Review of $2.00 a Day, by Kathryn J. Edin & H. Luke Shaefer

May 4th, 2016

2_dollars_a_day_large$2.00 a Day

Living on Almost Nothing in America

by Kathryn J. Edin & H. Luke Shaefer

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2015. 210 pages.
Starred Review

This book was published in 2015, so it was written before the election season got going, but it has strong political repercussions.

The book puts faces on extreme poverty, but the approach is a scientific one. Nothing here is sensationalized. The authors took statistics and facts, then dug deeper to give an understanding of what’s going on so that such deep poverty has become so widespread. At the end, they offer some ideas for things we can and should do about this.

This book is based on academic studies and census data. In the 1990s, author Kathryn Edin did an in-depth study of welfare recipients. But in 2010, she found more families in much worse shape.

In the summer of 2010, Edin returned to the field to update her work on the very poor. She was struck by how markedly different things appeared from just fifteen years before. In the course of her interviews, she began to encounter many families living in conditions similar to those she would find when she met Susan and Devin Brown in 2012 — with no visible means of cash income from any source. These families weren’t just poor by American standards. They were the poorest of the poor. Some claimed food stamps, now called SNAP, for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A few had a housing subsidy. Most had at least one household member covered by some form of government-funded health insurance. Some received an occasional bag of groceries from a food pantry. But what was so strikingly different from a decade and a half earlier was that there was virtually no cash coming into these homes. Not only were there no earnings, there was no welfare check either. These families didn’t just have too little cash to survive on, as was true for the welfare recipients Edin and Lein had met in the early 1990s. They often had no cash at all. And the absence of cash permeated every aspect of their lives. It seemed as though not only cash was missing, but hope as well.

Edin dug deeper and met Luke Shaefer, a leading expert on the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).

That fall, during an early morning meeting in her office in Cambridge, Edin shared with Shaefer what she had been seeing on the ground. Shaefer immediately went to work to see if he could detect a trend in the SIPP data that matched Edin’s observations. First, though, he needed to determine what income threshold would capture people who were experiencing a level of destitution so deep as to be unthought-of in America. Accordingly, he borrowed inspiration from one of the World Bank’s metrics of global poverty in the developing world — $2 per person, per day. At the time, the official poverty line for a family of three in the United States worked out to about $16.50 per person, per day over the course of a year. The government’s designation of “deep poverty” — set at half the poverty line — equated to about $8.30 per person, per day. As far as Shaefer and Edin could tell, no one had ever looked to see whether any slice of the American poor fell below the even lower threshold of $2 a day for even part of a year. With the SIPP, it was fairly easy to estimate how many American families with children were reporting cash incomes below this very low threshold in any given month….

The results of Shaefer’s analysis were staggering. In early 2011, 1.5 million households with roughly 3 million children were surviving on cash incomes of no more than $2 per person, per day in any given month. That’s about one out of every twenty-five families with children in America. What’s more, not only were these figures astoundingly high, but the phenomenon of $2-a-day poverty among households with children had been on the rise since the nation’s landmark welfare reform legislation was passed in 1996 — and at a distressingly fast pace. As of 2011, the number of families in $2-a-day poverty had more than doubled in just a decade and a half.

It further appeared that the experience of living below the $2-a-day threshold didn’t discriminate by family type or race. While single-mother families were most at risk of falling into a spell of extreme destitution, more than a third of the households in $2-a-day poverty were headed by a married couple. And although the rate of growth was highest among African Americans and Hispanics, nearly half of the $2-a-day poor were white.

One piece of good news in these findings was that the government safety net was helping at least some households. When Shaefer added in SNAP as if it were cash — a problematic assumption because SNAP cannot legally be converted to cash, so it can’t be used to pay the light bill, the rent, or buy a bus pass — the number of families living in $2-a-day poverty fell by about half. This vital in-kind government program was clearly reaching many, though not all, of the poorest of the poor. Even counting SNAP as cash, though, Shaefer found that the increase in the number of families with children living in $2-a-day poverty remained large — up 70 percent in fifteen years. And even after throwing in any tax credits the household could have claimed in the prior year, plus the cash value of housing subsidies, the data still showed a 50 percent increase. Clearly, the nation was headed in the wrong direction.

Reflecting on these numbers, we, Shaefer and Edin, sought out even more confirmation that what we had found represented a real shift in the circumstances of families at the very bottom. With this in mind, we began to look for other evidence, beyond the SIPP, of the rise of $2-a-day poverty. Reports from the nation’s food banks showed a sizable rise in the number of households seeking emergency food assistance since the late 1990s. A look at government data on those receiving SNAP revealed a large increase in the number of families with no other source of income. And reports from the nation’s public schools showed that more and more children were facing homelessness. Taken together, these findings seemed to confirm the rise of a new form of poverty that defies every assumption about economic, political, and social progress made over the past three decades.

The questions the authors bring to these numbers reflect what they’re trying to explain in this book:

Statistics can help identify troubling trends like these, but they can’t tell us much about what’s going on beneath the numbers. In fact, these statistics led to more questions than answers. What had caused the rise in $2-a-day poverty among households with children? Was the landmark welfare reform of 1996 partly to blame? Were these families completely detached from the world of work? Or were they enmeshed in a low-wage labor market that was itself somehow prompting spells of extreme destitution? How was it even possible to live without cash in modern America? What were families in $2-a-day poverty doing to survive? And were these strategies different from those poor families had been using prior to welfare reform, when AFDC still offered such families a cash cushion against extreme destitution? What was so indispensable about cash — as opposed to in-kind resources such as SNAP — for families trying to survive in twenty-first-century America?

In 2012, they launched an in-depth study in four different areas in America.

In each of these places, we looked for families with children who had spent at least three months living on a cash income of less than $2 per person, per day. In most cases, these spells of such dire poverty proved to be much longer. We visited with these families over the course of many months — and, in some cases, years — talking with them frequently, sharing meals, and observing their daily lives. As common themes emerged from their stories — such as their surprisingly high level of attachment to the formal labor market and the frequency with which doubling up with family or friends precipitated a spell of $2-a-day poverty — we looked back to the SIPP and to other sources of data to see if we could see them there as well.

In the end, we followed eighteen families, eight of them featured here. As had been true of those Edin first encountered in the summer of 2010, some of these households received SNAP or lived in subsidized housing. But others weren’t getting even those benefits. During the course of our fieldwork, some of these families escaped $2-a-day poverty; others did not. Most escaped only to fall back into extreme destitution again.

The book does show the reader these families, helps the reader understand what’s going on, puts faces on this level of poverty. Rather than demonizing the poor as just looking for government hand-outs, we can see and begin to understand how people can get trapped in this.

Here’s the concluding section of the Introduction:

America’s cash welfare program — the main government program that caught people when they fell — was not merely replaced with the 1996 welfare reform; it was very nearly destroyed. In its place arose a different kind of safety net, one that provides a powerful hand up to some — the working poor — but offers much less to others, those who can’t manage to find or keep a job. This book is about what happens when a government safety net that is built on the assumption of full-time, stable employment at a living wage combines with a low-wage labor market that fails to deliver on any of the above. It is this toxic alchemy, we argue, that is spurring the increasing numbers of $2-a-day poor in America. A hidden but growing landscape of survival strategies among those who experience this level of destitution has been the result. At the community level, these strategies can pull families into a web of exploitation and illegality that turns conventional morality upside down.

None of the people whose stories appear in this book see a hand-out from the government — the kind that the old system provided prior to welfare reform — as a solution to their plight. Instead, what they want more than anything else is the chance to work. They would like nothing better than to have a full-time job paying $12 or $13 an hour, a modest dwelling in a safe neighborhood, and some stability above all else. In the 1990s, we, as a country, began a transformation of the social safety net that serves poor families with children. More aid has been rendered to a group that was previously without much in the way of government assistance — the working poor. Extending the nation’s safety net in this way has improved the lives of millions of Americans. But there are simply not enough jobs, much less good jobs, to go around. And for those without work, there is no longer a guarantee of cash assistance.

$2.00 a Day shows that the transformation of the social safety net is incomplete, with dire consequences. We believe the time has come to finish the job. Doing something more to help these families won’t be easy; it will require a commitment by all of us. The government’s emphasis on personal responsibility must be matched by bold action to expand access to, and improve the quality of, jobs. But there will always be circumstances in which work as a primary approach to alleviating poverty won’t work. In those cases, we need a system that truly acts as a safety net for families in crisis, catching them when they fall.

The bulk of the book looks at the lives of these eight families in detail. It helps you understand and feel the pain of the plight they face. You have to admire some of the creative ways they’re finding to survive.

The authors particularly look at things like “perilous work” — jobs that even endanger health, that don’t offer reliable hours and terminate employment at the slightest “offense.” They look at housing problems and cobbled-together solutions, and what the poor will do to try to keep their children safe.

This is an academic study, but the authors are good at telling the stories of the people they encountered.

In their chapter on solutions, the authors don’t advocate going back to welfare, since it robbed people of their dignity and self-worth. They point out that the Earned Income Tax Credit has the opposite effect.

In-dept interviews with 209 EITC claimants in the Northeast and Midwest in 2007 showed that while TANF receipt confers stigma and shame, claiming the EITC gives people dignity and restores their pride. First, the EITC is tied to employment. Second, tax credits are included as part of your federal tax refund — along with wages that were overwithheld. This lends the impression that the government benefit is “earned,” a just reward for hard work. Third, you don’t have to go to a welfare office to apply — an address that in and of itself connotes stigma. Instead, roughly 70 percent of EITC beneficiaries find their way to a professional tax preparation firm such as H&R Block, Liberty Tax Service, or Taxman. There you are not a supplicant. Instead you are a customer, there to claim your tax refund like any other American.

I could relate to this because, when my husband joined the Air Force, before I found a job at our new assignment, we qualified for WIC. But to get the benefits, we had to sit through a “class” teaching about nutrition, and all the staff pretty much treated the applicants as idiots. I never went back. Fortunately, I found a part-time job, but I remembered that getting this government assistance meant giving up my dignity. (The Earned Income Credit, though, was another story.) That’s one thing I love about libraries. We offer help to all, and there is no shame tied to it.

The authors go on:

We are not arguing here that the EITC is a solution to $2-a-day poverty. But it does offer a critical lesson in how antipoverty policy ought to be crafted. Too often, America has gone down the road of trying to shame those in need. We’ve put up barriers. We’ve made people jump through hoop after hoop — all based on the not-so-subtle presumption that they are lazy and immoral, intent on trying to put something over on the system. TANF is a perfect example. Yet research shows that the intrusive treatment people typically receive at the welfare office can undermine their confidence in government and erode political participation. It stands to reason that this kind of treatment could also erode the very confidence that is so necessary for pulling yourself out of $2-a-day poverty. Shame may act as a barrier to claiming that little bit of cash that might stop a downward spiral. As a nation, the question we have to ask ourselves is, Whose side are we on? Can our desire for, and sense of, community induce those of us with resources to come alongside the extremely poor among us in a more supportive, and ultimately more effective, way?

There are many more ideas of things we can do in that final chapter.

Our approach to ending $2-a-day poverty is guided by three principles: (1) all deserve the opportunity to work; (2) parents should be able to raise their children in a place of their own; and (3) not every parent will be able to work, or work all of the time, but parents’ well-being, and the well-being of their children, should nonetheless be ensured.

There’s so much more in this book I’d like to copy out. Don’t rely on my review, because you’ll miss so much. This book is worth reading! It’s impeccably researched and clearly presented, and it will stir your heart.

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 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.

What did you think of this book?

Sonderling Sunday – The Duel Begins!

May 1st, 2016

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday, that time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translations of children’s books.


This week it’s back to the most Sonder book of them all, Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, also known as The Order of Odd-Fish, by James Kennedy.

Last time, and the time before that, we were inside the Dome of Doom, getting ready for a momentous duel between Fumo, the Sleeping Bee, versus Zam-Zam, the Dancing Ant of Sadness. The duel was preceded by ritualized insults and threats, which were most entertaining in German, I must say.

Now, however, we’re ready for the actual duel! We left off on page 263 and Seite 334 with the words, “Oh , look, it’s starting!” (Oh, sieh nur, es geht los!)

I challenge my readers to think of a way to use this first sentence:
“Both duelists had mounted their ostriches.”
= Die beiden Duellanten waren auf ihre Strauße gestiegen.

“buckling on the ostriches’ armor”
= schnallten die Rüstungen der Strauße fester

“The crowd roared.” = Die Menge tobte.

“ignited their double-bladed lances” = ihre beidseitigen Lanzen entzündeten

“snapped at each other’s throats”
= sich gegenseitig nach der Kehle schnappten

“slumped” = zusammengesunken

“The ostriches stamped and growled”
= Die Strauße stampften und knurrten

“true aficionado” = echten Liebhaber

“bad form” = schlecter Stil

“The crowd went wild” = Die Menge flippte fast aus

“ferocious” = unerbittlich

“The crowd howled with delight.” = Die Zuschauer johlten vor Begeisterung.

“reclaim his dangling master”
= seinen herunterbaumelnden Herrn zurückzubekommen

“So humiliating” = Wie demütigend

A slightly different way of putting it:
“plunging into the water far below”
= landete mit einem Riesenplatscher im Wasser weit unter ihm
(“landed with a giant-splash in the water far below him”)

“gurgling with embarrassment” = gurgelte vor Verlegenheit

“hobbled” = humpelte

“I’d like to take her down a notch.”
= Ich würde sie liebend gern ein bisschen zurechtstutzen.
(“I would her love to a bit prune.”)

“square-jawed” = mit einem kantigen Kinn
(“with an edged chin”)

“Her bald skull was gouged with scars”
= Ihr kahler Schädel war von Narben übersät

“low rumble” = tiefen Grollen

Huh. That’s funny. At the bottom of page 337, “whispered Audrey” is translated flüsterte Orwell. Either that’s a mistake, or I forgot that Audrey’s last name is Orwell.

“The smell of sweat!” = Der Geruch von Schweiß!

“The smell of ostrich poop!” = Der Geruch von Straußenkot!

“gangly” = schlaksiger

“collapse” = zusammenbrechen

“screams, yelps, shouts of panic” = schrien, kreischten und brüllten voller Panik

“rock ceiling” = Felsendecke

“What a kid!” = Was für ein Prachtkerl!

“This kid doesn’t waste words.”
= Dieser Junge verschwendet wirklich keine Worte.

“moxie” = Mumm

“headlock” = Schwitzkasten

“muffled” = genuschelte

“ya big lug!” = du Knilch!

“bozos” = Saufköpfe

“One good turn deserves another, eh!”
= Eine Hand wäscht die andere, sagt man nicht so?
(“One hand washes the other, isn’t that so?”)

“pals” = Kumpel

Translating made-up words are always interesting:
“moffle-hoppers” = Schlappohren (“limp-ears”)

“buzzing voice box” = Verzerrer (“distortion”)

“Consider yourself challenged!”
= Betrachte dich als herausgefordert!

And we’ll finish it off with the last sentence of the chapter:
“I was kidding about the shoe.”
= Das mit Schuh war nur ein kleiner Scherz von mir.

I challenge you to use that in your conversation this week!

Till next time! Bis bald!

Review of Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

April 30th, 2016


by Neal Stephenson
performed by Mary Robinette Kowal and Will Damron

Brilliance Audio, 2015. 32 hours on 25 discs.

When I told a coworker how much I liked The Martian, he recommended Seveneves. I’d long meant to read some Neal Stephenson, so I took on the project, listening in the car over the course of more than a month. (Fortunately, no one had a hold on the audiobook before I finished.)

First, the good things. This book, like The Martian, has a huge emphasis on technology. Almost all of it is made to sound plausible, with facts given in context and people using actual science to solve their problems.

And they are truly formidable problems! The situation in the book is this: Something (called “the Agent”) from outer space blasted through the moon and blew it into pieces. At first, people just think of it as an amazing curiosity in the night sky. But then a collision happens between two pieces of the moon – and scientists realize that there are going to be more and more collisions until finally, in about three years, the earth’s atmosphere will be filled with meteorites and everything on earth will be incinerated. This “hard rain” will last about five thousand years.

So – the people of earth begin making plans. They’re going to send up pods that can be attached to the International Space Station and try to save humanity by sending people into orbit.

More than half the book concerns these efforts of making a place for humanity to survive on the International Space Station. Then we fast forward five thousand years when their descendants begin to go back to New Earth.

I’m afraid I’m not crazy about this book. But once I’d listened to hours and hours, you can be sure I figured I might as well finish. The book is rather depressing. Besides the 7 billion people who die on earth, there are occasional scenes of gruesome violence. This book doesn’t paint a nice picture of the human race. You’d think with such high stakes, people would work together a little better.

I’m sure the science is well-researched – but I didn’t buy it at every stage. Supposedly the human race survives in space after getting down to seven living women (the Seven Eves). This is with the help of state-of-the-art genetic engineering equipment, but that was still something of a stretch. I also wasn’t sure I believed that after five thousand years there would still be seven distinct races.

And five thousand years later, ready to move back onto the planet, humans are at war with one another. There’s a huge Cold War going on between certain sets of races. Depressing to think that humans would have learned nothing in five thousand years.

Of course, the whole premise of the book runs counter to a Christian world view. Indeed, in the book after the destruction of earth, all religions die out among humans. Because 7 billion people died.

So this is indeed an interesting book because of the technology described. The story does have many moments of tension and amazing but plausible overcoming of great odds. But if you’re looking for heart-warming, definitely look somewhere else.

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 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.

What did you think of this book?

Prime Factorization Coloring Sheets

April 27th, 2016

I’ve posted several Prime Factorization Coloring Sheets on my Sonderknitting page lately.

I decided I should try coloring them myself, so I could post a thumbnail of each one. I had a lot of fun doing it, and was reminded of lots of cool properties I discovered from knitting my prime factorization sweater and looking at these charts.

I have a manuscript for a math-related children’s nonfiction book about using math to make codes with colors. Originally, I put several of these charts into the book — but I eventually decided it was a distraction and decided to put them on my website instead.

But they show all sorts of cool things!

First, there’s the ten-by-ten prime factorization chart using ordinary, decimal numbers.


Coloring this chart gives you a great feeling for factorization and multiples. I posted about watching a second grader color it. I think of it as more for older kids, who are learning about primes and multiples, or indeed adults, in keeping with the adult coloring book craze. But watching a second grader color it assured me that it can give insights to anyone. (I made the instructions such that you don’t even have to know how to multiply. Just color every second square the color for 2, every third square the color for 3, and so on.)

Now, in my original sweater, I put rows of 8 on the back and rows of 2 and rows of 3 on the sleeves. The prime factorization charts in different bases are the same idea.

First, they give you a feeling for how different bases work.

Here’s the sheet for octal, base 8:


You can color it exactly the same way as you did the ten-by-ten chart. Color every second square with the color for 2, every third with the color for 3, and so on. If you take the time to do that, you’ll grasp how the numbers count up to 7 and then use the next digit, since place value in octal gives the ones digit, the eights digit, and the sixty-fours digit.

The chart also makes a good way to translate between octal and decimal. (Though you can just multiply the eights digit times eight and add the ones digit.)

But I enjoy some of the other patterns.

The first, most obvious pattern is that in the decimal chart, the multiples of 5 and the multiples of 2 line up vertically (as well as the multiples of 10, which are both). That’s because 10 = 2 x 5.

In the octal chart, the multiples of 2 line up vertically, since 8 = 2 x 2 x 2. So do the multiples of 4 — each with two factors of 2, and the multiples of 8 — each with three factors of 2.

In the Base 6 chart, as you’d expect, the multiples of 2 and the multiples of 3 line up vertically. (And the multiples of 6, with a factor of 2 and a factor of 3, do as well.)


But it’s also fun what happens to the color for Base Plus One and Base Minus One.

In the 10×10 chart, look at what happens to the color for 11, orange, and the multiples of 11. They go diagonally to the right up the chart: 11, 22, 33, 44, . . .

In the 10×10 chart, 9 is represented by two sections of blue, for 3 x 3. These colors go diagonally up the chart in the opposite direction: 9, 18, 27, 36, . . .

In the 8×8 chart, the octal number 11 is the decimal number 9 — so it is still represented by two sections of blue. But since 9 is one bigger than our base in that chart, the two sections of blue go diagonally up the chart to the right — just like 11 in the decimal chart.

In the octal chart, the color for 7, purple, goes diagonally up the chart to the left, with the octal numbers 7, 16, 25, 34, . . . .

In the 6×6 chart, we’ve got the same patterns, this time with 7 (which is 11 in base six) and 5.

7 (purple) goes diagonally right up the chart, and 5 goes diagonally left up the chart.

And we’ve got the same patterns in a 7×7 Base Seven chart:


Notice that since 7 is prime, no colors line up except purple, the color for 7.

And the colors for 8 and 6 go diagonally up the chart.

The Hexadecimal chart in base 16 is even more interesting:


Notice how all the multiples of 2 line up vertically, with multiples of 4, 8, and 16 also lined up.

11 in Base 16 is decimal 17, which is brown, and it acts like all the other 11s, going diagonally up and to the right.

1 less than 16 is F = 15, and the blue and green colors for F go diagonally up and to the left.

Before I finish I want to mention one more pattern I noticed from looking at these charts. It’s the familiar trick in Base 10 of the rule for figuring out if any number is a multiple of 9: Just add up the digits, and they will be a multiple of 9.

The reason this works is that 10 is congruent to 1 mod 9.
In base 10, each decimal place represents a number multiplied by a power of 10.
In base 9, that’s going to be the same as multiplying by 1 — so if you add up the digits, you get what the number is congruent to mod 9.

If none of that made any sense to you, just know this:
If you add up the digits of a base 10 number (and if you get a number bigger than 9, add them up again), your result is the remainder you’ll get if you divide the number by 9.

Since multiples of 9 have no remainder when divided by 9 — the digits of multiples of 9 in base 10 always add up to multiples of 9. (And by the same reasoning, the digits of multiples of 3 in base 10 always add up to multiples of 3.)

But you might have noticed when looking at the diagonal colors:

In Base 8, the digits of multiples of 7 always add up to multiples of 7.

In Base 6, the digits of multiples of 5 always add up to multiples of 5.

In Base 7, the digits of multiples of 6 always add up to multiples of 6.
And the digits of multiples of 2 always add up to multiples of 2.
And the digits of multiples of 3 always add up to multiples of 3.
(Use the colors to tell which numbers these are in Base 7.)

In Base 16, the digits of multiples of F (15) always add up to multiples of F.
And the digits of multiples of 5 always add up to multiples of 5.
And the digits of multiples of 3 always add up to multiples of 3.
(Use the colors to tell which numbers these are in Base 16.)

Forgive me, but I think these patterns are Awesome!

Let’s face it, you’ll see them much more clearly if you color the charts yourself!

Download the coloring charts at Sonderknitting!

Happy Coloring!

New Sondy’s Selections Page

April 26th, 2016

My church is in the process of building a community resource center, which we will use as our meeting place on Sundays. We also hope to make it a place used by our community, which will include preschool and kindergarten programs.

Every preschool or kindergarten program needs books! As we’re in the process of building, I’m going to slowly make a list of high quality books that I think our church should purchase to have in the classrooms.

I’ll break the lists into three categories — one for preschool, one for Kindergarten, and one for specifically Christian books. There will definitely be some overlap, but this will be based on how I think of them. I’m a little sorry that the “Christian” category won’t be very large. I get books from the public library and don’t encounter as many books for Christians. But I’m starting this page off having just reviewed a wonderful picture book about the life of Jesus, so that will be my first book to post.

I’m going to build these lists slowly, adding to them little by little. If you have suggestions, use this post. I’ll keep the list updated on my new Sondy’s Selections page.

My previous Sondy’s Selections posts and page were my personal top ten lists of books for different age ranges. This new list will be my ideal collection of books for a church preschool and kindergarten.

Happy Reading!

Review of Miracle Man, by John Hendrix

April 26th, 2016

miracle_man_largeMiracle Man

The Story of Jesus

by John Hendrix

Abrams Books for Young Readers, New York, 2016. 44 pages.
Starred Review

This is a picture book telling about the life of Jesus Christ, done by an accomplished picture book illustrator.

Now, I personally am not completely crazy about the book, since I have my own conception of Jesus’ story, and there’s some necessary simplification. For example, he gives Andrew’s lines to Peter (the only disciple named in this book, besides Judas) in the story of the feeding of the five thousand.

But the more I look at this book, the more it’s growing on me. John Hendrix makes the characters in the story look like Jews. Jesus looks tough, and his clothes are a little ragged. But the most interesting feature is that he makes the words of Jesus part of the art and larger than life.

The author introduces Jesus like this:

On a day that didn’t seem at all unusual, there came an unusual Man. He looked like any other man, but he was like none who had ever lived before. This Man was God’s son. When he spoke, his words made things happen. His words came . . . ALIVE

[ALIVE is spelled out by butterflies in the illustration.]

The stories told about Jesus include calling the disciples and the miraculous catch of fish, healing a leper, healing the paralytic (after his friends broke through the ceiling), and calming the sea. I especially like the author’s paraphrase of Jesus’ words after he stops the storm:

I am the Son of the living God who made the water and the winds. Did you forget who was in your boat?

The story goes on with the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on the water, including Peter walking on the water. (“Peter, have faith in my feet, not your own.”) Then we come to the Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal.

The crucifixion is mainly alluded to — very tastefully done for a picture book — one page with Jesus carrying the cross and then a grand scene with the heartbroken disciples, and the women in a corner with Jesus’ body, and the very walls of Jerusalem seeming to say, “It seemed the miracles had COME TO AN END.”

Then we have a spread from inside the empty tomb, graveclothes on a ledge, and Jesus outside in the light looking at a butterfly.

But God’s Son, Jesus, the Miracle Man,
had in store one last glorious miracle . . .

I haven’t seen another book about Jesus’ life quite like this one. The word that comes to mind is Majestic.

The Author’s Note at the back explains why John Hendrix wanted to tell this story. I liked hearing that he was fascinated as a child by the words of Jesus in red in his Bible.

You may have heard about the life of Jesus many times before, but my hope is to share the familiar story with you in a new way. Perhaps the best way to experience the Easter story is to momentarily forget about the trappings of religion around it and see the man at the center. In my experience, the story changes when we think of the people who experienced Jesus in person during the time he walked among us. Those people didn’t have a steepled church building or know anything about Christian theology. They simply met a man, some of them for only a brief moment, and they were changed forever.

Most of all, the author’s love for the Miracle Man shines through. This book is a wonderful way to tell children about Him.

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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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Sonderling Sunday – Jinx in Das Haus des Zauberers

April 24th, 2016

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books, creating a Very Silly Phrasebook for Travelers.

This week, let’s go back to Jinx, by Sage Blackwood, known in German as Jinx und der magische Urwald.


Last time, we finished Chapter One, so this week we’re starting Zweites Kapitel, Das Haus des Zauberers, “The Wizard’s House.”

We’ll look at interesting phrases and how they are translated. My sister’s visiting Germany this week, so bonus points to her if she can think of ways to use these phrases.

The first sentence (its own paragraph) of this chapter is interesting enough to write out in its entirety here:
“And that is how Jinx came to live with a possibly evil wizard and twenty-seven cats in a huge stone house that stood alone in its own clearing, protected by invisible wards that kept monsters out but let some very strange visitors in.”
= So kam es, dass Jinx bei einem möglicherweise bösen Zauberer und seinen siebenundzwanzig Katzen einzog, in ein großes Haus aus Stein, das einsam auf einer Lichtung stand, beschützt von unsichtbaren Wachen, die Monster fernhielten, einige sehr merkwürdige Besucher jedoch einließen.

“a very satisfactory dinner” = ein höchst schmackhaftes Mahl

“pie” always seems to get translated Kuchen, though it’s not really the same thing. (But Kuchen isn’t really the same as “cake,” either.)
“pumpkin pie” = Kürbiskuchen.

“rafters” = Dachbalken

“barrels and shelves” = Fässern und Regalen

“probably something evil” = vermutlich für etwas Böses

“Jinx was annoyed at being laughed at.”
= Jinx ärgerte sich über den Spott.

“hasten the process” = den Prozess beschleunigst

“drop dead” = tot umfällt

“formidable enemy” = einflößender Feind

“Put that nonsense out of your head.”
= Schlag dir diesen Unsinn aus dem Kopf.

Try finding a reason to say this:
“bottle-shaped blob of terror”
= flaschenförmigen Schreckensklecks

“swear word” = Schimpfwort

“chipmunk” = Streifenhörnchen

This is fun:
“worse and worse” = immer schlimmer

“How darling!” = Wie reizend!

“puff” = Lufthauch

“spiral staircase” = Wendeltreppe

“scattering cats” = verscheuchte mehrere Katzen

“a many-colored patchwork skirt” = einen bunten Flickenrock

Now isn’t it lovely to have one word for this?
“mustache of foam” = Schaumschnurrbart

“dragon scales” = Drachenschuppen

“a red polka-dot kerchief” = ein rot getupftes Tuch

“worrying” = nachgrübeln

“wormwood” = Beifuß

“cackled” = gackerten

“suck your soul out with a straw”
= den Menschen die Seele mit einem Strohhalm aussaugte

“stack your bones up crisscross”
= ihre Knochen kreuzweise übereinanderstapelte

“campfire” = Lagerfeuer

“scrubbed” = schrubbte

“night-blooming bindweed” = Nachtblütenwinde

“zipped” = sausten

“hurtling” = brauste

“He saw footprints, hoofprints, and claw prints frozen in the mud.”
= Er sah gefrorene Spuren von Füßen, Hufen und Tatzen im Matsch.

“zooming” = schwindelerregend

“shakily” = mit wackligen Beinen

“Simon flickered irritation at him.”
= Simon funkelte ihn ärgerlich an.

And that’s it for Chapter Two! I hope things won’t get immer schlimmer and you won’t encounter any flaschenförmigen Schreckensklecks. But now if you see a Schaumschnurrbart, you’ll know what to call it.

Review of The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

April 23rd, 2016

war_that_saved_my_life_largeThe War that Saved my Life

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
read by Jayne Entwistle

Listening Library, 2015. 7.5 hours on 6 compact discs.
Starred Review
2016 Newbery Honor Book
2016 Odyssey Award Winner
2016 Schneider Family Award Winner

I always try to listen to the Odyssey Award winner, since it is given to the best children’s or young adult audiobook of the year. This year, the winner was also a Newbery Honor book and a Schneider Family Award winner, so I already knew it was something special. First, I got to listen to Echo, which was also a Newbery Honor book but the only Odyssey Honor audiobook. It was so good, it was hard to imagine an audiobook being chosen above it.

Even with that much build-up, when I listened to The War that Saved my Life, I was not at all disappointed. This was one of the few audiobooks that, when I got to the last CD, I brought the book into the house to finish listening, rather than wait until the morning and my next trip to work. It was way too good to wait!

I should say a word about the narrator, Jayne Entwistle. I’ve listened to other books she’s read, The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place and >As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. I always enjoy her distinctive voice. Now, I do enjoy almost all English accents, but Jayne Entwistle does an excellent precocious little girl. And she does a fine job making the voices of the various characters distinctive. In this case, she didn’t need to do as many voices as in The Scandalous Sisterhood, and she put just the right character into each of the voices she did portray.

The story in The War that Saved my Life is heart-wrenching. The story is told by Ada Smith. She’s got a club foot, though at the beginning of the book, she doesn’t know that’s what it’s called. She only knows that her foot is disgusting, according to her Mam, and she’s not to let anyone see her. She must stay in their one-room apartment in London.

It’s bearable for Ada when she has her little brother Jamie to watch over. But as Jamie’s getting old enough to go to school, he’s also old enough to start playing outside. Ada’s heart is torn being alone in the apartment. So she decides to teach herself to walk.

Not long after, they learn that London children are going to be evacuated to the country because bombs will be coming from Hitler. Mam hasn’t decided if she’ll send Jamie. Ada asks about herself.

Mam still didn’t look at me. “Course not. They’re sending kids to live with nice people. Who’d want you? Nobody, that’s who. Nice people don’t want to look at that foot.”

“I could stay with nasty people,” I said. “Wouldn’t be any different than living here.”

I saw the slap coming, but didn’t duck fast enough. “None of your sass,” she said. Her mouth twisted into the smile that made my insides clench. “You can’t leave. You never will. You’re stuck here, right here in this room, bombs or no.”

All of that happens in the first two chapters.

But Ada decides then and there that she will leave with Jamie. Her Mam doesn’t know she can walk, and Ada steals Mam’s shoes and sneaks out with Jamie to get there early on the day the children are evacuated.

Once they’re in the country, Ada and Jamie are indeed the last ones picked. The “iron-faced” woman in charge takes them to the home of Susan Smith. Susan doesn’t want children. She is mourning the loss of her “very dear friend” Becky, who lived with her and kept horses.

There’s still a pony named Butter out in the field, and Ada is fascinated with it. The story that follows shows us clearly how Ada’s life is saved. Susan’s and Jamie’s lives are changed along the way.

Words can’t adequately describe this book and how brilliantly the story is woven. The two short chapters at the beginning prepare us for how deprived Ada is, but it’s more fully revealed as she comes out of the room and copes with the country.

Here’s a bit from their ride on the train:

The buildings ended and suddenly there was green. Green everywhere. Bright, vibrant, astonishing green, floating into the air toward the blue, blue sky. I stared, mesmerized. “What’s that?”

“Grass,” Jamie said.

Grass?” He knew about this green? There wasn’t any grass on our lane, nor nothing like it that I’d ever seen. I knew green from clothing or cabbages, not from fields.

Jamie nodded. “It’s on the ground. Spikey stuff, but soft, not prickly. There’s grass in the churchyard. Round the headstones. And trees, like that over there.” He pointed out the window.

Trees were tall and thin, like stalks of celery, only giant-sized. Bursts of green on top. “When were you in a churchyard?” I asked. What’s a churchyard? I might have asked next. There was no end to the things I didn’t know.

Later on, it seems utterly realistic that, rather than being grateful, Ada gets frustrated and annoyed with all the things Susan tells her, full of words she doesn’t know. When Susan makes a beautiful dress for Ada for Christmas, she has a complete meltdown, unable to feel that something so nice can be for her.

But most of the book is filled with little victories. Ada learns to use crutches. She learns to care for Butter. She learns how to go among people and makes friends.

And the backdrop of all this is the war, which does come even to the countryside. And the looming question of what will happen when Ada has to go back?

This is a beautiful book. Even though I listened to it, I’m going to keep my Advance Reader Copy, because I am going to want to treasure Ada’s story again. I’m sure I’ll notice subtle emotional cues I didn’t catch the first time.

How can I tell children about this wonderful book? I may decide to play up the bombs and spies (Yes, they are both in there). This is ultimately a book about the value found in every person and how love can save your life.

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook 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 My Two Blankets, by Irena Kobald & Freya Blackwood

April 21st, 2016

my_two_blankets_largeMy Two Blankets

by Irena Kobald & Freya Blackwood

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2015. 32 pages.
Starred Review

This is a simply lovely book that poetically shows the reader what it feels like to be an immigrant in a country where you don’t know the language.

On the page where our narrator says, “Nobody spoke like I did,” we see strange shapes coming out of people’s mouths all around.

When I went out, it was like standing
under a waterfall of strange sounds.
The waterfall was cold.
It made me feel alone.

I felt like I wasn’t me anymore.

When I was at home,
I wrapped myself in a blanket
of my own words and sounds.
I called it my old blanket.

My old blanket was warm.
It was soft. It covered me all over.
It made me feel safe.
Sometimes I didn’t want to go out.
I wanted to stay under my
old blanket forever.

She meets a girl in the park. Slowly a friendship develops, with shared activities. Slowly she begins to learn words of her new home.

At night, when I lay in bed
under my old blanket,
I whispered the new words
again and again.

Soon they didn’t sound so cold
and sharp anymore.
They started to sound warm and soft.
I was weaving a new blanket.

The new blanket grows warm and soft and comfortable as the old one.

The metaphor used in this book is cozy and accessible. Readers will feel happy with the immigrant child as she finds joy in her new home. The soft pictures beautifully accompany the text, dipping into the metaphorical when the blankets are described.

We read on the back flap that the author was inspired to write the book by a friendship that developed between her own daughter and a Sudanese child. She teaches aboriginal children in Australian outback communities who use English as their fifth language.

This book is a lovely way to build bridges of understanding.

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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 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 Exploring Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson

April 20th, 2016

exploring_calvin_and_hobbes_largeExploring Calvin and Hobbes

An Exhibition Catalogue

by Bill Watterson

Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, 2014. 151 pages.

Can we all agree that Calvin and Hobbes is one of the best comic strips of all time? (I say “one of” because: Peanuts. I don’t even want to decide between them, but the fact that it’s very close says worlds about Calvin and Hobbes.)

This book is a retrospective. It accompanies an exhibition at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Besides a representative (and wonderful) sample of the strips, it’s got an extended interview with Bill Watterson at the front of the book, and includes some strips that influenced him as well as some examples of his early work before Calvin and Hobbes.

In some ways, reading this book is less satisfying than sitting down with one of the old collections. It did make me want to sit down with one of the old collections. It gives you tastes and reminders of this wonderful strip. It brought me back to the 80s when I was a newlywed and the early 90s when I was a young mother. Both my kids read these collections over and over when growing up.

My sister used to tell me when I had kids, they’d end up just like Calvin. And I have to say, if they gained some of Calvin’s curiosity and creativity and divergent thinking, who am I to say that Bill Watterson didn’t have something to do with that?

It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy . . .

Let’s go exploring!

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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 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.

What did you think of this book?