Friday, April 20, 2018

Ada Twist, scientist...

Meet Ada Twist, a little black girl, with a lot of questions, although she did not start properly talking before the age of 3. Meet also her family, surprised by her interest in science and the art of questions, but with a relatively low level of tolerance when it comes to bizarre experiments, such as of making a cat stinky.
But even if grounded for a short while, Ada's mind cannot stop, and as a veritable scientist, she keeps asking questions and looking for answers. That's how science advances, after all...
Luckily, her parents realized that her curiosity and dedication to science is bigger than life, so they better keep up the pace with their gifted girl, instead of forcing her out of the scientific comfort zone. 
Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts is truly inspiring both for children - especially curious little black girls - and for their parents. To the children, it gives them another motivation to dare. For the parents, to be tolerant and instead of cutting short the wings of their children, to rather go to school and use the luck of having a gifted child for their own improvement too. I personally haven't found the illustrations outstanding, just a normal visual background for a well-told story. The messages are encouraging and simple, the easy motivation that most probably parents of gifted children took some long time to find otherwise. Or in some cases, too late, as many were impatient and unprepared enough to understand their gifted children so they discouraged their little girls to move forward with their dreams. The book can be also used for a class discussion, as teachers also need more than once to cope with the curiosities of some of their gifted pupils.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Short funny stories from a time that was

Once upon a time it was the first Internet address - mine was hotmail - and the chat rooms, and the MySpace and the Mozilla, and so many wanders hard to describe to someone that grew up with. Besides the technological novelty, the Internet brought a tremendous change in the realm of human relationships, creating that easiness of talking with strangers and in many cases, encouraging people to be themselves, at least while online. Although I have no therapist background at all, I am sure that for many, it helps a lot to create that strength of coming up in the real life too. 
In a this funny collection of short stories from the very first time of the Internet - which were not so old times at all, by the way, Jess Kimball Leslie is sharing her own experience of life, identity and love stories. The angle outlining how the birth of the Internet contributed to empower her identity and help her be in touch with people sharing the same interests adds relevance to her story itself. It shows the impact of the late decades of technological development on human behavior and the ways in which Internet and its communication tools helped create better stories. Obviously, there are so many downsides and dangers and unpleasant and even tragical occurences that took place under the anonymous cover of the Internet, but in the case of 'I Love my computer because my friends live in it', there is a positive vibe which make you think that there could be good Internet-related news too, and not only short-lived chat room romances.
This collection of stories by Jess Kimball Leslie is that kind of book that you can read easily but not without leaving you with some deep thoughts about how the Internet changed - with its good, bad and ugly - your life.  I loved the (self)ironic style and the authentic strong voice of the author. She is a good storyteller and would love to read more from her. 

Rating: 3 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Interview with Medeia Cohan, author of Hats of Faith

As a mother of a small child growing up in a complex world, teaching tolerance is part of my educational priorities. Besides the personal examples from the family, and interactions with people and children belonging to other religions, books and movies are a good tool for teaching the lessons of tolerance. But finding the right books with a straightforward message is not always easy. A couple of months ago, I've been offered the chance to read and review a quality book about head-coverings in different religions, Hats of Faith. As I enjoyed the book, I wanted to further explore the topic, through an interview with the author, Medeia Cohan. Here is the result of our exchange, shared via e-mail. The title and inter-titles are my selection. 
Photo from the personal archive of Medeia Cohan (left). 

'There simply isn't enough diversity in books'

How did you decide to write Hats of Faith?

I never really decided to write this book, it sorted of decided on me, rather than the other way around.
I really just wanted to buy it for my son, but it didn’t exist. Normally with something like this I would have thought, “Oh well” or “Too “bad” and moved on with my life, but I just kept thinking how important it was, at this moment in time that a book like this existed. In this time of increased intolerance and faith and race based hate crimes, the world really needs something secular and factual and mainstream; something that wasn’t preachy and is beautiful to give children an early familiarity with head coverings.
The more I spoke about the idea with other parents, the more I kept hearing stories of children reacting badly or making embarrassing gaffs when they’d encounter someone in a head covering, like my neighbour’s 2 year old daughter who called a women in a grey niqab a ghost. I also heard stories from those who covered their heads about never seeing themselves in mainstream books and the impact that had on them.
Stories like these fuelled my belief that there simply isn’t enough diversity in books and children aren’t getting important interfaith and diversity education early enough. It’s the lack of these things that lead to fear and ultimately negative views of the unknown.
Motivated by a drive to make a difference and encouraged by other parents, I decided it was my job to write this book. Before I knew it I was in talks with my now publisher and long time friend Hajera Memon to bring this book to life.

What was the most challenging part of writing it?

A subject like this you are never going to make everyone happy but I wanted to do the best we possibly could to pull together generally agreed upon accurate information that we could stand proudly behind. This proved harder than I thought.
People are passionate and thus sensitive about their faiths. Getting the tone and information in this book right was a total challenge and we still occasionally get complaints. But on the whole I think people see the effort we’ve made and are supportive.
Writing this book was a huge and very time consuming responsibility and at times working with so many experts to get it right threatened to ruin the entire project. Something like this can only be done as a passion project as we’ll never financially cover the hours we spent researching and rewriting to get it just right without compromise.

The research took over a year...

I've read that the writing process took a long time, as the opinion of various religious experts was requested. How did this consultation process work?

The research for this book took just over a year and as I said, it was not an easy process. We made a commitment from the beginning to make sure that we were writing something as accurate as possible and to do that we need to consult with experts, faith leaders, curators and professors of theology from around the world. It was a grueling process where we’d write something based on loads of on and off line research and then send it out to experts from every faith and it would come back covered in red. And then we’d start again. It was truly painful, but in the end I’m proud of the work we did and the end result.

Projects for the betterment of future generations

What are your recommendations for anyone embarking on a journey writing about such a topic?

It’s so important that we realise these projects for the betterment of future generations, but this kind of thing will not make you money. You must do it because you believe in it and you need to see it reaslied, otherwise you’ll end up resenting how much time of your life it takes.

I’m proud of what we’ve achieved and overcome and I see the difference it’s making when we run workshops or parents or teachers post pictures on social media. I hope one day religious or race based persecution is a thing we read about and can’t imagine. And I don’t mind that it’s taken a huge part of the last few years of my life and eaten into my income because I love it and I believe in it.

What are your favorite multi-cultural sources of inspiration when it comes to children books?

At our house we read a lot of books on repeat. Some of the favs include:
The Colour of Us
Last stop on Market Street
Ganesh’s Sweet Tooth
The Journey
Hanukkah Oh Hannukkah

What are your next writing plans?

Oh god, I can't even think past this project at the moment. We've just finished our FREE Interfaith Education Kit and are embarking on our first UK wide workshop  tour. That is currently consuming every minute of my thoughts.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Book Review: Sophia of the Silicon Valley by Anna Yen

Meet Sophia, a 20-something young girl, no Ivy League graduate, comfortably living in the fancy home of her parents, trying to boost her career. Her pushy Taiwanese mother really hopes that along the way she will maybe find some nice career-oriented partner and she will give up her professional dreams for turning into a dedicated staying-at-home wife. But plans are not supposed to happen anyway, not in this story.
Sophia ends up working in top-notch company, ending up giving her time, life and health too for achieving business plans and communicating to strange CEOs, some of the many bizarre successful creatures of the Silicon Valley. References to Pixar or Tesla are pretty obvious, and the writer herself has her own bunch of experience in this field. 
And the story goes on, with Sophia building her own path, finding a nice doctor boyfriend and climbing to the top, one crazy experience at a time.
The story has many useful thoughts about relationships in the era of women with full succcessful careers, with good examples of how to deal at work with crazy difficult people, meditation on life and startups. The new working relationships and environment are definitely changing not only the economy, but are also a challenge from the point of view of the human resources and relations perspective. Through Sophia's interactions the reader not necessarily familiar with this - sometimes unhealthy - lifestyle can get a good glimpse of the Silicon Valley gold digging fever. 
With a very good intriguing start, the story goes on slow-paced, turning around Sophia and her fast-forward life. The character in itself is likeable, crazy as a bat sometimes, with a colourful way of answering to challenges and an interior life of her own too, but when it comes to complexity, I would expect more details and a different way of reflecting the challenging facts she is exposed too. More than once, I had the feeling that she is over-exposed to way too many things - friendship challenges, dramatic health issues, family craziness - and still she remains completely plain, going on with her life as it is no tomorrow. I would expect Sophia to be as complex as her circumstances were.
Otherwise, Sophia of the Silicon Valley is a pleasant weekend or holidays read, either or not you are part of this corporate world. Sometimes it is good to know well in advance if your envy for a certain kind of glamour is reasonable or not.

Rating: 3 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Monday, April 2, 2018

On Motherhood in the Current Era: The Baby Plan, by Kate Rorisk

Three women of different ages, middle-class, faced with the challenges of pregnancy and all what it involves, from the baby shower to the obsessive planning of every single details of the delivery - or not. It could be you, it could be me, it could be any of us. Thinking pregnancy and therefore motherhood changed not only from the point of view of the medical facilities offered, but also from the way in which women approach it. Mostly, working women, with a career unfolding or in the making, with or without a stable partner. 
Nathalie, Lyndi and Sophia: three women with three different destinies, two of them half-sisters, with destinies inter-wined. In a very lively, page turning way, Kate Rorick creates situations and tell stories which besides the easy-going chick-lit side, make you think a bit more about what exactly you need to keep in - and out - of your mind when it comes to waiting for a baby. Sometimes, we just expect everything to be pastel clear and go as smoothly as an app, when in fact, reality may have its own rules and by far more interesting human challenges. 
Overall, it is an easy read but that makes you think and while enjoying the reading, keep you connected to a bigger picture about our way too entertaining life styles. I really loved the diversity of characters: from the middle class, slightly OCD teacher Nathalie, to the ambitious Maisey, or the sensitive step-mother Kate. Women characters are the most defined and most of them a good example of strong, independent women courageous to face their daily surprises of more or less planned pregnancies. 
Obviously, there is a lot more in the book than pregnancies and although slow-paced, there are a lot of action-catching events taking place. 
Recommended as a weekend/holidays/long trip lecture for quality readers looking for a relaxing yet insightful read.

Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review