A well-meaning book that loses its folkloric appeal in its obvious messages.


Arina, Arina The Most Loved Child


In Reid’s (The Student Councilor, 2010, etc.) children’s picture book and simple parenting guide, the impending birth of a fatherless child sparks lessons in positivity and spiritual healing.  

This book, set in an imagined island village and illustrated in a saturated watercolor palette, is dedicated “To All the Single Parents for Their Strength and Courage.” The author delivers her messages of reinforcement in the style of a multicultural folk tale. The sun, she explains in her introduction, symbolizes an absent parent, who “for one reason or another,” plays no part in the life of the child. The story begins when the sun vanishes before the birth of a little girl named Arina. The unhappy, anxious mother seeks out a magician, who helps her understand that love hasn’t “disappeared with the sun” and informs her that the light of love is found in thoughts of happiness and gratitude. After Arina bathes in her mother’s newfound positive energy, her birth results in so much light and love that people come from all over the world to witness the miracle. From here, however, the story’s folk-tale charm gives way to a prosaic tone. In a kind but firm, teacherly fashion, the book becomes frankly instructive—so much so that when the now older Arina has a tantrum, her mother gives her a timeout and counsels her to “Never be mean or say negative things about anyone,” to focus on the positive, never judge others, be thankful, and to let her inner light shine on “forever.” This works for Arina, but real children may feel somewhat burdened by such a weighty panoply of expectations. That said, Lemaire’s (The Adventure of Maesee Peek, 2016, etc.) pleasant, page-filling illustrations maintain the book’s visual continuity, interspersed with blocks of text set against vibrantly colored backgrounds.

A well-meaning book that loses its folkloric appeal in its obvious messages. 

Pub Date: May 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5086-1270-4

Page Count: 42

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2016

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


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


Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.


Comprehensive, myth-busting examination of the Colorado high-school massacre.

“We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened,” writes Cullen, a Denver-based journalist who has spent the past ten years investigating the 1999 attack. In fact, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold conceived of their act not as a targeted school shooting but as an elaborate three-part act of terrorism. First, propane bombs planted in the cafeteria would erupt during lunchtime, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of students. The killers, positioned outside the school’s main entrance, would then mow down fleeing survivors. Finally, after the media and rescue workers had arrived, timed bombs in the killers’ cars would explode, wiping out hundreds more. It was only when the bombs in the cafeteria failed to detonate that the killers entered the high school with sawed-off shotguns blazing. Drawing on a wealth of journals, videotapes, police reports and personal interviews, Cullen sketches multifaceted portraits of the killers and the surviving community. He portrays Harris as a calculating, egocentric psychopath, someone who labeled his journal “The Book of God” and harbored fantasies of exterminating the entire human race. In contrast, Klebold was a suicidal depressive, prone to fits of rage and extreme self-loathing. Together they forged a combustible and unequal alliance, with Harris channeling Klebold’s frustration and anger into his sadistic plans. The unnerving narrative is too often undermined by the author’s distracting tendency to weave the killers’ expressions into his sentences—for example, “The boys were shooting off their pipe bombs by then, and, man, were those things badass.” Cullen is better at depicting the attack’s aftermath. Poignant sections devoted to the survivors probe the myriad ways that individuals cope with grief and struggle to interpret and make sense of tragedy.

Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

Pub Date: April 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54693-5

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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