A well-observed, colorfully illustrated book about a close-knit family’s day-to-day life.

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SUMMER AT THE Z HOUSE

A little boy, his mom and assorted pets enjoy a summertime visit from Grandma in this warm chronicle of everyday family life, enlivened with vocabulary-rich text and quirky illustrations.

When Grandma arrives for a visit, her engaged, caring presence makes the summer days more fun for Noah, his mom, and their animals, which include a dog named Pepper and three cats. Grandma turns dinner into a special occasion by writing descriptions of her feast (salad, roast beef, chocolate pudding) on a menu that Noah happily reads aloud before each course—a subtle underscoring of the author’s mission to encourage reading among her target audience. Grandma enjoys hearing about Noah’s creative day camp endeavors, which include crafting masks, making a totem pole and creating cartoons with clay figures (all beguilingly and colorfully imagined by illustrators Stommel and Czekalski). She also shares the family’s love for animals. The book is the third in a series of books centered on Noah, his mom and their growing collection of pets, each with its own distinct personality. Zanville (How the Dog Came to Live at the Z House, 2013, etc.), a veteran educator and a regular blogger about reading and literacy at zhousestories.com,offers vivid images throughout; for example, during the family’s trip to an aquarium, Noah observes “miniature jellyfish that looked like white parachutes with dangly tentacles” and “glowed in the lights of their dark tanks so brightly—it was like looking at little stars in the sky.” There are no wacky plot twists here—just refreshingly genuine warmth and quiet observations of real-life moments among family members, be they human, canine or feline.

A well-observed, colorfully illustrated book about a close-knit family’s day-to-day life.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4819-5234-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN

A former NFL player casts his gimlet eye on American race relations.

In his first book, Acho, an analyst for Fox Sports who grew up in Dallas as the son of Nigerian immigrants, addresses White readers who have sent him questions about Black history and culture. “My childhood,” he writes, “was one big study abroad in white culture—followed by studying abroad in black culture during college and then during my years in the NFL, which I spent on teams with 80-90 percent black players, each of whom had his own experience of being a person of color in America. Now, I’m fluent in both cultures: black and white.” While the author avoids condescending to readers who already acknowledge their White privilege or understand why it’s unacceptable to use the N-word, he’s also attuned to the sensitive nature of the topic. As such, he has created “a place where questions you may have been afraid to ask get answered.” Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts. He packs a lot into his concise narrative, from an incisive historical breakdown of American racial unrest and violence to the ways of cultural appropriation: Your friend respecting and appreciating Black arts and culture? OK. Kim Kardashian showing off her braids and attributing her sense of style to Bo Derek? Not so much. Within larger chapters, the text, which originated with the author’s online video series with the same title, is neatly organized under helpful headings: “Let’s rewind,” “Let’s get uncomfortable,” “Talk it, walk it.” Acho can be funny, but that’s not his goal—nor is he pedaling gotcha zingers or pleas for headlines. The author delivers exactly what he promises in the title, tackling difficult topics with the depth of an engaged cultural thinker and the style of an experienced wordsmith. Throughout, Acho is a friendly guide, seeking to sow understanding even if it means risking just a little discord.

This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-80046-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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