Book Snap #82

Title: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You

Authors: Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi

Date Read: May 16, 2020

Two snaps.

This. This is the history book, that’s not a history book– but a narrative about race interspersed with the history of why black people have been oppressed in the United States; needed by every child of this generation who might have a chance to change it.

You have heard my rally cry about why Jason Reynolds is the best Young Adult writer writing for teenagers right now. And if you haven’t, read here, here and here. This partnership with Ibram X. Kendi is no exception.

Award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi wrote Stamped from the Beginning, in it, he argues that racist ideas in America have a long and lingering history, one in which nearly every great American thinker is complicit. As Kendi provocatively illustrated, racist thinking did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Racist ideas were created and popularized in an effort to defend deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and to rationalize the nation’s racial inequities in everything from wealth to health. This is a remix of Kendi’s book. A book written especially for young people.

In the first chapter, Reynolds invites his readers in (in his usual, laid-back, ultra hip way) by explaining: “Before we begin, let’s get something straight. This is not a history book. I repeat, this is not a history book. At least not like the ones you’re used to reading in school. The ones that feel more like a list of dates (there will be some), with an occasional war here and there, a declaration (definitely gotta mention that), a constitiution (that too), a court case or two, and of course, the paragraph that’s read during Black History Month (Harriet! Rosa! Martin!) This isn’t that. This isn’t a history book. Instead, what this is, is a book that contains history. A history directly connected to our lives as we live them right this minute. A book about the here and now. A book that hopefully will help us better understand why we are where we are as Americans, specifically as our identity pertains to race.” (Reynolds & Kendi, p.1-2). Reynolds has a way of engaging young readers, and that’s exactly why he was chosen to remix Kendi’s book.

Reynolds delivers on his promises. Stamped presents the history of America’s racial inequities spanning the period from 1415 to the present. In his unique style, Reynolds offers historical facts alongside the narratives of the people, the politics, and the popular culture that shaped the racist beliefs that have endured. He also recounts the courageous battles fought by those who eschewed simply ‘fitting in’ and assimilating in favour of an antiracist future that would embrace Black people as fully human and equals in their country. He does it, all the while speaking directly to his readers: “But whenever people rise up against bad things, bad things tend to get worse. You know the old saying, When the going gets tough, the tough get… racist. Or something like that.” (p. 24); “People like Benjamin Rush, a physician from Philadelphia who wrote a pamphlet saying that Black people weren’t born savages but instead were made savages by slavery. Record scratch. Pause.” (p.45-6); “And the president at the time, Woodrow Wilson, feared that beig treated decently overseas would embolden Black soldiers. Make them too big for their britches. Make them expect fair treatment at home, the home for which they’d just risked their lives. Let that sink in.” (p. 142). Reynolds never forgets his audience.

A list for Further Reading is also included. Titles teens can read alongside this include books I have reviewed as well, including: All American Boys; Dear Martin, Long Way Down; and Ghost Boys. The reading list includes many more titles, including many I have read and loved in the past (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison; The Color Purple by Alice Walker; Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates; and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; (I would give all of these two snaps, hands down!); offering a wide range of reading experiences, but these titles make for excellent pairings to explore and understand the history of race in America.

This is the most important history book (that is not a history book) that could be read by teens today. Essential reading. As Reynolds closes his Afterword, he asks the reader:

“[This] leads back to the question of whether, you, reader, want to be a segregationist (a hater), an assimilationist (a coward), or an antiracist (someone who truly loves).

Choice is yours.

Don’t freak out.

Just breathe in. Inhale. Hold it. Now exhale slowly.

N O W.

(Reynolds & Kendi, p. 247-8).

Book Snap #80


Title: Kids These Days: A Game Plan for (Re)Connecting with Those We Teach, Lead & Love

Author: Jodi Carrington PhD

Date Read: April 1, 2020

Two snaps.

This was a staff book club pick– and a real winner! When we came together (on Zoom) to discuss it — it had our unanimous praise.

If you have not heard of Dr. Jodi Carrington, you are in for a treat. Carrington hails from Alberta, bringing a classic Canadian-girl charm and warm kindness to her philosophy and approach to child psychology. A mom to her own three “babes”, Carrington proposes that the most integral step in helping kids who experience grief and trauma is to assist the people who hold them– their parents, educators, and counsellors.

She speaks with a humbling reverence for teachers and the challenging work they do in assisting all of the kids in their care. Above and beyond all else, she posits that it is connection that we all crave– and that many of the kids we serve are terribly disconnected. There was a time when families lived close to and with extended family. They weren’t so distracted and busy– there was connection. In fact, she writes: “… every time you hear yourself say, that kid is attention seeking or lying,” try to replace that phrase with, that kid is “connection seeking,” and see what happens” (p.63).

In teaching, in parenting, in coaching– in any capacity in which we look to help kids learn and become better at something; our job, first and foremost, must be to develop a relationship with the person we want to teach. Kids do not learn from people they think don’t like them. I have taught for over 20 years, and I know nothing to be more true. Teaching is about relationships. I think that is why online teaching during a pandemic is so difficult; we miss out on the face-to-face interactions that help us to form strong relationships. In fact, Carrington outlines five keys to (re)connecting with people in our life; and one of those keys is eye contact. She writes, “I talk to educators about doing this every day so they can connect with their students: Meet your students in the morning and greet them with their name and notice if they give you their eyes. The ones who do make contact easily concern me far less than the ones who don’t” (p.122). What I wouldn’t do to be in the hallway to check in with my students right now!

Another key to reconnection is to “get down on their level.” She says that meeting someone face to face is where the magic lies. I know this all too well from parenting. (Have you ever seen a mom kneeling in front of a toddler in the candy aisle? Turns out she knows her stuff. Been there. Done that.) She writes: “Being on the same level as the other person allows for easier access to their eyes. It slows you down too because you’re consciously thinking about creating an optimal environment.” She notes that fear based techniques certainly have their proponents and do garner some success in times of significant distress; you can threaten or inflict pain and likely get a response– but where do these approaches leave the relationship? Without a relationship, you cannot teach. And I love this, “When compliance from people we love or teach is predicated on what they stand to lose, they will never be motivated by respect. They will be motivated by fear. And fear is very different from respect” (28). You don’t learn to get better or to self-regulate when you are fearful of the person holding you.

When kids are dysregulated (or have “flipped their lids”) they are in a primitive state of fight, flight or freeze— and they need us, the adult, to offer them soothing connection. Carrington explains the Circle of Security, and our job as regualtor is: “Always be bigger, stronger, kinder and wiser. Whenever possible follow a need. Whenever necessary, take charge” (p.48). Which means, she says, “when your kid is losing their freaking mind, you need to dig deep into the core of yourself and figure it out with them” (p. 49).

Carrington describes so many of the kids we meet in our work: regular lid-flippers; Caillou kids; Flat Stanley kids; attention-seeking; manipulative liars (you need to read her book to get her great descriptions of each of them)… but, as she says, “these babes all have the exact same needs. How they pull for us to meet those needs makes all the difference” (p.71). Carrington is on the mark throughout this book. She spoke to me as a teacher, as a parent, and as a leader in my school. Carrington’s experience as a child psychologist allows her to build narratives around each of these kids, suggesting strategies to repair and rebuild relationships. You will see many of the kids you have taught, or coached, or cared for– and you will understand them better. And, hopefully, after reading her book, be in a better place to help them in the future.

She even seemed to narrow in on my own marriage. She explains that “[We] often tell people what to do, rather than showing them. We say to kids, “That’s not a good choice” or “Just calm down!” Here’s the thing: Never in the history of telling someone to “calm down” has “calm down” ever worked. Telling someone how to behave is never, ever, as powerful and transformative as showing them what you want from them. Think about the last time your partner told you to “Just calm down!” How effective was that? What was your response? The hope, when we yell or hiss “Calm down!” at someone we love is they will, indeed, calm down. The hope is they might even look at us and say, “Oh you’re right babe, I didn’t realize that I was losing my mind. You always know just how to get me to calm down. I’m just so glad that I married you” (p.29). If, like Carrington, you can agree that never in the history of my spouse telling me to “calm down” (or “relax!”) has “calm down” ever worked, then why do we keep trying to make it so, with everyone, including kids, all the time?

Really, Jodi says it best: “The kids are the least of our worries. Seriously. If that sounds blasphemous in a book for concerned parents and educators (and anyone, really, who worries about “kids these days”), then I am so glad you’re here. If you own a kid, work with a kid, or love a kid, you will find something inspiring in these pages” (XIX). She is not wrong. If you care about the kids these days… read Jodi Carrington’s book!

You can also find Jodi on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram. She does great Facebook Live chats (usually over a glass of wine…) dropping the occasional f-bomb(which I also kind of love) as she wades through the weeds of raising, loving and connecting with kids.

Book Snap #73

Title: Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Middle Crisis

Author: Ada Calhoun

Date Read: February 2, 2020

Two snaps.

This book came highly recommended and I scrambled to get it in my Amazon cart. It did not disappoint. All Gen X women: a must read!

The quote that opens the Introduction to her book sums it up pretty succinctly:

You come to this place, midlife. You don’t know how you got here, but suddenly you’re staring fifty in the face. When you turn and look back down the years, you glimpse the ghosts of other lives you might have led. All your houses are haunted by the person you might have been.

Hilary Mantel, Giving Up the Ghost

Today’s middle-aged women belong to Generation X and the end of the Baby Boom. Gen X birth years are identified as those born between 1965 to 1980. For the longest time, Gen Xers have struggled most with what really defined us as a generation. Douglas Coupland popularized the moniker in his book of the same name, but we have been pretty much been the ignored “middle child”– overshadowed by our Baby Boomer parents and the younger Millineials we babysat.

Calhoun writes that: ” Generation X women tend to marry in our late twenties, thirties, forties, or not at all; to have our first children in our thirties or forties, or never. We’re the first women raised from birth hearing the tired cliche “having it all” — then discovered as adults that it is very hard to have even some of it.” (p. 5-6)

Because so many of our generation delayed marriage and children into their thirties and forties– we also find ourselves caring for parents in decline at the same time we are caring for little children; and asking for raises and ‘leaning in’ at work. Fused with this stress is a hormonal tumult and the mood swings of menopause. And in a cruel twist, the symptoms of hormonal fluctuation are exacerbated by stress, while the symptoms in turn raise stress levels! At the same time, we are inundated by breaking news alerts, social media feeds that show us how awesome everyone else’s life is, increased work obligations, phone calls to return, texts to send, and emails to write. “Our lives can begin to feel like the latter seconds of a game of Tetris, where the descending pieces pile up faster and faster.” (Calhoun, 20).

So, yeah– women are facing a midlife crisis. We have it all: marriages, kids, careers, homes… but we are stressed about having it all. We have sky-high expectations for ourselves and as a generation we are also exhausted, terrified about money, and overwhelmed.

Calhoun provides an excellent analysis of this midlife crisis– one in which I know my cohort will see themselves in. As difficult as it was to face some of it, it was also a relief to know that I was not alone– and that many women feel very much the same. It is yet another book that opens up the conversation for women to support one another– to share experiences and to rally around as we push through midlife stronger with a tribe that will reassure us and empower us.

Book Snap #67

Title: Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

Author: Trevor Noah

Date Read: October 27, 2019

Two snaps!

I think Trevor Noah is a brilliantly witty and savvy political analyst. I think he does outstanding work as the host of The Daily Show. When I saw his memoir, I knew I wanted to read it– but it was the title that truly caught my eye.

Noah grew up in South Africa during apartheid. He writes: “…which was awkward because I was raised in a mixed family, with me being the mixed one in the family. My mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, is black. My father, Robert, is white. Swiss/ German, to be precise, which Swiss/ Germans invariably are. During apartheid, one of the worst crimes you could commit was having sexual relations with a person of another race. Needless to say, my parents committed that crime.” (Noah, 21).

Noah’s memoir is written the way you would expect– in a way that helps you make sense of complicated issues, like apartheid; race relations; poverty; domestic abuse– but also with his irreverent sense of humour and masterful wit.

Through his memoir Noah reveals an origin story that is thoughtful, educational, alarming, and wonderfully comedic. His relationship with his mother reveals a complicated and enduring connection between a woman that refused to let racism, apartheid, or rules of any kind guide her life, her love, or her decisions. I fell in love with Trevor’s mother, you will too. It says it all in his dedication: “For my mother. My first fan. Thank you for making me a man.”

Here is an excerpt from his opening chapter:

Sometimes in big Hollywood movies they’ll have these crazy chase scenes where somebody jumps or gets thrown from a moving car. The person hits the ground and rolls for a bit. Then they come to a stop and pop up and dust themselves off, like it was no big deal. Whenever I see that I think, That’s rubbish. Getting thrown out of a moving car hurts way worse than that.

I was nine years old when my mother threw me out of a moving car. It happened on a Sunday…

excerpt from Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (p.5).

I loved this memoir for the stories and their wit; but mostly for the illuminating education and analysis of apartheid and the entrenched racism of South Africa. Noah writes: “Relationships are built in the silences. You spend time with people, you observe them and interact with them, and you come to know them—and that is what apartheid stole from us: time.”

Book Snap #63

Title: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Author: Yuval Noah Harari

Date Read: September 7, 2019

One and a half snaps!

I’ll admit, this one took me two tries. The first time I gave up much too easily. I picked it up again with the intention of finishing, and I am glad I did.

Harari gives a whirlwind tour of how we have ended up as the singular species to survive over the last 100,000 years. That’s a lot of ground to cover! Stay with him, he is a reliable and skillful story teller. And our story is fascinating.

Throughout this examination of our battles for dominance and how we moved from foraging clans to defining ourselves as citizens of cities and kingdoms, Harari also questions how it is that we came to believe in gods, nations and human rights; to trust money, books and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables and consumerism. And what will our world be like in the millennia to come?

“How can we distinguish what is biologically determined from what people merely try to justify through biological myths? A good rule of thumb is ‘Biology enables, Culture forbids.’ Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities. It’s culture that obliges people to realize some possibilities while forbidding others. Biology enables women to have children – some cultures oblige women to realize this possibility. Biology enables men to enjoy sex with one another – some cultures forbid them to realize this possibility. Culture tends to argue that it forbids only that which is unnatural. But from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behaviour, one that goes against the laws of nature, simply cannot exist.” 

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens

It will challenge your thinking about what you know about Sapiens and give you much to ponder. A worthwhile read.

Book Snap #44

Title: Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

Author: Phil Knight

Date read: February 13, 2019.

Two Snaps.

Quite simply, I loved this memoir.

Knight takes you chronologically from his parents’ suburban home in Oregon as a young shoe dog peddling sneakers from their living room to the pinnacle of his success as the CEO of a multi million dollar international company; and it’s not an easy ride.

As a trained track runner, Knight befriended, and ultimately hired, his college track coach who constantly tinkered with athlete’s shoes looking to get the fastest run. This partnership solidified the view that they would pursue the perfect shoe– at any cost. Indeed, there were more times than not that Nike was abysmally broke than it was successful. With a ragtag group of misfits that he trusted dearly, they worked diligently over decades to sell shoes they believed in.

He writes: “Starting my own business was the only thing that made life’s other risks—marriage, Vegas, alligator wrestling—seem like sure things. But my hope was that when I failed, if I failed, I’d fail quickly, so I’d have enough time, enough years, to implement all the hard-won lessons. I wasn’t much for setting goals, but this goal kept flashing through my mind every day, until it became my internal chant: Fail fast.”

Knight is a skillful storyteller. His writing is descriptive and engaging and his life is full of wisdom, humour and sadness. Knight takes you from the boardrooms of Japan, to the factories in India, and back to Oregon; from the follies of youth; the pain of parenthood and the success of hard work. You will thoroughly enjoy the ride. Just do it.

Check out my passage study from this novel, here.

Book Snap #42

Title: Feminasty: The Complicated Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Patriarchy Without Drinking Herself To Death

Author: Erin Gibson

Date read: January 20, 2019

Two Snaps.

Brash, acerbic and a little bit ‘feminasty.’ Expertly mixing social commentary, political satire and off colour jokes— can’t say I didn’t laugh out loud, and I definitely enjoyed it. Will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Mature audiences only.

I have since also found Erin’s podcast, which she co-hosts with Bryan Safi– called “Throwing Shade” where they irreverently and unabashedly discuss: women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, progressive politics and pop culture. Erin does not back down from tough topics nor abide political correctness. However, she does contribute thoughtful and poignant analysis of issues in need of discussion, just as she does in her own book. The voice in her book is so clear and laden with style, I was only reaffirmed to actually hear her speaking aloud in her podcast. Have a listen here: Throwing Shade Podcast

Snappy Passage from Feminasty:

“What the people who are so scared of #MeToo need to realize is the goal isn’t to limit sex or discourage men from doing their men stuff like MMA and long conversations about Paleo diets. #MeToo is about our complaints being heard for the first time and being taken seriously. What some see as the collective anger of a thousand wronged women, I see as the expression of frustration and hurt. #MeToo is about making sure women are not operating out of sheer terror for their own safety. It’s about telling the office clown, Chase, it isn’t cool or normal to send porn GIFs at the end of Slack convos. We’re envisioning a better world, one where Justin Timberlake won’t tweet “Here we come!! And DAMN, my wife is hot! #TIMESUP #whywewearblack,” sloppily mixing male objectification with a hashtag designed to make people aware of lopsided power dynamics. A new world where Justin Timberlake uses the hashtag #timesup and then ALSO feels shame about starring in Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel. A world where Justin Timberlake refuses to do the Super Bowl halftime show WITHOUT Janet jackson. A world where Justin Timberlake is actually funny and not just a guy in a wig making funny faces.” (p.40-41).

If you liked Feminasty, may I also suggest:

Title: Difficult Women

Author: Roxane Gay

Deep, powerful writing about complex, riveting female characters. Roxane Gay’s non fiction writing is powerful and academic (read also: Bad Feminist)— her fiction is compelling and rich.

Book Snap #38:

Title: Girl, Wash Your Face

Author: Rachel Hollis

Date read: December 28, 2018.

Oh Snap!

I was intrigued by this title and I didn’t know much about Rachel Hollis, but her picture made me think she was quirky and fun. There were parts of this book I liked— but for the most part I found it to be a long narrative humble brag with too much religious-preachy-white-conservatisms… not really my bag.

Book Snap #33:

Title: Fear: Trump in the White House

Author: Bob Woodward

Date read: November 17, 2018.

One Snap.

Woodward does not hold back, he allows us a ring-side seat, but… do you really want to be that close to this presidency?

“Grievance was a big part of Trump’s core, very much like a 14-year-old boy who felt he was being picked on unfairly. You couldn’t talk to him in adult logic. Teenage logic was necessary.”
― Bob Woodward, Fear: Trump in the White House

For me, this quote from Rex Tillerson sums it up: “He’s a fucking moron.”

Book Snap #27:

Title: The 57 Bus

Author: Dashka Slater

Date read: September 21, 2018.

Two Snaps.

Wow! What a book. Such an amazing true story, thoughtfully and insightfully told.

This riveting nonfiction book for teens about race, class, gender, crime, and punishment tells the true story of an agender teen who was set on fire by another teen while riding a bus in Oakland, California.