Review of The Blue House, by Phoebe Wahl

January 22nd, 2021

The Blue House

by Phoebe Wahl

Alfred A. Knopf, 2020. 36 pages.
Review written September 9, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Standout:
#8 Fiction Picture Books

Here’s a picture book about having to move from a much loved house. It’s done with sensitivity and particularity that’s just lovely.

We meet Leo and his Dad. I like that Leo is a boy with long hair. They live in an old blue house with leaks and creaks. They like to dance and make music together.

Leo loved the blue house in winter, with its hiding places and cozy spaces.

When the old heater broke, they would bake a pie just to warm up the kitchen.

But the neighborhood is changing. Leo’s dad tells him that their house is going to be torn down and they will have to move.

Leo doesn’t respond well at first. But eventually, they use music to express their anger.

They shredded on guitar, and Leo did a special scream solo. It made both of them a little less mad.

They do further things to adjust, like painting on the walls of the empty house before it’s torn down. Even after they’ve moved, they find ways to remember the old blue house. And ways to make their new house feel more and more like home.

This is a lovely story of a small family dealing with something hard and making a new home together.

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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.

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Review of The Guinevere Deception, by Kiersten White, read by Elizabeth Knowelden

January 22nd, 2021

The Guinevere Deception

by Kiersten White
read by Elizabeth Knowelden

Delacorte Press, 2019. 10 hours, 51 minutes.
Review written December 28, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
2020 Cybils Finalist, Young Adult Speculative Fiction
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Teen Speculative Fiction
Starred Review

This is the second book I’ve listened to that’s read by Elizabeth Knowelden (the first being Damsel, by Elana K. Arnold), and she’s my new favorite female narrator. Her voice makes anything sound magical. Interestingly, The Guinevere Deception has a beginning similar to Damsel, with both having a young teenage girl being brought to a castle to wed a king.

In The Guinevere Deception, the girl is going to wed King Arthur. But as the title hints, the girl is not actually Guinevere. Merlin, who has been banished from Camelot along with all magic, has substituted this girl for Guinevere so that she will be in place to protect King Arthur from a coming threat.

We don’t even learn the girl’s original name, as she takes on the identity of Princess Guinevere and marries Arthur. She learns about Camelot and what’s expected of a queen, while always on the look out for threats to Arthur, especially magical threats, which is where she can best protect him.

Even knowing a skeleton version of Arthurian legend, I had plenty of surprises reading this book. Guinevere is proficient in certain simple types of magic, but how can she protect Arthur when she doesn’t even know what threat is coming, and when he is often away from Camelot and from his queen? There’s a patchwork knight winning jousts, and Guinevere is sure he is not what he seems. And what about the Dark Queen – was she really defeated as decisively as Arthur thinks? How, then, was a village destroyed by the forest right on the border of Camelot?

And meanwhile, why is Guinevere forgetting her past and who she was before she took on the identity of Guinevere?

I was delighted to learn that this is Book One of a trilogy – so now I’ll get to listen to more!

kierstenwhite.com
GetUnderlined.com

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Review of The Fabled Life of Aesop, by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

January 20th, 2021

The Fabled Life of Aesop

by Ian Lendler
illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 64 pages.
Review written March 24, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-outs:
#2 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

This is a collection of Aesop’s fables that stands out for two important reasons.

The first outstanding thing about it is the stunning illustrations by Caldecott-Honor-winning artist Pamela Zagarenski. Every page of this book is beautiful to look at. The illustrations feel otherworldly, adding to the universal nature of the fables.

The second outstanding feature is that the author presents the life of Aesop before and after presenting most of the fables. I knew, I think, that Aesop had been a slave, but very little else. Ian Lendler tells about his different owners and how he won his freedom with his wisdom.

He also explains why fables were important for slaves – a way to tell the truth indirectly and thus not get into trouble. He imagines situations for Aesop to tell several of his fables in the story of his life, thus avoiding trouble while sharing wisdom. I like that the author clearly shows – with one of Aesop’s fables – that freedom was the greatest treasure he could win.

There’s an author’s note at the back that explains what we know and don’t know about Aesop. But that the idea of a slave who won his freedom with his wisdom was attached to the fables for more than 2,000 years.

This book gave me a whole new appreciation for these fables that I’ve heard over and over again. Children being introduced to them this way will find them magical.

ianlendler.com
pzagarenski.com
hmhbooks.com

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

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Review of Catherine’s War, by Julia Billet and Claire Fauvel

January 20th, 2021

Catherine’s War

by Julia Billet and Claire Fauvel
translation by Ivanka Hahnenberger

HarperAlley, 2020. Originally published in 2017 in France. 168 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 5, 2020, from a library book
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Children’s Fiction

Catherine’s War is a graphic novel about a Jewish girl living in France during World War II. Rachel lives at a progressive school where she gets a wonderful education and discovers a passion for photography.

But rules change in France, and Jews are ordered to wear a yellow star. The teachers in the school tell the Jewish children that they’re getting new names. Rachel becomes Catherine Colin. And then the school is no longer a safe place for them, so Catherine and her Jewish classmates are sent out to families in France who will hide them.

But that is one of many escapes Catherine must make, going from place to place, trying to keep from being detected by the Nazis. But through her entire journey, she brings the camera given to her by the man who taught her photography.

Notes at the back talk about Occupied and Free France and about the Resistance. The entire book is based on the experience of the author’s mother during the war, and some actual teachers at her mother’s school are named in the book, with photos at the back.

This graphic novel is lovely to look at, too, and gives a memorable and moving reading experience.

harperalley.com

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Review of Clap When You Land, by Elizabeth Acevedo

January 20th, 2021

Clap When You Land

by Elizabeth Acevedo
performed by the author and Melania-Luisa Marte

Quill Tree Books, 2020, 6 hours.
Review written July 4, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 General Teen Fiction

As Clap When You Land begins, Camino goes to the airport in the Dominican Republic to greet her Papi, who comes to stay with her and her aunt every summer. But people at the airport are crying. Then we meet Yahaira in New York City. She is called to the office, where she sees her mother crying and learns that her Papi has been in a plane crash.

Both girls end up dealing with their Papi’s death in the plane crash, and then they have to deal with discovering that he was keeping secrets. So they’re dealing with grief, but also with discovering they have a sister their own age.

Since Yahaira’s mother was married to Papi first, she’s the one who gets insurance money from the airline. But Camino is the one who had relied on money from Papi for school and to keep from being harassed. Both girls look like Papi, and both inherited things from Papi. Camino loves swimming, and Yahaira used to play chess. Now they are figuring out who they are without him and how to go on with their lives.

It’s always a delight to listen to Elizabeth Acevedo read her own work. Her voice has a musical quality. This book is written in verse, though since I was listening rather than reading, I only noticed in spots.

It’s a powerful story of grief and hope and family secrets.

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Source: This review is based on an audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

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Review of Create Your Own Secret Language, by David J. Peterson

January 18th, 2021

Create Your Own Secret Language

Invent Codes, Ciphers, Hidden Messages, and More

by David J. Peterson
illustrations by Ryan Goldsberry

Odd Dot, 2020. 144 pages.
Review written November 28, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

I’ve always liked books about codes, ciphers, and cryptography. In fact, I made a video series for kids this summer while the library was closed about using mathematical concepts to make ciphers.

This book shows us many kinds of codes and ciphers (though not the same ones I used), but takes things a few steps further, showing kids not only how to encode English, but even how to create their own secret language.

It starts as many books on codes do, with letter substitution codes and historical ciphers. But this one goes further by telling you how to design your own glyphs and a whole new writing system. Why should you be confined to the English alphabet?

This all culminates in a section at the back on designing an entire language. It begins by looking at the sounds you may want to use in your language and how they’ll be put together in syllables and word forms. Then it goes on to look at different parts of speech and the ways they vary in English. For example, nouns have singular and plural forms. How do you want your language to do that? English verbs have different forms for singular and plural and ways to show different tenses. Then there are adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns. And you might even want to make related nouns with similar root forms.

That sounds complicated – but this author makes it seem simple, with lots of worksheet space in the book to play with your ideas. (Buy a copy so you aren’t tempted to write in the library book!)

It turns out the author has done this himself, having invented languages for various films and series, including Game of Thrones. Who better to play with these ideas than kids? And they’re going to learn a lot about how language works while they’re at it.

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Review of Grace Saves All, by David Artman

January 18th, 2021

Grace Saves All

The Necessity of Christian Universalism

by David Artman

Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Oregon, 2020. 147 pages.
Review written January 5, 2021, from my own copy purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 in Christian Nonfiction

I am amassing quite a collection of books about why Christian Universalism is biblical and why it makes sense and why it paints a picture more worthy of God. This is another wonderful addition to that set.

One thing I liked about this one was that I read it in the year it was published, and the author has read almost all the same books I have read – they are even listed in the back as “Recommended Reading” and are cited in many different places. (And I got a few ideas for additional reading.) He even listed all the ones I’d read in the last year, so he’s as up-to-date as I am.

And each book takes its own approach. This book takes the approach of looking at Grace, and I found that lovely. Here’s how the Introduction begins:

Grace is amazing. About this all Christians agree. Yet nearly all forms of Christianity put significant limits on grace. Those forms of Christianity which proclaim that grace alone actually saves typically don’t believe God gives grace to everyone, while those forms of Christianity which proclaim God gives grace to everyone typically don’t believe grace alone actually saves. Is the Christian understanding of grace necessarily divided between these two grace-limiting options? Must grace either be that which saves alone but doesn’t go to all, or that which goes to all but doesn’t save alone? Or, is there another way? Can one be a Christian and understand grace to save alone and go to all? Can one be a Christian and believe salvation by grace alone is for everyone?

I will argue here that being Christian does not require one to limit either grace’s power or scope. It’s quite possible, I will contend, to be Christian and to believe grace is God’s way of finally saving everyone. Grace can be understood to be God’s remedy for all human sin, not just part of it. Grace can mean God perseveres with us until we’ve all seen the light and freely responded in faith. Grace can mean God is with us not just if we get things right, but until we get things right. How long it takes for us to get things right is not the primary issue for God. Whether it happens in this lifetime, or in the age to come, or in the ages to come after that, is not what really matters. The primary issue for God isn’t how hard it will be for us, or how long it will take us. The primary issue for God is our final return home. And, like the father of the prodigal son, God will be vigilant until we all make our way home from the far country.

Even though I will be arguing here that everyone will finally be saved by grace alone, what we do still matters very much. We each still have our part to play. And neither will I be downplaying the consequences of sin. We are granted terrifying freedom to bring tremendous misery upon ourselves and others. What we do matters greatly. But no matter what we do, God’s grace can be understood to include God’s commitment to be with us, even in the form of judgment and hell, until we eventually see the light. I will argue that God’s perfecting love is continually with all of us, through whatever hell may be necessary, until all of us are finally healed and home. What makes grace truly amazing is God never giving up and never failing – God being able to save even those for whom there is apparently no hope. I maintain that it’s possible to be a Christian and to have this understanding of grace.

Unfortunately, most people don’t know it’s possible to be a Christian and to believe grace is God’s way of ultimately saving everyone. They don’t know where to find biblical evidence for this understanding of grace. They don’t know this way of understanding grace was common in early Christianity. They wrongly assume they can only be Christian if they also believe God will not, or might not, save everyone. Through this book I hope to help correct these false impressions and assumptions.

As with all the other books I’ve reviewed on Universalism (see the list on the side of this review page), this author fills the book with biblical references supporting what he says. Universalism is biblical! He also spends a whole chapter talking about how the early church supported Universalism. Universalism is authentic Christianity!

The author calls this kind of belief about grace the Inclusive approach. At the start of the main text, he lays out a five-point biblical framework for this approach:

1. God is a loving parent to all.

2. God sincerely wants to save all.

3. God, in Christ, covers the sin of all.

4. God is sovereign over all.

5. God will be all in all.

This book sums up Christian Universalism simply and clearly in a way that’s easy to understand. Plenty of biblical support is cited, and the author finishes up with his own story of how he came to this view, so it’s got a personal touch as well.

I liked reading this book to have one more clear argument in favor of Christian Universalism. But above all, I was happy to read it because it glories in the amazing inescapable grace of God that indeed saves all. Praise God!

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Review of The Bridge, by Bill Konigsberg

January 17th, 2021

The Bridge

by Bill Konigsberg

Scholastic Press, 2020. 388 pages.
Review written October 27, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 General Teen Fiction

The Bridge is a book about suicide.

Two teens, Aaron and Tillie, come to George Washington Bridge to end their lives on April 17. This book tells the four possible stories that could happen from there.

First, chapters 1A through 10A, we find out what happens if she jumps but he doesn’t. (Seeing her jump shook him and stopped him.) Multiple perspectives are used, but mostly we find out how Aaron moves on from there. He does get help, gets diagnosed with depression, and is shaken by how close he came to ending it all. We also see how the lives of Tillie’s family and friends are devastated by her loss.

Then, chapters 1B through 4B (They’re longer chapters), we get the story of what happens if Aaron jumps but Tillie doesn’t. Tillie’s got several different pressures to deal with – getting bullied, a tough break-up, and family pressures. In this thread, she works on dealing with that. We also see the devastation among Aaron’s family and friends.

Chapters 1C through 12C show us the long-range effects if both of the teens jump from the bridge that day. And when I say long-range, each chapter presents something years later, all the way up to thirty-five years later at Aaron’s father’s funeral, where no relative attends. We see the many holes in lives where those two were missing.

The longest section is Chapters 1D through 13D, where the two stop each other from jumping. Things play out differently from the first two scenarios, with some similarities, but the author does a good job of not being repetitive. In this iteration, they have a peer who understands what they’re going through.

Even though you know what will happen in the big picture sense (the idea is presented on the flap), this story is gripping. It’s dealing with suicide, and the author does communicate the despair, so I’m glad I was able to read it in one marathon session rather than stop in the middle. But ultimately, it’s a story of hope, and an effective way to show that individual lives matter.

Yes, there are resources at the back and the author’s own story of being suicidal as a young adult. He spells out in the Author’s Note what the story communicated:

Last but most crucially: You matter. You really, really matter. We want you here. The world wants you here, even when it feels like the opposite is true. It took me so many years to understand that I matter, and I’m extremely grateful that I stayed around long enough to learn that lesson.

This book is a wonderful example of showing rather than telling a story involving deep emotions. It’s a message book, yes, but it’s also a compelling story that’s hard to put down.

billkonigsberg.com
ireadya.com
scholastic.com

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Review of Honeybee, by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann

January 17th, 2021

Honeybee

The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera

by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2020. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 8, 2020, from a library book
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

As soon as I read this book, I knew which book I hope wins the 2021 Caldecott Medal.

When I was a child, I had a book from Disney publications that included a chapter on bees with lots of close-up photos. I hated that part of the book and didn’t even want to turn the pages for fear I’d touch the pictures of the bees.

I must have outgrown my squeamishness, because this book is full of oversize close-up paintings of bees, and I think the book is beautiful. Perhaps it’s the fact that they’re paintings instead of photos – Eric Rohmann has made the bee featured here look positively plush and cuddly, while still being completely scientifically accurate.

I learned so much I didn’t know about bees when reading this book. I knew that worker bees have jobs in the hive. But I didn’t know that the same bee gets different jobs as it ages. This book highlights the different jobs a bee goes through. After the bee has emerged from a cell in the honeycomb, here are a couple of early pages:

Crawling to a cell packed with sticky, rich pollen,
Apis eats.
And eats.
And eats some more.
Her wings dry. Her color darkens to a warm yellow orange. Her muscles grow strong.

Strong enough for flying?

Not yet . . . cleaning comes first.
Apis’s first job is to tidy the hive’s nursery.
She hauls away leftover bits,
carts off old wax caps,
leaves each cell ready for a new bee egg.
When she turns three days old, special glands behind her face swell and expand.
Soon she is ready for her next job.

Flying?

No, Apis doesn’t fly yet. First, we see her do the jobs of nursing, queen tending, comb building, food handling, and guarding.

When she finally flies, on the twenty-fifth day of her life, Apis gets a beautiful fold-out section in the middle of the book featuring a wide-open sky.

We do of course learn how she gathers nectar and carries pollen and dances to tell other bees about her finds.

The book goes all the way to our heroine’s death and then comes full circle with a new honeybee coming out of its cell in the hive.

This is another book for which I can’t do the striking pictures justice. I didn’t even think I liked to read books about bees, but I was captivated by this beautiful book. The writing, too, is wonderful. With each job, the writer builds suspense, asking if Apis is finally ready to fly.

Go check this out and see for yourself!

HolidayHouse.com

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Review of A Christmas Resolution, by Anne Perry

January 16th, 2021

A Christmas Resolution

by Anne Perry

Ballantine Books, 2020. 175 pages.
Review written January 5, 2021, from a library book

I like reading Anne Perry’s annual Christmas mysteries at Christmastime. Since I’m usually on a Cybils panel at Christmas, though, lately I end up reading them for the New Year.

I keep thinking that I should read her regular mystery series, since then I would probably enjoy these more. As she often does, this one looks at a couple on the periphery of her regular main characters. A lady named Celia is married to a police captain. They met during a criminal case, and it sounds like that is quite a story.

This book involved a case of blackmail and figuring out what happened in the past, which wasn’t as compelling to me as a good old murder mystery. There wasn’t really a puzzle to solve so much as to read about the characters’ way of tracking down the solution.

I did like the framing with a question of forgiveness: Who deserves forgiveness? Does the person have to be contrite? And how generous should one be in giving forgiveness? The main character is thinking about these things throughout the book, prompted by a Christmas sermon.

So even though I wasn’t too captivated by the mystery in this case, I still say that there’s nothing like a nice cozy little mystery for Christmas.

anneperry.co.uk
randomhousebooks.com

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