1. Bright cheery colors and a big shot of joy are just what we need to counter the winter doldrums.
“Daydream painter and magic maker” Julia Eves is a folk artist based in Mississippi who draws her inspiration from nature, her love of animals, and the rich culture of the South.
Julia uses mixed media and bright acrylics to create her pieces, which pulse with life and energy. She paints on both canvas and wood panels. Frida Kahlo is her muse and favorite person to paint.
2. New book alert: Released just last month is African Town: Inspired by the True Story of the Last African Slave Ship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters (G. P. Putnam’s Sons BFYR, 2022):
Chronicling the story of the last Africans brought illegally to America in 1860, African Town is a powerful and stunning novel-in-verse.
In 1860, long after the United States outlawed the importation of enslaved laborers, 110 men, women and children from Benin and Nigeria were captured and brought to Mobile, Alabama aboard a ship called Clotilda. Their journey includes the savage Middle Passage and being hidden in the swamplands along the Alabama River before being secretly parceled out to various plantations, where they made desperate attempts to maintain both their culture and also fit into the place of captivity to which they’d been delivered. At the end of the Civil War, the survivors created a community for themselves they called African Town, which still exists to this day. Told in 14 distinct voices, including that of the ship that brought them to the American shores and the founder of African Town, this powerfully affecting historical novel-in-verse recreates a pivotal moment in US and world history, the impacts of which we still feel today.
Appropriate for ages 12 and up, this book has received **starred reviews** from School Library Connection, Booklist and BookPage, who said, “African Town is a book that should be both taught and treasured.”
From Kirkus: “The highly personal stories in verse reveal the different aspects of this illegal trade and the impact on both the Black enslaved people and the White crew members. . . The Africans’ attempts to hold true to their home cultures and traditions—most were Yoruba—as they try to adapt to their new reality come across most powerfully. Enhanced by rich backmatter, this is a strong addition to literature about slavery.”
This is the first novel-in-verse by this dynamic duo. They previously collaborated on Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship, (which I reviewed here), and, Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z, both fantastic. African Town is the perfect read for Black History Month.
Congratulations to “Poetic Forever Friends” Irene and Charles! You are unstoppable!
3. Have you heard about American Girl’s first ever Chinese American ‘Girl of the Year’ doll? Meet ski lover Corinne Tan, a native of Aspen, Colorado, who loves training her rescue puppy Flurry.
What’s especially exciting is that Corinne’s books were written by award winning Virginia author Wendy Wan-Long Shang!
Get to know American Girl’s 2022 Girl of the Year, Corinne Tan, in this first book in her series! When the powder’s fresh, Corinne snaps on her skis and takes a deep breath of crisp mountain air. She and her sister, Gwynn, have always called Aspen home, but moving in with their new stepdad, Arne, changes everything. Sure, there are perks — like a fancy bedroom and a new puppy named Flurry whom Corinne trains to do search and rescue. Still, Corinne feels uncomfortable in her new family and hides the truth from her best friend, Cassidy. The facts finally come out in the most disastrous way, and Corinne runs to the only place left that feels like home. But when she becomes lost on the mountain, will her survival skills be enough to save her?
In this second book in her series, Corinne Tan worries about how she’ll keep up Flurry’s training in the summer. Luckily, she meets a dog trainer named Kim who agrees to become her mentor if she and Flurry can master some new skills. But learning them turns out to be harder than Corinne expected because of interference from her sister, Gwynn. Corinne thinks moving into her own room is the answer–that is, until Mom shares a huge update that will change their family forever. Suddenly, their annual camping trip becomes Corinne’s last hope for mastering new skills with Flurry. But when disaster strikes during the trip, Corinne and Flurry’s training turns into a real rescue mission–with her family’s safety at stake.
With the recent rise of anti-Asian hate, American Girl created Corinne to be a positive role model young people can look up to and learn from — as we all work towards a world where everyone is treated fairly and with respect.
In an interview posted at the AG site, Wendy said:
“What I really hope is that there is some part of Corinne’s story that makes readers feel seen, whether it’s because they are Asian American, or they love skiing, or because they’re part of a blended family. I think when readers feel seen, they realize that they matter and their experiences matter, and that they are meant to be the stars of their own stories! I also hope that all the readers who meet Corinne are inspired to go outside and take in the beauty of the outdoors, a place of renewal and wonder and comfort.”
In these stories, Wendy also wanted to show the power of love and its ability to make us “unexpectedly brave” and to “move us to forgive.” It’s all about embracing family change, sharing your feelings, standing up to racism and tackling problems one step at a time.
Visit the American Girl site for more info about the Corinne doll, books, and accessories.
Big Congrats to Wendy and illustrator Peijin Yang!
4. Check out the Lunar New Year page at KiBooka (a site spotlighting children’s and young adult books by Korean Americans (and Korean diaspora)). The page is all about what’s new for 2022 – just published or soon-to-be released titles, upcoming events, awards & honors, reprints, articles, etc.
Highlights include Ellen Oh’s Finding Junie Kim, which received an Asian Pacific American Literature Award Honor, Paula Yoo’s From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement (YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Honor and many other accolades), a companion book to Erin Yun’s Pippa Park Raises Her Game (Alphabet Soup guest post here), three new books from Jaime Kim and three new books by Hyewon Yum, among other goodies.
Congrats to all with their good news!!
5. Speaking of Korean power, my latest musical obsession is BTS! I’ve never been a K-pop fan and I’m quite late to the party, but after finally familiarizing myself with all 7 members of the group, I finally get why they are currently the biggest band in the world.
BTS (translation: Bangtan Sonyeondan), aka Bangtan Boys, Bulletproof Boy Scouts, Beyond the Scene – have simply broken the mold and defy categorization. Since their debut in 2013 as primarily a hip hop group, they’ve evolved over the years to embrace diverse musical styles and genres, while steadily expanding their fan base (ARMY) and shattering all kinds of sales, chart, and attendance records along the way.
In this day and age of rampant racism, escalating anti-Asian hate, discrimination and xenophobia, how COOL is it that seven talented, humble, extremely hardworking, charismatic 20-something guys from South Korea are leading the charge with their socially conscious, inspiring, energizing, innovative music?
They’ve transcended the K-pop genre; rather than false idols, they’ve become “close friends” to their fans thanks to their brilliant and strategic use of social media, which makes them endearingly accessible, relatable human beings to people of all ages, cultural backgrounds and ethnicities.
They’re funny, unpretentious, and endlessly entertaining even when not performing (and they cook!). In fact, observing them in informal settings is crucial to understanding their massive global appeal (thank goodness for English captions). No big egos, no sense of entitlement, never taking anything for granted — quite refreshing in comparison to some American musicians. They’ve also redefined masculinity, and feel like a glimpse of the future – a future we’d all like to see and believe in, where every human being has a place.
If you’re not yet a fan, do yourself a favor and spend some time getting to know the seven different personalities (start with their YouTube channel). Each has something special to offer.
Marvel at the obscene number of views on some of their YouTube videos – in the tens or hundreds of millions. More than just a band, BTS represents what we all seem to be hungry for: positivity, respect, civility, humility, hope, kindness, brotherhood, pure joy.
Enjoy the official music video for “Butter,” which has been nominated for a 2022 Grammy (so far, almost 700 million views):
Here’s a beautiful ballad, “Life Goes On.” It’s the lead single on their fifth studio album, debuting at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was written to offer hope and healing during the pandemic.
6. New literary cookbook alert: Look what’s coming out March 8: Jane Austen’s Table: Recipes Inspired by the Works of Jane Austen by Robert Tuesley Anderson (Thunder Bay Press, 2022):
This beautiful collection of more than 50 recipes inspired by the novels of Jane Austen brings readers a sumptuous array of dishes that capture all the spirit and verve of Austen’s world and the Regency era, adapted and reimagined for the modern day. With recipes such as Charles Bingley’s White Soup, Box Hill Picnic Pies, General Tilney’s Hot Chocolate, and Donwell Abbey Strawberry and Rose Delice, you’ll be able to serve breakfast, prepare tea, go on a picnic, or sit down for a posh dinner in the same style as your favorite characters from Austen’s stories.
I already have several Jane Austen cookbooks and I’m happy to add this one to my collection. Anderson also wrote Recipes from the World of Tolkien, which came out in 2020 and which we featured in a previous Cool Things Roundup.
Now I want to reread Pride and Prejudice. 🙂
7. Hungry? I thought so. Beloved country music icon and philanthropist Dolly Parton has partnered with Duncan Hines on a new line of cake mixes and frostings inspired by her favorite family recipes.
I have always loved to cook and, growing up in the South, I especially love that authentic Mom and Pop kind of cooking . . . I am excited to launch my own line of cake mixes and frostings with Duncan Hines, bringing that sweet, Southern-style baking experience I enjoy to others.
Dolly’s Banana and Coconut cake mixes and Creamy Buttercream and Chocolate Buttercream frostings will hit grocery store shelves sometime in March. Len is a big coconut fan so we’ll be on the lookout for these.
Did you know that her literacy program, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, has sent out more than 100 million books to kids around the country? Also love that she donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in support of COVID vaccine research. Her donation helped fund the early critical stages of Moderna vaccine development. She is truly a national treasure for so many reasons, not the least of which are her accomplishments as a singer-songwriter, musician, actor, businesswoman and humanitarian.
8. New picture book alert (another good choice for Black History Month): Sweet Justice: Georgia Gilmore and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, by Mara Rockliff and R. Gregory Christie (Random House Studio, 2022):
An inspiring picture-book biography about the woman whose cooking helped feed and fund the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956, from an award-winning illustrator.
Georgia Gilmore was cooking when she heard the news Mrs. Rosa Parks had been arrested — pulled off a city bus and thrown in jail all because she wouldn’t let a white man take her seat. To protest, the radio urged everyone to stay off city buses for one day: December 5, 1955. Throughout the boycott — at Holt Street Baptist Church meetings led by a young minister named Martin Luther King, Jr.– and throughout the struggle for justice, Georgia served up her mouth-watering fried chicken, her spicy collard greens, and her sweet potato pie, eventually selling them to raise money to help the cause.
Here is the vibrant true story of a hidden figure of the civil rights movement, told in flavorful language by a picture-book master, and stunningly illustrated by a Caldecott Honor recipient and seven-time Coretta Scott King award-winning artist.
I have this on hold at the library and am looking forward to reading it, since I thoroughly enjoyed Mara’s, Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015). My interview with Mara is here, which includes her recipe for Sweet and Spicy Ginger Snaps. Don’t you love it when food plays an important role in historical events? 🙂
9. Attention Bird Lovers: Our favorite Vermont author-illustrator Ashley Wolff is celebrating 2022 with her fine feathered friends. For her “Year of the Birds: Art for Wildlife” challenge, she’s painting a bird portrait each day, then donating 20% of the sale proceeds to organizations supporting avian and wildlife conservation.
She does a different theme every month. January was “Backyard Visitors,” and for February, it’s “State Birds.” Each original painting is 5″ x 7″, done in gouache and watercolor on 100% rag paper, and sells for $85 including shipping.
Follow Ashley on Instagram or Facebook to see the bird of the day every day (she also posts a video showing her painting the portraits). Buy these paintings directly from her Etsy Shop. Thank you for doing this, Ashley!!
Our Swoon Tune this month is Steve Perry’s “Foolish Heart.” I can’t claim to be a big Journey fan, or even someone who’s diligently followed Perry’s solo career. But this song. I’d heard it on the radio and loved it for years without even knowing the name of the artist. Love the power, passion and rich tone of his voice, the way it builds and soars with emotion. I feel his struggle, his heartache, with every note. Perry has been dubbed “The Voice,” with some calling him a luminous singer, praising his countertenor vocal range (“golden voice,” “voice in a million”).
Perry co-wrote the song with Randy Goodrum, and it was included on his first solo album, Street Talk (1984).
Perry mentioned in an interview that the music video for “Foolish Heart,” with him sitting on a darkened stage in front of a boom mic in blue light, was an homage to Perry Como.
TAKE A CHANCE
BUTTER YOUR BREAD
*This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. When you purchase an item using a link on this site, Jama’s Alphabet Soup receives a small referral fee at no cost to you. Thank you for your support.
**Copyright © 2022 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.