Muhiima’s Quest

Muhiima's Quest Cover

Image Credit: Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Rahma Rodaah/Daria Horb

Muhiima wakes up with a special feeling on her birthday; she has no idea that an adventure is coming her way! Because she’s Muslim, she usually doesn’t celebrate her birthday, but on this day, her family has a surprise for her. Her mother gives her an old map that leads her to family members and friends around town. All of these people tell her positive affirmations, encourage her to continue being a smart, kind and intelligent girl and give her small purple boxes. Her grandmother, while knee deep in the rich earth of her garden, says to her:

“Don’t forget your roots; they are what ground you, nourish you and make you who you are. Your roots contain your history and support you as you grow into the future.”

Muhiima makes her way back home to discover the meaning of the purple boxes; everyone’s small gift makes one beautiful & meaningful gift, just for her! As a Muslim girl, she often wonders why she can’t be like other kids who have fun birthday celebrations. Her family gifts her with a quest to teach her that even though she doesn’t get a birthday party every year, they’re proud of her and are always behind her, rooting for her! What an important message for a young child.

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Image Credit: Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Rahma Rodaah/Daria Horb

 

This is a quiet story of familial love, religion and growing up. Muhiima has the constant support and encouragement of her family; it takes a village to raise a child. I love how central religion is in this book; Muhiima is reminded to always be a faithful servant of God by being a good person (they go hand in hand). This book is also about the every day life of a contemporary Muslim family; Muhiima’s dad owns a bookstore, her aunt has a henna salon, her uncle plays pick-up basketball with friends and she stops at her mosque to visit her Sunday school teacher. There are not enough picture books that celebrate Muslim families and Muslim children. One thing that I would’ve loved to see in this story is more of Muhiima’s thoughts. She receives a lot of knowledge from her elders but other than knowing how sad she is to not have a fancy birthday party, we don’t get to learn more about her. That being said, I think this is an important book and I’m so glad to have it to recommend!

The illustrations of this book are so sweet. Soft pinks, reds, browns and yellows fill the pages. Watercolor is the perfect medium for this story’s art; the colors are bright and full. From the beautiful pink of Muhiima’s bedroom to the deep browns of her grandparents’ backyard garden, color is important to this story. I love the scene where Muhiima visits her stylish Auntie in her henna salon. Her aunt’s dress is stained with henna as she smiles fully, happy to see her niece. The mood of the salon is warm and inviting.

I hope you’ll take a moment to seek out this awesome self published book by Rahma Rodaah and Daria Horb! Here’s to more stories about young Black Muslim girls on our bookshelves and in our homes!

 

Recommended for: All ages!
Great for: Family, Love, Religion, Islam, Community, Relationships, Celebration, Black Girl Magic, Discussion, Self Published, Diverse Books, Cultural Diversity
Book InfoMuhiima’s Quest by Rahma Rodaah/Illustrations by Daria Horb, 2017 Library and Archives Canada (LAC)/Rahmarodaah.com, ISBN: 9780995922907/9780995922921

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Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!

Take a Picture of Me,James VanDerZee Cover

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Andrea J. Loney/Keith Mallett

I’m so last minute this year, y’all! But bear with me…It’s still Black History Month and I got a post for you… 😀

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Another year, another Black History Month, another influential black soul to celebrate. I’m currently basking in the glory of the smash hit film Black Panther. All the black excellence in that film reminded me of another Black Creative who made it his life’s work to represent black excellence through photography.

James VanDerZee made black people look

Glamorous. Regal. Distinguished

at a time when black photography was very static. VanDerZee made it his business to show Black People Shining.

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! is one of my favorite non-fiction picture books of 2017. In it, we follow young VanDerZee from boyhood to his elderly years. Born into a middle class black family in Lenox, Massachussetts, he was frustrated as a child by his inability to capture fine details and accuracy when drawing people. When he discovered photography, he became fascinated and worked diligently to get his own camera (becoming only the second person in his town to have one)! VanDerZee, always a people person, had natural talent and worked to make his subjects feel comfortable; he wanted to make people look AND feel good while in his studio. At age 18, VanDerZee moved to bustling and vibrant Black Harlem, where he soared as a young artist. He’d later start his own studio where he’d photograph middle class Black Harlem as well as dignitaries, celebrities and athletes. VanDerZee is famous for his high level of skill in retouching (essentially early Photoshop) and photomontage.

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Patina (Track #2)

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Image Credit: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (Simon & Schuster), Jason Reynolds/Vanessa Brantley Newton

 

Happy New Year everyone!

I’m kicking off this year on Read It Real Good by inviting a friend to share a review. I met Chisom Onyeuku last year at Kweli Journal’s The Color of Children’s Literature Conference in NYC. Not only is he a kind person, he cares a lot about diverse books, representation and great stories, so it was a no-brainer to invite him here to share a bit of his writing with you. 🙂 He’s currently working on a middle grade novel titled Life in the Flats. If you’d like to talk to him about his review, you can find him on Facebook.

 

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Review by Chisom Onyeuku

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Sports stories have always been some of my favorites. When done right, they can encapsulate action, adventure, romance and highly personal stakes. For that reason, I was excited to pick up the first book of Jason Reynolds’ Defenders track series, GHOST, especially after I found out it was about a black boy coming into his own. GHOST was easily one of my favorite reads of 2017 and so when I found out that there would be a sequel, I knew I had to read it. PATINA picked right back where GHOST left off. What makes PATINA great is that although it takes place in the same “Defenders” universe, Patina’s story feels markedly different from Ghost’s. I love how the track becomes a catalyst for Patina to find comfort amidst some difficult circumstances and I enjoyed the interactions between Patina and her teammates.

When I encountered Patina at the beginning of the book, I was elated that, through her eyes, we get to watch Ghost finish the race from the end of the previous book. I won’t spoil the race but Jason expertly plays on the audience’s expectations to create a suspenseful scene. From there, we fully cross into Patina’s story arc.

Like Ghost, Patina has deeply personal reasons for running track that resonated with me as a former athlete. More importantly, they resonated with me as a person. Like every great novel, I found myself not only empathizing with the main character but also her friends and teammates. I appreciated that Jason introduces Patina’s surface motivations for running track before delving deeper into the story.

The pace of the book is much like a 400-meter dash. Out of the gate, Patina is running to prove to everyone that “Patty ain’t no junk.” By the 200-meter mark, she’s dealing with challenges of school and adapting to her new teammates. And the last 100 meters are focused on her family. After all of these stretches, we finally have a moment of quiet with Patina and her uncle. Like the diner scene from Ghost, I was caught off guard by how close that moment brought me to tears. It gave me time to appreciate Patina’s journey and growth but I was also reminded that no matter what she had been through, she still had her family and friends. She didn’t have to bear the weight of her struggles alone; a lesson that we should all be reminded of from time to time.

Like Patina, I had teammates that became friends who I now consider family. I feel like I’m watching that bond form between The Defenders. A large portion of the story revolves around Patina’s work with her relay teammates. Luckily, Ghost, Sunny and Lu are never too far away. You can see how much their bond has evolved since their formation. Even though PATINA stands alone, the story still feels part of something bigger. I consider that one of the markers of great series writing.

Jason has a knack for drawing you in with his writing and taking you on an emotional roller coaster. Growing up, I didn’t see myself in a lot of literature. However, I did when I encountered Ghost for the first time. Patina could have easily been a teammate and friend of mine. As I walked with them through their respective journeys, I was reminded of why I love sports stories so much. No matter what you bring to the track or to the page, you will always walk away with more than you brought to it.

 

 

Recommended for: 5th Grade and up
Great for: Friendship, Diversity, Teamwork, Track and Field, Sports, Middle School Life, Determination, Black Girl Magic
Book InfoPatina by Jason Reynolds/Jacket Illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, 2017 Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481450188

 

 

Where’s Halmoni?

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Image Credit: Little Bigfoot (Sasquatch Books), Julie Kim

Where’s Halmoni? works on so many fantastic levels. It’s an #ownvoices graphic novel/picture book about two Korean-American siblings and their experience over their grandmother’s house. Simple right?? Nope! Just like the Korean folktales and characters that inspire this work, there’s a delightful mix of fantasy and realism. Kim’s portrayal of everyday Korean life (it’s in the little details) adds another important level of depth to this epic debut.

So let’s start with the story. Details, Details, Details! The story actually begins and ends on the endpages (cool right?). Grandma receives a package from Korea and inside the box is a wooden window she places on the wall of her bedroom. A tiger’s head pop out the window and the next thing we know, Grandma says “Aaah! Bad tiger!” in Korean and the story begins. Joon and his Noona (“누나 older sister” her name is not Noona, it’s what younger boys call older girls in Korean) let themselves into Grandma’s house only to find…that she’s missing!! There are clues to her disappearance though (enormous cat paw prints and a disheveled kitchen) and the kids discover the curious window in her bedroom. In a very Narnia-esque turn of events, they step through the window into a world straight out of Korean folklore. On the search for their grandma, they run into a tricky (and silly) rabbit 토끼, a rowdy and hungry bunch of goblins 도깨비, and finally, an untrustworthy tiger 호랑기 fighting over Grandma’s pot of delicious red bean porridge 팥죽 with a nine-tailed fox 구미호 (who suspiciously looks a bit like grandma)!! How far will they go to find and save their grandma?

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All the Way to Havana

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Image Credit: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan), Margarita Engle/Mike Curato

This is one of my most anticipated releases of 2017 and there’s a lot to love about it. All the Way to Havana celebrates the resilience of Cuban people, Cuba’s car culture, the importance of family and…it’s really pretty. Like REALLY pretty. It’s nothing new that Mike Curato is a very skilled illustrator, but he really stepped it up for this book.

All the Way to Havana is a flowing poem full of onomatopoeia. It’s a fun and lively read-aloud for little ones. The story starts with a little boy ready to head into the big city of Havana for his cousin’s zero-year birthday…but ACK! their old car, Cara Cara, doesn’t want to start, so he has to tinker on it with his dad to get it running. Once the car is running, it’s a crowded journey because his family gives rides to their neighbors, but before they know it, they arrive in Havana! At the party, the baby is too little to know what’s going on but the family has fun playing, eating and resting together. The trip home is a quiet one and the next day, the little boy is back working on the car with his dad, never giving up on it.

I love how Engle compares the hard metal of Cara Cara with nature. Cara Cara sounds like a chicken (cluck cluck & pío pío) and looks like the blue of a clear sky. The old car is a part of their family and they treat it lovingly. As much as All the Way to Havana is a book about family, it’s also a book about the gorgeous vintage cars of Cuba! Just take a look at the pretty endpapers! Even though the US still imposes trade restrictions upon Cuba (this is why they have so many old cars), Cubans take what they have and make it beautiful and lasting!!

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Image Credit: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan), Margarita Engle/Mike Curato

The gorgeous illustrations bring readers to Cuba; they are so SMOOTH. The story starts in the country on a clear, beautiful day. Curato introduces us to smiling, blue-eyed brown boy holding a big present for his baby cousin. Curato’s mixed media illustrations are earthy, bright and super detailed. This is a CAR book, so almost every spread centers and highlights the beauty of Cara Cara and other cars just like it. The little boy is a friendly narrator; it’s fun to follow him and his family as they glide along the dirt roads to the city. It feels like we’re also cramped in the back seat of the old Chevy Delray. As we travel to the party, we pass a barber, a busy market, kids playing in the streets and many happy brown people of all shades (woo hoo!). There’s so much to look at in these illustrations but they’re not busy at all.

It’s crucial in kidlit to get it right. To do research. To be invited in. I like to reference Jacqueline Woodson’s article Who Can Tell My Story (check it out, really) because in it she discusses the importance of being invited (“My hope is that those who write about the tears and the laughter and the language in my grandmother’s house have first sat down at the table with us and dipped the bread of their own experiences into our stew.”). Mike Curato went to Cuba to research this book and Margarita Engle’s cousins showed him around. That is AWESOME & important. 🙂

All the Way to Havana is a beautiful collaboration between two master storytellers. I’m really excited to own this book. Let’s celebrate it, y’all!! Please add this one to your collections. I hope this book wins a Caldecott and/or Pura Belpré award next year. It is a delight.

 

P.S. Check out Mike Curato discussing All the Way to Havana and doing a live-drawing of Cara-Cara (and Little Elliot!) here. Also, make sure you take off the book’s jacket for a surprise. 😉 Vroom-Vroom!

 

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Community, Cuba, Cuban Culture, Cars, City Life/Country Life, Perseverance, Determination, Colors, Read-Aloud
Book Info: All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle/Illustrated by Mike Curato, 2017 Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan), ISBN: 9781627796422

Town Is by the Sea

 

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Image Credit: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, Joanne Schwartz/Sydney Smith

Coal. Here in the United States, we have a long history with the fossil fuel. Americans have been burning coal for hundreds of years and mined it heavily from the late 19th century until the mid 20th. Towns developed around coal, generations of families (of various ethnicities) mined it & depended on it. Though we don’t mine and burn coal like we used to (due to mechanization of mining & increasing natural gas usage), we still have deep, emotional ties to it.

Town Is By the Sea is a story of the Canadian coal town Cape Breton in the 1950s and a boy’s connection to coal, to the sea and to his family. This story has multiple layers; on the surface level, it’s a boy’s account of his daily life. But on a deeper level, Joanne Schwartz paints an intimate portrait of a coal mining town and a boy’s understanding of his role as a miner’s son. Continue reading

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines

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Image Credit: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Publishing Group), Jeanne Walker Harvey/Dow Phumiruk

This Women’s History Month, I’m sharing an upcoming (May 2017) picture book about the talented and influential, Maya Lin.

Maya Lin grew up in a creative household; her father a clay artist and her mother a poet. She was encouraged by her immigrant parents to dream and create. Nature was very important to young Maya and would continue to be influential as she grew and developed as an artist and architect.  When she was a senior in college, her understanding of nature, space, design and sensitivity would lead her to win a design competition for the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Lin received a great deal of push back for her design but held her ground. She showed the world her strength and stood her by creation. What’s special about the memorial is its symbolism, seamless integration into nature and how it makes those who experience it feel. Her art is meant to be experienced; the reflective granite of the memorial, with its thousands of names, elicits reflection.

Phumiruk’s soft, detailed digital illustrations suit this story. I love the first spread of the book where we see the mossy green “Lizard’s Back” hill Lin explored with her brother as a child. I like how Phumiruk uses an aerial perspective for a few key spreads. Seeing Lin from above, surrounded by nature & as she admires the architecture of her college library, highlights how much she was affected by her surroundings as a young artist. The cover of the book is striking too; Maya Lin gazes at her creation, seeing herself reflected while reading the name of a friend’s father who died in the war. The cover illustration reminds me just how important “mirrors” are for children of color and native children.

I really enjoy biographies for children that tell the lives and experiences of people who are living; children take a lot away from the fact that the person is STILL out there dreaming and making change. There simply aren’t enough books about Asian American creatives, let alone Asian American female creatives and I’m glad for this one. Walker Harvey’s great storytelling and Phumiruk’s lovely illustrations make this an important book to add to your collection.

 

 

Recommended for: 2nd grade and up
Great for: Biography, Architecture, Women’s History Month, Strong Women, Asian American, Chinese American, Girl Power, Girls In Stem, Determination, Dreams, Creativity, Family, Memorials, History
Book Info: Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey/Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, 2017 Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Publishing Group), ISBN: 9781250112491

 

NightLights

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Image Credit: Nobrow, Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Gorgeous.

NightLights is a new graphic novel about a magical girl who draws outside of the lines. Sandy has trouble fitting in; she’s a day-dreamer, a creative-type, and is misunderstood by not only her peers but her teachers.

Sandy has power. She takes the lights that appear in her bedroom and turns them into whimsical creatures. In her dreams she interacts with them and doodles them in the morning (and during class). Her classmates bully and tease her for having her head in the clouds until one day, a new girl named Morphie befriends her and tells her how good her art is. Interestingly enough, Sandy is the only person who can see Morphie but as she grows closer to the magical girl, she starts to feel uneasy.

Morphie is a greedy being; greedy for Sandy’s delicious & beautiful drawings. Even worse, Morphie begins to make Sandy question her creativity and independence; “And once you realize that you need me to tell you how brilliant you are, nothing will keep us apart!” she says.

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Image Credit: Nobrow, Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Morphie…is Sandy’s insecurity.

This story excellently explores the emotional difficulty of “not fitting in.” Sandy doesn’t think linearly; her mind blossoms with color and creatures and magic and so she has trouble in her rigid Catholic school. Insecurity slowly starts to creep in. As she battles herself, she finds strength by embracing her creativity (and even her insecurity and fear). This is such an important message for readers of all ages.

Alvarez creates a setting inspired by her hometown of Bogotá, Colombia (but dipped in colorful fantasy that rivals Miyazaki). NightLights works well as a graphic novel; each panel’s dialogue and illustration are well crafted. Her attention to detail and use of color is amazing! She weaves reality with fantasy to create a world that is both beautiful and terrifying. Readers will feel uneasy when Sandy interacts with Morphie & the twisted monsters she’s forced to create. They’ll also feel proud of her as she explores the beauty of her mind. I had a really great conversation with illustrator Erin Baker who pointed out the motif of “eyes” in this book. Sandy’s eyes are extremely expressive and the eyes of her fantasy creatures are fascinating and creepy.

There’s a lot packed into this graphic novel and I’m really excited for it to release in the United States. I hope you’ll check out NightLights!

Recommended for: 3rd Grade and up
Great for: Inner Strength, Insecurity, Determination, Power, Diversity, Community, Family, Confidence, Creepy, Fantasy, School Life, Daydreamers, Creative Thinking
Book Info: NightLights by Lorena Alvarez, 2017 Nobrow, ISBN: 9781910620137

ALA Youth Media Awards: Predictions!

 

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The ALA Youth Media Awards (Monday, January 23rd) are upon us and it’s time to share my predictions! This is always fun. 🙂

I have more faith in my picture book predictions; my middle grade (and young adult) reading this year has been abysmal! The awards I’m covering reflect this and I didn’t choose awards that are specifically for YA books though I did make a few YA predictions for other awards.

If you haven’t guessed already, Caldecott is my favorite, so I spent a lot of time thinking about this award. I even attended a Mock Caldecott at Cincinnati’s Main Library (which was a fun experience).

I picked awards that I had confident & informed guesses about and I tried my best to research and read as many books as I could. I’m certain that I’m leaving a lot out! We’ll see what I miss on Monday! Please feel free to tell me if a pick is ineligible and leave your thoughts in the comments.

So…let’s start, shall we? MY WINNERS ARE:

 

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Image Credit: Simon & Schuster, Ashley Bryan

 

CORETTA SCOTT KING (AUTHOR) BOOK AWARD: FREEDOM OVER ME by ASHLEY BRYAN

HONORS: DON’T CALL ME GRANDMA by VAUNDA MICHEAUX NELSON & illustrated by ELIZABETH ZUNON

AS BRAVE AS YOU by JASON REYNOLDS

GHOST by JASON REYNOLDS

 

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Image Credit: Little Bee Books, Carole Boston Weatherford/R. Gregory Christie

 

CORETTA SCOTT KING (ILLUSTRATOR) BOOK AWARD: FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE illustrated by R. GREGORY CHRISTIE & written by CAROLE BOSTON WEATHERFORD

HONORSRADIANT CHILD by JAVAKA STEPTOE

IN PLAIN SIGHT illustrated by JERRY PINKNEY & written by RICHARD JACKSON

WHOOSH! illustrated by DON TATE & written by CHRIS BARTON

 

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Image Credit: Harper Collins, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich & Audrey Vernick

 

CORETTA SCOTT KING/JOHN STEPTOE NEW TALENT AWARD: OLUGBEMISOLA RHUDAY-PERKOVICH (for the middle grade novel TWO NAOMIS)

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Image Credit: Simon & Schuster, Margarita Engle

 

PURA BELPRÉ AUTHOR AWARDLION ISLAND by MARGARITA ENGLE

HONORSBURN BABY BURN by MEG MEDINA

 

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Image Credit: Abrams, Duncan Tonatiuh

 

PURA BELPRÉ ILLUSTRATOR AWARD: THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR by DUNCAN       TONATIUH

HONORS: CANTICOS: LOS POLLITOS by SUSIE JAMARILLO

MAYBE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL illustrated by RAFAEL LÓPEZ & written by ISABEL CAMPOY & THERESA HOWELL

MARTA BIG & SMALL illustrated by ANGELA DOMINGUEZ & written by JEN ARENA

 

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Image Credit: Penguin Random House, Lauren Wolk

 

JOHN NEWBERY MEDALWOLF HOLLOW by LAUREN WOLK

HONORS: AS BRAVE AS YOU BY JASON REYNOLDS

PAX BY SARAH PENNYPACKER

THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON BY KELLY BARNHILL

 

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Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Brendan Wenzel

 

RANDOLPH CALDECOTT MEDAL: THEY ALL SAW A CAT by BRENDAN WENZEL

HONORS: RADIANT CHILD by JAVAKA STEPTOE

BEFORE MORNING illustrated by BETH KROMMES & written by JOYCE SIDMAN

FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE illustrated by R. GREGORY CHRISTIE & written by CAROLE BOSTON WEATHERFORD

THUNDER BOY JR. illustrated by YUYI MORALES & written by SHERMAN ALEXIE

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Melissa Sweet

 

ROBERT F. SIBERT INFORMATIONAL BOOK MEDAL: SOME WRITER by MELISSA SWEET

HONORS: GIANT SQUID by CANDACE FLEMING

WE WILL NOT BE SILENT BY RUSSELL FREEDMAN

SACHIKO: A NAGASAKI BOMB SURVIVOR’S STORY by CAREN STELSEN

 

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STONEWALL BOOK AWARD (MIKE MORGAN & LARRY ROMANS CHILDREN’S AND YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE AWARD): WORM LOVES WORM written J.J. AUSTRIAN & illustrated by MIKE CURATO

GIRL MANS UP by M-E GIRARD

 

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Image Credit: Enchanted Lion Books, Glenn Ringtved, Charlotte Pardi, Robert Moulthrop

 

MILDRED L. BATCHELDER AWARD: CRY, HEART, BUT NEVER BREAK written by GLENN RINGTVED, illustrated by CHARLOTTE PARDI and translated by ROBERT MOULTHROP

 

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Image Credit: Disney-Hyperion, Laurie Keller

 

THEODOR SEUSS GEISEL AWARD: WE ARE GROWING by LAURIE KELLER

HONORS: HORRIBLE BEAR! written by AME DYCKMAN & illustrated by ZACHARIAH OHORA

                  THUNDER BOY JR. written by SHERMAN ALEXIE & illustrated by YUYI MORALES

                  THIS IS NOT A PICTURE BOOK by SERGIO RUZZIER

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Image Credit: Harper Collins, Aaron Philip & Tonya Bolden

 

SCHNEIDER FAMILY BOOK AWARD: THIS KID CAN FLY: IT’S ABOUT ABILITY (NOT             DISABILITY) by AARON PHILIP (and TONYA BOLDEN)