Review: Cannabis – The Illegalization of Weed in America

51MgQg9fz0L._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America, Box Brown’s impassioned history lesson about Cannabis and its journey towards illegalization, takes readers from ancient religious traditions in India (see an excerpt here) to Mexico to opaque motivations and actions on the part of the US government to modern day efforts to re-legalize the plant and its use. In what comes across very much as a labor of love, Box Brown doesn’t hide his positive bias for Cannabis, nor does he subdue his frustration and anger at how the plant has been misrepresented for both racist control of populations and cynical motivation for power. No matter where your views regarding legalization of Cannabis land, this graphic history is filled with interesting, shocking, and thought-provoking details and events.

Brown’s unblinking, critical eye confronts the racist and sexist control of Cannabis around the world, the junk science and false narratives that widened a predatory practice of arresting Black and brown people for marijuana under the guise of saving white youth and women, as well as the Nixon White House and its “Marihuana Report.” In clear and organized detail, the graphic panels question motives and point out inconsistencies throughout the historical efforts to control and eradicate the use of Cannabis.


Ancient religious traditions in India included Bhang, a Cannabis product.

Box Brown reserves a special and methodical ire for Harry J. Anslinger, the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, appointed in 1930. Despite Anslinger starting out with a focus on heroin, and considering marijuana a minor distraction, the end of prohibition threatened his job. He soon made sure to center Cannabis products complete with “Gore Files” that detailed how smoking marijuana drove people into homicidal rages. Contradictions abounded with examples of marijuana use causing violent episodes AND causing users to laze about. Anslinger also blamed Marijuana for both impotence AND sexual stimulation. Despite these discordant tales, fear was fueled and monetary opportunities were recognized, resulting in the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

Brown also highlights skeptics of Reefer Mania, like New York Mayor Fiorello, who commissioned his own study of to observe the effects of Cannabis on individuals. In contrast to earlier narratives from Anslinger and the Federal Government, the New York study showed no effect on the morality of subjects, even as the newspapers and Anslinger’s testimony continued to claim the opposite. However, this study had no effect on legislation, and Anslinger soon introduced his “Stepping Stone Theory” to heighten fear. (Now referred to as the Gateway Drug Theory.)

Brown makes sure to spotlight the racial disparities in arrests and harshness of punishment. In CANNABIS, Brown details how Jazz musicians were a favorite Anslinger target, including Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. Brown points out that Holiday was harassed for years and arrested for narcotics possession even as she was dying of cirrhosis of the liver. Testimony from addiction experts that disputed the “stepping stone theory” and the violent tendencies tied to Cannabis was cast aside, and by 1952 Cannabis was put in the same category as heroin. The same Federal act dictated mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.

via Box Brown's FB

Photo of NYT’s preview via Box Brown’s Facebook page

A particularly salient section of the novel centers on the Nixon White House. In 1970, Nixon commissioned his own Cannabis report to bolster the Controlled Substances Act, but his own commission came back with a report that disputed the Gateway Theory as well as the addictive quality of Cannabis. It even recommended that marijuana be descheduled and declassified. Nixon trashed the report and ordered easier-to-manipulate hearings instead.

Because the graphic novel is about the ILLEGALIZATION of weed in America, the end of the book feels like a quick and abrupt close. Mentions of Nancy Reagan and “Just Say No” and details about medical marijuana seem sparse after the in-depth pages that precede them. One highlight is a brief but inspiring mention of Dennis Peron, a Cannabis activist inspired after being arrested for possession of marijuana used for his lover’s AIDS symptoms.

CANNABIS: The Illegalization of Weed in America reads like an enthusiastic user’s testimony in passionate defense of a dear friend. However, the in-depth research, clear examples and text, and varied narratives give leeway when warranted. They also reveal a deep understanding of the social justice, historical, and recreational values entangled in the relationship the USA has with marijuana and all Cannabis products.

Those who read the graphic novel, whether they come with painful baggage that feeds opinions against Cannabis or a carefree “Legalize It” attitude towards weed, will definitely learn a lot and perhaps adjust the context wrapped around the history of the herb.

Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America by Box Brown is available April 2, 2019 from First Second Books.

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Review: Catwad

CatwadHonestly, I flipped through CATWAD: It’s Me when it was first sent to me and almost tossed it directly into the donation pile. Luckily, before my rush to judgment could cause a CATastrophe, my kids saw it, grabbed it, and devoured the book over and over again. They loved the goofy, sometimes gross, sometimes adorable, and surprisingly tender mini-tales of Catwad, the grumpy cat and his effusively joyful companion Blurmp.

So I read it. And I loved it.

It’s pure optimism tethered to ultra-refined irritability. And it’s a perfect partner to a bad day or a grouchy mood. The bright color palette suits the absolute silliness of Blurmp’s point-of-view. And kids will love the sometimes grotesque illustrations that include expired food, bodily functions, and various insects.

CATWAD will remind people my age of Garfield, except without the sweetness. Haha. Seriously, your kids will love this book. And I believe it’s going to be a series, so hooray for never-ending Catwad and Blurmp adventures from Jim Benton!

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Review: The Girl He Used to Know

GirlHeUsedtoKnowThe_BookshotNew York Times Bestselling Author Tracey Garvis Graves has a new book coming out on April 2nd, and THE GIRL HE USED TO KNOW is going to be a fantastic springtime read. I’m not usually a reader of books in the “Romance” genre, and I’d never read TGG’s work before, so I went in to this book devoid of expectations. I was pleasantly surprised and I became invested in the characters’ lives and coping mechanisms.

From the publisher:

Annika (rhymes with Monica) Rose is an English major at the University of Illinois. Anxious in social situations where she finds most people’s behavior confusing, she’d rather be surrounded by the order and discipline of books or the quiet solitude of playing chess.

Jonathan Hoffman joined the chess club and lost his first game—and his heart—to the shy and awkward, yet brilliant and beautiful Annika. He admires her ability to be true to herself, quirks and all, and accepts the challenges involved in pursuing a relationship with her. Jonathan and Annika bring out the best in each other, finding the confidence and courage within themselves to plan a future together. What follows is a tumultuous yet tender love affair that withstands everything except the unforeseen tragedy that forces them apart, shattering their connection and leaving them to navigate their lives alone.

Now, a decade later, fate reunites Annika and Jonathan in Chicago. She’s living the life she wanted as a librarian. He’s a Wall Street whiz, recovering from a divorce and seeking a fresh start. The attraction and strong feelings they once shared are instantly rekindled, but until they confront the fears and anxieties that drove them apart, their second chance will end before it truly begins.

I found the main characters wonderfully developed, and the dialogue was both natural and helped move the plot along and deepen the characters’ personalities. The novel has perspectives from the two main characters, Annika and Jonathan, although Annika gets much more of a spotlight. The story also uses flashbacks to give detail and explanation for the roadblocks the two face in reconnecting.

read the girl

There are some really vulnerable moments that illuminate the characters and the relationship they share.

I liked that Garvis Graves handled the reveal of a couple of details deftly. I won’t give away what initiated Jonathan and Annika’s break-up back in college, but as I read I wondered…and finding out the reason came at the perfect time and revealed so much about Annika’s character. In addition, most readers will figure out pretty quickly, based on Annika’s actions and words, that she is on the autism spectrum. However, it’s not something that is ever mentioned until well towards the end of the novel. And in one uncomfortable but realistic scene, Jonathan finally tells Annika, “Did you really think I didn’t know?” Small spoiler: Annika really thought Jonathan didn’t know. It was a touching and realistic scene between the two.

The 2001 timeline feels rushed for the Annika/Jonathan reunion, but as the 1991 events unfurl, the whirlwind of getting reconnected begins to become more and more believable. And getting to know Annika and Jonathan’s relationship, as well as meeting peripheral characters (who are essential but sidelined!) like Janice and Annika’s parents and Annika’s therapist Tina, is worth the compressed emotional events.

I appreciated the emphasis on loving and appreciating people for who they are, and Annika’s methods of coping and growing are treated with sensitivity and a matter-of-fact realism. Overall, I really enjoyed reading the novel and getting to know the characters, but I had a personal reaction to one aspect of the novel. See below if you don’t mind partial spoilers!

THE GIRL HE USED TO KNOW by Tracey Garvis Graves comes out April 2nd!

Continue reading

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Glad I Saw It: One Drop Mural


I was driving up this street, stopped in a line of cars waiting for the red light to change, when I first noticed this mural that I must have driven by at least a few times before. It literally made me take a moment to stop and smile.

Which part do you like best? I like the leaf pattern at the lower right, but I also like the overall chunkiness of the mural’s design. It’s by a custom sign and billboard outfit called One Drop Sign Shop.

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Review: JEDI ACADEMY — Revenge of the Sis

Revenge of the Sis Krosoczka IgnatowChristina Starspeeder, older sister to Victor Starspeeder, is the focus in this 7th book in the popular Jedi Academy series: REVENGE OF THE SIS. The graphic novel, written by Jarrett J. Krosoczka & Amy Ignatow, continues the relatable and fun style of journal entries and doodles to great effect. We meet a brand new set of characters from all corners of the Star Wars universe at the Jedi Academy at Jedha City. Christina, who seemed in charge and confident to everyone on Coruscant, shows a more developed personality with vulnerabilities, silly foibles, and self-doubt as she acclimates to her new Academy.

Faced with classmates who are highly impressive and the legendary Jedi Master Skia Ro as her Jedi mentor, Christina’s optimism and confidence are tested again and again – no thanks to her mentor’s droid, whose condescension cuts Christina down at every turn. The storyline emphasizes perseverance, humility, and trusting one’s instincts (some of the time) as the Jedi in training wends her way through adventures and conflicts both small and humongous.

Aimed at readers 8-12 years old, social tensions exist, but are kept to a minimum. However, Christina’s comparison of her own abilities and experience will feel familiar to most readers. In addition, the use of social media like Stargrams, Galaxy Feed, an online publication called The Daily Millennium, and Christina’s favorite read, Galactic Zoology Today, provide insights to the characters and clues to developing plotlines. There is even astute commentary regarding trust of social media that could spark conversations between parents and children venturing into the morass that is online life.

Revenge of the Sis is a rollicking and enjoyable story that touches on modern topics like shoddy developments pushing out small businesses even as it incorporates age-old adolescent challenges. Ignatow’s dialogue and character development and Krosoczka’s expressive illustrations are a delight. Highly recommended!

Revenge of the Sis is due out March 26th, 2019, but you can find an independent bookstore here to pre-order your copy!

Okay, so Amazon has it too.


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Review: FAKERS, An Insider’s Guide to Cons, Hoaxes, and Scams

FAKERS H.P. Wood David ClarkWhether the young people in your life believe every tall tale or have already developed their cynicism into an art, FAKERS is sure to entertain and educate them about both the history and the current state of cons, hoaxes, and scams. H.P. Wood has collected a huge selection of the most familiar tricks and cons and added in plenty of surprises and new-fangled scams for good measure. The fanciful illustrations by David Clark ensure that readers don’t take the tellers of fake tales too seriously, which contrasts with the photographs and archival material from some of the more successful scams.

Fakers takes us from well-known short cons involving cards, dice, and shells to sales scams that have lasted eons. Ever wondered where “Pig in a Poke” came from? It’s in there! Fakers also keeps things modern by running through the history of the “friend in distress” scam which has gone from scrolls to letters to emails. It continues with descriptions of scams involving pets, lottery winnings, and investments. Readers will get the real deal about Ponzi, pyramid, and Madoff as well as construction scams. Each has origins from generations ago. What is especially impressive is that H. P. Wood goes into the psychology and humanity that allows the scams to work over and over again — even on you!

Whether your interest is in mind-bending spoons, carnival games, science, medicine or war, Fakers makes sure to touch on it all. Additionally, it does so with a modern sensibility. For example, P. T. Barnum is called out for using an enslaved woman as a side-show and pocketing money meant to help free her grandchildren. And “fake news” is pointed out as a convenient phrase when news is less than flattering. The trends on social media and bots are also connected to the idea of decrying “fake news.”

With an extensive glossary, suggestions for further reading, and even a list of quotation sources, FAKERS backs up its claims and establishes itself as a true resource for the history of cons, hoaxes, and scams. Highly recommended for ages 10 and up.


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Review: Nightmare Detective: The Skeleton King

51DlRHzYOLNightmare Detective: The Skeleton King by first-time author Monk Inyang, is a fast-paced and fun read that addresses both fighting fears (real and imagined) and strengthening confidence in young people. The novel’s main character, 12-year old Uko Hill, a Black boy living in Newark, NJ, has a loving family, a close-knit group of friends, and a vivid dream life. What he needs to do is shake off his self-doubt and develop self-confidence and a strong sense of independence — much like most tweens.

In his adventures, he fights dream-monsters in his own nightmares as well as in others’. Sometimes he fails, sometimes he’s successful. And through the guidance of his Nightmare Detective mentor, Uko works towards becoming a talented Detective on his own terms. I found this novel entertaining and creative in its approach to real-life problems young people face, even as it infused fantasy elements throughout.

Uko is a fully-fleshed out and believable character, and his mentor Toni has details and personality added in an organic and believable way. Peripheral characters, like Uko’s brother and best friends, are also not neglected as each serves a distinct purpose as the story progresses. The terrifyingly charismatic Chief and Uko’s personal dream-monster The Skeleton King are both worthy antagonists as well.

Monk Inyang’s approach to childhood insecurities and challenges is creative and effective. And as in many middle-grade novels, the tweens deal with both everyday events and deeply troubling problems. Readers will relate to Uko, Toni, and the other characters in both actions and dialogue. Nightmare Detective: The Skeleton King is recommended for ages 10-14.

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Review: Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens

35120779The collection of 13 short stories that makes up UNBROKEN: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens is diverse in almost every way imaginable. Edited by Marieke Nijkamp, the stories feature varied disabilities, ranging from legal blindness to deep anxiety to using a cane or wheelchair to travel to irritable bowel syndrome, and characters consistently impress with in-depth personalities and courage and imagination. Stories include protagonists of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as various economic levels and romantic orientations. Settings vary in time and space, some seem to be set in the past, others in the future. And while most stories have a fairly realistic bent, many include touches of magical realism, sci-fi, and magic and fantasy. There is truly something for everyone in this collection.

Each of the tales stars a teenager with a disability, and each of those teens leads the reader into a world where perspectives and experiences are challenged. The subtitle of Unbroken, 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens, pinpoints the focus perfectly. Each of the 13 authors has created a world where the main character is unconcerned with explaining her or his disability to the reader. We are left to navigate the stories tentatively even as we are immersed in realities with challenges, difficulties, and also immense joys.

Stand out stories include Kody Keplinger’s “Britt and the Bike God,” in which a girl with retinitis pigmentosa bikes her way into fully accepting her blindness, a love/ghost story titled “The Leap and the Fall” in which author Kayla Whaley deftly creates a true hero of a teenaged girl in her wheelchair, and Katherine Locke’s sci-fi story “Per Aspera Ad Astra” of a girl with debilitating panic attacks who must challenge herself to save her family. Another favorite for me was “Plus One” by Karuna Riaz, which helps readers understand the intense self-consciousness of anxiety as it becomes an unwelcome companion and intertwines with cultural and family expectations. Several stories, notably “The Leap and the Fall” and “A Curse, A Kindness,” include two girls finding love.

I want to especially mention “Dear Nora James, You Know Nothing About Love” by Dhonielle Clayton. In it, Nora struggles with balancing irritable bowel syndrome and high school and an absentee Dad who wants to reconnect and an understanding best friend who needs a big favor. The dialogue, interactions and personalities of the characters are all so true-to-life and poignant that readers can’t help but feel both protective and proud of Nora James.

While some of the stories include uneven dialogue, what I especially appreciated was the matter-of-fact inclusion of each challenge and disability, whether emotional or physical, as a seamless aspect of each teenager’s whole being. This collection is an important book for neurotypical and physically-abled readers. But even more importantly, as the title promises, this collection affirms and centers disabled teens.

Some stories include curses, but they don’t come across as gratuitous and they highlight character traits. There are several romantic entanglements with kissing. Overall, Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens will make an important and oft-read addition to any collection or classroom. Recommended for ages 13 and up.


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Review: Struttin’ With Some Barbecue

41034887.jpgSTRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Rachel Himes, showcases the personality, talent, and successes of Lil Hardin Armstrong, the First Lady of Jazz.  This biography in verse is fun to read and filled with vivid details that almost dance off the page. Recommended for children in grades 3 through 7, the language is accessible and vibrant, and the poetic lines ask to be read aloud. The author is direct in sharing topics like racial segregation and sexism in ways that even younger readers will grasp and appreciate.

Lil Hardin Armstrong’s story is told in four parts, with a focus on events influencing her musical development and accomplishments. From church organist at 9-years old to a rebellious daughter playing in a band, and later to an ambitious powerhouse behind Louis Armstrong’s success, the story of The First Lady of Jazz will inspire and captivate readers. Like the music, Struttin’ With Some Barbecue is fast moving and exciting.

The graphite and ink art throughout the book is expressive and joyful. Sometimes illustrator Rachel Himes chooses a detail, like a vinyl record, hands clapping, or a silhouette, to highlight a moment in the story. Other times she creates entire scenes full of movement and personality. The illustrations accent the words wonderfully.

The end of the book includes a glossary, notes on jazz, segregation, quotation sources, and further reading. The book itself will be sure to inspire readers to learn more about Lil Hardin Armstrong and her talents for music, business, and life.

Recommended for ages 8-14.

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Glad I Saw It: Repeat!!! Repeat.

23 skiddoo.jpg

Good advice from outside 23 Skiddoo. Take it several times a day.

23 Skiddoo in Bloomfield has fantastic hot drinks, a comfortable room with lots of seating, and a laidback and open atmosphere.

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