Monday, June 19, 2017

Flying Lessons & Other Stories, edited by Ellen Oh

In this anthology, Ellen Oh presents 10 short stories, all written by authors whose work we already know and admire for their honesty and integrity, not to mention their talent, and for their belief in the We Need Diverse Books movement Oh began just a few years ago in response to the underwhelming number of books by diverse authors that are being published. 

The title of the anthology, Flying Lessons, comes from the story by Soman Chainani, author of the School for Good and Evil series, by the same name. A shy young Indian boy is traveling through Europe with his grandmother, a rather colorful women who insists on wearing a couture dress, red stiletto heels and a white fur coat to the beach after outfitting her grandson, Santosh, in a tiny striped Speedo. She has other things to do, so she deposits Santosh on a nude beach with the admonishment “make friends.” Santosh finds himself drawn to a boy about his own age, not sure why he finds him so attractive. But Santosh’s Nani may just understand him better than he understands himself. She is like a (grand)mother bird teaching her young that he is meant to soar, to be who and what he is by nature, and the European trip is her flying lesson.

And so it is with all the stories in this anthology - each story features a young main character who has stood on the margins of society until they come into their own and take off. For instance, in Matt de la Peña’s “How to Transform an Everyday, Ordinary Hoop Court into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium,” a smart 8th grader knows what to expect when he decides to play basketball with the best at Muni Gym during summer vacation- to be told that he’s too young, too light, too short, too skinny, too Mexican. At the end of summer, he definitely does leave his mark on the basketball court, but what he learns off the court is the most important lesson of all.

In “The Difficult Path,” Grace Lin takes the reader to long ago China, where Mrs. Li promises to educate the female child, Lingsi, she has just bought. Though a servant to the family, Lingsi turns out to be a formidable student, unlike Mrs. Li’s lazy, uninterested son FuDing. Eventually, when no one will marry FuDing, it is decided that Lingsi will be his bride. But fate has another path for Lingsi - and all because she can read - and what a path it is.

The last story in this collection is called “Sometimes a Dream Needs a Push” by Walter Dean Myers. Chris knows his father’s dream was for him to become an athlete and follow in his footsteps onto the basketball court. And although an auto accident has left Chris in a wheelchair, it does not keep him off the court. Chris plays in a wheelchair league, but his dad seems to have trouble accepting it. When his dad must take him to a game, things change. Slowly, a dream comes true - but whose dream?

As a rule, I’m not a big fan of short stories. I like the depth and meatiness of a novel. Besides, when a collection of stories is put together, it’s a sure bet that not of them are going to be good. But, Flying Lessons sounded just too good to pass up. After all, some of my favorite authors have contributed to this anthology and, to a teacher like myself, I know how important their diverse characters and variety of themes are for  the young readers who, after all, will shape the future. And I wasn’t disappointed reading Flying Lessons - the stories have  substance, the characters are well developed and the themes are universal, and each one is unique. 

There is a short biography of each author at the end of the book, plus a short history of why and how the We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) movement began written by its founder and editor of this anthology, Ellen Oh. After reading it, you may want to refresh your reading of Walter Dean Myer’s New York Times article “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” written shortly before his death, an article which he ends with the exhortation "There is work to be done." And finally, publishers are beginning to listen to that.

The stories in Flying Lessons are aimed at middle grade readers, but could certainly be read and enjoyed by high school kids and adults.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

1 comment:

  1. I don’t often read short stories but these certainly sound interesting. Thank you for telling us about them.


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