FAKE NEWS AND THE MANIPULATION OF PUBLIC OPINION

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An abbreviated overview of a hotly debated issue.

“Fake news,” is defined here as “fabricated news or information that is meant to be perceived as factual,” a definition that carefully excludes unintended errors, biases, or satire. It’s hardly a new complaint, but this account examines few instances outside the 2016 U.S. elections and mostly ignores print and broadcast media. Technological innovations and widespread use of social media have dramatically increased disinformation’s reach and impact; focusing on online phenomena permits tangents on algorithms creating ideological bubbles, harvesting of personal data, precise targeting of audiences, and strategic releases of hacked information. Partisan politics, foreign (mostly Russian) interference, and greed for ad revenue are presented as the chief villains, allowing brief digressions to recent cases in France, Great Britain, Kenya, and India; the last is the only noted example with violent results despite similar incidents elsewhere (including the U.S.). Indeed, while the earnest, meandering, and repetitive text adopts an ominous tone, it offers little evidence for any concrete consequences beyond the erosion of public trust. Proposed solutions include hopeful predictions for artificial intelligence and vague assurances from tech companies, but the author leans heavily on individual responsibility to become educated and remain skeptical and vigilant. Appendices provide a useful rubric for evaluating information and list some reputable fact-checking sites; the index is scattershot and sloppy.

A subject much in demand, but there are better resources available. (source notes, appendices, further reading, index) (Nonfiction. 12-16)

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

SURVIVING THE CITY

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A debut YA graphic novel finds a teenager emotionally and then physically adrift as her home life worsens.

Miikwan and Dez are Indigenous Canadian teens. Miikwan, who is Anishinaabe, has lost her mother. Dez, who is Inninew, lives with her grandmother (or kokum). The girls are best friends—like sisters—who completed their yearlong Berry Fast together (which teaches girls entering womanhood patience). One day, Dez learns that her diabetic kokum might need to have her foot removed. Further, Dez would have to live in a group home. In school, the girls choose to present their Berry Fast for a class Heritage Project. Before starting work on the project, they visit the city mall, where Miikwan’s mom “always used to tell me to be careful.” When the girls notice the predatory stares of older men, they leave and visit the Forks historical area. The last time they were there, they attended a rally for No More Stolen Sisters. A memorial sculpture dedicated to missing women reminds Miikwan of her own beautiful mother, whose spirit still guides her. Later, Dez returns home only to see through the window that a social worker speaks with her kokum. Devastated, she wanders into a park. Her cellphone dies, and she curls up on a bench as night falls. In this harrowing but hopeful tale, illustrator Donovan (The Sockeye Mother, 2017) and author Spillett spotlight the problem of “Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People.” While this is a global issue, the graphic novel focuses on the Winnipeg area and highlights for its target audience situations that may pose risk. While Miikwan travels alone on a bus or in the city, readers see both benign and ghoulish spirits present. Spillett knows when to hold dialogue back and allow Donovan’s superb facial expressions to carry the moment, as when Dez spots the social worker in her home. Radiant colors and texting between characters should draw teens into the story, which simply and effectively showcases the need for community solutions to society’s worst ills.

This engrossing Indigenous tale remains a tribute to the missing and murdered and a clarion call to everyone else.

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

RED RIVER RESISTANCE

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A sequel offers a teenager’s further adventures through Métis history.

In Vermette’s (Pemmican Wars, 2018, etc.) graphic novel, Métis teen Echo Desjardins is starting to fit in a little better at Winnipeg Middle School, making friends and getting involved in the Indigenous Students Leadership group. But she still spends most of her time listening to music on her cellphone and getting swept up in the lectures that her teacher gives on the history of the Métis people. This volume covers the 1869 Red River Rebellion—or Red River Resistance, as Echo’s back-in-time friend Benjamin calls it, because “there will be no violence.” After the Hudson Bay Company sells the land on which the Métis people live to the government of Canada, Métis leaders Louis Riel and Ambroise Lépine attempt to halt the inevitable flood of settlers. They establish a provisional Métis government for the Northwest Province. Though the Métis take great pains to negotiate peacefully with the incoming Canadian government, troublemakers both inside and outside of their territory—including the anti–Roman Catholic, anti-French, anti-Indigenous Orangemen—may make the violence that Benjamin promised would never occur impossible to stop. As Echo witnesses one of the great what-ifs of North American history fall apart, the tragedy is reflected in the pain she feels in her personal life back in the 21st century. As in the previous volume, the story is accompanied by beautiful, full-color artwork by the team of Henderson and Yaciuk (Pemmican Wars, 2018, etc.). This book has less of Echo’s own life in it than the first novel, and the historical portions, with their many bearded 19th-century leaders, feel perhaps more didactic and less dramatic than the author’s account of the Pemmican Wars. Even so, this underexplored portion of North American history should prove intriguing and affecting for readers, particularly those living in the United States, where the struggles of the Métis people are largely unknown. By contrasting these historical events side by side with Echo’s story, this installment does a wonderful job showing how the ripples of past policies have shaped the current day and how political decisions always have a personal cost.

A visually stimulating and emotionally gripping graphic novel about the Métis people.


This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

TEEN GUIDE TO STUDENT ACTIVISM

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A thorough guide for the next generation of activists.

In 1963, images of policemen turning fire hoses and dogs on young black students hit the nightly news, and a nation was shamed into action. Generations later, teenagers are again mobilizing to challenge the status quo regarding everything from racism and gun violence to the environment. Armed with passion, impatience, and zeal, activists can reach hundreds of thousands of people through social media in the time it takes to fry an egg. Kallen (Trashing the Planet: Examining Our Global Garbage Glut, 2017, etc.) has tackled the multifaceted world of activism and civic engagement in a handbook filled with examples of young people who have identified causes that mattered and used dogged determination to bring about change. Movements such as Black Lives Matter and #NeverAgain have risen to national prominence, but the author gives attention to students who protested budget cuts in the Boston public school system or sewed clothing for homeless kids at the Los Angeles LBGT Center. Six chapters on a myriad of topics include advice for educating oneself and doing research about issues, the rights of protesters, and advice for dealing with setbacks and trolls. The diversity of the people highlighted in the book mirrors the makeup of a country still trying to move the noble ideals of democracy from platitudes to practice.

A handbook for successful activism. (source notes, resources, index) (Nonfiction. 14-19)

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

AWÂSIS AND THE WORLD-FAMOUS BANNOCK

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A little girl loses her delivery of bannock bread, but animal helpers restore the ingredients in this picture book that includes Cree vocabulary. 

Kôhkum asks her granddaughter Awâsis to deliver a basket of freshly baked bannock to a relative. But, running and skipping along the way, Awâsis drops it over a bridge, losing it in the river. A series of animals stop her tears by providing ingredients for a new batch. For example, Sîsîp (duck) provides margarine: “I don’t have any bannock, but I do have some tohtosapopimehkan, and I’m pretty sure that’s in bannock!” Rabbit, frog, and owl also come to the rescue. Back at Kôhkum’s house, Maskwa (bear)—who ate the bannock that fell in the river and has been following along—knocks on the door, offering the final ingredient. Grandmother and granddaughter make a new batch, sharing it with Awâsis’ animal friends. A recipe and Cree word list follow. In his debut book, Hunt tells a story that already feels like a childhood classic. Young children will enjoy the tale’s effective repetition of incident and language (counterpointed with the unfamiliar vocabulary and some variation, as when Awâsis whispers or shouts), its cooperative animals, and the happy ending. Strong’s charmingly faux naif illustrations, dominated by soft colors of blue, purple, brown, and green, are lovely and expressive; the bear that can be spotted in many panels is a nice touch.

A delightful story with appealing illustrations that centers on Native American culture.

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

BIZZ BUZZ BOSS

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A bossypants bee learns a lesson about the value of the contributions of others.

Little Spider loves almost everything about her garden home—but the “bizzz, buzzz, boss-boss-boss” of the worker bee as she makes her rounds is, frankly, a buzzkill. Fulfilling the “bossy female” stereotype, Bossy Bee lords it over the rest of the garden creatures, explaining the importance of her job as a pollen collector and distributor to the worm, the ladybug, and the lizard. With keen understanding of the psychology of a narcissist, Little Spider asks Bossy Bee for advice—and then quickly traps her in her web. Unable to move, Bossy Bee can only watch as the worm, the ladybug, and the lizard perform their essential tasks: The worm enriches the soil; the ladybug eats aphids; the lizard eats slugs. Chastened, Bossy Bee declares, “Oh, Spider, I promise to stop being bossy. / I’ve learned a lesson today. / I’ll respect other creatures and value their jobs. / We should work as a team every day!” It’s a valuable lesson even though it’s imparted in earnest doggerel (all the creatures speak in rhyme). Tolland’s painterly illustrations emphasize the lushness of the garden, sometimes at the expense of clarity of composition—with so many bright colors to look at, it’s hard for the eye to focus.

Useful information and important insight delivered in mediocre verse and via gender stereotype. (Picture book. 3-6)

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED & MORE

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Wong’s (GREAT MORNING! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud, 2018, etc.) 1996 collection of poems has been reissued, now enhanced with over half new content to inspire young writers.

The American-born daughter of Korean and Chinese immigrants, Wong separates her poems into the three sections of her identity: Korean, Chinese, and American. Each begins with an essay giving readers background information about her heritage and moves on to poems highlighting her memories and experiences relating to that culture. Each is now accompanied by new text on the facing page that expands upon the poem’s topic or theme with more details and stories from Wong’s life. Wong’s pointed and evocative poems leave much to interpretation, and the new material often forces readers into a single understanding of the poem’s meaning. However, it simultaneously gives aspiring writers a glimpse into how a poet might morph a theme or a single experience into a finished poem. Moreover, each poem is accompanied by related questions that can be used as springboards for further thought or writing prompts. Backmatter consists of advice for young writers, including how to get published and how to self-publish.

With its new content, this poetry collection now offers layers of meaning both literary and practical, making it a strong resource for teachers of creative writing, school libraries, and anyone interested in exploring identity and belonging. (Poetry. 8-12)

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

COLD WRATH

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A career criminal is shot dead at his Yorkshire estate.

Make no mistake: Miles Law knew practically from the moment he first met his employer, Anthony Garrett, that Garrett was a criminal. It takes one to know one, Law explains to DCI George Hennessey (A Dreadful Past, 2016, etc.), admitting that his younger days were marked by petty theft and low-level cons. Garrett strikes Law as a more sophisticated operator, so in a strange way, the gardener is shocked to discover his employer in his armchair with a bullet hole in his forehead, but not exactly surprised. Hennessey and his team aren’t really surprised either once they read Garrett’s history with (and against) the law, although their curiosity is piqued when the Metropolitan Police send a detective constable all the way up from London to photograph a tattoo on the dead man’s arm. But there’s no evidence that Garrett, an East Ender by birth, ever returned to London after his release from Full Sutton, a prison outside York. Instead he retired to The Grange, an isolated country house typically entered by no one except a squad of cleaners from The Maids—not even Law, until, spooked by an open ground-floor window, he goes inside and finds Garrett’s body. So the report from neighbor Linda Holyman of a visit by three identically dressed women the weekend before Law’s grisly discovery tips Hennessey’s investigation on its ear. The uncanniness of the women’s visit in the face of Garrett’s austere, predictable household habits presents a puzzle as offbeat as it is inexplicable.

Turnbull offers a conventional procedural with a twist that should leave readers eager for more.

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

FIERCE PRETTY THINGS

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The stories in Howard’s debut collection blend raw emotions with surreal forays into the supernatural and metaphysical.

These stories encompass a host of topics, from the vagaries of memory to cycles of violence to the process of grieving. Plenty of their elements are harrowing enough on their own, including a man losing ground to dementia (“Scarecrows”) and a student shooting and killing his classmate (“Bandana”). But Howard opts to take many of these stories in a surreal direction: The murdered child in “Bandana,” for example, remains on Earth to act as his murderer’s adviser and “spirit guardian.” It adds an element of the absurd to the proceedings, but the spectral narrator’s relative detachment ends up making things even more horrific rather than less so. “Scarecrows” is structured so that the reader begins to understand things even as the ailing protagonist, Dixon, does, aided in part by notes he’s left himself in his more lucid moments. He’s trying to understand strange visions he’s been having of the past but also why he shouldn’t tell his wife, who’s become his caretaker. There’s a dreamlike quality to this story, along with several others—notably “Grandfather Vampire,” which has a Ray Bradbury–esque blend of pastoral and uncanny. The title character’s nickname was coined by a friend of the narrator’s, noting that he “looked like a vampire who’d stepped into the sunlight a million years ago and got bleached white as bone.” The narrator and his friend end up watching a series of movies about a reanimated boy who ages over the course of several films and turns out to have a connection to their lives.

Howard’s fiction follows an unexpected logic, but at its best it achieves a deep emotional resonance.

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

ROMEO EXPLORES THE GARDEN

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Riddles give hints about a dog’s life in an idyllic garden.

The lessons begin on the first page with unnecessary instruction on how to use the book. Romeo is an anthropomorphic orange mutt with a white snout, expressive green eyes, and boundless curiosity. On each spread Romeo asks a question, set in clean, sans-serif type, about something found in a garden. For example: “In the garden, what has a trunk, branches, and many leaves?” A page turn reveals the answer—“A tree”—in a larger font on the upper left. The cheery art with multiple scenes per page has a retro feel, no doubt due to the fact that French illustrator Grée’s heyday was in the 1960s and ’70s; these images have been repurposed from earlier books. Details in the pictures, which feature Romeo, a multiracial cast of children, and various bugs, animals, butterflies, and birds, add more information. Romeo’s costume changes frequently. On the page about bees, he is wearing a beekeeper’s veil; he wears a striped sunsuit on the tree and wheelbarrow pages and, oddly, what looks like a motorcycle helmet on the page about rain. The formal, pedantic text of this British import sounds stilted: “Which prickly animals that sleep curled up might you see in the garden?” The answer, a hedgehog, will likely puzzle readers in the U.S., where hedgehogs live in zoos, not the backyard.

These explorations are limited. (Board book. 2-4)

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

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