Angels Passing Through

REFLECTIONS ON GROWING UP WITH FOSTER BABIES

Mastrantuono’s debut memoir explores his experience growing up in a family that fostered dozens of babies.
In the politically and socially tumultuous late 1960s, Mastrantuono’s family was already sizable: In addition to his two biological siblings, his parents also adopted four children of diverse ethnicities. Remarkably, his parents made the decision to add to these numbers by fostering babies in need—not just a few, either. In a span of 10 years, the Mastrantuono family fostered more than 40 babies. In addition to their own schoolwork, friends and puberty, the children also had to diaper, feed, burp, bathe and soothe infants on an almost daily basis. Mastrantuono details his experience as a foster sibling to this multitude of babies and the indelible impact they had on his life. He also recounts the sometimes-heartbreaking stories of five particularly memorable foster children, including Denise, who stayed with his family for slightly less than two years and was ultimately taken from them despite their many petitions to adopt her. Although Mastrantuono’s childhood experiences will seem extraordinary to many, he describes them with clarity and illuminating detail. In fact, his memories are so unusual that readers may regret the book’s brevity; it’s less than 100 pages, after all. Although Mastrantuono interviewed his family and studied diary entries, few direct quotes are included, though they could have provided more insight. However, Mastrantuono excels at describing his own memories and helping readers understand not only why his parents chose to undertake such a momentous task, but also the effects, not always positive, their fostering had on the family as a whole. Mastrantuono delves a bit into the self-examination process he has undergone to deal with emotional issues, such as the void created by Denise’s absence and the fact that, as a foster family, they rarely learned what happened to the babies after they left. Although these instances can seem like personal exercises at times, they nevertheless inform and enrich Mastrantuono’s story, one that will no doubt inspire contemplation and discussion.
Short and bittersweet, this memoir offers a unique perspective on the foster care system and the reverberating effects on those within it.

Pub Date: May 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1496064011

Page Count: 96

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

DAD'S MAYBE BOOK

Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Mostly conservative in its stance and choices but common-sensical and current.

HOW TO RAISE A READER

Savvy counsel and starter lists for fretting parents.

New York Times Book Review editor Paul (My Life With Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues, 2017, etc.) and Russo, the children’s book editor for that publication, provide standard-issue but deftly noninvasive strategies for making books and reading integral elements in children’s lives. Some of it is easier said than done, but all is intended to promote “the natural, timeless, time-stopping joys of reading” for pleasure. Mediumwise, print reigns supreme, with mild approval for audio and video books but discouraging words about reading apps and the hazards of children becoming “slaves to the screen.” In a series of chapters keyed to stages of childhood, infancy to the teen years, the authors supplement their advice with short lists of developmentally appropriate titles—by their lights, anyway: Ellen Raskin’s Westing Game on a list for teens?—all kitted out with enticing annotations. The authors enlarge their offerings with thematic lists, from “Books That Made Us Laugh” to “Historical Fiction.” In each set, the authors go for a mix of recent and perennially popular favorites, leaving off mention of publication dates so that hoary classics like Janice May Udry’s A Tree Is Nice seem as fresh as David Wiesner’s Flotsam and Carson Ellis’ Du Iz Tak? and sidestepping controversial titles and themes in the sections for younger and middle-grade readers—with a few exceptions, such as a cautionary note that some grown-ups see “relentless overparenting” in Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series doesn’t make the cut except for a passing reference to its “troubling treatment of Indians.” The teen lists tend to be edgier, salted with the provocative likes of Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, and a nod to current demands for more LGBTQ and other #ownvoices books casts at least a glance beyond the mainstream. Yaccarino leads a quartet of illustrators who supplement the occasional book cover thumbnails with vignettes and larger views of children happily absorbed in reading.

Mostly conservative in its stance and choices but common-sensical and current.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5235-0530-2

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Workman

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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