Secret Coders #1 by Gene Luen Yang; illustrated by Mike Holmes
(First Second, 2015, 96 pages)
Under normal circumstances Secret Coders would never have made it onto my radar. The demographic it caters to and the content don’t really shout “Julia.” However, I read an article in Wired that talked about the many reasons this was a book people should be picking up. Written by the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (and the author of the graphic classic, American Born Chinese), Yang did an amazing job making the concept of computer coding fun and accessible.
The story revolves around a young woman named Hopper who has recently been enrolled in a new school, Stately Academy. She notices there are weird aspects to her school, but she doesn’t start exploring them until she befriends another student named Eni. Together the two uncover mysterious elements hidden around their campus and in the process teach coding basics to the reader.
This book demonstrates how easy it is to make learning new things fun and accessible when you play around with the format in which they are taught. Teaching coding through a graphic novel makes the whole process more engaging. Even though I’m not the target audience for this book I did learn something and would certainly recommend this as a book for parents who are eager to expose their kids to coding and the opportunities it opens up.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
(Viking, 2014, 373 pages)
Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings takes place in the early 19th century in Charleston, South Carolina. The Grimke family has many slaves to help with the upkeep of their home and children. The book follows the lives of one of the Grimke children, Sarah, and her slave, Hetty, to whom she was given on her 11th birthday as a gift from her parents. Even at a very young age, Sarah is displeased by the idea of slavery not only because she feels that she doesn’t need anyone to do things for her but because she also feels that there are injustices in slavery.
The story follows the girls over the next 35 years and the parallels of their lives. Hetty is determined that she will one day be able to live a life of freedom while Sarah wants to see the abolishment of slavery and equal rights for women. These are two very courageous women who will stop at nothing and no one to fulfill their dreams.
I feel what makes this dynamic story even more powerful is that these events were skillfully researched and beautifully written by Kidd. I didn’t know until the author’s note at the end that this book was based on semi-factual events of the abolitionist movement and the life of an early leader in women’s rights, Sarah Grimke. It gave me a deeper appreciation for the women who made it their goal in life to fight for the freedom of slaves and equal rights and their trials and tribulations. Thank you Sue Monk Kidd for a compelling read.
The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch
(W. W. Norton & Company, 1997, 202 pages)
To be honest, The Undertaking caught my eye because I’m fascinated by books that talk about death and dying. This collection of essays took a different approach than what I’d anticipated because I went in expecting more darkness and humor and found myself in the presence of thoughtful essays that encouraged me to think more about death and the role it plays in our lives.
Thomas Lynch is an established poet in addition to being the funeral director in the small town of Milford, MI. His way with words and his lifelong immersion in the world of death (his father was also an undertaker) gives him a unique perspective on how death impacts the lives of the living. Each essay in the book lends itself to reflection. There is humor interspersed throughout, but there’s depth here. I took my time while I was reading.
A few of my favorite essays include: “Crapper,” “The Right Hand of the Father,” “All Hallows’ Eve,” and “Tract.” Don’t let the subject matter deter you from picking up this book. It’s not a doom and gloom read, it’s insightful and well worth your time.
Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and Why We Don’t Learn Them from Movies Anymore) by Hadley Freeman
(Simon & Schuster, 2016, 352 pages)
Life Moves Pretty Fast is a fun survey of all the 80s movies that endure today: Princess Bride, Dirty Dancing, When Harry Met Sally, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Back to the Future, Steel Magnolias, Baby Boom, 48 Hours, Ghostbusters, and more. Freeman states that the types of movies from the 80s are not made today. Instead, movie studios go for the blockbusters, the big-budget superhero films, because those are the movies that translate internationally. Of course, there are low-budget independent films, too, but there’s nothing in between because movie studios think people in other countries (where a lot of money is made) can’t relate to the American cultural experience.
Discussions on movies starring women, such as Working Girl and Fatal Attraction, have a feminist slant, with which I sometimes agreed and sometimes didn’t. For example, I thought it was a stretch to say that bunny-killer Alex in Fatal Attraction represents all unmarried women in their forties. Somehow Trainwreck, a non-80s movie written by and starring Amy Schumer, a self-proclaimed feminist, gets into the discussion and is criticized for its portrayal of women. Otherwise I found the commentary and quotes from actors and directors interesting and fun. If you love 80s movies, you will enjoy this book. Get ready to go to the library because you’ll want to watch these movies over again (as I did with Pretty in Pink)!