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

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