Book Recommendation – FLAMER

Title:

Author and Illustrator : Mike Curato

 Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, Sept 2020

Ages: 14+

Themes: bullying, homophobia, racism, fat-phobia, scout camp, coming of age, Asian-Americans, body positivity, religion, fighting parents

Genre: Graphic Novel, fiction

Synopsis:

It’s the summer between middle school and high school, and Aiden Navarro is away at camp. Everyone’s going through changes—but for Aiden, the stakes feel higher. As he navigates friendships, deals with bullies, and spends time with Elias (a boy he can’t stop thinking about), he finds himself on a path of self-discovery and acceptance.

Quote:

I know I’m not gay. Gay boys like other boys. I hate boys. They’re mean, and scary, and they’re always destroying something or saying something dumb or both.

I hate that word. Gay. It makes me feel . . . unsafe.

Why I like this book:

Flamer is a raw and gutsy realistic portrait about what being closeted in the 90s could have been like for any young teen. I was already a huge fan of Mike Curato’s picture book work, and this was such a courageous and stellar debut for an older audience.

Loosely (or less loosely) autobiographical, this graphic novel is steeped with heart, humor, healing and power. This is a transitional summer for Aidan as he is switching from Catholic school to public school for 9th grade. He has long been battling with homophobic bullying and some internalized homophobia, as well as being picked on for both his weight and ethnicity (he’s half Filipino). The journey is super hard but so realistic for me, from one of almost self-loathing through moments of suicide ideation through to the beginnings empowerment. Many of us in the queer community growing up in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s will be able to relate to this as I am sure will many teens today despite the progress we have seen.

Curato has capture the 90’s camp experience perfectly in his illustrations and I don’t know whether it is he or his art director who made the choice to basically use orange/red and black and white, only, but it is a sensational choice, accentuating the depths of emotions Aiden experiences. Aiden focuses on his scout troop, The Flaming Arrows, learning archery and orienteering, building fires and canoeing, hoping for acceptance and trying to find things he is good at  finds things he’s good at, like making and tending to the campfire and making people laugh. Moments of relief also come from time spent with his bunk mate, Elias, on whom he has a subconscious crush. Aiden’s best friend, Violet, and her camp letters, also contrasts with the incessant bullying he experiences.

He is, however, constantly tormented, and Curato liberally includes the most offensive and frequent name-calling, Faggot, throughout the book. The language, mention of masturbation and porn ground the novel in the stark crushing reality of this closeted hurting teen (and his peers) and never feel gratuitous.

While the novel only spans seven days, with the intensity of the experience and various flashbacks especially of his unsupportive family situation, Curato packs in years of emotion. This all culminates in a dark-night-of-the-soul vividly depicted without words.

The novel also portrays and accurate and damning critique of the homophobia in scout camps in the 1990s, and still in much of the world today. Counselors were removed and and queer boys (or those suspected to be) were humiliated and bullied. Sadly the scouting movement failed many young tweens and teens in their community, and novels like this are important exposés.

Flamer is frank, harsh and funny— the testimony of one young gay teen’s journey toward self-acceptance and finding his people. This is a strong debut novel I want to get into the hands of many teens.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes. 

Resources/Activities:

Read what the author has to say about FLAMER.

Posted in Book recommendation, graphic novels, LGBTQIA, young adult | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Blue Giant. – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: the blue giant

Author & Illustrator: Katie Cottie

 Publisher: Pavilion Children’s books, UK, 2020

Ages: 4-8

Themes: conservation, the ocean, plastic waste, ecology, care for the earth, pollution

Synopsis:

Meera and her mom are enjoying a break at the seaside. Until a creature emerges from the waves! It’s a giant. A blue giant. It is made of water, fish, and sea plants and has a stirring plea to help clean up the ocean.

Meera and her mom agree to help, donning their scuba-diving outfits and setting off to sea. But they can’t do it alone…can they?

Opening:

Meera and her mom are going to the ocean.

Why I like this book:

This is a timely and strong eco-tale introducing children to the issue of ocean pollution, with ideas to help the world become a better, cleaner place.

It introduces children to the issues of pollution, waste management, and the oceans, with suggestions of lifestyle changes to help clean up our seas through an allegorical tale, and the narrator, an imaginary Ocean Giant, who grieves for all the destruction we humans have done. I like the emphasis on how big the problem is and how much we need many involved in the solution. The illustrations are bright and bold, and enhance the Giant’s challenge to action as well as our tiny place on this planet, out of corporation to our influence!

Resources/Activities:

Great Earth Day choice.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Posted in Book recommendation, Children's literature, conservation, Earth Day, Perfect Picture Book Friday | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Recommendation – Genomics

It’s September 1st and time to delve back into my reviews and musings here on the blog. For those who are regular followers, my cross country road trip, New York to San Francisco, was a blast and I know many of you traveled with me through my photo journaling of the experience on FB. Despite COVID I am feeling super lucky to be already developing a wonderful community here in SF, and my new job promises to be stretching and rewarding. I am kicking off with a nonfiction title that kicks some scientific ass, and one I am certainly adding to my new high school library shelves!

Title: Genomics, A Revolution in Health and Gene Discovery

Authors Whitney Stewart & Hans C. Anderson, MD

 Publisher: 21st Century Book (Lerner), Sept 1st, 2020

Ages: 13+

Themes: genomics, genome project, disease, ethics, ancestry, gene therapy, gene sequencing, forensic science, DNA, science, molecular biology

Genre: Nonfiction

Synopsis:

Over the past 50 years, scientists have made incredible progress in the application of genetic research to human health and disease treatment. Innovative tools and techniques such as gene therapy can treat inherited disorders that were previously untreatable, or prevent them from happening in the first place. You can take a DNA test to learn where your ancestors came from. Police officers make use of genetic evidence to identify criminals–or innocents. And some doctors are using new medical techniques for unprecedented procedures.

Genomics: A Revolution in Health and Disease Discovery delves into the history, science, and ethics behind recent breakthroughs in genetic research. Authors Whitney Stewart and Hans Andersson, MD, present fascinating case studies that show how real people have benefitted from genetic research. Though the genome remains full of mysteries, researchers and doctors are working hard to uncover its secrets and find the best ways to treat patients and cure diseases. The discoveries to come will inform how we target disease treatment, how we understand our health, and how we define our very identities.

Opening:

Roy remembers being a healthy child despite suffering from a sinus infection about once a year. Back then Roy had more important things to think about than head congestion and a runny nose. He was a talented trumpet player and started playing at nightclubs at the age of fourteen. Later, though, he began to have more frequent sinus infections and often felt tired . He thought his health problems came from performing at night in a smoke-filled room and from not getting enough sleep.

Defintion:

GENOMICS: noun, BIOLOGY

  1. the branch of molecular biology concerned with the structure, function, evolution, and mapping of genomes

Why I like this book:

I rarely review STEAM books, but as I know one of the authors, I was fascinated by how they would present this to a younger readership, and I was not disappointed. This is an interesting and accessible brief presentation of genomics, what DNA is, what it means for humans, what sequencing is, how it works, and what that means in practical terms for the general population.

Genomics is a giant subject, and I can’t imagine the discussions the authors and editors had in deciding what to include and what to leave out. I think they did a stellar job in creating an introduction to complex concepts which can be digested and understood by high schoolers and demystifying the complicated science. Those inspired by this overview will acquire enough comprehension to pursue their specific areas of interest/questions beyond this introduction. Especially as the book includes twenty+ pages of source notes, a glossary, selected bibliography and supplemental resources.

Getting young people interested in and excited about science and technology is critical not just for raising the next generation of researchers, doctors, and engineers but in raising awareness of how their daily choices can influence theirs and our planet’s health. I love the dedication of this book, which includes the hope that it will help inspire young people to train in the field of genetic science and medicine. As a complete novice in this area, but with a healthy curiosity for health and genetics, this book felt pitched at my level of understanding and while covering many molecular biology discoveries, it remained very accessible, readable and intriguing for me. I would offer it to any friend curious about the heady advancements that science has seen over the past half century in genomics and allied research. One of my closest friends is a scientist in diagnostics and she has helped me understand the importance of genomics in the future of diagnostic and clinical medicine.

The book uses several case studies, starting with that of a musician who had an array of symptoms over a long period. This first case shows the length of time and commitment needed both from the patient and their family as well as all the health care professionals to bring some sort of satisfactory resolution. The authors do not shy way from unresolved case studies, where maybe only partial diagnoses have been possible. The demonstrate the diligence of the researchers and caregivers and constant evolution in the field offering continued hope for breakthroughs.

To give you more of a taste, Genomics looks briefly at the history of genetic science and areas like the development of screening, mapping the genome, gene therapy, Sanger sequencing, and the massive advances the genome project has brought in the treatment of many undiagnosed patients. I also appreciated that the authors look at the way DNA sequencing has enhanced other fields, such as the study of archeology revealing how many cross-disciplinary aspects there are to this science. DNA data has been used to look at the migration trail of our ancestors or, as those of us who watch many police series know so well, to solve many crimes. The book repeatedly addresses the many ethical questions that use of these scientific discoveries raises, from revealing familial links or lack thereof when doing ancestry tests etc, to the insidious rise of eugenics early last century and how insurance companies in the US can misuse data to penalize certain citizens with conditions likely to cause many health issues. Discrimination on racial and transgender lines is confronted and respect for members of the disability community is prioritized.  These sorts of issues would be great as discussion topics in high school classes looking at opposing viewpoints and ethical controversies not just in science classes.

I also want to give a shout out to the inclusion of lesser know female scientists who have contributed so much to this research, such as Rosalind Franklin, whose research on the DNA structure helped her male colleagues win the Nobel Prize for Physiology or medicine in 1962!

Through sidebars and various perspectives, multiple explanations and diagrams, the authors simplify complicated information into easy-to-work-with concepts. This takes what high school students start to learn in their biology class to real-world technology applications of biotechnology, which I think many will find fascinating. Add this to your high school NF shelves, please.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes. 

Resources/Activities:

New terms are defined in the text and the book does include an abbreviated glossary.

The ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links.

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