What My Kids Are Reading: New Orleans Edition!

Bayou Magic Who Was Louis Armstrong? Bedtime at the Swamp The Pirate Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans

When I visited New Orleans last month, I knew I couldn’t leave without bringing home at least one book for my kids. So of course I ended up bringing back 4! While I did visit the wonderful Faulkner House Books, I actually found these at a toy store in the French Quarter! The Little Toy Shop (This is not sponsored in any way, I just want to let you know where I found them!) had a surprising amount of children’s books, from beautiful editions of fairy tales to, of course, a good selection of New Orleans and Louisiana-based stories. It was hard to choose just these four, but I think the variety is pretty good, and the books seem perfect for a variety of ages.

Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes

I picked up this book for the cover alone, but the story sounds amazing. Rhodes wrote the acclaimed Towers Falling and Ninth Ward, and I’m really excited to read this with my 9-year-old. Bayou Magic is the third in a trilogy of books about 3 separate girls visiting Louisiana during different times of crises. In in this one, Maddy goes to spend the summer with her grandmother in the bayou, and immediately loves the feeling she gets there. In between hearing her grandmother’s fairy tales, a possible sighting of a mermaid, and Maddy’s realization that she might have REAL magic, a tragic oil spill occurs. Maddy may be the only who can help. This sounds like an amazing book set in the South, and I have a feeling I’ll be picking up the first two in the series as well.

Who Was Louis Armstrong?

This one was a no brainer! My kids love the Who Was series, and I had to get this edition about Louis Armstrong. This book details Armstrong’s childhood in one of the roughest neighborhoods in New Orleans through his adulthood and famously successful career. I love learning about important people in history just as much as my kids, and he’s definitely an important person to learn about. He didn’t let adversity and severe racism stop him, and that’s a message that we can all learn from.

Bedtime at the Swamp

This is a really cute picture book about a little boy tromping through the swamp at bedtime. The little boy keeps hearing funny noises and isn’t quite sure what any of them are. It’s told in rhyme, and is perfect for kids of any age who like funny books with wonderful illustrations.

The Pirate Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans

A pirate? Swashbuckling through New Orleans? There was no chance I wasn’t bringing this one home for my 9-year-old. This is a real chapter book great for more advanced young readers or older readers, or to read with your child. It’s all about the pirate Jean Lafitte, his background, and what brought him to New Orleans in the 1800s. Some people loved him, some people hated him, and this looks like a really interesting book for any kid who loves pirates and their history!

Review: The Last Black Unicorn

The Last Black Unicorn

That’s why I think my life has turned out as good as it has. Because all the time, I’m just trying to have fun.

You guys. I really liked Tiffany Haddish before this book. Now? I absolutely love her. The Last Black Unicorn is her memoir of how she grew up and into the person she is today, and while she is a funny lady, it is not a funny story. Well, it is Tiffany Haddish, so it’s still pretty funny, while at the same time being gut-wrenching. She has been through the ringer and worked incredibly hard to get to where she is today. If you haven’t seen any of her comedy, Google her IMMEDIATELY.

The thing about very funny people is that a lot of them use difficult situations to joke about. Haddish is no different, and I was shocked by just how difficult her life has been. She doesn’t use it as an excuse, though, and it seems that she’s worked twice as hard to make sure she’s successful. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Haddish had to work hard just to survive, much less work her way out of a situation that would seem impossible for most people. Absent parents, being a foster kid, and problems at school are just a few of the situations that she had to deal with, and comedy, namely making other people laugh, was her way of coping with it all. This book details her childhood and early adulthood, as well as her rise to fame, and it will cause you to have a whole new respect for her and others like her who struggle on the stand up comedy circuit.

The Last Black Unicorn is a shocking, hilarious, at times disturbing memoir written by a brutally honest women who really does feel like someone we could all be friends with. Tiffany Haddish deserves all of the acclaim she’s been getting lately, and then some. She’s not just a funny lady. She is a humble and honest human being who isn’t afraid to talk about the hard parts of life. I found myself laughing and tearing up at the same time during certain chapters, and that is just a testament to how Haddish can turn any terrible situation into a comedic one. She’s the definition of finding the silver lining. If you like memoirs, funny books, or just want to learn about one woman’s rise from one of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles to the top of the Hollywood food chain, please, please pick up this book!



I listened to The Last Black Unicorn on audio, and I highly recommend it. Haddish reads it herself, and it truly adds so much to the story!



Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One

 . . . I’d come to see my rig for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my senses, to allow me to live in a world that didn’t exist. Each component of my rig was a bar in the cell where I had willingly imprisoned myself.

Imagine a world in which human interaction is minimal, the country is falling apart, and people would rather disappear into a digital world rather than live in the real world. Well, maybe this scenario isn’t as hard to visualize as it might have once been. Ernest Cline, the author of Ready Player One, imagined just such a world, in 2044, and as I read this book I kept thinking that Cline’s reality isn’t as farfetched as we might think. This is a really fun, interesting science fiction novel that I think anyone, even if you don’t usually read science fiction, will enjoy.

Wade Watts is a teenager living in the disastrous time of 2044. The country has fallen apart, people live in RVs and mobile homes piled on top of each other, known as stacks, and the only way to escape is in the virtual world known as the OASIS. In the OASIS, people are known by their avatars and made-names-you can be anyone you want to be. Kids go to school there, if you have money you can explore different virtual planets, and, most importantly, everyone can ignore the mess of the real world. When the founder of the OASIS (who was obsessed with 80s culture-this is extremely prominent throughout the entire book) dies, instead of leaving his fortune to someone, he announces through a video that he has devised a game full of puzzles and clues. Whoever solves all of the clues will win his fortune. And so begins the massive treasure hunt, with people who are willing to kill in real life to get that treasure. Wade, an OASIS expert, has to confront difficulties in both the virtual and real worlds to win the treasure . . . and avoid destruction.

This was published in 2011, and I think it’s even more relevant today. Don’t we all live in our cell phones, to varying degrees? I mean, there are apps to track our phone usage so we can try and cut down. We lose ourselves in the Pinterest-perfect worlds we find online and have to remind ourselves to come up for air. And that it’s not real. Cline explores what our world might look like if we took that obsession a bit further and really inserted ourselves into a virtual world, including the positive aspects and major pitfalls. As I said, this book is so much fun-the 80s nostalgia, sarcastic characters, fantastic virtual battles, and the enduring theme of good vs evil (and what actually IS good and evil) all make this book a great combination of sci fi, adventure, and surprisingly thought-provoking moments. The only problem I had was at the very end. I wanted . . . more. It’ll spoil the book to say anything else, but it’s such a small problem, and I’m glad I read it!

Ready Player One was a surprising read for me-I like sci fi but I avoided this one for awhile. I am so, so glad I finally picked it up! I raced through it, and if you like any type of adventure story I think you’ll like it too.




Bucket List Book Club: My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book One

Ok, Bucket List Book Clubbers! Book 3 is My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante! It is the first in a trilogy and has been sitting on my unread shelf for several years since I bought it at Costco. (Because I buy everything at Costco…) I also just found out it’s going to be a series on HBO, so this is great timing to read before that comes out.

Description from the publisher

“Beginning in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Ferrante’s four-volume story spans almost sixty years, as its protagonists, the fiery and unforgettable Lila, and the bookish narrator, Elena, become women, wives, mothers, and leaders, all the while maintaining a complex and at times conflictual friendship. Book one in the series follows Lila and Elena from their first fateful meeting as ten-year-olds through their school years and adolescence.

Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists.”

I’m all in for a saga, and I love book series, so I can’t wait to finish this one! I’ve been told that the narrator for the audiobook for My Brilliant Friend is great as well!

If you want to join in, we’ll be reading it throughout the month of April, with a discussion in early May. (If you’re interested, our discussion of My Brilliant Friend will be Sunday, May 6, at 2PM CST on my Instagram page!)

You can also follow the hashtag #bucketlistbookclub on Instagram to see other people’s posts as we read My Brilliant Friend.

I’ll post my review here when I’m finished, and you can also use the comments section on that post, and this one, to discuss it.

Happy reading!


Review: Drama High

Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater

Theater gives them what a computer takes away, what no classroom teacher can teach. They learn to work with other people. They learn patience and tolerance and how to be deferential to each other. They learn to be good citizens. It’s unifying. It has an impact on kids that can’t be quantified. Educators don’t know how to measure it.

If you’ve seen the new TV show Rise, you’re probably familiar with the culture of some high school theatre programs. What you might not know (I didn’t until Kate at Kate Reads Books posted about it) is that the show is based on this book, Drama High by Michael Sokolove. It’s the story of a real theatre group that really struggled with support and budget (as most theatre programs do) that ended up becoming one of the most highly respected drama groups in the country.

Lou Volpe became the theatre director at Truman High School in Levittown in 1970. His first show, Antigone, had no set and the actors wore trash bags and aluminum foil. He had no history in theatre, except for loving it. But he was more than dedicated to the shows he produced and the students who starred in them. He worked just as hard as the students, and in return a deep, mutual respect evolved. Volpe’s students trusted him and his direction outright, and he trusted that they would put all of themselves into every performance. That kind of dedication is what lead Broadway producers to travel to Levittown to watch those high school performance and to test out edited versions of big Broadway shows (such as Les Miserable, Rent, and Spring Awakening) to see if they would work for other high schools. Volpe, who recently retired, left quite a legacy, and this book explores that journey.

So before I give you my thoughts, let me say that I was (and always will be, really) a theatre kid. I was in theatre, choir, and show choir in high school, in a small town, and those places were truly havens for me. I felt at home in the theatre. So when I read Drama High, I had a happy trip down memory lane. This is a really great book. Lou Volpe and his drama department are absolutely worthy subjects for a novel, not to mention Levittown itself. I really enjoyed reading about Volpe’s history, the history of the town, and the students Volpe taught. That being said, some of the town history sections became a bit heavy and repetitive and could have been cut down. (The author is clearly an amazing researcher, and it felt like he wanted every detail included.) In my opinion, cutting 25-50 pages out would have made the book a smoother read, but it’s not a reason to not pick up this book!

If you have any interest in the subject of theatre, if you love theatre, if you want to read about the true story behind Rise, or if, like me, you were a drama geek in high school, I definitely recommend Drama High. It’s a great non-fiction read, and you’ll learn a lot about the culture of high school theatre and what it takes to survive in a small town.