My Bio

My Bio
My name is Sharon Levin and I've been reviewing children's literature for 20 years. I founded and run the Bay Area Children's Literature List. My biggest passion (outside my family) is getting books into the hands of children and teens. My favorite thing is getting non-readers to realize that they're readers. I also LOVE t-shirts that have to do with books or literature. As soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll have a click through on the above picture so you can see my entire collection (and where to get them).

April 26, 2020

An Interview with Jerry Spinelli (from MANY years ago)

Hey all!

I'm baa-aack (kind of).  I thought this Jerry Spinelli interview was already on Life, Literature, Laughter, but it wasn't.  I was thinking about it, since the movie Stargirl just started showing on Disney +

I loved talking with Mr. Spinelli and his adoration of his wife, Eileen (whose book, Naptime, Laptime, I just recommended to a friend for his mother-in-law's first Mother's Day as a grandma)

Soooooo, many, MANY years later, here's my interview with Mr. Jerry Spinelli (note, I went on the Google to see how long they've been married at this point, so that number is accurate for 2020)


Newbery Award winning author Jerry Spinelli does not believe in  sequels.  “Let wherever it (the book) ends reverberate.”  he says.

And so it was with Stargirl, his bestselling YA novel about 17 year old Stargirl Caraway.

That book, told from Leo’s (her boyfriend) point of view ends with Leo at 33 and neither he nor we knowing what has happened to Stargirl, although it is pretty clear that she is ready to reenter his life.

It was a perfect ending for a lyrical, magical book

So, what happened?

Spinelli has never written a sequel before and had no intention of writing one for Stargirl (which does make for some inconsistencies between the two books).

The idea came from the same place that many of his inspirations do, his beloved wife, author and poet, Eileen.

“Why don’t you put out a Stargirl journal?”  she said on the way home from the movies one night.  “You could also write a ‘giftie’ little holiday book related to Stargirl, something that might be at the register, rather than in the book section.”

Jerry Spinelli thought that was a wonderful idea, but that that since it was a Stargirl book, the holiday should be Solstice, not Christmas.

But, as for many writers, Stargirl had her own ideas.  Much as he tried to “fulfill the assignment” his words kept gravitating toward a story.  Love, Stargirl  takes place a year after Stargirl and is told entirely from Stargirl’s point of view, and, yes, Solstice figures prominently in the story.

Let’s talk to Jerry Spinelli about Stargirl and his life

SL:    Stargirl Changes her name, did you ever want to change yours?

JS:  My nickname was ‘Spit’ and I didn’t like that.  I tried to change it in college, announcing one day that I wanted to be called Weasel, it only lasted a week or two.  Apparently you can’t give yourself a nickname, the world calls you what it wants to, as I showed in Maniac Magee.

SL:  But doesn’t Stargirl choose her name?

JS:  Yes, she is successful in naming herself.  I guess I took both sides of that same issue in separate books.

SL:  Will Stargirl change it again?

JS:  I’m not sure, but I believe she likes this one.  For Stargirl, it’s never been a matter of “It’s time to change my name.” she simply does it when the time is right.

Spinelli is quite defensive when asked about the criticism that Stargirl is not a realistic portrait of a teenage girl.

JS:  Stargirl is very real.  I know her, I married her”  He continues, “What kind of a sad thing does it say about us that such a person seems out of reach?  We’re reaching out to that flying hem of her long flowing skirt. We can reach her, we just have to run a little faster, be a little better.

SL:  Would you have taken Stargirl’s side in high school?

JS:  I was not courageous enough.  Leo reflects my high school persona.

SL:  What makes Eileen Stargirl?

JS:  Stargirl’s ‘happy wagon’ (where she adds or subtracts stones based on her happiness level) is straight from Eileen’s life.  One of the more prominent issues in Stargirl is a surprising lack of appreciation for Stargirl’s kindnesses.  I have seen that over and over again with Eileen.

         Eileen gives gifts for no reason, she connects with everyone even those she doesn’t know well.  Once, when Eileen was younger, she worked as a maid in a hotel.  She would sometimes leave a little drawing as a personal touch.  She was told to do her job ‘as written’ but it went against her nature to do so.  She continued to leave the drawings and was fired.

Spinelli’s adoration of his wife of  forty three years (with whom he has six children and twenty one grandchildren) is palpable.  No wonder Stargirl comes through so clearly in his books.

He is also thrilled that his books (so, in reality, Eileen) have inspired Stargirl societies.  The first one was in Kent, Ohio.  They meet every month and do ‘Stargirl things’.  They throw spare change on the sidewalk, slip encouraging, anonymous notes into lockers at school, invite accomplished women to speak at their meetings and hold inner beauty contests.

“They’re an example of what can be done, “ says Spinelli, “this is a legacy of which I’m prouder than the book itself.”

So, does it work to have a sequel to Stargirl?  Any time spent in Stargirl’s world is time well spent.

Will Leo and Stargirl end up together?  One only has to look at Jerry Spinelli and his Stargirl to know the answer.

January 12, 2019


I was thrilled to receive a review copy of ATTUCKS! OSCAR ROBERTSON and the BASKETBALL TEAM THAT AWAKENED A CITY by Phillip Hoose.

Children's and YA literature often introduces me to parts of history I know nothing about (i.e. Dreamland Burning, My Mother The Cheerleader, Crossing Ebenezer Creek and anything by Ruta Sepetys).  It was Hoose's own Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice that introduced so many of us to this brave young woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus (nine months before Rosa Parks)

I appreciate that in Attucks, Hoose owns his whiteness and lack of exposure (in his youth) to People of Color, specifically African Americans.  He admits that he thought the name of the all black high school in Indianapolis was Christmas Attucks (which is a terrible reflection on the U.S. History being taught at his 99.9% white high school across the river in Speedway, Indianapolis).

So, as a white woman and ex middle school girls' basketball coach (my main role was to repeat the other coach's instructions in my hard-to-ignore 'playground voice') I was very eager to learn about this team that forever changed high school basketball in Indiana.

Let's start with the positives (this is how book award committees normally work and I like that format).

The book focuses on Oscar Robertson, the star player for the Attucks team and considered "the greatest basketball player ever in Indiana."

Hoose met with Robertson when researching an article for Sports Illustrated.  "One scrap from that conversation inspired the book you're reading now."  (p. 3)

"You know," Oscar said, "when the Ku Klux Klan started our school, they really didn't understand what they were doing."

Hoose goes on from this starting point to do an amazing job telling the story of this young man, the school, the community and the state.  He puts in first hand accounts of the jaw-dropping ignorance and racism i.e. one little white boy who kept scratching an Attucks' cheerleader's arm and tasting his finger until she told him "It isn't chocolate, it's my skin, the same as yours. I'm just darker than you are." (p. 40)

He emphasizes the power of the KKK, specifically in the person of D.C. Stephenson who (accurately) stated, "I am the law in Indiana." (p.18)  Hoose's recounting of the opening of Crispus Attucks High School in 1927 through the winning, culture-changing basketball teams of the mid 1950's shines a light on a little known, little written about, chapter in Civil Rights History.

BUT, some language choices and errors jumped out at me, and if I (a 56 year old white woman)
saw them, there are probably other errors that will jump out at PoC.

Let's start with language.  Here is the description of our hero, Oscar Robertson, "... a tall, lean, gangly boy with large, slightly protruding eyes...." (p. 94)

Protruding eyes are often used in caricatures or mocking portrayals of African Americans, so it's a descriptor I would leave out unless Robertson had Graves' Disease and Hoose was listing symptoms.  To make this more disturbing (to me), there is a photo of Robertson on this page and the word 'protruding' is not even vaguely accurate, so why is it used?

Further in the book (p. 135) Hoose is talking about Attucks High School playing Muncie Central and the betting going on about the game.  he states, "It was a game over which a great deal of money changed hands--black dollars and white dollars.  Attucks games had long been heavily wagered, with racial prejudice driving many white fans to bet with their hearts rather than their heads against a black team."

I'm aware that what he is saying is that their emotions, specifically hatred and racism, had them making unwise bets.  However, being guided by one's heart normally has positive connotations.

There are some big inaccuracies or miscommunication in the text as well.

Hoose introduces the story of Bernard McPeak (p. 99) an African American man, who had '"applied for membership in the Indiana Officials Association" but he was rejected by a vote of 40-7 and Hoose writes, "The organization's president, Clayton Nichols, matter-of-factly explained the reason to a reporter: "It was because of his color." (p. 100)

Put like that, it sounds as if President Nichols is incredibly racist and supportive of the Association's decision.  In fact, the HEADLINE on p. 102 states:   REFEREES' PREJUDICE EXPOSED BY OFFICIAL OF ASSOCIATION!

In other words, President Nichols was incredibly angry about the vote and immediately called out the racism of a majority of his groups' members (Ah, if only a current organization would call out the racism of a majority of its members, *cough* GOP *cough*).

Is this a huge error?  Well, not huge, but it's an error that shouldn't have happened, given the correct information is in the PRIMARY SOURCE material in this very book.

On this same page (p. 100) Hoose states "The (Attucks) Tigers never saw a black referee." BUT, when we look at the primary source (newspaper article on p.103) it says "McPeak is certified by the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) and has worked a number of high school games here.  His latest assignment was the Attucks-Ladoga contest..."

I'm not sure why Hoose made these errors.  Is it to make the racism seem worse?  The bigotry is heinous and blatant already, so there's really not a need to attribute racism to a man who fought it (Nichols) or create a situation that didn't exist ("never saw a black referee").

All in all, ATTUCKS tells a fascinating story and I'm glad to have learned this history.  It disturbs me though, that I cannot truly trust all that I read, since it seems to me that care was not taken with the facts or language in this book.

November 5, 2018

Reaching out to Conservatives in My Life and Showing Up for Shabbat

Believe it or not, I do have Republicans in my life.  Not many, but some.  After the massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue, I felt that I would be complicit if I remained silent in the interest of friendship and/or family unity.  It's not that ANYBODY in my life has any doubts where I stand (I have been an outspoken liberal since I debated the death penalty with my mother when I was 7 years old) but I haven't directed my feelings straight at them.  I decided that needed to stop.

Here is what I sent (with an addition about the Kroger murders because I left the victims out, sigh):


I am not sure how to start this.  I know that I have friends and family in my life, people I love, who vote very differently than I do.  For the most part, we don’t discuss politics because we know it will lead to bad feelings and unchanged minds and hearts.

But…. I can’t be silent any longer. 

A man who was inspired by Donald Trump’s nationalistic (aka white supremacy) speeches, rhetoric and actions walked into a synagogue during services and opened fire.  He opened fire on people joyfully celebrating a bris (ceremony for 8 day old boys) and worshipping G-d.  He SLAUGHTERED people who had actually survived Hitler’s Germany.  He listened to propaganda from Stormfront, a HATEFUL white supremacist organization whose sole goal is to get rid of all non-Christian people and all people of color.  Donald Trump and the current Republican administration support these beliefs.  They support them in what they say, they support them by making not so subtle hand gestures (white power sign), they support them in saying THE DAY AFTER THIS MASSACRE that the media, specifically CNN are the ‘enemies of the people’

And, consider, these ‘enemies of the people’:  CNN, and prominent Democrat politicians (a majority of whom are people of color) were targeted by a rabid, pro-Trump white supremacist bomber last week.  Trump’s response?  He held a rally and made jokes.  JOKES!!!

Last week we also had a shooting at a Kroger Grocery store in Kentucky.  The white shooter originally tried to get into a Black church, but the doors were locked, so he went looking for targets at the grocery store.  He found them and murdered Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Lee Jones, 67. When confronted by a white man with a gun, the shooter, Gregory Bush literally said “Whites don’t kill whites” and walked away.

Look, none of you are dumb.  Honestly, I don’t have dumb friends (or family).  There is NO WAY to look at this spread of open hatred and violence and not see that the Republicans from the top down are fomenting this environment in our country.

You love me, Ismayil and our daughters, We love you and yours.  Please realize that my daughters are afraid for their lives because they’re Jewish. Realize also that they are afraid to go to temple, but too brave to let the bastards win.  This is not an imagined threat.  This is not hyperbole.  This is the present day United States.  We don’t have to be this way and we should NOT be this way. 

I am reaching out to you to do the right thing.  To stand by the principles of the country I still love.  Please, PLEASE cross the aisle to vote for Democrats this election.  The lives of those we love literally depend on it.

Much love,


p.s.  I am ashamed that the first time I cried about the murders since 2016 was this Saturday.  I have been angry about other deaths, but I have not cried.  That is my own shortcoming.  That I was not inspired to write until ‘my people’ were slaughtered is something I have to deal with, and I will do better. 

p.p.s.  Please do feel free to share this letter as you see fit (but please do not forward it to those who will respond with threats)

So, in my ever hopeful way, I thought that there was no way, NO WAY any decent person could still support the present administration.  It saddens and terrifies me to realize how wrong I was.

Of the friends and family members I sent this to, I only heard back from three. Well, to be fair, I only sent it to seven e-mails, like I said, I'm not close to a LOT of Republicans (two of whom are husband and wife) so that's actually a good return rate. Two of my friends said that they are Dems and are voting Dem (which honestly surprised me with one of them, but it was a happy surprise).

I heard from one family member (part of the married couple) who 1) was puzzled that I didn't like Trump, after all, his daughter is Jewish. 

Can I tell you how much this argument pisses me off?  My standard come back is that most misogynists are in relationships with women.  But honestly, look at what Trump says and does:   "globalist" is a white supremacist dogwhistle meaning Jew and Trump uses it all the time. 

and 2) He (my family member) can't cross the aisle because the Dems in Florida (where he votes) are too left wing for him. 

So, the Dems are too left wing, but the GOP candidate for governor calling his African American opponent a 'monkey' sits okay with you?

As I said before, this saddens and terrifies me.  How can thinking people of good intent, good faith (this man considers himself a staunch Catholic) support such heinous behavior?  This is why I'm so frightened, that people that I would (or perhaps I should change that to would HAVE, as in 'past tense') consider good human beings are so comfortable voting to support conditions that have correctly been pointed out as being very close to pre-concentration camp behavior in Hitler's Germany?

BUT, on the other hand, I went to #ShowUpForShabbat on Friday night and Saturday morning.  We had many non-temple members/people of other faiths, show up to support us.  In the beginning of the Friday night service, I noticed that many of us were jumpy.  We startled at noises, we looked around nervously.  But soon, we were singing V'SHAM'RU and toes were tapping at the fast parts and joy became part of the service.  We felt the love and support in the room and we were united.  Fear went away and strength and love came in.

We also mourned, and we mourned together.  Our rabbi had congregants with ties to the Pittsburgh area read a short eulogy for each of the people killed at the Tree of Life temple.  We sang

Proverbs 3:18, 17; Lamentations 5:21
Etz chayim hee
lammachazikim bah,
v'tom'cheha m'ushar.
D'racheha dar'chey no'am,
v'chol n'tivoteha shalom.
Hashivenu Ad0nay,
elecha v'nashuva.
Chadesh yameynu k'kedem.

It [the Torah] is a tree of life
to those who cling to it,
and its supporters are happy.
Its ways are pleasant ways,
and all its paths are peace.
Return us, Ad0nay,
and we will return.
Renew our days as before.
Baruch Atah, Ad0nay,
0hev ammo, Yisra'El.

Blessed Y0u, Ad0nay,
L0ver of Y0ur people, Israel.
and, in doing so, we unified with Jews and all good people who were mourning with, and supporting, us at this first Shabbat gathering after the horrific event.

It helped.  It doesn't fix everything, it doesn't mean that hatred is not incredibly strong in our country right now, but it does help to know that many, many, MANY good people are linking arms (literally or figuratively) and pushing back.

With that in mind, I am holding out hope for tomorrow.  For good people to speak out and to stand strong against racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and Anti-Semitism.

As Annelies Marie Frank said:

It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.

October 26, 2017



Last week I got to work the Hillary Clinton signing at the bookstore where I work (yes, I begged for the opportunity, you may have noticed I’m a bit of a fangirl woman).

I worked the book table (meaning after people went through the line to meet her, we had signed books waiting for pick up) and as I watched and talked with the people coming out, I got angrier and angrier. 

Why?  Because of mainstream media’s ENDLESS insistence that Hillary didn’t ‘click with voters’ or ‘didn’t inspire passion/enthusiasm’ (or UPDATE: There wasn’t ‘joy’ in her campaign, sigh, time to STFU Joe Biden)

Let me tell you what I saw.   I saw well over a thousand people (there would have been more, but it was a ticketed event and it sold out in 30 minutes after going on-line).  I saw children, women, men, and gender queer people wearing Hillary shirts, buttons, stickers and in a couple of cases, jumpsuits made of fabric with Hillary faces all over them.

I saw people shaking in excitement as they waited in line, people in tears before meeting her, while meeting her, after meeting her.  People bringing their daughters and telling Secretary Clinton how much she meant to them, especially as parents of girls.

I listened to the African American man outside singing (beautifully), My Girl, but changing the words to My President.

So, what did I see?  I saw passion, I saw enthusiasm, I saw LOVE.

Who did I see it from? (not just at this event, but in my life and on social media) I see (saw) that the love, adoration and respect for Hillary comes mainly from People of Color, Women, the Differently Abled, the LGBTQIA community etc. AKA  The Overlooked/Ignored/Condescended to/Denigrated Communities. 

Hillary Clinton and her run for the presidency means so much to so very many.  Her struggles as a woman in a man’s world (and yes, that’s how it’s treated.  Look at the passes given to Trump and Sanders – while Clinton was under a microscope for EVERYTHING).

99.99% of us who voted for Clinton will not run for president, but I would say 99.99% of us can relate to being cut down, ignored, patronized, in addition to having to do everything in ‘high heels and backwards’ to be given 1/10th of the credit that white cis heterosexual men get.

Hillary Clinton walks the walk and those of us who spend our lives dealing with bullpucky know what the real deal looks like.

So, let’s be clear Mainstream Media,  HILLARY INSPIRES JOY, ENTHUSIASM, LOYALTY, AND LOVE. (and you can quote me on that)


P.S. Did I get a Hillary moment?  YES! She came in the door where I was working and when she spotted my t-shirt (photo above), she gave me that beautiful wide eyed grin and said “I LOVE your t-shirt!” I told her that I loved her (I do) and we had a lovely, warm two handed handshake as I thanked her for everything she has done.

September 25, 2017


 Nic Stone has hit the ground running with her debut novel Dear Martin, the story of Justyce McAllister, an African American teen boy, who is SO MANY things, but much of the world wants to see him in only one way.

 I am so pleased and honored that Nic Stone took the time to answer my questions.  I cannot praise Dear Martin highly enough. It is brilliant and heartbreaking.  It is thought provoking and it is infuriating.  It is fiction, but it is not.   Dear Martin needs to be on EVERY high school's Must Read list.

From Nic Stone's website: 
Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But do Dr. King’s teachings hold up in the modern world? Justyce isn’t so sure.

Q: It looks like you made up the names of the victims of police violence, i.e. Tavarrius Jenkins, was there a reason you chose to make them up rather than use real names?
A: I made the names up primarily out of respect for the families who, every morning, wake up to a world their loved one is no longer a part of. We’ve been talking a lot about *representation* in the book world, and how important it is to Get It Right, especially when writing an experience that isn’t one’s own, and I personally feel that’s an even BIGGER deal when referencing individuals who exist(ed) in the real world.
I was also very deliberate about the names I chose—Shemar, Tavarrius, Justyce as opposed to Jim, Bob, and Ted—because I knew no one would have a problem suspending disbelief when they saw the names I chose attached to news headlines involving police brutality. Which says a lot about the world we live in.
Q: How did you decide what situations (i.e. the school) to put Justyce in as the framework for his life and letters to MLK?
A: Well Jus is essentially a high school kid, and it was very important to me that his circumstances read that way. Oftentimes, when the name of a teenager becomes a hashtag (as of this interview, the most recent one was #JordanEdwards, a fifteen-year-old high school freshman who was shot in the head by a police officer while in the passenger seat of a car leaving a party), the actual life of the teen gets swallowed by the tragedy of the untimely death. Yes, we’ll get details here and there that fuel our sense of injustice (“Jordan was a straight-A student and standout athlete, who was beloved by his schoolmates…”), but the life actually lived has ended, so people don’t think too much about what it might’ve looked like.
That’s what I wanted to highlight with this book: the daily life of a seventeen-year-old African American boy in the thick of his senior year of high school. Trayvon Martin was seventeen. Jordan Davis was seventeen. Mike Brown was eighteen and killed eight days after graduating from high school.
And before their deaths, these boys were just… boys. Waking, eating, drinking, going to school, doing homework, playing video games, hanging out with friends, disagreeing with their parents, dealing with difficult people, applying to college, falling in love, turning their music up too loud and ruining their hearing…
That’s the stuff I wanted to highlight in this book.

Q: The conversations in the book are amazing, frustrating, irritating, insightful (just grab a thesaurus, I’m not done yet).  How many came from real life?  Are there some that you wish you had said in the moment? (I certainly saw things I wish I’D said to people.)
A: While the exact conversations are fictional, the circumstances and concepts they refer to—like stereotype threat and the Superpredator Myth—definitely come from real life. The fact of the matter is that this stuff is hard to talk about. People either don’t know how to articulate their thoughts/feelings, or they’re afraid to because of societal taboos. So the conversations were really designed to provide 1. language for these types of discussions and 2. insight into wildly different perspectives.
Hopefully, after reading the discussions in the book, people will be better prepared for these types of conversations.

Q: Weird question:  Did you have a photo of MLK above your desk that you looked at while writing the letters to him?
A: Ha! I didn’t, but he was constantly staring off into the distance from the cover of This book which was by my side for the duration of the writing since it was my main source of research. Highly recommend it, by the way.

Q: We ALL need a Societal Evolution Class.  Was it based on one you took or taught or do you just wish it existed?
A: I’ll confess that the *class* is me being a sneaky writer who needed a believable setting for difficult and atypical classroom discussions. After writing it, I definitely see the potential value in such a course and do wish it existed, especially at the high school level. (I volunteer as tribute to teach it!)

Q: So, SJ is brilliant, with the perfect cohesive, cogent argument.  Is she you? (she’s who *I* want to be).
A: So, SJ is… interesting. There are many things about her that are very Middle/High-School-Me: debate, athletics, and multiple school leadership positions, for example. But I definitely wasn’t as self-or-others-aware as she is. So I guess in a way, she’s teen and present-day me shoved into a seventeen-year-old Jewish girl, but with more snark and sass. (I have a deep and abiding disdain for sarcasm, believe it or not).

Q: I realized when I said I wanted to be SJ, that I had focused on the white girl.  I also realize SJ has to be white in order to have the situation with Justyce’s mom.  She is the main voice/face of Liberal thought (Justyce is living the situation, so I don’t think of him as the representative of Liberal thought - does that make sense?) So, does this make SJ a ‘white savior’?  I’m thinking of Chapter 7 in particular. 
A: I love this question, and I’m glad you asked it exactly this way. The short answer is no, I don’t see SJ as a white savior; I see her as an ally. 
The main difference between the two has to do with motivation: allyship is focused on breaking down systems of oppression simply because they’re wrong, whereas saviorism slips into a focus on individuals/specific groups and becomes about “helping” those who “can’t help themselves.”
I was very, very deliberate about SJ’s identifiers. She’s racially white, cisgender, heterosexual and upper-middle-class—all areas of overt privilege—because people are typically more open to hearing the perspectives of those they most easily identify with. The societal problems she points out in the book are common knowledge to most American Americans, but I had her point them out because I knew white readers would be more likely to listen to her than they would to a black character. But she’s also female and Jewish, both of which give her insight into marginalization. 

At the end of the day though, the most important things about SJ are that she sees injustice and she cares about changing it. Would that we ALL be a bit more like her, regardless or race, religion or otherwise.   

Nic, thank you so very much for your time, your heart, your voice.  Thank you for bringing Justyce McAllister and Dear Martin into the world.

Dear Martin will be released on October 17, 2017.  You can pre-order through Indie Bound, or just call your local independent bookstore. 

Visit Nic Stone at 

July 12, 2017


Ah, yet another instance of children's books making me smarter (and better at trivia games).  KATE WARNE: PINKERTON DETECTIVE by Marissa Moss, illustrated by April Chu (Creston Books, 2017) tells the fascinating story of the first female detective in the United States.

We've all heard of the Pinkerton Detectives, but I'm sure most of us have a visual of men in suits and hats, not a young woman in a corset (Note: this originally read corset and a bustle, but I checked with Marissa Moss and she informed me bustles were not worn at that time.  AGAIN, getting smarter through children's lit).

At first, Pinkerton was reluctant to hire her, he did not think it was work that a woman could do.  Kate was ready for his objections. "'s precisely the sort of thing a woman should do... As a woman, I can go places your male agents can't.  A criminal may confide in his wife or lady friend.  And those women will talk to another woman. Not to a man."

In 1856, the Pinkerton Agency was given The Adams Express Case, in which $40,000 was embezzled or stolen from pouches.  The pouches were all locked (numerous times) and no one person had all the keys,  so where had the money gone?

There were a couple of suspicions, but no proof, and how to get that proof when no one can find the money?

Well, I"M not going to tell you how it was done, you have to read the book for that!

I WILL tell you that the case could not have been solved without Kate's ideas and undercover work, so, not only was Kate the first female detective, she helped solve the case that made the Pinkerton Agency's stellar reputation.

To add to the depth of this book are the illustrations by April Chu.  As a non-artist, I am not quite sure how to describe the page layout, some are in thirds, some are split screen, all draw the reader further into the story. The end papers, filled with wanted posters and early versions of mug shots, get the story started as soon as the book is opened.

Honestly, I cannot recommend this book enough.  History, mystery, womenstry (sorry, I was on a roll) it's a fun, challenging (I couldn't figure out the mystery) and informative read.

June 13, 2017


 This post originally appeared in Her Campus, the UC Davis edition.  It is used with permission of the author (um, who is my daughter, #ProudMom)

“They must have made a mistake." This is the first thought I have when something goes well in my life. Whether it’s a good grade on a test, an internship, or organizing something important, I don’t think about the hours I put in studying or the effort I put into my application. The imposter phenomenon, also known as Imposter or Fraud Syndrome, was first described in 1978 by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD. Clance defines imposter phenomenon as a phenomenon in which people who have been successful by “external standards” feel as though their success has occurred due to luck, fluke, or “great effort.” People who resonate with Imposter Syndrome believe that it will be found out that they do not have what it takes to complete a task, feel a need for everything to be perfect, and often feel anxiety and depression throughout the process of completing tasks. They overthink everything and are afraid that people will discover this. I definitely recognize these feelings within the experiences of my own life and mental health.

Clance developed the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale (CIPS). Although this scale is not validated for official diagnosis, it can be used to see how one compares to others and has been used in peer reviewed research. The test is scored from 20-100 and can be found here if you are interested in taking it yourself. The higher the score, the “more frequently and seriously the Imposter Phenomenon interferes in a person’s life." I received a score of 67, which corresponds with frequently having imposter feelings. It is difficult for me to even admit that I frequently experience feelings of being an imposter. To admit so is to say that I think I am successful. The test is predicated on one being successful to a certain degree by external standards. By external standards and through other people’s eyes I can see that I am successful. I go to an amazing university, have done well, have the opportunity to write and have my words read. But many times I do not feel the least bit successful, continuing the cycle of feelings of being an imposter.

Over the years, this has damaged and heavily impacted my mental health. I constantly compare everything I do with the highlight reels of those around me. I feel fake and like I am going through the motions of life without actually being able to take the time to step back and enjoy the situations I find myself in. I worry about what will happen ten years from now and imagine situations where someone will come up to me ask me why I am there, what gives me the right to be here?  But with the recognition that these are valid feelings, I have come to work through them and cut myself more slack. If you recognize these circumstances within your own life, I want you to know that it is possible to work through. It is very common, especially among women college students, and you should not feel that what you are facing is not important. There are many ways to get help, including, talking to someone about it, working on changing your thinking, and making realistic assessments of your abilities.
I wanted to talk about this because I feel like mental health is a stigmatized issue no one likes to talk about, even though most people deal with some mental health issue at some point in their lives. My personal mental health is not something I really like to discuss or bring attention to; a lot of people tend cover up their mental health issues. However I think the first step to destigmatizing these situations is to talk about it. It is important to me for people to realize that they are not alone in any circumstance they may face.
None of the images used belong to the author or Her Campus UC Davis.

May 9, 2017

We are here, We are here, WE ARE HERE!!!!


On November 9th I lost hope.

Our country had elected a racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, Anti-Semitic, self-described sexual predator. I had truly believed that our country would elect Hillary, the only question was how much of a landslide she would get.

I mean, come ON, look what Barack Obama said about her, "I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as President of the United States of America."

But,  this is not a rant about Tr**p and the racists who support him ('economic insecurity' my ass), this is about the reclaiming of hope, when I thought it was gone forever.

I wore the shirt in the photo on a recent trip to Barcelona.  I had ordered it for the trip, since I wanted to let the Europeans know that we did not all support this horrific administration (as we know, a MAJORITY of us do not).

The reactions were WONDERFUL!! I had women from all over the world taking pictures of the shirt, people thanking me for my vote, people defying my own stereotypical thoughts (although a couple fit stereotypes perfectly).

The first day I wore the shirt was to La Sagrada Familia and as we stood in line some young women (20 somethings) looked at my shirt and smiled and started talking to each other while looking at my shirt.  Since I am very shy (you're welcome for the laugh), I smiled and said, "Do you like my shirt?" and they started chatting with me and asked if they could take photos. 

Other women in line and at the entrance commented positively on my shirt.  I said to many, "I get positive feedback from women, not so much from men."  So, of course, within 30 seconds a young American man said, "I like your shirt." I smiled and told him he blew my statistics, but I was glad to have that happen.  He was travelling with a group of grad students from Stanford and he said, "Yeah, one of the women in my group ADORES Hillary." (as do I, as do I).

About a minute after that, an older, white man made sure to catch my eye and glared at me as he walked past me (I smiled beatifically back, I find that pisses people off more).  I heard him talking later, and he was definitely American.

I had such a great time meeting people and seeing their reactions to the shirt, that I wore it a second day (so 1/4 of the days we were there, I was 'repping' Hillary).  On that day we went to a restaurant where across the room, I saw a young woman (just pretty much figure when I say young, I mean 20's) who looked at my shirt, smiled and then spoke to the man next to her. They both looked, made eye contact with me and smiled.  I giggled and the spousal unit asked what I was giggling at, I said, "That woman and her friend like my shirt."  A group of Spanish men who were sitting near us at the bar said, "So do we, so do we."

At the Picasso Museum I had a group of women come up to me and say, "WE voted for her too." They were white, wealthy and Southern and I would have put them in the Tr**p camp (yes, I am guilty of stereotyping).  Were they liberal?  Hell, no.  But they hated Tr**p and everything he stands for.  They were from Alabama and were incredibly angry at Sessions as well.  I told them to keep making phone calls and speaking up, that was our only hope.

And, here we are, back at that word, hope.

And why do I feel hopeful now?  The Democrats finally, FINALLY got a backbone and started speaking up.  Grassroots campaigns, taking the playbook from the Tea Party, started calling, texting, e-mailing and, most importantly, SHOWING UP at meetings with elected officials.

It takes EVERY Who in Whoville (yes, that's where the title of this post came from) to speak up, to let them know that WE ARE HERE (and DAMMIT we ARE here!!)

And as long as we speak up, hope is alive.


March 14, 2017

Let's Hear it for the Girls (and Women)! Part 1

It's Women's History Month and since I seem to actually be getting blogs out on time, I may be able to review some books while it's still March (no promises though).

Let's start with The Youngest Marcher:  The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton (Atheneum, Books for Young Readers, 2017)

Audrey was inspired by their friend Mike, who used to sit at their dinner table, say grace and talk about civil rights, while enjoying "hot rolls baptized in butter".  Mike would talk about segregation and that "An unjust law is no law at all." Audrey knew that meant that it was right to stand up to segregation and laws that forced her to use the back of the bus, never sit at the lunch counter, or drink from the 'white fountain'.

If you haven't guessed, 'Mike' is Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (Mike was the name given him at birth, his father was Mike Sr., Mike Sr. changed both their names to Martin Luther after the religious reformer).

Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and Reverend James Bevel called for protest at Monday night church services at Reverend Shuttlesworth's church.  The congregation would sing songs like We Shall Overcome and then congregants would give testimonies about how segregation and racism were affecting their lives.

At first, there was a call for 'filling the jails' with adult protesters, but adults were too afraid (and with good reason).  "Boss man will fire me! Landlord will evict me! Policemen will beat me!"

Reverend Bevel came up with a new idea, "If grown-ups won't do it, fill the jails...with children!"

Audrey immediately wanted to participate (keep in mind, she was 9 years old), and with her parents' blessing, she showed up two days later in a nice outfit (protesters should look nice) and with a game her father gave her and walked out in the street with all the other children.  She was the youngest one there, but she kept her head high and sang loudly "Ain't gonna le-e-t nobody turn me 'round, turn me 'round, turn me 'round."

Audrey and all the marchers were arrested that first day.  Prison was miserable, lonely (she was so much younger than the others), the bed was awful and the food was worse. 

BUT, children marched every day until by the 5th day the PRISONS WERE FULL! After a week, Audrey and the others were sent home.

Now, I love this book and I love learning about Audrey, but I do find the pages that follow the protest a bit simplistic. "No one else could be sent to jail. Everything had changed." 

It makes sense in a way, since this book is written for younger readers, so this is a good 'entry' book to the Civil Rights Movement.  However we do know that it wasn't this easy and even though Birmingham took the segregation laws off the books two months later (this is 1963), it didn't mean that African Americans had an easy time sitting at lunch counters, getting jobs, or, of course, voting.

Sadly, this book is even more timely, given that we are seeing a resurgence in voter suppression (specifically of voters of color).  The Youngest Marcher reminds us that battles are never over and that we all can (and MUST) speak up and take action when we see injustice in our world.

p.s.  As a DELICIOUS bonus, there is the Hendricks' family recipe for 'rolls baptized in butter'.

Further Reading:

We've Got a Job :The 1963 Birmingham Children's March By by Cynthia Levinson, (Peachtree Publishers)


March 7, 2017

CENSORSHIP! (or is it?)

 Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

                              First Amendment to the United States Constitution

Censorship has been at the top of the news recently.  

 We just had the ‘Milo Debacle’ at UC Berkeley which has a lot of liberals defending free speech.   (On a semi-side note, I truly believe that those 100 ‘demonstrators’ were Milo plants, stirring up trouble to get Milo sympathy and air time on mainstream media, sadly, it worked).

I’m liberal, I love free speech,  I also believe that I get to use speech to fight hatred, bigotry, ignorance, etc.  I also know that the First Amendment is about the GOVERNMENT restricting my speech, not my fellow citizens restricting it and believe me, there are a LOT of people who would LOVE to restrict my speech (probably starting with my daughters).

So, is calling out a book, movie, t.v. show for racism, hate speech or homophobia (to just name a few), censorship?  Nope.  I don’t understand why people are so gung ho to say that bigots can speak up but for us to speak up against them is suppression (especially we liberals, we are so busy trying to make nice – yeah, ‘make nice’ got us a fascist President, but I digress)

Last fall I was at a publishers’ presentation night with various publishing reps showing us their top choices for Fall and Winter.   I started flipping through a book called Bad Children’s Books, a parody of the often treacly, old fashioned covers of the classic Little Golden Books for children.

Having the maturity level of an adolescent, I kept giggling and showing pages to some of my co-workers.  My favorite was Woody Wakes With a Woody, showing a little boy with, um, you know, a ‘tent’ when he wakes up in the morning. (I told you I had the sense of humor of an adolescent).

There was a raffle at the end of the evening and if your number was called, you could choose two books.  I immediately picked this one, with the intentions of reviewing it the next day.

I brought it to my Shut Up and Write group and before we hit the ‘shut up’ part, I was showing everyone this HILARIOUS book.  Then, I turned the page to an illustration of a little girl in a burka holding a ticking bomb and offering it to a little boy.  The title was Happy Burkaday Timmy!  We all gasped, we could not believe what we were seeing.

It was incredibly offensive, hurtful, shocking and, in my opinion (and I get to have one) unacceptable. 

I vowed immediately to write a scathing review of the book.  However, being the Queen of Procrastination, I didn’t do it immediately.  I did send it out to a couple of groups that I’m in. One is my own Bay Area Children’s Literature List and another is the Child Lit listserve.  Thank goodness people on those lists are not the procrastinors that I am and negative reviews were written and an outcry was raised.

The author, who writes under the pseudonym Robert Gackley (but, is children's book author/illustrator Bob Staake - this is public knowledge) asked Abrams (the publisher) to stop publication of the book.  It was not withdrawn from bookstores, but more copies would not be made once it was gone.

Gackley is quoted as saying "The book is clearly not being read by some in the way I had intended – as satire – and, more disturbingly, is being misread as the very act of hate and bigotry that the work was meant to expose, not promote. For this reason, I have asked Abrams to cease publishing the book.”

Let's look at this. Is Gackley owning that he crossed a line? No, he doesn't believe that he has.  Does he at least feel bad that it is hurting people?  No.  Look at his language "not being read..."  "being misread"  Let's call this what it is, it's  'blame the victim'  language.  It's "I didn't do anything offensive/wrong. It's those humorless people who aren't smart enough to read my book in the correct way."

As a woman and a Jew, I can tell you that this is what ALWAYS happens when 'jokes' are made about a gender, race, religion etc.  It's not that the joke is offensive, racist, bigoted, sexist etc.  it's that the offended person just 'doesn't have a sense of humor'.

Or as Abrams says “taking elements of the book out of context and failing to recognise it as an artistic work of social satire and comic parody”.

Again, blaming the humorless victims.  'ARTISTIC work?!?!" so now, those of us who are offended are just uncouth as well as humorless. Wow....

Abrams also released this statement:

“At Abrams, our books and our publishing house have never, nor will ever, stand for bigotry or hatred. Those misrepresentations, aspersions, and claims surrounding the book, and the attempts to promulgate them, fly in the face of the values that our company and our employees hold dear.”

Oh, okay, as long as you say that you don't stand for bigotry or hatred, I should believe you.  Hmm, do you also think I should believe Trump when he says that he's not Anti-Semitic and that his Executive Order is not a Muslim ban?

Just saying it doesn't make it true Abrams.

Recently, Simon & Schuster has come under fire for giving Milo (see above) a quarter of a million dollar advance for a book he hasn’t written yet.  Milo is a dangerous hatemonger who incites violence against transgender people, among others. 

The publishing/literature world blew up.  Some saying How DARE Simon and Schuster do this? Others saying,  CENSORSHIP to those who objected.

Let’s visit this again.  It is not censorship to disagree with the contents of a book or movie and to call out that book or movie for its racism etc.  To question a publisher for publishing/promoting racism and bigotry is not only acceptable, it's necessary.

Note: Since I wrote this, S&S has cancelled Milo's book since he came out in favor of pederasty.  I appreciate they did this, but they also sent the message that transphobia, racism and doxxing your  critics (Milo puts personal information about his critics out on the internet, thereby putting them in danger from his followers) are COMPLETELY ACCEPTABLE.  

Again, especially at this terrifying and unsure time in our country's history, it is our duty to speak up, to shine a light on bigotry and hatred. 

To read more, I HIGHLY recommend these blog posts that really nail the issues:

And, this article has some brilliant thoughts, stating the issues so much better than I can: