Like many of you, I’m concerned about the future of America. With hate crimes against so many minority groups on the rise, things feel bleak. Our country seems to have forgotten how to treat each other with common decency and respect (if we ever really did that in the first place, which is debatable), and it breaks my heart. Which is why I’m sharing this book review today, as part of the National Day of Resistance. I want to do my part to resist casual hatred and bigotry by sharing a book full of multi-culturalism and understanding.
One of the rallying cries around social justice circles is that representation matters, and nowhere is that more important than in literature for children. Too often, the only stories told with black characters are set during either the civil rights era or slavery. Jewish characters are only seen in the Holocaust. We reduce these characters to stereotypes of struggle, rather than real people. It’s past time for these kids to see themselves in modern contexts and in stories that center their experience. Flying Lessons & Other Stories is a beautiful example of just that. The rare anthology for middle readers, this books collects stories by authors with a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, and that is reflected in the characters within.
All of these stories are realistic fiction (though one is historical, not contemporary), which I think serves the purpose of this book admirable. While I love to see more diversity in fantasy in science fiction, it’s also important for people (maybe especially kids) to see themselves as they truly exist, and to see how other people actually live. Not as stereotypes or problems, but as multi-faceted human beings.
But beyond representation and concept, these stories are eminently readable. I enjoyed every single one immensely. None of them felt like they were moralizing. All the kids felt very real, with strengths and weaknesses, and they all dealt with their problems in ways that felt plausible for children. And the stories are fun! Surprisingly, one of my favorites was the first in the collection, which is a story about basketball. It’s only surprising because I am not a sports fan, but De La Peña tells a great story about perseverance. Which is to say, these are stories that transcend subject.
While this book is targeted at kids, it’s very enjoyable as an adult, as well. I genuinely adored every single story in here! I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to see more diversity in their reading material, and in their authors.