Book Review: Flying Lessons & Other Stories

Book Review: Flying Lessons & Other Stories
Edited by Ellen Oh, cofounder of We Need Diverse Books

This collection of short stories includes tales of basketball players, of students trying to be ninja elves, and of young people attempting to discover their identity in the world. Here’s the list of all the authors who contributed a story:

  • Kwame Alexander
  • Soman Chainani
  • Matt de la Pena
  • Tim Federle
  • Grace Lin
  • Meg Medina
  • Walter Dean Myers
  • Tim Tingle
  • Jacqueline Woodson
  • Kelly J Baptist, who won the We Need Diverse Books 2015 contest, which led to her publication in this anthology.

I enjoyed this entire collection of stories but I have to say, particularly enjoyed Grace Lin’s story “The Difficult Path” — not just because I’m enamored with Lin’s TED talk about Windows and Mirrors and use it with my seniors every year, but because her story involved lady pirates. I mean, what adventurous person wouldn’t love a story about female pirates? And it made me research Ching Shih, the pirate Lin based her story on, and I found myself reading all about this phenomenally successful pirate who I’d never learned about in history class. Isn’t that what we hope for with our students? For a story to connect with them and sparks their curiosity?

Tim Federle’s “Secret Samantha” also appealed to me, mostly because I feel like I’m a terrible gift giver and always second guess myself.  Sam (or Flame, her secret code name) attempts to find the perfect gift for the new girl, Blade, who’s from California and has never seen know. I just love Federle’s descriptions (“The mall is a zoo, if the zoo forgot to build cages”) and the way he creates Sam’s character–I root for her the entire story, happy when she grows bold and triumphant when she finds her voice.

Kelly J. Baptist also wrote a story I found myself identifying with, as Isaiah often ends up in the library reading or writing, or transcribing the stories his father left behind for him in “The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn.” He takes care of his sister, and sometimes his mom, trying to fill the gap the loss of his father created. Once again, I was rooting for the protagonist, watching him make waffles for breakfast, color with his sister, or reminisce while watching the king fu movies he used to watch with his dad.

I could write something about each of the stories in this book and why I loved it, but I want to leave some things for you to discover when you read it. Now that I’ve been reflecting on the book, I think one thing that ties all these stories together (aside from the diversity, of course) is the skill with which the authors invite the reader into the protagonist’s lives. Each of them offers an intimate glimpse into a different life, and yet everyone wants a version of the same thing: strong relationships with others and people to love them as they are.

c1qtkaqxuaaic6gI’ll be giving away my copy of this to someone in Pennsylvania. So either comment below to be entered or retweet one of our PCTELA posts with this link. I’ll choose the winner on Sunday night (2/19/17).

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA



Book Review: Flying Lessons & Other Stories

Book Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Book Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Kate Walker

I ordered this book after I was only half way finished with Roxane Gay’s book Bad Feminist–that’s how enamored I was with her writing and her topics. Reading the short stories in Difficult Women was a powerful reading experience. I found myself putting the book down between stories, contemplating the women, their stories, and the writing. I wanted all my friends to read this book immediately so I could talk about it with someone.

I wanted to talk about how “Break All the Way Down” made so much sense, even though it felt hard to read about the loss.  I tried explaining it to my students, who had read The Kite Runner–this story of a woman who lost her child and wanted to be punished reminded me of Amir, who wanted to be punished for his childhood crime his entire life, and that moment when he finally is becomes a release. For the past week, every time I’ve been in a parking lot, I have an eagle eye on small children running around, and I drive slower. These stories are real. Visceral. Powerful. And the women in them are strong, especially when they experience something traumatic.

I wanted to talk about the recurring motif of twins in this story collection, which reminded me of some of Helen Oyeyemi’s books (and I also immediately sent a copy of Difficult Women to the former student who introduced me to Oyeyemi’s books). As the youngest child, I always wondered what it would be like to have a twin, to have a built-in playmate, or even a sister so close she’d follow me directly into danger, like Carolina does in the first story of this collection, “I Will Follow You.” These stories offer explanations for any future behaviors that may be read as out of the norm by society, but reading these stories explains how simple words from our parents when we are young children can influence the rest of our lives (as seen in “A Pat”).

This collection of short stories also contains a number of tales with magical realism, something I appreciate more and more as I age.  The story of how the sun goes out in “The Sacrifice of Darkness” makes more sense to me than many stories I’ve read in the past without elements of magical realism.

Everyone should read this book, but just a heads up about the content–it is strong, powerful, and at times graphic (just like life can be).  I’m reticent about putting this book on my high school library shelf, on the other hand, there might be young women who need to read this book. In the mean time, I’m recommending it and gifting it to friends, and I will continue to talk about it (more generally) with students who might be interested in it.

If you have a chance, and you’re close to Pittsburgh on March 6, 2017, Roxane Gay will be speaking at Carnegie Music Hall, and tickets are only $15!


Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Book Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay