Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.
In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.
From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories.
I loved Flying Lessons and Other Stories. This book was the perfect book to start off 2017 – it filled me with so much joy, reminded me of the ups and downs of youth, and filled me with so much hope — hope, because kids with marginalized identities may read this book and find themselves in the stories’ characters. And I cannot emphasize how important this is – and consequently how this makes Flying Lessons and Other Stories so important and successful.
Within the Flying Lessons and Other Stories anthology are ten outstanding stories by ten incredible talented and authors. Not only was each story told with a genuine and powerful young voice, each story had something meaningful and profound to tell. From family problems, acceptance, being liked, moving away, friendship, to finding your place in the world, Flying Lessons and Other Stories stays true to its audience and explores its themes in a sensitive, thoughtful, and sometimes funny way.
As this is an anthology, here are my thoughts on each story.
How to Transform an Everyday, Ordinary Hoop Court into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium by Matt de la Peña
How to Transform is a quietly profound story about pursuing dreams and working hard for them, acceptance, and, briefly, the relationship between father and son. It is written in second-person perspective, a narrative style I am not familiar with but it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the story at all. In fact, I found myself very engaged with the story.
Despite its length, de la Peña’s story captures the drive and perseverance of youth with big, big dreams – in the protagonist’s case, it’s making it in basketball. I loved how it explored the highs of success and the soul-crushing feeling of failure and rejection, but also how these experiences can become important life lessons. However, How to Transform ends with a very tender and profound scene between the protagonist and his father. An excellent, deeply honest, and empowering story.
The Difficult Path by Grace Lin
I am particularly fond of this one because the characters are Chinese, and how so many things in this short story felt familiar. The Difficult Path is set in China in a time where young girls did not receive education nor learned how to read. However, superstition leads Lingsi to receive an education despite being a servant girl.
The Difficult Path is a lovely story about overcoming hardship, compassion, and having ‘valiant spirit’. The portrayal of Ancient China and its traditions were fascinating (but also familiar), but I also liked the subtle tongue-in-cheek tone when describing the Li family. I was caught off guard by the direction that The Difficult Path took, but it was a very pleasant surprise. The ending was absolutely wonderful, and made me wish it was longer — or even its own book! A powerful story about a resourceful girl and the unexpected place that reading takes her.
Sol Painting Inc. by Meg Medina
This short story seems generally well-liked — and with good reason. Sol Painting Inc is a powerful story about a girl and her family’s painting business, and one incident during her summer.
Sol Painting Inc. had moments of humour – I particularly loved how Merci, the protagonist, described her brother – but it also delves into a lesson that a lot of first-generation immigrant children learn about the sacrifices their parents make. The story also sensitively explores racism, being ‘visible’, and choosing your battles. The narrative voice in this story was wonderful and made me laugh at times, but Medina balances this with moments that were heartfelt and raw. A heartbreaking and heartwarming story with so many important lessons.
Secret Samantha by Tim Federle
Secret Samantha is a simple and relatable story but is full of charm. It is told through the eyes of Sam, the former new girl, and is about the woes of gift-giving and making new friends – two tasks I have great difficulty doing but they have undeniably high rewards!
I adored the hilarious and earnest shenanigans with the ‘Secret Santa’, including the tribulations of choosing a gift, the anxiety of buying the right gift – and, may I add, the fact that Sam cared so much about giving the right gift was so endearing and lovely! – as well as the excitement of giving the gift itself. The many similarities and parallels between gift-giving and making a new friend was splendid and much appreciated. On this front, Federle delivered.
The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn by Kelly J. Baptist
I’ll tell you this: The Beans and Rice Chronicles packs an emotional punch. This story is more on the heavier, more heartbreaking side of this anthology, but that in no way diminished my enjoyment of this story. In fact, The Beans and Rice Chronicles is a force of its own – incredibly moving, powerful, and important.
It is about Isaiah Dunn following the death of his father and the small sprouts of hope that can be found in the most unexpected of places. It is about grief, loss, family, poverty, and the power of stories. Told through Isaiah’s young eyes, the themes are depicted in a realistic way but also with a degree of innocence. Isaiah possessed so much child wisdom, something that was heartbreaking to read. When Isaiah finds a book of his late father’s stories, this lights a spark of hope in Isaiah and his family’s life; what follows is nothing short of spectacular.
Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains by Tim Tingle
Unfortunately, I had difficulty connecting to Choctaw Bigfoot. I listened to the book twice, and after a second reading, I understood it better but I acknowledge that it wasn’t written for me — but I am certain that it’d be loved by the people who it is written for.
Choctaw Bigfoot is a story about a big family and celebrates our storytellers and the power of storytelling. Though most of this story is the uncle’s story, Chocktaw Bigfoot highlights the importance of family traditions and how such traditions bring people – not just family! – together. Though it wasn’t for me, Choctaw Bigfoot is still a delightful story.
Main Street by Jacqueline Woodson
I didn’t expect to love Main Street, but love it I did.
The story is about the gorgeous friendship between, the white narrator, Treetop, and her friend Celeste described as ‘tall, brown and beautiful’. The writing is melancholic and emotional, and it subtly explores the different kinds of alienation both girls experience in a town where ‘the leaves are the only colour’. Unexpectedly profound that boasts a stunning narrative, Main Street is a story about grief, loneliness, the terrible effect of stereotypes, but also makes room for optimism and longing for a better future.
Flying Lessons by Soman Chainanu
Flying Lessons was my favourite story of this collection. It was full of heart, absolutely delightful, made me laugh, and even had a few moments of bittersweet truths wrapped in solemnity.
The story follows Santosh and what ensues after his nani, his sixty-nine year old grandmother, whisks him away on a holiday. Flying Lessons explored a plethora of themes that I really connected to – success, ambition, the meaning of life for a young student, and what makes life extraordinary. I adored Nani, her hilarious escapades and fierce way of life, but also for her insight and astounding perceptiveness. Flying Lessons delves deeply into a question I always ask myself – what makes you happy? Earnest and whimsical, Flying Lessons was unforgettable and a story I will hold onto for the years to come.
Seventy-Six Dollars and Forty-Nine Cents by Kwame Alexander
This story is told in verse and poetry and I enjoyed it so much. When I was younger and grew up with superhero movies like X-Men, I fantasized about having superpowers of my own, so I found Seventy-Six Dollars to be lovely and satisfying.
Told like a memoir, Seventy-Six Dollars is a story about an ordinary boy and the extraordinary thing that happens to him. Monk is the clever protagonist but otherwise ordinary protagonist who can suddenly read other people’s minds, and I loved Alexander’s writing and voice for him. With funny and witty writing, Seventy-Six Dollars is a lighthearted twist on the quote ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.
Sometimes a Dream Needs a Push by Walter Dean Myers
The anthology was dedicated to the late Walter Dean Myers, who believed that “young people need to see … themselves reflected in the pages of the books they read.” Ending this anthology with a short story of his own made the anthology as whole so much more powerful.
This story by him is a powerful story with themes of family, guilt, and grief. It features a protagonist with a disability, how he joins the wheelchair basketball league, and how his father, plagued with guilt, helps coach his basketball team. Readers will connect to this story, as it explores the enduring hope parents have for their children. The story and narrative is simple, but that’s what made the story all the more profound and meaningful.
All in all, Flying Lessons is an outstanding anthology and, more importantly, it has a small piece for everyone.
Book Name: Flying Lessons and Other Stories
Authors: Ellen Oh (Editor), Sherman Alexie, Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Walter Dean Myers, Meg Medina, Tim Tingle, Kelly J. Baptist, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Pena, Tim Federle, Grace Lin
Publisher: Listening Library
I cannot recommend this lovely anthology enough. If you are interested in reading more diverse stories or simply want to read something that is a homage to diversity and reading, Flying Lessons and Other Stories is the one for you. I cannot wait to read Lift Off, which will be another anthology in partnership with We Need Diverse Books and will be YA!
- Have you read Flying Lessons and Other Stories? Which one did you like?
- If you haven’t read this, which story do you think you will connect to?
- Do you read a lot of short story anthologies? Do you have any recommendations?