. After seeing the company bring the story to life on stage, I’m anxious to read the book that shares its title, as I’ve heard nothing but good things. Have you read and/or seen The Curious Incident at all?

[4] Have you heard of the CW gem, iZombie? I myself had not until my sister introduced it to me on Netflix, and I only regret not watching it sooner! As someone who shamelessly devours mystery novels and who will gladly watch any and all detective shows, the program – which premiered in early 2015 and which was inspired by Rob Thomas’ comic of the same name – is right up my alley, following a doctor-turned-zombie whose abilities become an asset to the local police department. With actress Rose McIver as the main character Liv Moore, the cast seems to have a tight bond, both on and off the screen; the story, meanwhile, is the perfect blend of humor, horror, and suspense, garnering a number of fans, myself now included. Already eight episodes in, I have my fingers crossed that my sister and I can bring ourselves up to speed before the third season starts in April.

[5] Finally, if you’re searching for some new songs to jazz up your playlist, look no further than the soundtrack for Dear Evan Hansen, one of the most recent musicals to open on Broadway. With lyrics and music from the songwriting team Pasek and Paul {they’re the duo behind Dogfight, another favorite of mine}, the show explores the role of social media and the definition of an “outsider” as the title character forges a friendship after the death of a classmate. All fourteen tracks are worth a listen, in thanks to incredible voices of Ben Platt, Laura Dreyfuss, and the rest of the company, but I particularly enjoy “Waving Through a Window” and “Requiem.” What music have you been listening to lately?

And with that, I wish you a lovely Sunday!
xo, B

Currently: January 2017

Hello friends!

What a week it’s been. My heart aches for the families hurt and affected by the ban {and any and all other policies recently enacted by the new American administration}, but I’m heartened by the number of swift protests that took place in response. It gives me hope for the future – that no matter how bad things get, there’s always a community ready and wiling to fight back – and reminds me to do my own part daily.

With that said, I would also like to apologize for my brief hiatus. School and life commitments took first priority, but I can’t ignore the nagging thought I’ve had in the back of my mind: I’m not sure what relevancy my typical way of blogging has at this time. Please don’t take this as a message of goodbye – I love Ciao Bella and the space it has grown into, and I have no current plans to give it up – but I admit, I struggle to write about books and art and baking, things I hold dearly to my heart, when it seems that a country I so greatly admire is falling apart. Doing so feels to me as if writing in a vacuum, sharing posts, but ignoring what is happening in the world, and that simply doesn’t sit right with me.

It’s what I ponder on this Tuesday morning, and I’m curious to hear what you think, how, if you’re a fellow blogger, you’re striking a balance between the two and how you plan to move forward {I’m still not sure myself}. In the meantime, as a way to catch up after my blogging break, I offer a “Currently” post, a collection of things that have been on mind and/or have brightened my day in recent weeks. I hope they do the same for you.

bright-starListening: Bright Star Soundtrack | It’s no secret that I love me a musical soundtrack, from the raps of Hamilton to the sweet ballads of Dogfight. After the past several weeks, I can now add the songs from Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s Bright Star to my favorites list! The production is no longer on Broadway {it debuted last spring, but came to a quick close in June}, but I’ve nevertheless taken to listening to the soundtrack in full while studying or writing. And if there’s anything more interesting than the music of the production – a folksy collection that has roots in bluegrass – it’s the inspiration behind it: Martin and Brickell took to work after coming across the story of the Iron Mountain Baby. What music have you been listening to as of late?

a-series-of-unfortunate-eventsWatching: A Series of Unfortunate Events | If the critical acclaim is any indication, then I’m not the only one who spent much of this month binge-watching the eight episodes of Netflix’s newest hit, an adaptation of David Handler’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Starring Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf and supported by a stellar cast, the show brings the first four books in the series to the small screen, and it is all at once whimsical and witty, funny and frightening {Because for every dose of humor is one of reality}. The production design too is stellar, making it all too easy to escape into the somber world of the Baudelaire children. I found that it was the perfect antidote when home sick last week with a nasty fever/stomach bug virus; my only remaining wish is that the second season would already be available for streaming!

mary-tyler-mooreMissing: Mary Tyler Moore | In more dismaying news, I was saddened to hear of Mary Tyler Moore’s passing. Clearly, I’m a few generations off of her rise on television, but I nevertheless have fond memories of watching and laughing through episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show with my dad. Additionally, if only because one rarely sees a T1 diabetic in the world of Hollywood, I always admired her advocacy for the disease, efforts that I’m sure changed the lives of many. I hope the funny ladies of today – again, many a woman I admire and respect – continue to carry on in her name.

the-mountaintop-trinity-repLoving: The Mountaintop | For the play-loving bunch, you may recognize The Mountaintop as Katori Hall’s award-winning show in which audiences are given a glimpse into the last night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. It’s a fantastic show in it of itself, but Trinity Rep’s production, running now until mid-February, elevates it to another level. I was fortunate enough to catch a performance with my sister, dad, and friend, and I was captivated from beginning to end, not in the least because the acting is impeccable {kudos to Joe Wilson Jr. and Mia Ellis}, the technical elements are transformative, and the story is relevant. I’d go again in a heartbeat, but needless to say, if you’re in the Providence area, you’d do well to see it yourself.

dead-feministsReading: Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color by Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring | Finally, have you ever heard of the Dead Feminists series? I was fortunate enough to receive the published collection of the popular broadsides as a Christmas present, and, just as I’ve done with In the Company of Women, I’ve poured over the pages, which explain the reasoning behind each piece and insight into each woman’s life, night after night. O’Leary and Spring are both talented artists in their respective fields, and I love how they’ve combined not only their skill with a love of history, but also how they’ve used their series as a call to action, an important reminder if I ever saw one. {If you need another book recommendation, I also just wrapped up the middle grade anthology Flying Lessons and Other Stories, which is a complete and utter delight worth picking up}.

And with that, I wish you all lots of love. I’m keeping this quote, from the forever-inspiring Carrie Fisher, in mind as I kick off the new month {and my final semester!}: “Take your broken heart, make it into art.” As always, wise words.

B