The Bookworm: A lesson in diversity, immigration and history

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“W is for Welcome: A Celebration of America’s Diversity”

By Brad Herzog, illustrated by a collection of nationally acclaimed artists

c. 2018, Sleeping Bear Press

$17.99, $21.99 Canada; 32 pages

The kid down the block looks nothing like you. His parents don’t look like your parents, either. You go to different churches, eat different things, and the clothes in your closet are nothing like what he wears. He lives right down the block, but it feels like another world. Still, as in the new book “W is for Welcome” by Brad Herzog, you’re more alike than you think.

“W is for Welcome: A Celebration of America’s Diversity” by Brad Herzog.

Chances are, you’re old enough to know your A-B-Cs. If you do, then you know that it begins with A and in this book, “A is for America ,” which is made of many people whose ancestors came from somewhere else. “C is for Cultures,” which is what they brought with them when they arrived.

“F is for Freedom,” and that’s what we enjoy here. For many centuries, people have come to America for the freedom to pray to the God of choice, to speak out, to protest, and to travel wherever they want to go. There’s freedom for newspapers to print the truth, and the freedom to read it.

For many Immigrants (which is what “I” stands for), it was a long J for Journey to get to America. Albert Einstein was an immigrant. So were Nikola Tesla and Andrew Carnegie. So were astronaut José Hernández, our Statue of Liberty, the co-creator of Google, the creators of YouTube, and many other “brilliant thinkers.”

“W is for Welcome: A Celebration of America’s Diversity” author Brad Herzog.

But becoming an American citizen isn’t easy. There’s a long process to become N for Naturalization, and it includes an O for Oath.  There’s paperwork to fill out, tests to take, and a huge ceremony for celebrating when the process is done. It takes time to make the Q for Quest and to start life in a new, somewhat-unfamiliar country but it’s worth it to live in the U for United States.

The thing to remember is that “V is for Voices” and every immigrant has one with a unique story to tell. You can hear some of those tales by visiting Ellis Island, reading books by immigrants, and listening to those who show their Z for Zeal at being brand-new Americans.

There’s a lot to like about “W is for Welcome,” and it starts with the text by author Brad Herzog.

Like many of the books in this alphabet series, “W is for Welcome” will grow with your child. On the inner parts of each page is a four-line verse simple enough for a preschooler to grasp. On the outer edges, Herzog uses more advanced language and bigger concepts to explain diversity, immigration, and history in a way that older children can understand clearly. What’s between these features is likewise important: the artwork for each letter of the alphabet is done by acclaimed artists and illustrators, offering not just one, but multiple ways of perceiving the words – and the world - inside.

Find this book for your 3-to-5-year-old, but know that your current-events-aware 6-to-10-year-old may want it, too. “W is for Welcome” is a book you can all like, and one they’ll be looking for.

“Bad Men and Wicked Women”

By Eric Jerome Dickey

c. 2018, Dutton

$27, $36.00 Canada; 371 pages

Blood is thicker than water. That’s what they say: your relationship with family – blood – is stronger than any connection you’ll have with someone unrelated. Blood is thicker than water – except, perhaps, as in the new novel “Bad Men and Wicked Women” by Eric Jerome Dickey, when the blood shed is your own.

Fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money.

“Bad Men and Wicked Women” by Eric Jerome Dickey.

But that’s how much Ken Swift’s estranged daughter, Margaux, suddenly demanded of him. She claimed that it was payback for all the years he was absent. She said it was a small price to pay for abandoning her. And then, just in case he had no plans to give her the cash, she uttered a name that he never wanted to hear again.

It was a name that went far into his history, one that tied him to his boss, San Bernardino, who told Swift what to do and where to be. San Bernardino was why Swift put Margaux off: he had business to take care of on the swanky side of town. Richard Garrett owed somebody some money that he wasn’t paying, and Swift and his best friend, Joe Ellis, were told to take care of the problem.

But a quick visit to Garrett’s mansion opened a world of issues that Swift didn’t need. Joe Ellis, an “instigator” and woman-magnet, flirted with Garrett’s wife, which spun Garrett into a rage. Though Garrett promised to have the money to San Bernardino by that night, Ken Swift sensed that that wasn’t the last they’d see of him.

“Bad Men and Wicked Women” author Eric Jerome Dickey.

It wasn’t as if Swift couldn’t use more money himself. Without that fifty grand, Margaux was threatening to take the secret name to the police. Margaux’s mother was back in the States from Africa, and Swift realized that he was still in love with Jimi Lee. All this made him forget his girlfriend’s birthday, and Rachel Redman was threatening to return to her Russian lover. Swift was up to his neck in women with problems – a neck that was stuck far enough out to be vulnerable to attack …

One strong indicator of a good book is how eager you are to return it. “Bad Men and Wicked Women” surely fills that bill.

Don’t expect that feeling immediately, though. Author Eric Jerome Dickey takes his time getting to the point here; there’s plenty of fluff-dialogue in this tale that doesn’t do much but fill pages, and some that screams “TMI.”

We don’t, for instance, need several pages on one character’s intestinal problems.

What we do need is action, and it arrives in a page-turning fury that handily douses the superfluousness that precedes it. Its presence is like getting your back scratched: it puts you in a mood and you don’t want it to end. Indeed, larger-than-life scenarios are near-hallmarks in a Dickey novel, and nobody does them better.

Yes, there’s trash, flash, and violence in this book but you shouldn’t be surprised. You wouldn’t want it any other way, in fact, because “Bad Men and Wicked Women” is thick with thrills.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.