Review of The Princess in Black, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

December 17th, 2014

princess_in_black_largeThe Princess in Black

by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale
illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Candlewick Press, 2014. 90 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a brilliant book for children who love princesses – and superheroes. It’s an easy-reading chapter book with fifteen short chapters and pictures on every spread.

Princess Magnolia is a princess who dresses in pink and does princess-y things. But she has a secret. She’s currently having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower, who visited unexpectedly and loves to uncover secrets.

But then her monster alarm goes off! Princess Magnolia excuses herself, hides her pink frilly dress in a broom closet, puts on her mask and cape, slides down a secret chute and high-jumps the castle walls as The Princess in Black!

I love the way her unicorn, Frimplepants, is also in disguise. When it’s time to fight monsters, he’s Blacky, the Princess in Black’s faithful pony.

There’s a hole in the ceiling of Monsterland. When a big blue monster smelled the delicious goats in the pasture outside the hole, he decided to come out. But he reckoned without the Princess in Black!

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Smash! Sparkle Slam! Those are some of the ninja moves of the Princess in Black!

The monsters in this book are cuddly and foolish and not too scary, though much bigger than the Princess in Black. But they are no match for her ninja skills.

This book is completely delightful and so rewarding for beginning readers. Neither boys nor girls will be able to resist the adventure, the secrets, and the ninja moves.

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Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Creature Features, by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

December 8th, 2014

creature_features_largeCreature Features

25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do

by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2014. 32 pages.

Steve Jenkins’ books are unfailingly fascinating. His cut-paper art is amazingly detailed and realistic.

This book is a simple introduction to the fascinating world of animals for younger readers. The pictures present 25 animals with something strange about the way their face looks. These animals explain why these looks help them survive, using simple language.

Here are a couple of examples:

Dear Egyptian vulture: Why no feathers on your face?

Are you sure you want to know? Really? Okay, I’ll tell you. I stick my face into the bodies of the dead animals I eat, and feathers would get pretty messy . . .

Dear star-nosed mole: What is that weird thing growing on your face?

Actually, that’s my nose. I live underground, and I use the tentacles on my snout to feel my way in the dark and find tasty worms and grubs to eat.

This book is a wonderful way to excite children’s curiosity about the natural world. It’s not often that a nonfiction book would work well for both preschool storytime and keeping the attention of school-age kids, but this one falls firmly in that category.

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

Sonderling Sunday – Pu der Bär

December 8th, 2014

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.


Tonight, on a whim, I think I’ll go back to Pu der Bär, otherwise known as Winnie-the-Pooh, by A. A. Milne.

It’s been more than a month since I posted Sonderling Sunday, but today I finished a fabulous book for the Cybils, so I can take an hour and indulge in Sonderling Sunday. Once again, I think I’ll dedicate this week’s post to my niece Kristen, who will be studying in Germany next year. Let’s see if I can find some handy-dandy German phrases for her to learn from Winnie-the-Pooh!

Today we’ll be looking at the second chapter, “In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets Into a Tight Place” = In welchem Pu einen Besuch macht und an eine enge Stelle gerät

Now for some handy phrases:

“Pooh for short” = einfach Pu (“simply Pooh”)

I’d like Kristen to need this phrase, whether she actually does or not:
“… was walking through the forest one day, humming proudly to himself.”
= … ging eines Tages durch den Wald und summte stolz vor sich hin.

“a little hum” = ein kleines Gesumm

“Stoutness Exercises” = Kraftübungen (“Strength exercises” — not the same thing at all!)

“as he stretched up as high as he could go” = und er reckte sich, so hoch er konnte

“as he tried to reach his toes” = als er versuchte seine Zehen zu erreichen

“by heart” = auswendig
(This is interesting. It seems to be “out” + “nimble, mobile.” So it gives the idea of readily available. No heart mentioned at all.)

“right through” = vollständig

“properly” = fehlerfrei (“failure-free”)

“sandy bank” = sandigen Abhang

This one’s a bit longer in German (Surprise, surprise!):
“If I know anything about anything” = Wenn ich überhaupt irgendwas über irgendwas weiß

“Rabbit means Company” = Kaninchen bedeutet Gesellschaft

“Company means Food and Listening-to-Me-Humming and such like”
= Gesellschaft bedeutet Essen und Mirbeim-Summen-Zuhören und Ähnliches in der Art

“scuffling noise” = ein Trippeln (“a scurrying”)

“Bother!” = So ein Mist!

This has to be included for the nice long word:
“Well, could you very kindly tell me where Rabbit is?”
= Könnten Sie mir dann liebenswürdigerweise sagen, wo Kaninchen ist?

“very much surprised” = überaus erstaunt

“So Pooh pushed and pushed and pushed his way through the hole”
= Also gab sich Pu einen Schubs und noch einen Schubs und noch einen Schubs in das Loch hinein
(“So Pooh gave himself a shove and another shove and another shove through the hole.”)

“You were quite right” = Du hattest völlig Recht

“looking at him all over” = sah ihn von oben bis unten an

Words to live by:
“One can’t have anybody coming into one’s house.”
= Man kann nicht jeden in sein Haus lassen.

“a mouthful of something” = einem Mundvoll irgendwas

‘a little something” = eine Kleinigkeit

“Honey or condensed milk with your bread?” = Honig oder Kondensmilch zum Brot?

“not to seem greedy” = um nicht gierig zu wirken

“humming to himself in a rather sticky voice” = mit ziemlich klebriger Stimme vor sich hin summend

“So he started to climb out of the hole.” = Und er begann aus dem Loch zu klettern.

“front paws” = Vorderpfoten

“back paws” = Hinterpfoten

“I can’t do either!” = Es gelingt er beides nicht!

“front door” = Vordertür

“Hallo, are you stuck?” = Hallo, sitzt du fest?

“carelessly” = sorglos

“one of us was eating too much” = einer von uns beiden zu viel isst

“Silly old Bear” = Dummer alte Bär

“sniffing slightly” = schniefte leicht

“Rabbit scratched his whiskers thoughtfully” = Kaninchen kratzte sich nachdenklich am Schnurrbart

“having got so far, it seems a pity to waste it.”
= nachdem du nun schon mal so weit vorgedrungen bist, Verschwendung wäre, nicht in derselben Richtung weiterzuarbeiten.
(“after you have already penetrated so far, it would be a waste not to work further in the same direction.”)

Good words to know:
“‘We’ll read to you,’ said Rabbit cheerfully.”
= »Wir werden dir vorlesen«, sagte Kaninchen vergnügt.

It’s hard to imagine needing to use this phrase, but best to be prepared:
“do you mind if I use your back legs as a towel-horse?”
= Würde es dir etwas ausmachen, wenn ich deine Hinterbeine als Handtuchhalter verwende?

“doing nothing” = untätig

“it would be very convenient just to hang the towels on them.”
= es wäre sehr praktisch, wenn ich meine Handtücher dort zum Trocknen aufhängen könnte.
(“It would be very convenient, if I my hand towels there to dry could hang.” — Now it’s wet towels!)

“gloomily” = düster

And practical to know:
“What about meals?”
= Wie ist es mit den Mahlzeiten?

“getting thin quickly” = schnelleren Dünnerwerdens

“Bear began to sigh” = Bär wollte gerade seufzen

“tightly stuck” = eingeklemmt

And my favorite sentence from this chapter:
“Then would you read a Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness?”
= Würdest du dann bitte ein gehaltvolles Buch vorlesen, eins, das einem eingeklemmten Bären in starker Bedrängnis Hilfe und Trost spendet?

“slenderer” = schlanker

“all Rabbit’s friends and relations” = sämtliche Bekannten-und-Verwandten von Kaninchen

And not to give anything away, but here’s the last paragraph of the Zweite Kapitel:

“So, with a nod of thanks to his friends, he went on with his walk through the forest, humming proudly to himself. But, Christopher Robin looked after him lovingly, and said to himself, ‘Silly old Bear!'”

= Also schenkte er seinen Freunden ein Nicken des Dankes und setzte seinen Weg fort, wobei er stolz vor sich hin summte.

Aber Christopher Robin sah ihm liebevoll nach und sagte »Dummer alter Bär!« vor sich hin.

That’s quite enough for this week! Here’s wishing that you may read ein gehaltvolles Buch this week!

Review of Ken Libbrecht’s Field Guide to Snowflakes

December 6th, 2014

snowflakes_largeKen Libbrecht’s Field Guide to

by Ken Libbrecht

Voyageur Press, 2006. 112 pages.
Starred Review

I finished reading this book exactly when the last snowfall of the winter happened in early 2014. So I wrote the review, and now I’m posting it in time for next winter’s snow. In fact, this would be a wonderfully appropriate Christmas gift for snow lovers everywhere.

We’ve all heard that no two snowflakes are exactly alike, and Ken Libbrecht asserts that, at least for all but the tiniest snowflakes, that is probably so. However, there are distinct types of snowflakes, which depend on the conditions under which they are formed.

This field guide first explains the general mechanics of snowflake formation. Then it gives detailed explanations of 35 different types of snowflake forms. There are beautiful example photos of each type, along with an explanation of how they are formed and under which conditions you’re likely to find them.

I thought this book was completely fascinating and beautiful, and it gave me a whole other reason to love snow. Best of all, at the back of the book, he explains how you can become a snowflake watcher – or photographer – too.

He has a wonderful website that will give you the idea of what’s in this book, I think I am going to have to buy my own copy so I can keep it handy and take it out in the snow next winter.

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

Review of Anna and Solomon, by Elaine Snyder and Harry Bliss

November 22nd, 2014

anna_and_solomon_largeAnna & Solomon

by Elaine Snyder
pictures by Harry Bliss

Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Our library system has this shelved among the biographies, but to me it’s simply a warm and wonderful picture book that happens to be true. No one would do a report on these people, they aren’t famous, but their story has the flavor of a folktale.

It turns out, as I learned from the back cover, the distinguished illustrator Harry Bliss asked his mother-in-law to put the story of her grandparents into writing. He knew a good picture book story when he heard one!

The story begins in 1897 in Russia, when Solomon and Anna got married in the Jewish quarter of the town of Vitebsk. They are happy together and very much in love, but when the Czar’s soldiers come through, they think it’s time to make the journey to America.

However, they only have enough money to pay for one passage across the ocean. Anna tells Solomon to go ahead of her, and send her money when he’s made enough to pay for her passage.

Solomon goes to America and works hard, always thinking of Anna. He sends her money and goes to meet her ship with flowers. Instead of Anna, her brother Label comes off the ship.

Label was Anna’s youngest brother. He was small and skinny, and Solomon remembered how protective Anna had always been of him. Why was he here? Where was Anna?

Label carefully explained to him that Anna had used the money Solomon sent not for herself but for her brother’s passage instead.

Oy, oy, it was a great blow to Solomon, but he saw that Anna was right. Label could not be left behind; Anna had to be certain that he would be safe.

Solomon took Label home.

And it goes on. The next time Solomon sends money for passage, Anna’s older brother comes off the ship, and then Anna’s mother. She still has a sister left. Will Anna ever come?

Since the book is written by Anna and Solomon’s granddaughter, I’m not giving away too much by saying that Anna eventually does arrive. Their story is told with heart and compassion and a true Happy Ever After.

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

Review of A Fighting Chance, by Elizabeth Warren

November 21st, 2014

fighting_chance_largeA Fighting Chance

by Elizabeth Warren

Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt), 2014. 365 pages.
Starred Review

I checked out this book on a whim, knowing almost nothing about Elizabeth Warren; now having read her book, I am her total fan. She’s someone who’s gotten into politics not because she has a desire for personal power, but because she wants to help people. And I so respect that.

My background is that my ex-husband and I started out our life together plummeting into debt. We dared to try to live in California and have one and a half jobs between us so that we didn’t have to put our son in day care. (He came along only a year after we got married.) When my husband enlisted in the military, it only made things worse. They told us what he’d be making after he joined the Air Force. They didn’t tell us it would be significantly less while he was in Basic Training, and we were still paying California rent, for another few thousand dollars of debt. And I still needed to find a job when we moved to New Jersey.

All that is to say that I gained appreciation, years ago, for the fact that all people embroiled in credit card debt are not lazy freeloaders who want a hand-out. We were eventually able to pay off our debts – but then I got into a whole new pile of debt when my husband left me, and of course I lost my job since we had to leave Germany and then the divorce cost me thousands of dollars. This is not to grumble – I will eventually pay it off. But I can’t help but wonder how people in my situation cope if they don’t have my education level, and like me never thought they’d have to work full-time, and maybe have trouble finding a full-time job, and maybe have younger kids who need daycare. I just don’t have it in my heart to look down on people who find themselves in the position of filing for bankruptcy.

So when I found out how Elizabeth Warren got started in what led to her political career, it was with a big cheer. Finally someone is saying what I have believed for years and years!

She was teaching a class on bankruptcy law. She discovered that “experts” believed “that the people who filed were mostly day laborers and housemaids who lived at the economic margins and always would.”

Ms Warren kept thinking about this:

As I dug deeper into my study of bankruptcy and the new law, I kept bumping into the same question over and over: Why were people going bankrupt? I couldn’t find solid answers anywhere. In those days, almost all young law professors specialized in theory. They wrote articles and books about the theory of this and the philosophy of that. But theory wouldn’t provide answers that anyone could count on, answers that would explain what had gone wrong. I clung to the idea that the people in bankruptcy were different and everyone else would be safe. I might not have said so at the time, but I think I was on the lookout for cheaters and deadbeats as a way to explain who was filing for bankruptcy.

She did a study on bankruptcy and why it happens. She visited bankruptcy court in San Antonio and saw, not down and out deadbeats, but people who looked just like her and her students.

Later, our data would confirm what I had seen in San Antonio that day. The people seeking the judge’s decree were once solidly middle-class. They had gone to college, found good jobs, gotten married, and bought homes. Now they were flat busted, standing in front of that judge and all the world, ready to give up nearly everything they owned just to get some relief from the bill collectors.

As the data continued to come in, the story got scarier. San Antonio was no exception: all around the country, the overwhelming majority of people filing for bankruptcy were regular families who had hit hard times. Over time, we learned that nearly 90 percent were declaring bankruptcy for one of three reasons: a job loss, a medical problem, or a family breakup (typically divorce, sometimes the death of a husband or wife). By the time these families arrived in the bankruptcy court, they had pretty much run out of options. Dad had lost his job or Mom had gotten cancer, and they had been battling for financial survival for a year or longer. They had no savings, no pension plan, and no homes or cars that weren’t already smothered by mortgages. Many owed at least a full year’s income in credit card debt alone. They owed so much that even if they never bought another thing – even if Dad got his job back tomorrow and Mom had a miraculous recovery – the mountain of debt would keep growing on its own, fueled by penalties and compounding interest rates that doubled their debts every few years. By the time they came before a bankruptcy judge, they were so deep in debt that being flat broke – owning nothing, but free from debt – looked like a huge step up and worth deep personal embarrassment.

Worse yet, the number of bankrupt families was climbing. In the early 1980s, when my partners and I first started collecting data, the number of families annually filing for bankruptcy topped a quarter of a million. True, a recession had hobbled the nation’s economy and squeezed a lot of families, but as the 1980s wore on and the economy recovered, the number of bankruptcies unexpectedly doubled. Suddenly, there was a lot of talk about how Americans had lost their sense of right and wrong, how people were buying piles of stuff they didn’t actually need and then running away when the bills came due. Banks complained loudly about unpaid credit card bills. The word deadbeat got tossed around a lot. It seemed that people filing for bankruptcy weren’t just financial failures – they had also committed an unforgivable sin.

Part of me still wanted to buy the deadbeat story because it was so comforting. But somewhere along the way, while collecting all those bits of data, I came to know who these people were.

I have never filed for bankruptcy. But it’s so easy to see how I could have ended up in that situation. I like that Elizabeth Warren sees that, too.

I ran my fingers over one of the papers, thinking about a woman who had tried to explain how her life had become such a disaster. A turn here, a turn there, and her life might have been very different.

Divorce, an unhappy second marriage, a serious illness, no job. A turn here, a turn there, and my life might have been very different, too.

She still wasn’t in politics, but she continued to teach bankruptcy law.

I kept teaching bankruptcy, but the world outside my classroom was changing, too. The numbers of people going bankrupt kept climbing, in good times and bad. By 1990, more than seven hundred thousand families filed for bankruptcy in a single year – the number had more than doubled in the decade since I had started teaching. That shocked me….

At school, I heard from secretaries and cafeteria workers. I heard from other professors whose children or old friends were in trouble. Sometimes someone would stop me in the mailroom or while I was waiting in line for a sandwich. Most people didn’t ask for help. They just seemed to want me to know. I think they hoped to hear me say, “There are a lot of good people who end up bankrupt.” At least, that’s what I believed, so that’s what I always said.

And then, in the early 1990s, the big banks began pushing for tougher bankruptcy laws.

At this point, the book briefly explains the history behind the explosion of both bankruptcies and bank profits.

With usury laws and the 1930s banking regulations as a backdrop, banks played a really important role in helping America’s economy grow. They lent the money for families to buy homes, and those monthly payments became a sort of giant savings plan, so that by the time people retired, they owned a valuable asset – and a place where they could live without paying rent. Over time, banks financed cars and college educations. They helped small businesses get a start. A handful of larger banks served the biggest corporate clients, giving them access to the money they needed to expand and create jobs. Banking was all about evaluating customers, making sure that they would be able to repay loans, and keeping interest rates competitive with the bank across the street.

It all worked pretty well. Until the 1980s, that is.

At that point, with scant notice and very little public discussion, a momentous event occurred: thanks to a Supreme Court ruling about a century-old banking law and an amendment quietly passed by Congress, the cap on interest rates was effectively eliminated. Suddenly, banking was changed forever. The usury ban for large American banks disappeared, and deregulation became the new watchword. The bigger banks were now unleashed, and they started loading up credit cards with fees and escalating interest rates – tactics that would have been illegal just a few years earlier. Once the banks began to figure out just how lucrative these cards could be, they started juicing their profits by lending money at super-high interest rates to people who were a lot less likely to repay all those loans. By the 1990s, they were targeting people who were barely hanging on – those with modest or erratic income, those who had lost their jobs and were scrambling. In other words, the banks were targeting people just like the folks who ended up in the bankruptcy courts….

Why would the big banks do this? Here was the trick: Even with the bankruptcy losses, the banks could make more money if they kept giving credit to people who were in trouble. Yes, the banks had to absorb bigger losses when people went bankrupt. But in the meantime, they could make a lot more money from all those people on the edge who didn’t file for bankruptcy protection, or at least didn’t file for another year or so. Interest rates and fees were so high that, in the end, the banks came out ahead – way ahead.

Even with profits breaking records every year, the banks weren’t satisfied. They thought of more fees to tack on, more ways to escalate interest rates, and more aggressive ways to market their cards. Credit card vendors started showing up on college campuses, targeting kids with promises that there would be no credit checks and no need for their parents to sign. Children were preapproved. And occasionally even a dog would get his fifteen minutes of fame, when a local newspaper heard about some cute little pooch who had just been offered a credit card.

To pump up their returns even more, the banks tried a new tactic: What if they could persuade the government to limit bankruptcy protections? Sure, a lot of families were broke, but maybe some of them could be pressed to pay just a little more. If they couldn’t file for bankruptcy, maybe more families would decide to move in with their in-laws, or borrow from their neighbors, or hock their wedding rings, or cancel their health insurance – who knows? If several hundred thousand families a year could be squeezed just a little harder, maybe the banks could add yet more profit to their bottom lines.

The bankers might not have said it in so many words, but gradually their strategy emerged: Target families who were already in a little trouble, lend them more money, get them entangled in high fees and astronomical interest rates, and then block the doors to the bankruptcy exit if they really got in over their heads.

If you knew anything about bankruptcy law – and by now I knew a lot – you could see exactly what the big banks were up to. I was just a law school professor, so I didn’t have the power to change anything, but the deep cynicism behind these new tactics infuriated me. For the banks, a change in the bankruptcy laws was just one more opportunity to try to boost profits. For the families – the moms, dads, kids, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins – who would lose their last chance to recover from the financial blow of a layoff or a frightening medical diagnosis, the pain could never be measured.

So that was what motivated Elizabeth Warren to step into politics. First, she was offered a position at Harvard, which she knew would enable her voice to be heard more clearly. Then she was asked to serve on the National Bankruptcy Review Commission.

I told him no. I was deep in my research, and I thought the way I could make a difference was by writing books and doing more research about who was filing for bankruptcy and what had gone wrong in their lives. I didn’t know anything about Washington, but the bits I picked up from the press made it sound pretty awful.

But her friend was persistent, and said if she’d join the commission, he would ask her to supply three good changes in the bankruptcy laws.

And that’s what I thought about, all the way home. My office was stacked with piles of questionnaires from people in bankruptcy, and many of them told personal stories about what had gone wrong in their lives and described the sense of defeat that they carried to the bankruptcy court. I thought about the family that finally got a shot at their lifelong dream to launch a new restaurant – and it went belly-up. The young and very tired woman who described how she finally managed to leave her abusive ex-husband, but now she was alone with a pack of small children and a pile of bills. The elderly couple who had cashed out everything they owned and then went into debt to bail out their son and put him through rehab again and again.

So she joined the commission, and joined what turned out to be a long drawn-out battle with the big banks and their lobbyists. And eventually, they lost the battle.

On good days, I reminded myself that our fight to protect America’s middle class had held off the banking industry for nearly a decade. From the day President Clinton appointed Mike Synar to launch the National Bankruptcy Review Commission to the final passage of the bill, millions of families had gotten some relief from their debts. On bad days, I admitted that right from the beginning, the game was so rigged that working families never had a fighting chance. The big banks would eventually win. They simply had too much power….

David really did get the slingshot shoved down his throat sideways. It hurt then, and it still hurts now.

The bankruptcy wars changed me forever. Even before this grinding battle, I had begun to understand the terrible squeeze on the middle class. But it was this fight that showed me how badly the playing field was tilted and taught me that the squeeze wasn’t accidental.

We had lost the bankruptcy battle, but this war wasn’t over. People were getting pounded, debts were mounting, and the squeeze was getting more intense than ever.

Then came the mortgage crisis. To give you a hint on how Elizabeth Warren feels about the bank bailout, she names that chapter “Bailing Out the Wrong People.” During that time, she served on a Congressional Oversight Panel, though it was a panel without a lot of power. She summarizes it this way:

Our oversight of the bailout wasn’t perfect, not by any stretch. But I saw what was possible. We took an obscure little panel that could have disappeared without a trace and worked hard to become the eyes and ears and voice for a lot of people who had been cut out of the system. And every now and again we landed a blow for the people who were getting pounded by the economic crash.

That felt good. It felt really good.

Next came the battle to establish a Consumer Protection Agency. She won this battle, though she made enough banking enemies that she could not be confirmed as its permanent director.

And she doesn’t boast about the win:

But in the end, I think most of the credit for this win goes to the American people. Sometimes they were organized – through nonprofit groups and unions and coalitions. Sometimes they were a little disorganized, as single voices burst forth in funny videos and online blogs and old-fashioned letters to the editor. But organized or not, the people made themselves heard.

In the chapter about getting the Consumer Protection Agency off the ground, she also speaks up for the dedicated government workers she encountered and the wonderful people who wanted to do their bit.

America has faced difficult problems before – and we’ve solved them together. We passed laws to get children out of factories. We set up a system that allowed aging workers to retire with dignity. We built schools so that every child would have a chance for a better life, and we created a network of highway and mass transit systems so people could get to work. We built an astonishingly tough military, superb police forces, and squadrons of first-class professional firefighters.

No, the market didn’t build those things: Americans built them. Working through our government, we built them together. And as a consequence, we are all better off.

We can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend that if “big government” disappears, so will society’s toughest problems. That’s just magical thinking – and it’s also dangerous thinking. Our problems are getting bigger by the day, and we need to develop some hardheaded, realistic responses. Instead of trying to starve government or drown it in the bathtub, we need to tackle our problems head-on, and that will require better government.

After the Consumer Protection Agency was established, she was going to simply go back to teaching at Harvard. But people – ordinary people – asked her to run for the U.S. Senate, asked her to fight for them.

And, against all odds, she won. She has this to say about her victory:

This victory wasn’t mine. That’s not some kind of fake modesty talk – no, that statement is deep-down truth. This victory belonged to all the families who have been chipped away at, squeezed, and hammered. This time, they fought together and won. And now they were sending me to Washington to fight for them and for every hardworking family who just wants a fighting chance to live the American dream.

I’ve quoted extensively from the book, but there’s a lot more if you actually read the book. Elizabeth Warren’s personality comes through, and I find myself just liking this woman. She’s smart, she’s done her research, and, bottom line, she cares about people and got into politics to serve.

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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.

Review of The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen

November 20th, 2014

queen_of_the_tearling_largeThe Queen of the Tearling

by Erika Johansen
performed by Katherine Kellgren

HarperCollins Publishers, 2014. 14 ½ hours on 12 CDs.
Starred Review

Once I saw that Katherine Kellgren, the narrator of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place reads this book, I knew I would enjoy listening to it. She is an outstanding vocal performer. (It’s happening – I’m getting to be a fan of certain audiobook performers.) She seamlessly uses different voices for the different characters, male and female, so you can tell who is speaking just by the sound of her voice.

The story she reads is also excellent. Kelsea Raleigh is 19 years old. She’s been raised in hiding, in the forest, but she is Queen of the Tearling. The Tear is a kingdom in the New World, made from emigrants from England and America who in some distant future time made The Crossing, leaving the old world behind.

At the beginning of the book, the Queen’s Guard has arrived. They are going to take her to the capital city to rule as Queen of the Tearling.

There are many who want Kelsea dead, including the Regent, her uncle, and The Red Queen, ruler of Mortmain, the neighboring kingdom, to whom the Tear send a horrible tribute. Kelsea has been told nothing about her kingdom and nothing about what it will take to rule. She has been given a sapphire necklace, with a jewel that seems to have a magic all its own.

This story has some horrible moments – Some graphic violence, as well as awful things going on in that world. This is fantasy for adults, and it doesn’t pull away from sex or violence. But mostly, it’s a story of a young woman coming into her power, trying to make things right.

Kelsea inherits a throne that’s corrupt. On her journey to the capital city, two different groups come after her, both very dangerous. When she arrives, a horrible spectacle meets her eyes. Even when she’s “safely” in the Queen’s Wing of the Keep, more threats to her life arise.

This book doesn’t tie up all the loose ends, so I very much hope it is only the first book of a series. I liked Kelsea – tough and determined, but very young and alone. I want to find out how she will deal with the challenges that are sure to continue.

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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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Jinx’s Magic, by Sage Blackwood

November 19th, 2014

jinxs_magic_largeJinx’s Magic

by Sage Blackwood

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2014. 389 pages.
Starred Review

In Jinx’s Magic we learn more about the boy who lives in a viciously magic forest and can see people’s feelings.

You’re going to want to read Jinx before you read this one, and you’re definitely going to want to read what comes after. My biggest complaint against this book is that not many plot threads get tied up, and danger is looming from many different directions. I prefer trilogies where each book feels like part of the story has finished. However, I enjoyed this one so much, I almost didn’t notice that it doesn’t fit my preferred style.

I love Jinx’s world. Jinx is a Listener; he can hear what the trees have to say. And he can see people’s thoughts and feelings – in the form of colors and shapes. I like the way it’s hard to tell if certain individuals are good or bad – there are levels of gray here, exactly like real life. And sometimes characters I thought were good turn out to be doing some not-so-good things.

Danger is lurking from many different directions. Why does the forest call Reven “The Terror”? Why will no one help Simon make sure the Bonemaster is secure? And who killed an entire clearing full of people? And when Jinx goes to Samara to find an important book for Simon, why will no one even acknowledge Sophie’s existence? What happened to her? And people are cutting down the Urwald! Can Jinx find anyone to help stop them?

Here’s how the book begins:

It wasn’t that Jinx didn’t like people. It was just that sometimes he had to get away from them.

He was no sooner out of earshot of the campfire, breathing in the deep, green strength of the forest, than he heard a single tree’s voice.

Stuck. Trapped. All is lost.

Jinx hurried through the underbrush, weaving around great moss-covered trees and stumbling over roots.

The cries came from a beech sapling. A mighty pine had fallen, crushing the beech to the ground.

Jinx grabbed the sapling and yanked, but couldn’t free it. He could hear it murmuring its despair. You waited and waited for a chance like this, for a big tree to fall so that you could grow toward the sunlight, and then this happened. It was hard to be young in the Urwald.

Jinx wrapped his arms around the rough, pitch-splattered pine trunk and tried to move it. He couldn’t shift it an inch.

Oh. Right. He was a magician.

Jinx drew the Urwald’s lifeforce power up through his feet. He levitated the fallen pine a few inches.

Free! Free! said the sapling. Sunlight!

It swept upward, its leaves brushing Jinx’s face.

Jinx was feeling a sense of accomplishment — the tree might someday grow as tall and stout as the giants around it, thanks to him — when he suddenly sensed a deep golden hunger nearby. He turned his head slightly to the left . . . and was eye to eye with a werewolf.

It is true that in this book there are a confusing number of different kinds of magic. However, the book is all about Jinx learning about his and other’s magic, and it works. The rules of each different kind of magic seem to be self-consistent.

Still, my only serious complaint against this book is that the next book can’t come quickly enough for me. I enjoyed every minute I spent in Jinx’s world.

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Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Quiet, by Susan Cain

November 18th, 2014


The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

by Susan Cain

Crown Publishers, New York, 2012. 333 pages.
Starred Review

Back in 2012, when this book came out, I got to hear Susan Cain speak at ALA Midwinter Meeting. I also received a copy of the book, and the author signed it to me.

Her talk was fascinating, and I was excited to read someone speaking up for introverts. However, it did take me a frightfully long time to read the book. Essentially, that’s because I had my own copy, so it didn’t have a due date. And I’m always reading many nonfiction books at a time, and this one came to the top of the pile more slowly, because I didn’t have to turn it back in. However, this book is a keeper – I’m glad to have my own copy. In a world where extroversion is valued, it’s always good to be reminded that we introverts have our own strengths. The world needs both kinds of people.

In the Introduction, Susan Cain explains why this topic is important:

Our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender or race. And the single most important aspect of personality – the “north and south of temperament,” as one scientist puts it – is where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Our place on this continuum influences our choice of friends and mates, and how we make conversation, resolve differences, and show love. It affects the careers we choose and whether or not we succeed at them. It governs how likely we are to exercise, commit adultery, function well without sleep, learn from our mistakes, place big bets in the stock market, delay gratification, be a good leader, and ask “what if.” It’s reflected in our brain pathways, neurotransmitters, and remote corners of our nervous systems. Today introversion and extroversion are two of the most exhaustively researched subjects in personality psychology, arousing the curiosity of hundreds of scientists.

These researchers have made exciting discoveries aided by the latest technology, but they’re part of a long and storied tradition. Poets and philosophers have been thinking about introverts and extroverts since the dawn of recorded time. Both personality types appear in the Bible and in the writings of Greek and Roman physicians, and some evolutionary psychologists say that the history of these types reaches back even farther than that: the animal kingdom also boasts “introverts” and “extroverts,” as we’ll see, from fruit flies to pumpkinseed fish to rhesus monkeys. As with other complementary pairings – masculinity and femininity, East and West, liberal and conservative – humanity would be unrecognizable, and vastly diminished, without both personality styles.

This book explores many aspects of introversion. She looks at the Extrovert Ideal in American society today, and provides scientific evidence that this ideal may be misguided. Often an introvert makes the better leader, for example, and learning isn’t necessarily better done in groups.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter “When Should You Act More Extroverted?” about finding that happy balance of acting extroverted, perhaps on a job, and having restorative times when you can return to your true self. I honestly think that my current state of living alone makes me all the more able, on my job, to happily help out strangers. She calls it a “restorative niche” when you carve out a time or place to have to yourself.

We would all be better off if, before accepting a new job, we evaluated the presence or absence of restorative niches as carefully as we consider the family leave policy or health insurance plans. Introverts should ask themselves: Will this job allow me to spend time on in-character activities like, for example, reading, strategizing, writing, and researching? Will I have a private workspace or be subject to the constant demands of an open office plan? If the job doesn’t give me enough restorative niches, will I have enough free time on evenings and weekends to grant them to myself?

Extroverts will want to look for restorative niches, too. Does the job involve talking, traveling, and meeting new people? Is the office space stimulating enough? If the job isn’t a perfect fit, are the hours flexible enough that I can blow off steam after work? Think through the job description carefully. One highly extroverted woman I interviewed was excited about a position as the “community organizer” for a parenting website, until she realized that she’d be sitting by herself behind a computer every day from nine to five.

Another valuable chapter is the one about parenting introverts. I had two introverted sons, and being an introvert myself, don’t think I gave them a hard time about it. (My younger son knew he could get me to take him to anything because I was so excited if he actually wanted to go to something outside of school!) But I have seen extroverted parents give their introverted children a hard time – for example, a family invited hordes of people to their introverted daughter’s fourth birthday party, and then talked to her sternly about how she needed to come out of her room. Susan Cain’s examples are much worse than that – a family that kept trying to get “help” for their apparently well-adjusted child because they thought he wasn’t outgoing enough.

Introverts will find valuable and interesting information in each chapter. Of course, it’s the extroverts who really need to read this book! Perhaps we can present them with facts from it to help relax the pressure for us to be like them.

Her concluding chapter has a good summary of tips:

Love is essential; gregariousness is optional. Cherish your nearest and dearest. Work with colleagues you like and respect. Scan new acquaintances for those who might fall into the former categories or whose company you enjoy for its own sake. And don’t worry about socializing with everyone else. Relationships make everyone happier, introverts included, but think quality over quantity.

The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers – of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity – to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply.

Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it. If this requires public speaking or networking or other activities that make you uncomfortable, do them anyway. But accept that they’re difficult, get the training you need to make them easier, and reward yourself when you’re done.

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

Review of Emily’s Blue Period, by Cathleen Daly and Lisa Brown

November 16th, 2014

emilys_blue_period_largeEmily’s Blue Period

by Cathleen Daly
illustrations by Lisa Brown

A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2014. 56 pages.
Starred Review

At first, I didn’t think I’d review this book. As a book about art, it could be seen as simplistic, and same as a book about kids whose parents are divorced. But as a story – a story about one particular girl, who happens to love art and happens to have recently divorced parents – it worms its way into my heart every time I read it.

The format is a cross between picture book and chapter book. The pages are a bit larger than most chapter books, and the pictures take up more room on each page than the words, but there are indeed five short chapters, and no effort is given to making the text particularly easy to read.

Emily wants to be an artist, and in school she’s learning about Pablo Picasso. First, she learns about how Picasso liked to mix things up. Emily likes to mix things up, too. However:

Lately, Emily’s family is mixed up.
She doesn’t like this.
Emily’s dad is no longer where he belongs.
Suddenly, he lives in his own little cube.

The story shows Emily and her little brother Jack going shopping with Dad to pick out furniture for his new home. Emily doesn’t like any of it, and Jack ends up throwing a fit. This leads Emily into her Blue Period.

I like the way Emily’s Blue Period is understated. The author doesn’t even mention why Emily’s sad, just that she’s sad. She doesn’t show any of her art from that period, though in that chapter the illustrations themselves are mainly blue. And as far as comfort, we just have:

Emily nuzzles her head into the spot under her mother’s arm where it fits just like a puzzle piece.
Emily’s Blue Period lasts quite some time.

In the next chapter, the final one, it’s making a collage of “Home” that pulls Emily out of her Blue Period.

This is a book that takes itself seriously about a girl who takes herself seriously. And it’s all simply right.

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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.