Review of I Just Want to Say Good Night, by Rachel Isadora

November 12th, 2018

I Just Want to Say Good Night

by Rachel Isadora

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2017. 32 pages.
Starred Review

This book makes me wish for a child to read bedtime stories to! (Though my co-worker is starting a monthly Pajama Storytime at our library. I’ll recommend this book.)

On the African veld, there is a village.
As the sun sets, parents tell their children,
“It is time for bed.”

The illustrations of the book are bright yellows and oranges and pinks, appropriate for the setting sun in Africa.

On the next spread, we focus in on one child.

Lala greets her papa, who has been fishing.
“Ooh! You caught a big one!” she says.
“Yes, it was a good day,” Papa says.

“It is time for bed,” Papa tells Lala.
“I just want to say good night to the fish,” Lala says.

Then Mama starts urging Lala to bed, as the sun gets lower, and the sky gets darker (but still orange), and the shadows get longer. Lala just wants to say good night to the cat. And the bird. And the goat. And the monkey. And the chickens. (Now the moon and stars are up.) And the little ants.

Through all of this, Mama’s calls have nice rhythm and realistic variety. ( “It is time to go to sleep!” “Come now!” “Oh, Lala!”)

“I’m just not ready to go to sleep,” Lala says to her dog.

When Lala finally gets into bed, she just wants to say good night to her book.

I love the tribute, because on the next spread, we see the book is the classic Goodnight, Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown.

“Good night, moon!” she whispers and smiles.

On the very last page, things are finally quiet, with the moon shining through the window onto the bed.

This book is simply lovely. The colors are bright, fitting with the setting sun. Lala has spunk, and I like the way her braided hair stands up in all directions.

Do you want to read a book to a child about another child prolonging bedtime? Well, it has lots of saying good night, and it ends with cozy sleep, so I think this one’s a winner.

www.rachelisadora.com
penguin.com/youngreaders

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Review of The Book Itch, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

November 10th, 2018

The Book Itch

Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore

by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Carolrhoda Books, Minneapolis, 2015. 36 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book

This picture book biography tells the same story the same creators told in the novel No Crystal Stair, but I found myself warming more to the picture book.

Mind you, it was nice to have all the background from the novel (which was very close to being nonfiction) about the life of the author’s great-uncle, Lewis Michaux, who owned the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem.

The picture book is told from the perspective of Lewis’s son with the same name. It communicates the spirit of the man, his pithy wisdom, and the supreme importance he placed on books and on black people knowing their history.

I love his sayings on the endpapers (as well as in the text). Things like, “This house is packed with all the facts about all the blacks all over the world,” and “Books will help him clear the weeds and plant the seeds so he’ll succeed,” and “Words. That’s why people need our bookstore.”

This picture book starts later than No Crystal Stair did, not telling about Lewis Michaux’s entire life, but looking at a time when the bookstore was at its height and his son met people like Muhammed Ali and Malcolm X there.

Here’s what it says about starting the bookstore:

Dad opened his store in Harlem Square way before I was born. Mom says he started out with five books. Five books and a mission. She says he had something in his heart he believed in so much that he’d do just about anything to make it happen.

Dad says he got the book itch and needed to scratch it.

lernerbooks.com

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Review of Knitting Pearls, edited by Ann Hood

November 9th, 2018

Knitting Pearls

Writers Writing About Knitting

edited by Ann Hood

W. W. Norton & Company, 2016. 260 pages.

This is a book of essays about knitting, and the essays are written by twenty-seven distinguished writers. Not all of the writers are knitters, but all of the writers do have something interesting to say about knitting. Maybe they had a relative who knitted for them. Maybe there’s a particular knitted object that starts their musings.

I took a long time to read this book. But that’s the beauty of essays – you can read one at a time and come away smiling. Or just musing about life.

Here’s a paragraph from the introduction, with the editor telling us what to expect. (There are several more paragraphs, so this is just a taste.)

And speaking of swooning, here’s what you have to look forward to when you read Knitting Pearls. Like me, some of the contributors knit their way through adversity. Caroline Leavitt’s first husband asked her to make him a sweater with brontosauruses on it, but as she knit the marriage began to crumble. Lily King’s daughter knit a hat during their year living in Italy, which eased her homesickness. Cynthia Chinelly knits to help her escape the worry she has for her son. Melissa Coleman hoped that knitting a sweater for everyone in her family would remove the curse of divorce. An on-again, off-again knitter, Robin Romm returned to it when her mother was dying, and now knits as she waits for a baby. Back at Ithaca College in the 1970s, Bill Roorbach joined the knitting club to get over his broken heart – and to meet girls.

If you love knitting, you’re going to enjoy this book.

wwnorton.com

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Review of How to Knit a Monster, by Annemarie van Haeringen

November 5th, 2018

How to Knit a Monster

by Annemarie van Haeringen

Clarion Books, 2018. First published in the Netherlands in 2014. 32 pages.
Starred Review

This book was first published in the Netherlands in 2014. It is not eligible for the Newbery. I should not have taken time to read it. On top of that, I have a pet peeve against books that show someone knitting a complete sweater in less than a month – and this book does much, much worse than that.

And yet, all that said — I did read this book today and was enchanted. The speedy knitting is all part of this amazing goat’s magic.

Here’s how the book begins:

Greta is a goat, a white goat. When she goes outdoors in wintertime, she’s almost invisible.

She is a very, very good knitter. She knits socks for everyone she knows and for many she doesn’t know.

Today Greta decides to knit something different. How about a whole goat?

She tries a little one first.

Click, click, clickety click go her knitting needles, and before long a little goat slides off her needle.

What fun! Greta knits more little goats so they can play together.

The illustration here shows several goats, with splashes of color in various places and trailing yarn. They are cavorting about happily, with two butting heads.

But then “mean Mrs. Sheep” comes by and badmouths Greta’s knitting.

Greta is upset. She isn’t watching her knitting.

We’ll see who knits the fastest, Greta thinks angrily. Clickclickclicketyclick go her needles.

Mrs. Sheep keeps talking. Greta still isn’t watching her knitting.

She decides it’s finished and ends it off . . .

. . . and a wolf jumps off the needle!

The little goats run away.

Well, the wolf deals with Mrs. Sheep. Greta hides just in time – in a closet with more yarn, thankfully. Because next she knits a tiger to catch the wolf. But the tiger is hungry….

And what is especially lovely about this book is how it all comes together – or, um, apart – at the end. (No one is permanently damaged, but Mrs. Sheep does learn a lesson.) Though Greta does need to learn to pay more attention to what she knits!

So this knitter, for one, truly appreciates the genius of Greta, whose knitting is just plain magical. Besides this being a really fun story to tell, all the better to convince children that knitters have magical powers, right?

hmhco.com

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Review of Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing, by Kay A. Haring

November 3rd, 2018

Keith Haring

The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing

by Kay A. Haring
illustrated by Robert Neubecker

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017. 40 pages.
Starred Review

This picture book is a biography of artist Keith Haring written by his sister. She writes a note at the back:

I wrote this story to answer the question I’m always asked, “What was Keith like as a kid?” The answer is, “HE WAS ALWAYS DRAWING!”

She gets that across in the book, with the words “he just kept drawing” showing up as a refrain on most spreads.

The artist does a great job capturing the spirit of Keith Haring’s work. His unsophisticated but intricate lines are something that naturally appeal to children, and keeping that spirit works wonderfully in a picture book.

The book begins:

When he was little, his father taught him how to draw dogs and fish and funny things. His dad would draw a line. Then Keith would draw one. Soon, the whole page would be full.

From that time on, Keith never stopped drawing.

The story gives us some highlights of his short life. He’d even do murals with children. He’d draw in chalk on black spaces in subway stations.

At the end of the book, she gives Keith’s answers to these questions:

“WHY do you draw all the time?
WHY do you give your artwork away?
WHY do you draw on buildings, on people, on clothing, on furniture, on subway walls, on cars, on skateboards, on walls that belong to no one, and on things to be thrown away?
WHY do you draw on EVERYTHING??”

Keith stopped drawing, just for a moment, and answered.
“I draw all the time because there are many spaces to fill. I give my drawings away to help make the world a better place. I draw everywhere because EVERYONE needs art!!”

kayharing.com
www.neubeckerbooks.com

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Review of Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon

November 2nd, 2018

Steal Like an Artist

10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

by Austin Kleon

Workman Publishing Company, 2012. 152 pages.

This is a little book of excellent suggestions for young adults who want to pursue creative work. I say young adults, because as an adult who’s more set in my ways, I’ve already developed my own versions of some of these suggestions, like “Get yourself a calendar,” “Keep a log book,” and “Keep your day job.” (And those are all under the Ninth Thing: “Be Boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.”)

I do love the title Thing: “Steal like an artist.” Here are some good lines from the section explaining it:

What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.

If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.

The artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there’s a difference: Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect things that they really love.

As much as I love collecting quotations and writing book reviews, it’s not a surprise I love this idea.

Of course, this was my favorite bit:

Always be reading. Go to the library. There’s magic in being surrounded by books. Get lost in the stacks. Read bibliographies. It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to.

Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Nothing is more important than an unread library.

Partly why I say this is for young adults is Thing Two: “Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.” It’s still good advice at age 53, but I have more of an idea than I did in my twenties.

The format of the book is such that it’s a great book to pull out and read a bit each morning to start your day with some inspiration. I tend to get such books read much more quickly than books that need a significant stretch of time in order to absorb them.

There are lots more good ideas for being creative for people of any age and place in their journey. I will probably give this book to my young adult children, who each have a creative side. And I’m storing away some of the advice to appropriate into my own life.

austinkleon.com
workman.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 Old MacDonald Had a Truck, by Steve Goetz and Eda Kaban

November 1st, 2018

Old MacDonald Had a Truck

by Steve Goetz
illustrated by Eda Kaban

Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2016. 40 pages.

Okay, it’s an idea that had to happen. Old MacDonald’s making a stunt track on his farm! We’ve got the familiar song, but this time, on his farm he has:

an excavator,
a front loader,
a bulldozer,
a motor grader,
a dump truck,
a steamroller,
a cement mixer,
and a truck (racing on the finished track).

The various machines work with various noises like a Dig Dig, a Scooop Scoop, a Puuush Push, a Scrape Rake, a Dump Thump, a Squish Smash.

There’s no accumulation, though, so I’m thinking if I used it for storytime, I might repeat each machine page to give kids the chance to join in. Though after the sound effects page for each machine, the line at the end of the verse shows up on the next page (Old MacDonald had a farm E-I-E-I-O.), leading right into the next verse. So it’s going to be a little disrupting to go back and repeat.

I think, though, for reading to your own child on a lap, they’re going to ask for this over and over again, and on only the second or third time through, they’ll be confidently joining in. Parents and grandparents in that situation won’t need to repeat any pages, since they’ll be repeating the whole book!

One other thing I wonder: Farm animals are helping Old MacDonald and his wife build the stunt track. Why, though, is a fox joining in? I would have rather they stuck with more traditional animals for Old MacDonald’s farm. But that’s a minor quibble and doesn’t diminish the fun.

I like what the flap says about the author: “Steve Goetz was inspired to write his debut picture book when his son, Connor, began to sing ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’ with alternative lyrics (‘Old MacDonald had a Monster Truck, E – I – E – I – Ooooooo’). This moment blossomed into an ongoing conversation about the heavy machinery Old MacDonald must have owned to run his farm.” Indeed!

This is the sort of book that makes me wonder why anyone didn’t think of this before. In fact, surely someone has? But this one is carried out with exuberance.

www.chroniclekids.com

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Review of Penguin Day, by Nic Bishop

October 30th, 2018

Penguin Day

A Family Story

by Nic Bishop

Scholastic Press, 2017. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Nic Bishop’s stunning photographs make this book stand-out. It’s a simple picture book about the life of a baby rockhopper penguin – but the illustrations are clear photographs taken in the wild.

The language is simple. Here’s how it starts.

Morning has come and baby penguin is hungry. Baby penguin is too little to get breakfast, so mama penguin will go hunting.

Papa penguin will stay behind to keep an eye on the little one.

We see mama penguin’s hunting trip, and we see baby wander off but get protected from a hungry skua by papa penguin.

Clear, beautiful photographs illustrate the whole journey.

The short note at the back says:

The author spent three weeks photographing rockhopper penguins for this book. Severe gales and freezing temperatures often made things difficult for him but never daunted the penguins. Every day they ventured into stormy seas and climbed home over tall cliffs, meeting each challenge with feisty determination. More than one chick and its parents were photographed to make this book.

A fantastic introduction to nonfiction for littlest listeners and readers. This book would work well in a storytime, as well as for a young child beginning to be interested in the natural world, as well as for an older child who likes penguins.

nicbishop.com
scholastic.com

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Review of Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

October 29th, 2018

Dear Ijeawele,

or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 63 pages.
Starred Review

This book is short – which makes it perfect for reading a little bit at a time, one suggestion per day. This would make a lovely gift for mothers of young girls.

Here’s the background of this little book, from the Introduction:

When a couple of years ago a friend of mine from childhood, who’d grown into a brilliant, strong, kind woman, asked me to tell her how to raise her baby girl a feminist, my first thought was that I did not know.

It felt like too huge a task.

But I had spoken publicly about feminism and perhaps that made her feel I was an expert on the subject. I had over the years also helped care for many babies of loved ones; I had worked as a babysitter and helped raise my nephews and nieces. I had done a lot of watching and listening, and I had done even more thinking.

In response to my friend’s request, I decided to write her a letter, which I hoped would be honest and practical, while also serving as a map of sorts for my own feminist thinking. This book is a version of that letter, with some details changed.

Now that I, too, am the mother of a delightful baby girl, I realize how easy it is to dispense advice about raising a child when you are not facing the enormously complex reality of it yourself.

Still, I think it is morally urgent to have honest conversations about raising children differently, about trying to create a fairer world for women and men.

My friend sent me a reply saying she would “try” to follow my suggestions.

And in rereading these as a mother, I, too, am determined to try.

And the fifteen suggestions she gives are good ones. Her style is personal and friendly, since the letter was written to a friend. Above all, it’s inspiring – and makes me think about my own interactions with people.

I’ll give some examples. The first suggestion:

Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood.

There is much elaboration on each suggestion, thoughtful, illuminating and inspiring. Here’s another one I loved:

Teach Chizalum to read. Teach her to love books. The best way is by casual example. If she sees you reading, she will understand that reading is valuable…. Books will help her understand and question the world, help her express herself, and help her in whatever she wants to become – a chef, a scientist, a singer, all benefit from the skills that reading brings.

This one was interesting, because I hadn’t thought of it this way before:

Never speak of marriage as an achievement. Find ways to make clear to her that marriage is not an achievement, nor is it what she should aspire to. A marriage can be happy or unhappy, but it is not an achievement.

We condition girls to aspire to marriage and we do not condition boys to aspire to marriage, and so there is already a terrible imbalance at the start. The girls will grow up to be women preoccupied with marriage. The boys will grow up to be men who are not preoccupied with marriage. The women marry those men. The relationship is automatically uneven because the institution matters more to one than the other.

The Eighth Suggestion:

Teach her to reject likeability. Her job is not to make herself likeable, her job is to be her full self, a self that is honest and aware of the equal humanity of other people…. We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable….

Show her that she does not need to be liked by everyone. Tell her that if someone does not like her, there will be someone else who will. Teach her that she is not merely an object to be liked or disliked, she is also a subject who can like or dislike. In her teenage years, if she comes home crying about some boys who don’t like her, let her know she can choose not to like those boys – yes, it’s hard, I know, just remembering my crush on Nnamdi in secondary school.

But still I wish somebody had told me this.

I like this paragraph in a suggestion about romance (“Romance will happen, so be on board.”):

Teach her that to love is not only to give but also to take. This is important because we give girls subtle cues about their lives – we teach girls that a large component of their ability to love is their ability to sacrifice their selves. We do not teach this to boys. Teach her that to love she must give of herself emotionally but she must also expect to be given.

And the final suggestion:

Teach her about difference. Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal. Teach her not to attach value to difference. And the reason for this is not to be fair or to be nice, but merely to be human and practical. Because difference is the reality of our world. And by teaching her about difference, you are equipping her to survive in a diverse world.

She must know and understand that people walk different paths in the world, and that as long as those paths do no harm to others, they are valid paths that she must respect. Teach her that we do not know – we cannot know – everything about life. Both religion and science have spaces for things we do not know, and it is enough to make peace with that.

Teach her never to universalize her own standards or experiences. Teach her that her standards are for her alone, and not for other people. This is the only necessary form of humility: the realization that difference is normal.

Come to think of it – this book is great reading even if you aren’t the mother of a young girl. It’s inspiring, encouraging, and thought-provoking.

aaknopf.com

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Review of Mouse and Hippo, by Mike Twohey

October 27th, 2018

Mouse and Hippo

by Mike Twohy

A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017. 32 pages.

Here’s a fun picture book that gives practice in perspective.

Mouse is an artist. But he accidentally sets up his easel and paints on Hippo’s back. When Hippo rescues him and compliments his painting, Mouse decides to paint Hippo. In gratitude, Hippo does a painting of Mouse.

The funny part of this book is how each one dramatically poses – and then each other one does a humorously simple representation.

Hippo is so big, Mouse uses his biggest brush, and just swipes gray paint across the canvas. There’s no room for more detail.

Mouse is so small, Hippo uses the smallest brush, and simply paints a small dot. He doesn’t have a small enough brush to paint Mouse’s whiskers.

Also funny is how happy each new friend is with their painting.

Hippo says, “If I use my imagination, my ears are probably way up here – and my dimple is right here!”

Mouse says, “I love it! You made me look so cute!”

A fun story with an amusing new set of mismatched friends.

simonandschuster.com/kids

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