Originally published in: 2017
What’s it about: Clayton Byrd loves nothing more than playing his blues harp with grandfather – Cool Papa Byrd. When Cool Papa Byrd passes suddenly Clayton struggles to adjust. He leaves home hoping to catch up with Cool Papa’s band of Bluesmen and finds an unexpected adventure on the way.
What made me pick it up: This is one of the finalists for this year’s National Book Award in Young People’s Literature – the winner will be announced tomorrow!
My favorite things: There’s a reason why Rita Williams-Garcia has won so many awards – she’s a masterful writer who never shies away from difficult topics. She takes a tale of love, loss, and grief and makes it thrilling but relatable. She weaves music throughout the story, making Clayton’s world come alive. No character is two dimensional, rather, she writes everyone as a full and complex person.
Who it’s great for: Middle-grade readers looking for a story that treats black boys as real people and not as stereotypes. Fans of Williams-Garcia’s other work. Readers interested in the roles music can play in life.
Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).
Originally published in: 2016
What it’s about: Professional musician and innovation consultant Peter Himmelman explains his methods for unleashing creativity and breaking free of “stuck thinking.”
What made me pick it up: I figured that if I was going to read about creative thinking, it couldn’t hurt to see what a professional musician and composer had to say on the subject.
My favorite things: Himmelman argues that there aren’t really creative and non-creative types. He explains the ways in which we can all learn to be more creative and improve communication – as long as we’re willing to commit. I love that he includes specific activities to encourage creative thinking at the end of each chapter. He provides concrete examples of when to use them and illustrates their benefit in the given situation. He also offers plenty of illustrations from his own experiences of the kinds of “stuck thinking” that can sabotage creative efforts and ideas. There are a lot of great ideas here that can easily be applied no matter where you are in your life.
Who it’s great for: Those who don’t view themselves as creative people and those that feel as though they’re stuck in a rut. People having trouble finding inspiration. Anyone interested in boosting their own creativity and productivity. Readers curious about what a professionally creative person has to say on the subject.
What it’s about: A memoir by Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace that explores her experiences with gender dysphoria and transition while tracing her life has a musician.
What made me pick it up: Oh man, I pre-ordered this the moment I heard it was going to be published. Grace has been a longtime hero of mine, her music was the backing track to my later teen years, and so I was thrilled to see she’d be penning something longer than a few verses.
My favorite things: The inclusion of journal entries within the narrative is well done and offers a more intimate understanding of Grace’s experiences, making it all more real and easier for the reader to empathize. I also appreciated them because I got a little bit of thrill each time I spotted a line in one of her entries that became a lyric or song title. The way she considers difficult questions that follow her coming out is eye-opening. How does her identity impact her wife’s understanding of her own sexuality? Will she still be Daddy to her young daughter? Grace is brutally honest about herself and her band and it is in turns infuriating and heartbreaking. She has no trouble opening up about all of her experiences and emotions, from depression and self-loathing to anger and entitlement.
Who it’s great for: Memoir readers seeking drama and dirt. Fans of Against Me! who don’t mind reading harsh words about the rest of the band. Anyone looking for a painfully honest story of transition and redemption.
Pick up a copy of Tranny at Amazon (affiliate link) or your local library.