By Maya Payne Smart Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston is a lovely picture book biography of a singular literary talent. Author Alicia D. Williams masterfully weaves threads of Hurston’s complicated life story into a tale simple and propulsive enough to maintain the attention of young children, yet complete and nuanced enough to satisfy Hurston’s grownup fans. The book traces the jagged rise of the iconic writer, from a spunky young girl . . .
I read Destination Simple: Everyday Rituals for a Slower Life by Brooke McAlaray for a new year’s reset. The tiny book can be read in one sitting, but it’s also great to dip in and out of as you let the ideas marinate. Unlike more rigorous guides, such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done (which I also love), Destination Simple is one to reach for when you’re feeling overwhelmed—when you want to sink into your day versus power through it. Broken into three parts, it first presents . . .
I know my opinions make an impression—among people inclined to agree with me, anyway. My confidence in influencing those with divergent views, however, is so low that I generally avoid addressing controversial issues with them at all. I wouldn’t talk guns or race with a Republican, for example. I’ve read one too many reports on partisan polarization to go there. To be fair, I’ve offered similar silence to some on my side of the aisle, too, especially the “colorblind” and others who may be . . .
Jessica “Culture Queen” Hebron is on a mission to make Kwanzaa fun, enticing, and effortless for families to celebrate. “We have several different black people holidays, but this is the big one,” she explains. “I think it's really cool that black people have something just for them that lasts seven days, helps you to align yourself culturally, and gives you like a cultural sense of self.” She believes that the keys to bolstering participation in the holiday she loves are to start slow and . . .
I marvel at book talk attendees. People trek from great distances, clutching worn copies of favorite reads. They stand in long lines for a brief word with (or autograph from) a favorite writer. The brave ones step to the podium to share stories or ask questions. Their remarks bring more voices and perspectives into conversation. Their contributions add welcome depth and texture to the occasion. At a Jacqueline Woodson BookPeople talk that I moderated in October, an educator in the audience . . .
When people ask what my favorite book is, I always respond with Jacqueline Woodson’s 2012 picture book Each Kindness. But truth be told, everything she writes, from picture book to poetry to novel, is wonderful. Each new work prompts me to consider central questions of who we are, why we are, and how we can grow for the better. And, because I adore her writing and her advocacy for reading, I interview her every chance I get. Here’s an excerpt from our October conversation about her novel Red . . .
Can you spell sesquipedalian? Well, the children featured in anthropologist Shalini Shankar’s Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z’s New Path to Success can. The elite competitors in the Scripps National Spelling Bee are largely of South Asian descent and, though born after 1996, exhibit intensity, skill, and poise rare in people twice their age. On stage, they spell obscure words with ease, backed by supportive parents and thousands of hours of practice. And these feats . . .
I would like to designate December National Quitting Awareness Month. After reading Seth Godin’s The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (And When to Stick), I’m fired up to pare down before the New Year. The slim volume argues that quitting (despite its poor reputation) is a key to success. Quit fast. Quit often. Quit without guilt, Godin urges. Because quitting worthless pursuits gives you the time, energy, and focus to obsess about something that matters. “Just about . . .
In Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z’s New Path to Success, anthropologist Shalini Shankar offers readers a nuanced and scholarly account of a subset of immigrant parents today. Like Amy Chua’s tiger moms, the South Asian Americans Shankar examines—parents of kids who participate in the National Spelling Bee—value education above all. These so-called “bee parents” are just more likely to spend time supporting and advocating for their kids than doling out harsh criticism. . . .
Many picture books aim to spur conversation around the quirks of English spelling, but Beth Anderson’s An Inconvenient Alphabet is a class above. While alphabet books like the popular P Is for Pterodactyl highlight unconventional spellings without illuminating the why’s behind them, An Inconvenient Alphabet goes much deeper. It brings to life some of the history and power dynamics responsible for English spelling—in ways that intrigue adults and children alike. The book explores the true story . . .