New books and old friends

Ahhh, new books.  And cherished old friends, too.  While children are at sports events or we’re waiting at carpool, we sneak in some reading time.  (Cynthia also reads when her students take exams.  Her grading works begins after they finish.  Seems reasonable!)

There are lots of new books out this fall, and we chose two for our start.  One is for younger kids, the other is for teens. In addition, Cynthia revisited her favorite book from her teen years.  Check out our thoughts below!

Brave Red, Smart Frog

Author Emily Jenkins decided to take familiar fairy tales and write them as if she were hearing and retelling the stories again, in the oral tradition.  So this creative release in fall’s new books takes us into the woods with Red Riding Hood and off to the cabin with Hansel and Gretel.  Be warned:  Jenkins has not updated these traditional stories for modern sensitivities.  They are what they were before, but with a twist here and there, as if Jenkins came to your family campfire and told the tales over some yummy s’mores.

new booksJenkins cleverly includes a few choice phrases that weave from story to story.  Frozen forests have tree sprites, and sunny forests nurture bunnies and blueberries.  Red Riding Hood’s story makes a reference to Snow White.  The story of Toads and Pearls remind us of Cinderella, sort of.  And over and over you hear one person admonishing another:  “Don’t be a noodle.”

It’s a quick, captivating read for middle-school students, and we also think younger children would love hearing you read the stories to them. (But remember our caution about modern sensitivities!)  In the end, you may enjoy reading these stories as much as your children enjoy hearing them.

There once was a frozen forest so cold, you could feel it through the soles of your boots. It was a strange place where some kisses broke enchantments and others began them.



Landscape with Invisible Hand

This pick from fall’s new books is for older teens. We’ll start with a strong caution:  If this were a movie, it would be rated R for strong language and adult themes. We’re serious – please be careful. The language includes ‘all’ of the strong words, with ‘the word’ making more than one appearance. Adult themes not only include scenes of budding sexuality, but also a brief reference to porn.  Not what we expected.

Why did we choose the book in the first place?  Because it’s on a number of lists of fall’s best new books from reputable sources, including the Wall Street Journal, which Cynthia reads daily.  And this book is displayed front and center in Winston-Salem’s beautiful new central library downtown.

So that’s why we read it.  Why did we include it here, given our strong caution? Two reasons. First, you or your teen may see it on those lists of fall’s new books, and we can’t pretend it’s not there. Second, if your teen is ready to deal with the language and themes of this book, there is much to recommend in the story.

new booksAdam Costello and Chloe Marsh live in M. T. Anderson’s dystopian world where aliens, known as vuvv, came to Earth with a deal: Sell us your electromagnetic waves, and we’ll make our technology available to you. No one will have to work anymore.

Earth’s inhabitants soon learn that vuvv tech replaces virtually all previous human work, with a catch:  vuvv tech and other goods are priced in their currency, which most humans can’t afford. So Adam and Chloe are starving, along with their families. They agree to let vuvv residents watch them in a pay-per-view romance that starts as the real thing and quickly disintegrates into just the opposite.

What makes this book distinctive is the use of art as the vehicle through which Adam learns to express his thoughts and emotions, and ultimately through which he learns to take charge of his own fate. The author uses painting techniques from the Renaissance, the Hudson River School, and Jackson Pollack.  This theme and use of artistic techniques to explore mankind’s condition with the vuvv is compelling and beautiful. We enjoyed it, despite the graphic language.
The story itself is timely with its plays on social media, the explosion of AI-enabled technology, controversies about immigration, and stark economic inequality.  Lots of adult themes here, too.
If you have a teen who is ready for these themes, and especially if your teen likes to express themselves through art, then you may have fall’s best of the new books right here.

Though we love new books, we also love time with old friends

When Cynthia was 16, she read Alexander Dumas’ classic adventure, The Count of Monte Cristo.  It made such an impression that she read it several times again as a young adult.  Then the years of raising children began, and Cynthia didn’t touch the book for two decades.

Recently, Bill and Cynthia’s middle child turned 16, and Cynthia decided it was time to join Edmond Dantes on his adventures again.  Dumas published his epic tale of suffering and revenge in the 1840s, where it captured popular attention for its inspiration stemming from a contemporary case of wrongful imprisonment.

new booksThe young Edmond Dantes is envied by his colleages and so-called friends for his good fortune at such a young age.  Three men hatch a plan to throw Dantes in prison for a crime he did not commit.  Dantes meets a fellow prisoner and becomes educated in many dimensions, including the legend of a great treasure.  He escapes from prison in dramatic and unexpected fashion, finds the treasure, and begins his path of revenge.  He spends years and millions on this path, only to learn that revenge is not path of true life.

As we revisited this book, we were pleased to find that the adventures are packed into the pages so that it’s easy to keep reading and reading until………well, pretty late at night.  The type on some of the editions is pretty small and looked uninteresting to our son at first.  But once he gave that small type a chance, he was hooked.

“All human wisdom is contained in these two words – Wait and Hope.”




New books aren’t our only joy at A Step Ahead Academic Center

We love our jobs, because we get to meet and hang out with so many wonderful families and students, and work alongside such exceptional faculty.  Our private tutors are experienced educators who listen, nurture and guide students to gain confidence and skills.  That’s private tutoring with a personal touch.

Our jobs also give us great cover to read and enjoy and blog about children’s books for a purpose.  We’d be reading them anyway, just for the love of it.  But this is even more books

At A Step Ahead, we love reading, and we love all other aspects of learning and guiding and private tutoring as well.  We exist to help families and students grow and gain skills and confidence.  We work with students in pre-kindergarten through high school in all core subject areas.

If you’re interested in learning more about how a private tutor can help your student grow, contact us today.  There’s no obligation.  We’d love to hear your story and work with you to find the right path forward for your family.

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