Mathematical Colors and Codes, Episode Three – Nondecimal Bases

July 7th, 2020

Episode Three of Mathematical Colors and Codes, my Virtual Program Series for the library is up!

Episode Three is the longest episode. (They do get shorter!) I talk about various bases and look at them together with prime factorization color charts. I’m hoping it gives kids a feel for how other bases work.

This video, like all the others has a downloadable coloring page. [Right now this is the incorrect link. I’ll fix it with the correct one tonight.] This one will let you see for yourself how prime factorization patterns change in other bases, as well as giving you a feel for how counting works in other bases.

Here’s this week’s video:

Here are links to the entire Mathematical Colors and Codes series:

Episode One, Prime Factorization
Episode Two, Prime Factorization Codes
Episode Three, Nondecimal Bases

Review of A Game of Birds and Wolves, by Simon Parkin

July 6th, 2020

A Game of Birds and Wolves

The Ingenious Young Women Whose Secret Board Game Helped Win World War II

by Simon Parkin

Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 310 pages.
Review written April 23, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

A Game of Birds and Wolves is the story of how Great Britain used an elaborate war game to strategize and win the war against the U-boats during World War II.

I hadn’t realized how important the Battle of the Atlantic was. Britain came perilously close to starving. During World War II, 2,603 merchant ships and 175 naval vessels escorting merchant convoys were sunk. More than 30,000 merchant seamen and more than 6,000 Royal Navy sailors died in the Atlantic, mostly because of attacks from U-boats.

The subtitle is a little bit misleading. This book is mostly about the man, Gilbert Roberts, who developed the giant board game and taught it to British naval officers. But his staff, the people running the game, were indeed women, officers in the Wrens, the branch of the British navy for women.

I’ve been reading a lot of children’s nonfiction, so I did get impatient with the extreme level of detail in this book. We hear about the establishment of the Wrens, about specific ships getting sunk in the Atlantic, about the glamorous lives on shore of U-boat commanders, and how Gilbert Roberts had been rejected by the navy. It seemed like the first half of the book was establishing the many, many different characters and the situations for both the Germans and the British.

But the tension does heighten as the WATU – the Western Approaches Tactical Unit – begins deducing the strategies that U-boats were using and developing ways to combat it. At the same time, we read about an admiral asking for more U-boats and finally getting them. It all builds to a dramatic battle where one of the Wrens charting the position of the ships in a giant sea battle is aware that her fiancé is in the thick of things.

As a gamer, it made sense to me that playing strategy games helps admirals devise effective strategies in real-life scenarios. They developed a 6-day course and captains coming in from time at sea would go through the course. They simulated visibility at sea by putting the captains behind a canvas screen and plotting the positions of small models of ships on the linoleum floor. They used green chalk for the U-boats, which couldn’t be seen from an angle. They made a dramatic simulation before computers could be used to do it.

The Wrens on staff were responsible for moving the models and marking the courses of the ships and U-boats involved. I enjoyed the scene where they had a young Wren play a scenario against a high ranking naval officer. She was experienced with the game and soundly defeated him.

It all gives an interesting side of World War II that I’d never heard about before.

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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 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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson

July 5th, 2020

Harbor Me

by Jacqueline Woodson

Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin), 2018. 176 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 30, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#9 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

It’s unfortunate when you read as many children’s books as you can, all put out in the same year, when some of the books lose some of their impact because you’ve read a similar story already. Harbor Me reminds me of Between the Lines by Nikki Grimes. In both cases, you’ve got a group of kids from tough backgrounds coming to care about each other as they open up and share their stories. In Just Like Jackie, something similar happens. I’m a little tired of hearing about teachers pulling this off, because I’m starting to be skeptical – but at the same time, personal stories do have a powerful effect.

In the case of Harbor Me, it’s a group of six 5th and 6th graders in the same class. Every week, they get to meet for one hour in a room without a teacher and say whatever they want. They learn each other’s stories.

It begins with Esteban, whose father was taken away and put in a detention center. Esteban was born in America, but now his mother is afraid she’ll be taken, too.

And Haley, our narrator, who’s thinking back over the year, has a dad who was in prison. She’s lived with her uncle as long as she can remember.

This book isn’t poetry, but Jacqueline Woodson has a poet’s facility with language. This may also explain why my favorite parts of the book were Esteban’s father’s poems, which he wrote in the detention center and sent to his son, who translated them into English.

The book feels a little short – I’d like to know more about more of the kids’ stories – but it’s also refreshing to read a book for 5th graders that’s less than 200 pages long. This book is about kids on the margins, and it is short enough that kids on the margins themselves might not be intimidated by it.

The day I read this, I also reviewed Jacqueline Woodson’s new picture book, The Day It Begins — which is also about making friends by sharing your stories. We are all different, but we all have things in common. When we hear stories, we can find those things in common. The picture book tells about that, and the novel fleshes it out.

Yes. Let’s share stories. And then we’ll have people to harbor us when times are hard.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Strong Voices, introductions by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

July 4th, 2020

Strong Voices

Fifteen American Speeches Worth Knowing

Introductions by Tonya Bolden
illustrated by Eric Velasquez
foreword by Cokie Roberts

Harper, 2020. 128 pages.
Review written April 9, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is a book of great American speeches, so it is by its very nature inspiring. I was familiar with more than half of them, but I’m happy to have made a new acquaintance with the rest, and this is a fine collection covering the scope of the history of our nation and the important issues we’ve faced.

Tonya Bolden has written a detailed introduction to each piece and the speaker, and the speeches are spread out nicely on the pages, beginning with a spread that includes a painting of the speaker. The attractive format of the book appropriately showcases the words.

The speeches chosen place an emphasis on rights and freedoms, but also on inspirational challenges. It begins with Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” in 1775, and finishes with Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” in 1995.

In between, of course we’ve got Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself,” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” but we’ve also got a speech in 1805 by the Native American Red Jacket, “We Never Quarrel About Religion,” Lou Gehrig’s “Farewell to Baseball,” and Fannie Lou Hamer’s “I Question America.”

There’s a Timeline at the back. At first I liked how it places all the speeches on the line with historical events marked as well, going from the Boston Tea Party in 1773 to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech in 1995. I also liked that it has a series of shaded dots next to the line for long time periods – various wars, as well as the Jim Crow laws. But then I noticed that the spacing between things on the timeline isn’t proportional at all. World War I, from 1914-1918, takes up five shaded dots, for example, but World War II, 1939-1945, takes up thirteen shaded dots. But the Vietnam War, 1955-1975, takes up 93 shaded dots. So it’s mainly to lay out the events and speeches in order, and they’re spaced out to read clearly, but not so much to reflect how long different things lasted. So the timeline makes it look like the speeches were spaced out evenly throughout American history, but actually six of the fifteen happened after 1950.

Reading this book made me want to stand with these Americans and continue working for freedom and justice! I hope it will inspire children and teens the same way.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Vanishing Stair, by Maureen Johnson

July 3rd, 2020

The Vanishing Stair

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2019. 373 pages.
Review written March 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The Vanishing Stair is the second book in the Truly Devious trilogy. Yes, you need to read the books in order, because this is a mystery series, and clues are revealed along the way.

Stevie Bell was invited to Ellingham Academy to work on a decades-old mystery about the kidnapping of the wife and daughter of Albert Ellingham, the founder of the academy. In the first book, though, a present-day student dies, and another one disappears.

This book begins with Stevie back with her parents because of the death at Ellingham Academy. But, no surprise to the reader, she quickly gets back to the school, and more of the old and new mysteries unfold. In fact, this volume has Stevie making a major breakthrough about the old case – but we also have another death.

Fortunately, this time I’m reading with the book that comes next checked out and ready to go! I read the first book much too long ago, but anyone who starts the series now will not have the same problem. Check all three books out – you’re in for a well-crafted mystery, with many different layers. On top of that, the characters are quirky, interesting, and fun to spend time with.

Stevie does make a breakthrough in the old case in this book, but there’s still a lot to find out. These books finish at a satisfying place, but still make you eager to find out more.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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.

What did you think of this book?

Mathematical Colors and Codes, Episode Two: Prime Factorization Codes

July 2nd, 2020

Episode Two of my Mathematical Virtual Program Series is up!

In Episode Two, I talk more about prime factorization and ways to show it with colors. Then I show how you can use that idea to make a prime factorization code.

This video has a downloadable coloring page to help you make your own prime factorization code.

Here’s this week’s video:

Here are links to the entire Mathematical Colors and Codes series:

Episode One, Prime Factorization
Episode Two, Prime Factorization Codes
Episode Three, Nondecimal Bases

Closing Session with Natalie Portman at ALA Virtual Conference

June 26th, 2020

The Closing Session of ALA Virtual Conference 2020 featured Natalie Portman, who has a new picture book coming out called Natalie Portman’s Fables, being interviewed by librarian Betsy Bird.

[Betsy made a funny slip when she was listing Natalie’s credentials and called her an “Archivist” when she meant to say “Activist.” Only a librarian! Natalie said that would be cool!]

The main idea of the book, which includes three stories, is to rewrite beloved stories with more female characters.

She noticed when she had a daughter after having a son that people had given her boy baby “classics” that all seemed to feature male characters. Then they gave her girl baby books with feminist slants — but does a toddler really need to be told she’ll encounter obstacles?

She would change the pronouns in the stories she reads to have more female characters — and decided to write a book that does that. It’s not going to be all females, but just more a reflection of what the world is actually like.

They discussed the old saying that girls will read books about boys, but boys won’t read books about girls. Natalie said that girls are taught from a very young age to get inside boys’ heads and understand what they’re thinking. Boys also need to learn to think about a girl’s perspective.

The practice of empathy starts in children’s books.

Toddlers will empathize with any creature. We should encourage that.

She chose three tales with animal characters that she could fit into a message appropriate for modern times.

Stories Beyond US Borders at ALA Virtual Conference

June 26th, 2020

Today I caught an On-demand virtual program and watched Stories from Beyond U.S. Borders: The Young Reader’s Window to the World. The four panelists were children’s and YA authors who all live in Southeast Asia.

The speakers were:
Hanna Alkaf, author of The Weight of Our Sky and the upcoming The Girl and the Ghost, who lives in Malaysia
Rin Chupeco, author of several book including the recent Wicked As You Wish, who lives in the Philippines
Gail Villanueva, author of My Fate According to the Butterfly and the upcoming A Potful of Magic, who also lives in the Philippines
Remy Lai, author of Pie in the Sky and the upcoming Fly on the Wall, who was born in Indonesia, grew up in Singapore, and now lives in Australia.

Hanna Alkaf was the moderator, and she first asked about identity. She is Malay and Muslim, which puts her in the majority in Malaysia and gives her some privilege.

Rin Chupeco is of Chinese descent but has lived in the Philippines all her life. She’s liberal, pansexual and atheist, so she’s always felt like an outsider. People are always telling her what she’s supposed to be. She feels that books highlight that different people have very different experiences, even within the same culture.

Gail Villanueva is a brown Filipino and looks more typically Filipino. But there is colorism in the Philippines, and she told a story of being mistreated at a bank because they didn’t think she’d be able to afford the product she wanted.

Remy Lai has a complex identity from the many countries where she’s lived. Her world speaks multiple languages, and her main character in her new book does the same, switching back to Mandarin to speak with family.

The panelists agreed that representation is lacking for Southeast Asians. People want one book to stand in for everyone. Then they reject stories that don’t fit the mold.

Gail pointed out that middle class folks in the Philippines are not that different from the U.S. She gets tired of people expecting island huts.

Rin said that people think she’s writing English as a second language, but they speak English in the Philippines.

Hanna has experienced pushback for her very existence in the sphere of American publishing. There’s a perception that she can’t possibly be as good or as deserving.

They all talked about wanting to write books that are just for fun, that have nothing to do with their culture — about a duck, for example! — and that aren’t expected to teach American readers anything, but just be a fun experience.

Southeast Asia is not a monolith. We don’t give that same pressure to educate to American authors. They don’t want pressure to always have to be a window.

In conclusion they asked us to:
Keep an open mind.
Trust us about our own experiences.
Treat us as one of you.
Give us a chance! Let us stand toe-to-toe with American authors.

Behind the Wires: American Concentration Camps Then and Now at ALA Virtual Conference

June 26th, 2020

Behind the Wires: American Concentration Camps Then and Now was a program offered by APALA, the Asian/Pacific American Library Association.

The first speaker was Dr. Satsuki Ina, a survivor of the World War II concentration camps in America.

She commented first that correcting descriptive language is important. The dictionary definition of a concentration camp is a place where large numbers of people are detained or confined under armed guard.

She told her own story, with pictures of her parents, who were sent to the camps as newlyweds. Her brother was born in one camp, and she was born in a maximum security prison for dissidents. Her father had protested his incarceration, which made him a dissident. Dissidents were targeted for deportation, beaten, and separated from their families.

Not until 1946 were they released with $25 and a train ticket.

Dr. Ina has made a documentary film and promotes Healing Circles for Change. Now she’s part of a group that protests the same thing happening to immigrants. The resonance rings clear.

There were no protests when they were removed. They use their own history as a platform. They want the people inside to know people outside care.

The group is called Tsuru for Solidarity, with the website They use the hashtag #StopRepeatingHistory.

The common denominator is systemic racism. Racism is deeply ingrained in our history and is causing intergenerational trauma. We need deep systemic change.

The next speaker, Oscar Baeza, is a librarian in El Paso. He showed pictures and told about the situation in the concentration camps for immigrants at our borders.

There is inhumane treatment. He showed pictures of holding centers where immigrants are crowded together tightly in a room and kept many days.

Human rights are violated. He showed a picture of a child in a cage, holding a bottle. A child in that situation is going to ask, Am I a criminal? Am I an animal? There are severe psychological effects.

Another picture showed people packed under a bridge in a cage and left there for weeks, with fumes from cars and regular traffic going by.

Some people were released in El Paso at 8 pm on Christmas Eve in the cold with no food and no direction and everything shutting down for the holiday. El Paso rose to the occasion, but it was part of the cruelty.

Then Elena Baeza spoke, another librarian in El Paso. She spoke about offering library services to the immigrants. They do big events twice a year for immigrant children and teens.

There are lots of parallel experiences with the Japanese in 1942. Their stories need to be heard.

She shared some stories: Some were kept in dark rooms by ICE, so they couldn’t tell if it was night or day. They were not allowed to shower. They received one small, very bad meal per day. They felt like prisoners.

She does storytimes for immigrants with arts and crafts. Allowing them to express themselves in art is very therapeutic. Allow immigrants to tell their stories without saying a word through stories, movies, and art.

With the questions at the end the three speakers gave some tips.

It’s important to center the stories and voices of the immigrants. Inquire from them how best to help.

After getting reparations, the Japanese survivors became quieter, as if they were no longer allowed to tell their stories. This is getting them to speak up.

We need to keep up the pressure, coming together. Racism has fractured minority groups from each other. Reach out to each other’s communities and work together.

Reopening Libraries: Smart Strategies for a Healthy Restart at ALA Virtual Conference

June 26th, 2020

Today I attended a session of ALA Virtual Conference about reopening libraries with two speakers.

The first speaker, George Coe, is head of Brodart, an important company for library supplies. The second speaker was Dana Hollins, an Industrial Hygienist. (Who knew this field existed? She’s a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association.)

George Coe told about their experiences of shutting down and reopening at Brodart, but to me that didn’t really apply to the issues libraries face. They had to reconsider their workflow procedures to be able to apply social distancing. The most relevant information is that they have added helpful supplies to their inventory such as face masks and wipes. So now these can be ordered through a library supplier. They also made some book lists for libraries that are appropriate for the times.

The talk by Dana Hollins, however, was very relevant. I didn’t realize that a document exists with guidelines for reopening. It’s at Scroll down to find the library document. This is intended to be a living document, so do send any feedback to the American Industrial Hygiene Association.

I’ll continue with the points I jotted down from her talk:

Considerations before reopening:
Stay in touch with your local health department.
Consider conducting a Hazard Assessment.
Think about the different activities and services.
The main route of transmission is person-to-person droplets, so you want to minimize close personal contact.
Communicate to library patrons, and train staff to communicate as well.
Ease back into operation in phases, and re-evaluate at each stage.

Steps to minimize a hazard:

Switch to virtual events.
Encourage staff to work from home where possible.
Consider customer screening such as temperature checks.
Encourage staff to stay home if not feeling well. Encourage customers to do the same (with signs).
Post signs at the library entrance and throughout the library.

Separate work locations or use plexiglass.
Increase ventilation/fresh air where possible.
Increase filter efficiency.
Install or use Portable HEPA Filtration Units
Limit personal fan use.

Consider staggering shifts or limiting the number of patrons in the library.
Maintain physical distance.
Limit personal contact.
Evaluate/change work practices.
Encourage personal hygiene (hand washing).
Enhance cleaning and disinfecting.
Isolate book returns. (72 hours is great.)

Wear disposable gloves when disinfecting surfaces. (This is to protect you from the disinfectant chemicals, not from the virus.)
Wear face coverings.

In the Q&A session, a few more points came up:

They’re most concerned about hard nonporous surfaces. Things that people touch or where they breathe should get cleaned.

The virus can’t go through skin. So keep good hand hygiene. Face shields are an option if you can’t wear a mask.

Someone asked about magazines, and she repeated the quarantine advice of 72 hours as the best way to deal with paper. (This is problematic for magazines.)