Monthly Archives: January 2020

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia

Tristan StrongTristan met Eddie a few years ago in the school library, where Eddie showed him the notebook full of traditional stories that he was collecting. Eddie didn’t make it through the bus crash, so now all Tristan has left of his best friend is the notebook, and it seems only he can see the green glow peeking out of its pages.

Tristan hasn’t handled life very well since the accident, so his grandparents have come to take him down to their farm in Alabama. He’s just lost a boxing match at school, and his father and grandfather have let him know that Strong men do not lose boxing matches. At this point, Tristan is as low as he’s ever been, so when a little doll made of sap shows up in his room one night trying to steal Eddie’s journal, Tristan ignores his better judgment and takes off after her, smashing into his grandparent’s bottle tree that keeps the evil spirits at bay. Unknowingly, he has ripped a hole in the veil between his home and the world of African folktales, setting that world on fire.

In this thick, action-packed adventure story, Mbalia introduces western readers to a panoply of African gods and goddesses, both good and evil, along with a wealth of African-American folklore. Tristan turns out to be an excellent storyteller, like the spider god Anansi, spinning webs of tales. It is up to Tristan and John Henry to repair the hole in the sky and save his new friends, including Brer Rabbit and his brilliant bunny student, Chesnutt. In order to do so, he has to retrieve the Story Box, which has been stolen from MidPass and taken to a rival kingdom. Tristan’s own mission is to recover Eddie’s journal before he can go home. His friend’s handwritten notebook is mysteriously valuable, and the war to possess it has already caused the death of several beloved characters.

This new novel is part of the “Rick Riordan Presents” imprint. The bestselling author of the Percy Jackson and Magnus Chase series is lending a hand to new writers whose works feature non-western mythologies. For those of us at Wake County Libraries, it is a special treat to know that Mbalia is a Raleigh resident who wrote Tristan Strong in our North Regional Library! I also listened to portions of the audiobook, read by Amir Abdullah, and especially enjoyed the sassy voice he gave to the exasperating Gum Baby.

Since Tristan will no doubt return to MidPass in future installments, parents will be happy to know that– for all the superhero action– Tristan is a great kid who is overcoming his heartbreak and self-doubt, and his strongest epithet is “Sweet peaches!” Highly recommended for fantasy lovers 10 and up, especially those looking for more Percy Jackson readalikes.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book—one of the dozens that I bought! Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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A Craftsman’s Legacy, by Eric Gorges

Craftsman's LegacyMy husband actually read this one, but he read so much of it aloud to me and we discussed it so thoroughly that I feel as though I read it myself. Based on the PBS television show of the same name, the book’s subtitle, Why Working with Our Hands Gives Us Meaning, was the catalyst for me to bring it home from the library for David.

Gorges worked in the corporate world before opening his motorcycle shop, Voodoo Choppers, and becoming a master metal shaper. After considering the changes in his life because of his creative work, he decided to visit craftsmen in other disciplines to examine the influence their handwork wrought on their minds and souls. Deep stuff for a biker.

David and I have been diving into the spiritual aspects of handwork lately, as well, and this book really helped to drive some of our conversations. David has been continuing his generations-long family tradition of woodworking with small and large projects, and perhaps a future of entrepreneurship. A year and a half ago, I checked off a box on my bucket list by learning to knit. Since then, I have become an avid fan of this needlecraft, my favorite in a long list of needlework throughout my life. Each project has taught me a new skill, along with knowledge of the fibers and the history of the stitches. The tactile pleasures of working with wool, silk, and cashmere while crafting warm garments with Celtic-knot cables or open lacework are soothing and satisfying. I liked it so much that I committed myself to knitting five Christmas presents this year, which I will never do again.

Working with one’s hands does absorb the same time that could be used for reading and writing, and I am only so fond of audiobooks, so I will have to take that into consideration in the future. However, David and I both found that handcrafts moved us away from technology and slowed our thinking in ways that were healthy for us. We both believe that God created people in his own image, and part of that image is our innate desire to be sub-creators, as Tolkien expressed it. The growing joy that one feels as a project begins to take shape under our hands, gradually assuming the image that we had in our minds, is a delight that makes us return to our craft again and again. Each time, we also have grown and learned new skills and are able to bring more complex and beautiful works into being. A bit of ourselves is woven into each product, and inanimate objects take on meaning that survives beyond our human lives.

As Gorges visits each artisan, he tries his hand at their craft. Pottery turns out to be much more difficult to throw than he expected, and he marvels at the bulging muscle on the engraver’s carving hand. Glassblowers, woodworkers, and sculptors all have skills developed over years of labor. I was especially interested in the chapter on calligraphy, since that is next on my list of artistic endeavors. I made a stab at it years ago, but my Christmas list this year included split-nib pens, ink, alphabet books, and a light table. We are fixing up a craft room right now, and I hope to have ink-stained fingers in no time. But first, I owe David a scarf.

If you have an itch to create, Eric Gorges will show you how your soul will be enriched by the work of your fingers. Oh, and download an audiobook from your local library while you work.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and my husband’s and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. This column is reprinted at www.TheReaderWrites.com, with additional photographs.

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Beverly, Right Here, by Kate DiCamillo

Beverly Right HereNow that Buddy was dead, no one would care if Beverly Tapinski ran away from home. She hitched a ride to Tamaray Beach in her cousin Joe Travis Joy’s red Camaro and landed a job at Mr. C’s seafood restaurant, busing tables under the watchful eye of Freddie, who was only waitressing until her modeling career really took off. Beverly missed her dog so much that she was determined not to become attached to anyone ever again, but when elderly Iola Jenkins discovered that Beverly had no kin, she invited her into her pink trailer for a tuna melt in exchange for Beverly’s promise to drive Iola wherever she needed to go in her ancient Pontiac. Beverly was only fourteen, but she agreed. What else could she do? When she’d called her mother from the phone booth to tell her that she was okay, her mother had taken a long drag on her cigarette and said, “Whoop-de-do.”

Here, Kate DiCamillo completes the series of companion novels that she began in Raymie Nightingale and continued in Louisiana’s Way Home. These three Floridian girls may have heartbreaking circumstances in their lives, but the love and courage in their hearts propel them forward to create a new life wherever they can. Although Beverly strives to keep all the walls up around her fragile soul, she can’t help but fall for that acne-scourged boy at the checkout counter, the one who is poring over massive volumes of Renaissance art.

DiCamillo’s books explore the tenacity of the human spirit, especially in young people whose caregivers have failed them. We crave connection, and our scarred and vulnerable hearts still reach out in hope, even when our reason warns us to choose stoicism. As a children’s librarian, I have read almost all of DiCamillo’s works, and her delicate sense of humor in the midst of heartbreak glows through all of them. When I recall her many characters, from Despereaux to Flora to Beverly Tapinski, I can’t help but smile.

Highly recommended for 10 and up. All children should grow up with Kate DiCamillo.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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