Review of Darius the Great Is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram

June 26th, 2019

Darius the Great Is Not Okay

by Adib Khorram

Dial Books, 2018. 316 pages
Starred Review
Review written September 18, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 General Teen Fiction
2019 Morris Award Winner
2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature

Darius the Great Is Not Okay is the story of Darius Kellner, who is a Fractional Persian – half Persian in his case, from his mother. Darius works in a tea store in Portland, and when we meet him, the kids who bully him walk in and give him a new degrading nickname and vandalize his bike.

His father, a German Übermensch, thinks he should just stand up to the bullies. Darius is sure he can never please him. Though at least they still have one thing they share – nightly time together watching Star Trek, Next Generation.

There’s a Skype visit with Darius’s grandparents in Iran, and his little sister, Laleh, speaks fluently with them in Farsi, but Darius never knows what to say. When they learn that his grandfather has a brain tumor and is not doing well, the family makes plans for an extended trip to Iran.

Most of the book is about that trip to Iran. But it’s also a book about friendship. Yes, I said friendship, not romance. I was delighted to read a book about genuine friendship between high school boys. Darius meets and makes friends with Sohrab in Iran, and right away they can be honest and open with each other. There are some bumps in their friendship – which makes it all the more authentic.

This is also a book about depression. Both Darius and his father take medication for depression, and Darius cries easily. He calls it “stress hormone secretion.” Darius does a lot of obsessing over what people think of him, and I like the way that’s honestly portrayed.

It’s also a book about family. Darius is meeting his Iranian family in person for the first time, and learning about his heritage – generations of his family have lived in the town of Yazd for centuries. They celebrate holidays together with extended family during the visit, and Darius realizes he loves these people.

But none of it is simple. His friend Sohrab is bullied for being Baha’i, and Sohrab’s father is in prison. Darius’s grandfather is dying, and his personality is changing – or so Darius is told, but he mourns that he never really knew his grandfather before, except on the computer screen. Laleh fits in so much better in Iran, since she speaks Farsi. And his father even lets Laleh replace Darius watching Star Trek, Next Generation.

I love Darius’s expressions throughout the book. There are multiple references to Lord of the Rings and Star Trek. I enjoyed that I got pretty much all the references. Will teens get those? Maybe some will. He calls the bullies “Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy” and his own mood swings “Mood Slingshot Maneuvers.”

Overall, it’s a beautiful story of a young man fighting his demons, finding his place in the world, and making and being a true friend.

adibkhorram.com

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Review of I Am Farmer, by Baptiste & Miranda Paul, illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon

June 25th, 2019

I Am Farmer

Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

by Baptiste & Miranda Paul
illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon

Millbrook Press, 2019. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 20, 2019, from a library book

This picture book biography tells about Farmer Tantoh of Cameroon, who ever since he was a small boy loved the soil and wanted to be a farmer. So much so that he took that as his name in high school and purposely flunked an exam that could have given him an office job.

Later he did go on to college, and to this day he works to bring clean water throughout his country and spreads good farming practices and cooperation.

The book follows Farmer Tantoh from childhood, through his college years when he caught typhoid from contaminated water, through his work today.

Here’s an example from one spread:

One project leads to another and another. Farmer Tantoh founds Save Your Future Association, a nonprofit organization to which people around the world can donate money and supplies. With local and international support, he finds a way to bring clean water to Njirong, a village suffering after a thirty-year conflict.

He begins a water delivery service for blind students. He hires engineers to design stairways, railings, or ramps for villagers with physical disabilities. In places with large populations, communities build reservoirs so that in times of drought, people can get the water they need.

The book is beautifully illustrated with Elizabeth Zunon’s wonderful collage artwork, and there are photographs on the endpapers which bring home that this is a real person. I like the Author’s Note, which tells us, “We traveled to northwest Cameroon in 2017, and we were overwhelmed by the number of villagers – from the very young to the elderly – who were beyond eager to tell or show us how Tantoh’s work had changed their lives.”

This is an inspiring story that I’m so glad to have read about.

baptistepaul.net
mirandapaul.com
lizzunon.com
lernerbooks.com

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Review of The Stone Sky, by N. K. Jemisin

June 15th, 2019

The Stone Sky

The Broken Earth, Book 3

by N. K. Jemisin

Orbit Books, 2017. 416 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Hugo Award Winner
Review written May 18, 2019, from a library book

The Stone Sky finishes off The Broken Earth trilogy, the first trilogy ever to have all three books win Hugo Awards, and the first time an author has won three consecutive Hugo Awards. You should definitely read the books of this trilogy in order, because it would be very confusing without the background laid in the first two books.

The strength of this trilogy is in the world-building, though perhaps I should say in the world-breaking. The planet has literally been broken apart and humanity is dying and all life is struggling in this latest Fifth Season, with the sky full of ash and the earth unstable. There are two people who can do something about that – Essun and her daughter Nassun.

But Essun and Nassun are far apart from each other. Both have been growing more powerful as the trilogy progressed. Nassun has been taken under the wing of Schaffa, the Guardian Essun once thought she’d killed. Essun has been wanting to get to her daughter all this time, but other matters of survival got in the way. By now we wonder what will happen when they come together.

Besides orogeny – feeling and manipulating the forces of earth – the two are learning to manipulate the silvery magic in all living things – including the earth itself – and to harness the power of the obelisks, made by ancient people centuries in the past. But using that power comes with great risk.

The reader also learns more about the Stone Eaters. They were human once, long ago, about the same time that the obelisks were made. In this volume, we hear more of their stories.

I can’t say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading these books. Lots of death and destruction in the middle, and this final book was awfully cerebral – I felt like I sort of understood the mechanisms of magic and orogeny and the obelisks, but not completely.

All the same, this book is unlike anything I’ve read in a long time, and I am amazed at the author’s mastery of world-building and unusual narrative structure. It works, and all tells a fascinating story about family, love, and the fate of the world.

nkjemisin.com
orbitbooks.net

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Summer Reading 2019!

June 12th, 2019

It’s that time of year — when the children’s library staff go out to the local schools and talk about the summer reading — and some books the kids might enjoy reading.

I need to make a list of the books I’m booktalking, with covers, so that when the kids come to the library and can’t remember the title, they can browse the list. A fun place to put that is my blog. I will provide links to my reviews — though since this was my Newbery year, not all the reviews are posted yet.

[Just a note: Last year I couldn’t publish a list because of being on the Newbery committee. Many of my favorites and 2018 Sonderbooks Stand-outs got booktalked last year.]

My list is more ambitious than I actually end up having time to talk about. But here are the books I booktalked this year, very loosely organized by grade:

Kindergarten to 1st grade:

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates, by Ryan T. Higgins

Crash, Splash, or Moo!, by Bob Shea

Thank You, Omu!, by Oge Mora

Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales

We Are Brothers, by Yves Nadon

Kindergarten to 2nd grade:

Two nonfiction books about chickens:

The Hen Who Sailed Around the World, by Guirec Soudee

Hawk Mother, by Kara Hagedorn

Two nonfiction books about geography:

Water Land, by Christy Hale

Animal Antipodes, by Carly Allen-Fletcher

1st to 2nd grade:

Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits, by Jason Gough

(Reading about why rabbits eat their own poo is a sure-fire hit!)

A Is For Elizabeth, by Rachel Vail

2nd to 3rd grade:

Three picture books about inventions:

The Boo-Boos That Changed the World, by Barry Wittenstein

Magic Ramen, by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz

Pass Go and Collect $200, by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Steven Salerno

Like dragons? Both of these begin new series:

Dragons in a Bag, by Zetta Elliott

Knights vs. Dinosaurs, by Matt Phelan

Two chapter books for animal lovers:

Saving Winslow, by Sharon Creech

My Father’s Words, by Sarah MacLachlan

4th to 6th grade:

For these grades this year, I start with “my” Newbery winners!

Merci Suarez Changes Gears, by Meg Medina

The Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani

The Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

The winner for our own library’s Newbery Book Club:

The Flight of Swans, by Sarah McGuire

Two about Escalator Trades:

The Eleventh Trade, by Alyssa Hollingsworth

The Season of Styx Malone, by Kekla Magoon

Two partly told in pictures:

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by M. T. Anderson

The Faithful Spy, by John Hendrix

Two about space for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing:

To the Moon, by Jeffrey Kluger

We’re Not From Here, by Geoff Rodkey

Two for Inventors:

Calling All Minds, by Temple Grandin

The Doughnut Fix, by Jessie Janowitz

Two great graphic novels:

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, by Rey Terciero

Be Prepared, by Vera Brosgol

Two more wonderful novels:

Sweep, by Jonathan Auxier

Nowhere Boy, by Katherine Marsh

As you can see, I had far too many favorites to get to talk about them all at each school. But it was fun to share those I could, and maybe they’ll check a few more from this list.

Review of New Kid, by Jerry Craft

June 3rd, 2019

New Kid

by Jerry Craft
with color by Jim Callahan

Harper, 2019. 250 pages.
Review written March 12, 2019, from a library book

Navigating middle school is the perfect subject for graphic novels and fictionalized memoirs. I’m thinking of Smile, Roller Girl, Real Friends, All’s Faire in Middle School, and Be Prepared — and then realize that none of those I mentioned have a boy protagonist. So, okay, it’s time.

New Kid is about Jordan Banks, an African American boy who’s being sent by his parents to start seventh grade at a fancy private school. Jordan wants to go to art school, but his mother thinks this is such a wonderful opportunity, he needs to go Riverdale Academy Day School.

This graphic novel is about navigating middle school as the new kid – and a new kid who’s one of the few African American students. We notice things like teachers consistently calling him by the wrong name, and other students looking at him when financial aid is mentioned, and assuming he’ll especially like the one teacher who’s African American.

And there are other quirks of middle school. Making friends. A girl who carries a puppet on her hand and talks in a puppet voice. A mean kid and his friends. A nice kid who’s really rich. What your parents want for you versus what you want (art school). Keeping up with friends who don’t attend the private school.

I hope this book is as popular as the ones I named above. It’s a lot of fun, and it throws in some insights along the way.

jerrycraft.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of More Glimpses of Heaven, by Trudy Harris

June 1st, 2019

More Glimpses of Heaven

Inspiring True Stories of Hope and Peace at the End of Life’s Journey

by Trudy Harris, RN

Revell, 2010. 204 pages.
Review written May 30, 2019, from a library book

I don’t remember what I read that prompted me to check out this book, but I’m glad I did. My mother is in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, and recently a dear friend from college died of colon cancer – and this book is deeply comforting.

I read this book in small doses, a couple of stories per day. It’s a collection of true stories from hospice nurses – including Trudy Harris herself – about people finding peace at the end of their lives. Many of the stories have an element of the miraculous – some surprising vision or amazingly perfect timing – but many of the stories don’t, and are simply stories of how someone found peace and love around them as they faced their own death.

I haven’t read Trudy Harris’s first book, Glimpses of Heaven, but intend to do so. This second book was written after other hospice professionals showered her with letters telling her about their own experiences similar to what she had shared.

Here’s what she says about the stories:

Each one is a real-life account of a patient who was dying, and in each instance, the caregiver sensed something greater than themselves at work. These stories lend credence to the belief that when our time arrives, we will not be alone. I remember well hearing these stories told by many of the nurses when we gathered for Hospice team meetings in the past. I am most grateful to them for recounting their experiences here for you.

In these stories you will find God’s loving presence reflected in both the lives of those He is calling home to Himself as well as those caring for them. Look for the compassion, forgiveness, generosity, and tenderness of Jesus’s own heart. Do you recognize Him in those who make life easier and more peaceful for others as they are both living and dying? Do you see His humanity and humor reflected through their kindness? He shows us His face in our everyday lives, and if we pay attention, we will see and hear Him. He is inviting us to become part of the kingdom of God here on earth – and what a wonderful invitation it is!

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Review of A Piglet Named Mercy, by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

May 31st, 2019

A Piglet Named Mercy

by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Candlewick Press, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 20, 2019, from a library book.

Here it is! A picture book that tells how a Mercy the Porcine Wonder came to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Watson just when they needed something a little less predictable in their lives.

When a baby piglet falls off a pig transport truck in the night, Mr. Watson discovers her next to his newspaper in the morning. They fall in love. Of course the next-door neighbor Eugenia Lincoln is horrified and her sister Baby Lincoln helpfully brings the piglet a bottle of warm milk.

It doesn’t take long before they learn that the little piglet loves buttered toast very much. She is a wish come true and a mercy, and that’s how she gets her name. (With Eugenia exclaiming in frustration.)

It helps, of course, to have met Mercy before, but it’s actually a wonderful and self-contained story of a couple adopting a piglet. I’m going to use it soon in storytime – which will perhaps entice those children into the longer beginning chapter books when they are ready to read on their own.

Delightful all by itself.

candlewick.com

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Review of On the Come Up, by Angie Thomas

May 29th, 2019

On the Come Up

by Angie Thomas
performed by Bahni Turpin

HarperCollins, 2019. 11.75 hours on 10 discs.
Starred Review
Review written May 18, 2019, from a library audiobook

Here’s a second book by Angie Thomas, set in the same city of Garden Heights as her award-winning debut novel, The Hate U Give. Sixteen-year-old Bri has noticed a greater police presence in Garden Heights since the shooting from the earlier book and the protests that followed. They’ve also found that the security guards at her private school target the black and brown kids.

But right now, all Bri is concerned about is getting her big break. She’s loved to rap since she was a little girl. Her father was a rapper before her, but he was shot in gang violence when she was small. Now Bri is going to compete in the Ring, and what happens there gets her some attention.

Meanwhile, Bri gets harassed and thrown to the ground by school security, who called her a hoodlum. That’s simmering in her brain when she gets a chance to record a song, “On the Come Up.”

The song is popular – but plenty of people take it the wrong way. And that gets Bri’s temper flaring. Which doesn’t make her mother happy. But what her mother doesn’t know won’t hurt her. She recently lost her job, and if Bri can make it big as a rapper, maybe she can keep the electricity on and change all their lives.

One thing I love about this book and listening to the audio is that you get to hear the rapping. It bothers me when authors write about characters doing well in a competition but don’t let you see or hear what they use to compete. (A recent book that did that was Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo. It’s a wonderful book – but what poems did Xiomara use in the poetry slam?) In this audiobook, you get to hear “On the Come Up,” and I promise it will start going through your head.

One word of warning is that there’s plenty of profanity in this audiobook, so you probably won’t want to make this family listening – young kids might pick up more than the songs.

But if you’re looking for a profound book about dreams of making it as an artist combined with social issues and dealing with poverty and family dynamics and friendship dynamics and the question of what constitutes selling out – this wonderfully entertaining audiobook does all of that.

angiethomas.com
harperaudio.com

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Review of The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

May 27th, 2019

The Undefeated

by Kwame Alexander
illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Versify (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2019. 40 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 16, 2019, from a library book

Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson pretty much form my dream team of picture book creators. Kadir Nelson creates lavish, lush paintings of people who are radiant with light. Kadir Nelson writes poetry that sings. In this book they use those powers together to celebrate black Americans through the ages.

Kwame Alexander wrote a poem beginning in 2008, the year his second daughter was born and the year Barack Obama was elected the first African American president of the United States. He explains in the back many reasons he wrote the poem, culminating in this one:

But mostly I wrote a poem to remind Samayah and her friends and her family and all of you, and to remind myself, to never, ever give up, because, as Maya Angelou wrote, “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. It may even be necessary to encounter the defeat, so that we can know who we are. So that we can see, oh, that happened, and I rose. I did get knocked down flat in front of the whole world, and I rose.”

Keep rising.

The poem references African American history, and the magnificent portraits that accompany the poem show people in action, some historical figures and some unnamed.

There are lines like this, accompanied by a portrait of Jesse Owens leaping:

This is for the unforgettable.
The swift and sweet ones
who hurdled history
and opened a world of possible.

There are lines like this, accompanied by a large portrait of Martin Luther King Jr.:

This is for the unlimited,
unstoppable ones.
The dreamers
and doers
who swim
across The Big Sea
of our imagination
and show us
the majestic shores
of the promised land:

There are lines like this, accompanied by a portrait of Jack Johnson, the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion:

This is for the unflappable.
The sophisticated ones
who box adversity
and tackle vision.

There are several pages with a whole group of people shown – and in the back you can check a list of historical figures with short bios to find out who they are.

The poem finishes:

This is for the
undefeated.
This is for you.
And you.
And you.
This
is
for
us.

And every portrait is of an African American person – but lifting the dignity of other humans raises us all. Celebrating triumph over obstacles elevates us all. So I believe this book is for me, too.

Magnificent.

kwamealexander.com
kadirnelson.com
hmhco.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of How to Find Love in a Bookshop, by Veronica Henry

May 17th, 2019

How to Find Love in a Bookshop

by Veronica Henry

Pamela Dorman Books (Viking), 2017. First published in Great Britain in 2016. 340 pages.
Review written April 6, 2019, from a library book

I picked up this book because I was looking for something light and fluffy after reading the first two books of The Broken Earth trilogy, by N. K. Jemisin, where all life on earth is probably coming to an end. This book filled the bill nicely. It’s not just the main character who finds love in a bookshop, but several other couples as well.

And there is some richness to the story, despite it being essentially about everyone getting nicely paired off. Emilia’s father purchased Nightingale Books in a small town near Oxford when he was a widowed young father with a small baby on his hands. Now he is dying, and Emilia has come back to the place she grew up to carry on the bookshop in his place.

We learn how much her father and his shop meant to the people of the town – and all the romance that has happened and is happening in and around the bookshop.

My one quibble is that a few of the happy couples are in relationships with someone else at the beginning of the book, and I’m less enthusiastic about falling in love with someone who’s supposedly committed to someone else. In fact, we get the story of an affair that played out over years and we’re told it ended happily, with no one getting hurt. As someone who’s been cheated on, I always feel like authors are cheating the reader when they write about an affair where nobody gets hurt. Let’s just say I’m super skeptical.

But it was all nice for these characters, and the author even got me feeling sympathetic toward the couple in question. Read this if you want a story of book lovers finding each other and a lot of ultimately happy love stories. As for me, it sustained me to tackle the third book in the science fiction trilogy about the earth being torn apart.

veronicahenry.co.uk
penguin.com

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