When I was in the 8th grade my class had to read To KIll A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Back then I didn’t like it because at the time I wasn’t old enough to really understand the book and connect to it. My class had to read it again this year, two years later, and I realize that this book still relates to today’s society, even though it was written a long time ago.
The narrator of the book is a little girl named Scout. This is a really creative way to write a book because the way that Scout tells the story sounds mature and then there are times that we can tell that she doesn’t fully grasp what’s actually going on because she’s just a kid. Scout has an older brother named Jem and a friend about her age named Dill. Over the summer Dill visits the town of Maycomb and they all spend the summer together. They create a bad habit of teasing a person named Boo Radley who lives across the street from Jem and Scout, without really knowing Boo or even meeting him before. This is just what people in Maycomb do.
Jem and Scout’s father is a lawyer named Atticus. He is defending a black man named Tom Robinson. At the time this was basically mission impossible. In the early 1900s a white man’s word always won against a black man’s word. Atticus knows that he probably can’t help Tom but tries anyway because he wants to be a good role model for his children.
My favorite part about the book is that the themes of the book relate to our world today. There are several themes conveyed in this book: don’t judge a book by it’s cover, to think about what it’s like in other people’s shoes, to turn the other cheek even when someone doesn’t deserve it, and that regardless of race everyone is still a human being.
Reading about historical women, fact & fiction, in Pénélope Bagieu’s graphic novel Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World and in Joy McCullough’s older teen book in verse, Blood Water Paint.
Valerie P., Teen Library Assistant
It’s obviously part of my job to read as many books as possible, so I can give the best recommendations to folks that are interested in the widest variety of topics, niche and otherwise. However, lots of the time I don’t actually have much time to actually… read (!). Because our libraries are so busy, a lot of my time off of the reference desk gets eaten up by planning programs like storytime and Teen Tuesdays, problem solving technical issues, and getting people excited about coming to the library! So, how do I stay on top of what the coolest most interesting books are?? I read a lot of reviews and am on a ton of email lists from professional book reviewers (*insert heart eyed emoji here*), so I can 1) be aware of what’s out there and fresh and 2) wisely decide which books to spend my valuable time reading. I am very selective about what books I actually sit and read all the way through, just because there are so many books that look so good, and I have to guard the time that I do have!
But actually, for both of the books that I’m going to rave about today, no one recommended them to me! They just snuck up on me and jumped on my back and wouldn’t let go until I read them!! THEY WERE BOTH AMAZING AND QUICK AND EASY AND YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY CHECK THEM OUT!
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu
For the Francophiles out there, this graphic novel was originally released in two parts in French, called “Les Culottées”. Now, I don’t speak French, but according to Google Translate, that translates to “the cheeky ones,” which I personally think is a great title. I guess the publishers thought “Brazen” would sell better or whatever. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Regardless, French artist/author Pénélope Bagieu did an amazing job with it, and it covers thirty women – trans women, cis women, lesbian women, bi women, straight women, Black women, Asian women, Native American women, Middle Eastern women, white women, autistic women, disabled women. There was a woman or three that I had learned about in my schooling – and I have a Master’s Degree in Women and Gender Studies – but mostly women I had never heard of before, all women who had done something really super cool, and things that SHOULD HAVE been included in my education! There were also more long dead as well as still living women included that I had expected there to be.
The art is beautiful throughout, and I kept wanting to buy prints to cover the walls of my room with them, and the book overall was inspirational, fun, and light – and helped me get out of a funk I had been in. HIGHLY recommended for everyone to check out! 🙂
Also also also!! I just learned that apparently they made/are making a TV show based on this book for French television, consisting of thirty 3 minute episodes, done with a different artist. Maybe soon there will be an English translation, or you could use it to learn some French! 😉 Learn more about the series and its performance at film festivals here.
Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
trigger warning: this book contains instances of
sexual assault, parental abuse, & misogyny
Another really awesome famous woman who happens to be super dead now is Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian painter who lived in 17th century Italy. I mostly know her from this really cool piece of art, Judith and Holofernes, which is actually one of my favorite paintings from the Baroque movement (which lasted from the early 17th until the mid-18th century). I think one of the reasons that I like it so much is because it is a depiction of a scene from a Biblical story that has been done by other artists, but the way that Artemisia does it is so different, so much more real and full of emotion. Look at the expression on Judith’s face, and the muscles in her arms, how you can see her leaning back so she doesn’t get hit with the blood that’s squirting everywhere. ISN’T THAT COOL?!? Relatedly, for more information on her growth as an artist and an examination of the differences between her two paintings, below, check out this blog post “Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes” by Dr. Esperanca Camara on SMARTHISTORY.ORG.
But like, aside from this cool work of art that I learned about when I was in high school, and was then lucky enough to SEE IN PERSON in a trip to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, I knew nothing else about Gentileschi – until I read this book!
Joy McCullough, the author of Blood Water Paint, actually first wrote this book as a play, which was staged in 2015 in Seattle and I’m super jealous of the folks that got to see it because it looks like it was really awesome! The book is actually mostly in verse – which means it looks like poetry – which can be a little intimidating if you’re not used to reading poetry or books in verse, but it’s actually really great and easy to read, with the format of the text heightening Artemisia’s emotions.
Because yes, Blood Water Paint is actually about Artemisia when she was a teen, and still learning how to paint, still learning about her place in 17th century Italy’s society. In the book, Artemisia is living with her father, who is a master painter, but Artemisia’s skills have actually surpassed her father’s, so she’s doing his work for him and signing his name on the art, to keep money coming in. Her mother died when she was small, and she doesn’t really have anyone to confide in. However, she still remembers the stories that her mother told her about other strong women, and she uses them to give her strength when times get tough. So when her father uses Artemisia’s youth and beauty to get her a spot working under a more respected artist who is in town working on a big ($$$) job, Artemisia is excited about the opportunity, and hopes that this handsome man can teach her how to paint perspectives. Unfortunately, being a woman has never been easy, and when those that she trusts take advantage of her, she has to make some hard decisions.
This book was powerful in a different way from Brazen, and particularly timely, as I happened to be reading it as more and more people were speaking out about their experiences of sexual assault. I would definitely recommend this book to everyone that feels able to read it.
If you or a person you love are a victim of sexual assault and need someone to talk to, know that there are helplines and support systems in place. You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 800.656.HOPE (4673), or log on to the RAINN site at centers.rainn.org to find a local service provider who can help you with counseling, legal advocacy, healthcare, and more.
I am very “eat with your eyes first” when it comes to picking books to read. This is the main reason why I picked up the book Jackaby by William Ritter in the first place. The book cover is a crisp aquamarine color with a side profile of a man in Victorian dress. Side note to mention is that I love stories set in Victorian times, it’s my favorite story setting in both television and on paper. A splash of red in the center contrasts with the aquamarine backdrop and draws your eyes to a woman in a blood red Victorian gown walking down what seems to be a cobblestone street toward an illuminated crimson door. The second thing that caught my eye was a review featured on the cover by the Chicago Tribune stating “It’s Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer”.
From BBC’s Sherlock
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Jackaby is the first book in a somewhat historical supernatural thriller series by William Ritter that takes place in the fictional city, New Fiddleham, which is located in the New England region of the United States in 1892. Our main character, Abigail Rook, has just arrived in town and is almost immediately swept up into a grizzly serial murder mystery, which is fine for Abigail, who is tired of being treated like a porcelain doll, just because she is a woman from an upper class English household, and is in search for her next big adventure. One of Abigail’s greatest fears is to have to return to her family home in England, having failed in every capacity in her search for independence.
There is a fleeting moment in Jackaby, which I hope that Ritter expands on in the series, where Abigail first realizes that she has left the stable security of high society and that it is that same high society, who now judges her by whose company she shares. The book picks up with Abigail in a time where she has just reached a crossroads and has made her decision to carry on with her quest for adventure instead of trying to return home.
From the very beginning I liked that she is a person who makes her own decisions and follows through with them. As the narrative is seen through Abigail’s eyes, we as the readers are introduced to the title character, R.F. Jackaby, when she is. Jackaby the character is someone that society, including the police, has written off as insane which can cause some problems when your occupation is that of a private detective.
As our story progresses Jackaby opens Abigail’s eyes and mind to a supernatural world that goes unseen by all except Jackaby. Jackaby is a Sherlockian type who wears a coat with way too many pockets and who can’t tell the difference between gunpowder and paprika. What I like most about the character Jackaby is that he doesn’t care what society thinks of him, he only cares about helping people who are in trouble, be it supernatural creatures or an ordinary person on the street.
As I am a fan of TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the CW’s Supernatural I enjoyed the creatures and legends that Ritter included in the story. As I read I tried to guess the legends and creatures featured, but was surprised to find that I was wrong most of the time. I found myself running along with Abigail and Jackaby on their investigation trying to piece together the evidence and find the murderer. I found the pacing of the book relatively fast without missing opportunities for description or helpful insights from Abigail.
However as I write this review, I have found that even though Abigail gives great descriptions of the people, scenes, and actions around her, she fails to really describe herself in great detail so I think I would like to give the book a second read. I think Jackaby hits many genres and would interest many types of readers from those looking for a new realistic fantasy to someone looking for a gritty mystery.
The book is also the beginning of a series so if you are someone like me who likes book series this is the book for you.