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

December 2nd, 2016

princess_in_black_takes_a_vacation_largeThe Princess in Black Takes a Vacation

by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Candlewick Press, 2016. 88 pages.
Starred Review

Oh, how I love the Princess in Black! This is the fourth book about frilly and pink Princess Magnolia, who disguises herself as the Princess in Black to fight monsters with ninja moves.

In this book, I was happy to see the Goat Avenger finally step up to help out. We found out about him in Book One. But even if you haven’t read Book One, you’ll find out what’s up:

The Goat Avenger was the same height as her friend Duff. He even had the same smile. But it couldn’t be Duff. Duff did not wear a mask.

The Princess in Black is tired. She has fought fifteen monsters this week. So the Goat Avenger offers to protect the goats while she takes a vacation.

However, no sooner does Princess Magnolia start napping on the perfect beach, than a giant sea monster surfaces.

Maybe if I just lie here the monster will go away, thought Princess Magnolia.

“ROOOAAARRR!” said the sea monster. “EAT PEOPLE!”

The people on the beach screamed.

Fortunately, Princess Magnolia has brought her disguise along with her beach gear. And fortunately, there’s a handy bathing tent where she can change.

Can the Princess in Black save the day against a giant sea monster? And will she ever get a vacation? And can the Goat Avenger protect the goats from monsters?

This series is just so much fun. I love the cartoon-like illustrations. The monsters are monstrous, but not too scary. The language is simple, perfect for beginning readers, but full of humor. I like the way the Princess in Black does use ninja moves (again my favorite is Twinkle Twinkle Little Smash!), but she also tells the monsters to behave, and that they are not allowed to eat goats or people.

Even though there’s a princess on the cover, these books are for kids of any gender. My co-worker’s five-year-old son loves them, as will any kid who likes superheroes or ninja moves or feeling powerful.

squeetus.com
candlewick.com

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

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

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Sonderling Sunday – In the Tapestry Room

November 20th, 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.

sonderlinge-2

Tonight I’m back to my stand-by, with the wonderfully odd things to translate, The Order of Odd-Fish, by James Kennedy, otherwise known as Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge. (The existence of this book is what gave me the idea for Sonderling Sunday.)

We left off on page 288 in the original English version, Seite 366 auf Deutsch.

The first sentence of the new section would be a practical thing to be able to say in German.
“Dinner at the lodge was loud and rowdy, as usual.”
= Das Dinner im Logenhaus fiel wie üblich laut und ungebärdig aus.

“Jo stewed impatiently.”
= Jo saß wie auf heißen Kohlen.
(“Jo sat like on hot coals.”)

“cut off the stinger” = Stachel abtrennen

“follow the gold thread” = dem goldenen Faden folgen

This seems like a good way to describe someone who’s wide awake when you wish they weren’t:
“wide awake” = hellwach

“surprisingly polite and sociable” = überraschend höflich und umgänglich

This one’s a tongue twister:
“woven” = geknüpft

“roll by” = vorbeiglitt

“tapestry” = Gobelin

“tapestry” = Wandteppich (“wall-carpet”)

And lest we forget:
“special” = besonders

Here’s a nice long word:
“responsible stewardship” = verantwortungsbewusste Hände

“All-Devouring Mother” = All-Verschlingenden Mutter

“nobody knows which is true” = niemand weiß, welche zutrifft

“cramped and packed” = eng zusammengepfercht

“the Silver Kitten of Deceit” = das Silberne Kätzchen der Arglist

“vomit out” = auswürgt

“vengeful” = rachedurstiges (“revenge-thirsty”)

“terrifying” = einflößender

“crashing into each other” = ineinanderkrachten

“melting into” = zusammenschmolzen

“lest she miss a single word”
= damit sie auch nicht ein Sterbenswörtchen verpasste

“Jo cringed.”
= Jo zuckte zusammen.

“All these secrets and plots and skullduggery!”
= All diese Geheimnisse, Ränke und Gemeinheiten!

“glory of battle” = ruhmreichen Schlacht

“with her arms crossed” = mit verschränkten Armen

“stalked” = schlich sich

“slammed the door” = schlug die Tür hinter sich zu

“ran downstairs in a panic”
= rannte in panischem Schrecken die Treppe hinab

“trapdoor” = Falltür

And that brings me to the end of Chapter 21. It was überraschend höflich und umgänglich.

Bis bald!

Review of Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

November 17th, 2016

dept_of_speculation_largeDept. of Speculation

by Jenny Offill

Vintage Books, New York, 2014. 179 pages.
Starred Review

I began reading this book today while waiting for my son’s dental appointment. I finished tonight before doing anything else. Couldn’t look away.

Dept. of Speculation is the story of a marriage. But it’s also the story of how it feels when your husband has an affair. And that’s why I couldn’t look away.

I didn’t cry when I read this book, so I can’t say it brought it all back. I was oddly detached, looking at it in some ways like the wife in the story is looking back on their history together, numb.

The story isn’t coherent and ordered. It’s from the perspective of the wife, looking back on their marriage. I like the way it changes from first person when the marriage is good to third person while the affair is happening, talking about herself as “the wife” in this scenario.

Her marriage and her husband’s affair weren’t very similar to what happened to me at all — and yet — the emotions of the time, that detached, crazy feeling, the sense of incredulity — so much here that I can’t put into words — It was all so, so recognizable to me.

Just yesterday, my cousin expressed surprise that after her ex was nice to her, she was feeling down — and I remembered that feeling so well. While reading this book, I found myself actually jealous of the protagonist, that she ultimately kept her marriage — even though staying with the person who hurt you so incredibly deeply has its own sort of horror.

This isn’t a book about rational thought. It is a book about feelings.

I’m not sure it was therapeutic to read this book and remember what that horrible time felt like. But since I didn’t cry, I think that shows I’ve gained some distance, thank God. I think something was gained to see that I could look at an affair from a new perspective. And be thankful that time is past.

I do have to say that my heart bleeds for this wife in sad recognition. The way she finds something she did wrong that she thinks set him off. Her simple bewilderment that the stars in the sky have changed position. Sigh.

This part:

People say, You must have known. How could you not know? To which she says, Nothing has ever surprised me more in my life.

You must have known, people say.

The wife did have theories about why he was acting gloomy. He was drinking too much, for example. But no, that turned out to be completely backwards; all the whiskey drinking was the result, not the cause, of the problem. Correlation IS NOT causation. She remembered that the almost astronaut always got very agitated about this mistake that nonscientists made.

Other theories she’d had about the husband’s gloominess:

He no longer has a piano.
He no longer has a garden.
He no longer is young.

She found a community garden and a good therapist for him, then went back to talking about her own feelings and fears while he patiently listened.

Was she a good wife?
Well, no.

Evolution designed us to cry out if we are being abandoned. To make as much noise as possible so the tribe will come back for us.

I find myself hoping that anyone who’s thinking about having an affair will read this book and realize that the utter devastation it brings to multiple lives is not worth it. But it’s not a message book; it’s a story.

Spoiler alert: The book ends happily, and I’m glad for that. It’s an exploration of feeling, an exploration of the fragile thing that marriage is, and the bewildering process of holding on when life falls apart.

jennyoffill.com
vintagebooks.com

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

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

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Review of Camino Divina, by Gina Marie Mammano

November 13th, 2016

camino_divina_largeCamino Divina

Walking the Divine Way

A Book of Moving Meditations with Likey & Unlikely Saints

by Gina Marie Mammano

Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, Vermont, 2016. 178 pages.
Starred Review

Full disclosure: The author of this book is a long-time friend of mine. In fact, this past week I was writing my Project 52 post about the year I was 20, and the post included several pictures of Gina at Disneyland. We had invented the S.I.K. Club — a group that wasn’t afraid to be silly and whose theme was Joy. And a couple days after posting that, something Gina said in this very book blessed me.

Camino Divina is lovely. It took me a long time to read it, because I started reading a short section every time I go for a walk, and I usually only go for a walk two or three times per week. But it has added richly to those walks, and I plan to go through it again.

I’ll let Gina explain what she’s doing in this book, from the Introduction:

What is camino divina? Well, since camino simply means “road” and divina means “divine,” the pair of them together could be thought of as “the path of the Divine” or “the divine way.” It’s a merging of the Spanish camino and the Latin divina, a lingua marriage of sorts. In my vernacular, it just means taking a meaningful stroll out in nature, on a labyrinth, under the moon, with divine words laced in rhythm along with it.

She’s talking about taking a phrase with you and mulling it over as you walk.

This book is designed to take you on a journey — no, many journeys — of both outer landscape and inner landscape. The outer landscapes are all around you and can be explored through a well-planned or serendipitous trip, a pilgrimage to a sacred site, or a meandering somewhere in your own neighborhood. The pith, though, is found in the inner landscape. That is something you take with you wherever you go. It is your inner self, the very soul-housed uniqueness of time and space that you bring into the world and bring into your life’s experiences.

I’ve created twelve adventures that give you the chance to traipse into both of these realms — the inner landscape and the outer landscape. On each adventure I’ve paired you up with a spiritual guide whom I call a “saint” — a sage who has spoken inspiring words and ideas into my soul and out into the world. I’ve then chosen a theme that highlights one aspect of the featured sage’s wisdom and legacy, but by no means encompasses it. As you wander into themes like Amazement, Wildness, Darkness, the Liminal, the Surprising, or the Familiar, know that they can be explored not only with the saint associated with that particular theme, but with the others as well, serving as launching points for you to explore many other possibilities in your camino divina practice. When you’ve finished this book, I encourage you to create a list of your own “saints,” those whose words and thoughts have inspired — and continue to inspire — you.

Gina’s writing is beautiful — She’s a poet — and she opens windows into the words of these twelve writer-saints she’s chosen.

I’ve been walking with these meditations for months now, and they’ve opened my eyes. And I know if I make the journey again through this book, I’m going to uncover all new riches.

skylightpaths.com

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

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

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Review of Learning to Swear in America

November 5th, 2016

learning_to_swear_in_america_largeLearning to Swear in America

by Katie Kennedy

Bloomsbury, 2016. 340 pages.
Starred Review

17-year-old Yuri Strelnikov, PhD, has been sent from Moscow to help NASA. An asteroid is headed for earth and is going to explode above Los Angeles and destroy the entire region. Unless they can figure out how to stop it. Yuri has done work with antimatter for which he hopes to win the Nobel Prize. If he survives the asteroid.

There are many factors in play. The scientists at NASA have trouble respecting a teenager. Nor do they want someone from Moscow to know what weapons are available to use against the asteroid. Never mind that this information would help with the calculations. But Yuri learns they don’t intend to let him go back home. If they survive.

Meanwhile, Yuri meets a girl, a janitor’s daughter. She is interested in showing Yuri what it’s like for a normal teenager in America. She gets him to come to high school with her to deal with her sadistic algebra teacher. He even offers to take her to prom – during which there’s a message that news about the asteroid has taken a dramatic turn for the worse.

I like the scene where Dovie and her brother Lennon take Yuri to a mall.

“You see that?” Yuri said. “If we ever have to figure out who is American spy, it will be very easy.”

“Um, what?” Lennon said.

“Look,” Yuri said, gesturing expansively. “Everybody standing near wall is touching wall. They lean, or put hand on it. It’s like you people have magnetic spines. You get within half meter of some wall and — sloooop — you touch it.” Yuri stood on one foot and then tilted toward the front of a candle store as though caught in its pull. “You tell Russian to stand by wall, hour later he’ll still be standing by wall. Not touching it.” He shook his head. “Your spies have no chance.”

This story is full of charm. Yuri’s just a kid who’s trying to save the world. Oh, and win a Nobel Prize.

katiekennedybooks.com
@katiewritesbks

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

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

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Review of Ghost, by Jason Reynolds

November 3rd, 2016

ghost_largeGhost

Track: Book 1

by Jason Reynolds

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. 180 pages.
Starred Review

Castle Cranshaw, who’s giving himself the nickname Ghost, learned to run the night his dad shot at Ghost and his Ma.

So when I was done sitting at the bus stop in front of the gym, and came across all those kids on the track at the park, practicing, I had to go see what was going on, because running ain’t nothing I ever had to practice. It’s just something I knew how to do.

It turns out that Ghost is as fast as the fastest kid on the team — so the coach lets him join. But Ghost’s Ma will only let him stay on the team if he can stay out of trouble. And then all the other kids have nice shoes. How can he ask his Ma to pay for shoes like that?

This story is simple — a kid’s life is transformed by becoming part of a team — but it’s carried out well. There’s nothing stereotypical about the story, even if you can sum it up in a stereotypical way.

The details of Ghost’s life — the particular ways he gets bullied, his particular temptations that get him in trouble, the particular kids he gets to know on the track team, the particular coach with a bald head and missing tooth who drives a taxi — all those particulars make this story come to life and feel like something we haven’t heard before.

I cringed when I saw “Track: Book 1” on the title page, because the last two books I read were also Book One. But this book is complete in itself — Okay, they don’t tell you who wins the race at the end, which is slightly annoying, but the story is complete and gets us to Ghost’s first race.

All the same, I’m glad I’ll get to find out what happens next for Ghost and his new family on the track team.

jasonwritesbooks.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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

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

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Review of We Found a Hat, by Jon Klassen

October 29th, 2016

we_found_a_hat_largeWe Found a Hat

by Jon Klassen

Candlewick Press, 2016. 52 pages.
Starred Review

A new hat book by Jon Klassen! And first I’ll answer the burning question: No one gets eaten in this book! (Yes, this was something of a disappointment to me.)

However, we do have a creature (a turtle in this case) battling with covetousness over a hat. This time, actually, generosity wins out.

The story is simple. Conveyed with simple words and flat pictures — where so much emotion is conveyed, once again, in those simple eyes.

Two turtles find a hat. It looks good on both of them. (Or so they say. The reader notices that it doesn’t actually fit either turtle very well.)

But there is only one hat and two turtles. They leave the hat behind, but one turtle can’t get it out of his mind.

When the first turtle starts to go to sleep, the second turtle sees his chance.

But the first turtle tells about his dream, a dream where they both have hats and both the hats look good. The second turtle decides to go with the generous dream option.

Now there are some impracticalities with this solution. Will it really satisfy? But one thing I like is that, once again, there’s lots of room for discussion with kids about what actually happened. And how the characters are feeling.

And this time nobody gets eaten.

As before, this contains surprisingly deep simplicity.

A hat book! Like all the rest, it leaves me smiling.

candlewick.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 A Pig, a Fox, and a Box, by Jonathan Fenske

October 29th, 2016

pig_fox_box_largeA Pig, a Fox, and a Box

by Jonathan Fenske

Penguin Young Readers, Level 2, 2015. 32 pages.
2016 Geisel Honor Book

This beginning reader has the pay-off kids learning to read will love.

Pig and Fox are friends, but Fox likes to play tricks. In the first two parts, Fox tries to be sneaky and play tricks on Pig and both times, it backfires badly. In the third part, we see that Fox has learned his (painful) lesson.

First, this book manages to use rhyme well, a thing that isn’t easy. The story is never sacrificed for the rhyme.

I also like the way the author has the reader make inferences from the pictures. After the first part, Fox has a Band-Aid and a mark on his tail. After the second part, he’s got a cast, a black eye, and two large bandages. Also, when we see a box in the second part, it’s been taped back together after its collapse in the first part.

It’s also fun the way the reader will see that it’s not Pig’s fault at all that Fox gets hurt. The whole book is an exercise in seeing things from another perspective.

There’s also repetition, which is nice for beginning readers. In this case, it adds to the humor when each part starts the same way — but Fox, who is in bad shape, decides in the third part that he’s had enough hiding and playing today.

penguinyoungreaders.com

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

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

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Review of Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet

October 28th, 2016

some_writer_largeSome Writer!

The Story of E. B. White

by Melissa Sweet

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 161 pages.
Starred Review

This book is amazing. I’ve seen Melissa Sweet do picture book biographies, such as Balloons Over Broadway and illustrations as in A River of Words. But this is a full-length children’s biography with 161 pages, with illustrations or photographs or clippings or maps or mementoes or other visual aids on every spread.

I’ve read a biography of E. B. White for adults. While it did include much more detail, this book was far more entertaining. The visual material includes many quotations from E. B. White’s work, typed out on a manual typewriter.

I was particularly impressed with the map Melissa Sweet made of E. B. White’s (Andy’s) trip across the country in a Model T with his friend Cush in 1922. She painted a map of the United States on wood. There’s a zigzagging trail with numbers and little mementoes attached to the numbers. A Legend on the side explains what each memento represents. For example, number 5 is a piece of sandpaper, and the Legend reads, “Sandpapered a dance floor earning $3.00.”

As a children’s biography, this book does linger over his childhood. He spent lots of time outdoors, but was also writing at a young age, submitting pieces to St. Nicholas. A picture of the magazine and an article clipping is included.

His time at The New Yorker is covered, and his move to Maine. There are all kinds of mementoes illustrating these. One of the pages has at the top a quotation from The Letters of E. B. White:

I have discovered, rather too late in life, that there is nothing so much fun as building a boat. The best thing about building a boat is that it allows absolutely no time for writing; there isn’t a minute to spare.

Below the quotation is a page from a book describing how to build a boat, complete with diagrams. The page also shows some old tools he would have used. Across the page in the main text, we learn that Andy built his son a boat after they moved to Maine.

There’s a chapter on each of Andy’s children’s books and a chapter on The Elements of Style. The chapter on The Elements of Style surprised me. Melissa Sweet takes quotations from three award-winning children’s authors telling their favorite parts of The Elements of Style.

Here’s a paragraph from the final chapter:

His obituary in The New Yorker read, in part, “White had abundantly that most precious and least learnable of writerly gifts – the gift of inspiring affection in the reader.” Whether he was working on a poem, a cartoon caption, an essay, or a children’s book, E. B. White felt it was a writer’s obligation “to transmit, as best he can, his love of life, his appreciation for the world.” His friend and editor William Shawn said: “Even though White lived much of his life on a farm in Maine, remote from the clatter of publicity and celebrity, fame overtook him, fortunately leaving him untouched. His connections with nature were intimate and ardent. He loved his farm, his farm animals, his neighbors, his family and words.”

I can’t overstate how thoroughly and meticulously this book is crafted. Melissa Sweet follows E. B. White’s advice and wastes no words or images. The complete package is stunning.

There’s an Afterword by E. B. White’s granddaughter, but there’s also an Author’s Note. In “About the Art,” Melissa Sweet tells us:

I set out to capture two things as I began the art for this book: the sense of place in White’s writing and the small, vivid details he describes.

She achieved this goal beautifully.

melissasweet.net
hmhco.com

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

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

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Review of Rilke’s Book of Hours, by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

October 27th, 2016

book_of_hours_largeRilke’s Book of Hours

Love Poems to God

by Rainer Maria Rilke

translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
with a new Introduction by the translators

Riverhead Books (Penguin), 2005. 257 pages.
Starred Review

Although this book was published in 2005, our library recently purchased new copies of it, so I saw it on the Wowbrary list and checked it out. I liked it so much, I purchased my own copy and slowly went through it at the rate of a poem per day.

Anyone who has seen my Sonderling Sunday posts know that I love the German language and I love looking at the ways the German and English languages try to express the same thoughts. So this book, with the original German text on one side and the English translation on the other, is perfect for me.

This is poetry, so you’re not going to find a literal translation. I think I liked it better for that. Again, how best to express an idea, in this case a poetic idea, in each language?

I’d read a poem each day. First I’d read it in German and try to get the idea. Then I’d read it line by line with the translation and find out where I’d gone wrong.

The poetry is beautiful in both languages. Don’t let the subtitle throw you. Rilke has some nontraditional thoughts about God. But they do get you thinking and meditating about some deep thoughts.

This is the 100th Anniversary Edition, and there’s a reason these poems have lasted so long.

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

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