Review of The Great Stink, by Colleen Paeff, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

The Great Stink

How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem

by Colleen Paeff
illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster), 2021. 40 pages.
Review written October 20, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

As soon as I saw the cover of this book, I knew it will be an easy one to booktalk (if we get to go into schools again before summer).

It’s about the history of how humans dealt with poop – and all the people who died of cholera in London before they realized it’s actually not a good idea to let human waste get into drinking water.

The book takes on the man who was largely responsible for updating London’s sewers so the Thames no longer reeked of poop. Historically, there was a summer where the smell coming off the Thames was actually called “The Great Stink.”

The story is told with entertaining illustrations and enough disgusting facts to keep anyone’s attention.

Sadly, at the end of the book we learn there are still problems with poop pollution in many places all over the world – including the United States. Happily, after that spread, we get a spread with stories of communities doing something about the problem today. And then there’s plenty of helpful back matter, if readers want to know more.

An entertaining look at an important historical innovation.

colleenpaeff.com
nancycarpenter.website

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Review of The Girl from the Sea, by Molly Knox Ostertag

The Girl from the Sea

by Molly Knox Ostertag
color by Maarta Laiho

Graphix (Scholastic), 2021. 254 pages.
Review written October 16, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

The Girl from the Sea is a sweet graphic novel about fifteen-year-old Morgan’s summer romance. She lives on an island and her parents recently split up and her brother is always angry, so she was off alone by the cliffs one night but slipped and hit her head. But she was rescued by a girl in the water, a very cute girl, and Morgan, thinking it’s all a hallucination, gives the girl a kiss.

The next day, the girl shows up on the shore just wearing an oversize jacket. She announces that her name is Keltie, and tells Morgan:

I am a selkie, and you are my true love, and your kiss has allowed me to transform from a seal into a human and walk on land.

Now we can find our fortunes together!

[Morgan:] Yeah, no, nope, we’re not doing that.

[Keltie:] But our destinies are intertwined! Sealed by a kiss!

[Morgan:] That was a near-death=experience hallucination!

[Keltie:] I assure you, it was not.

Morgan doesn’t have the heart to send Keltie away, but she still doesn’t want anyone else to know about her. Morgan isn’t out as gay to anyone — she thought she’d get off the island some day and then come out — so she wants to keep this romance hidden. Her friends start wondering why she’s not as quick to hang out with them.

And then it turns out that Keltie also has an agenda, something she promised to do for her seal siblings.

It all adds up to a lovely story of a teen whose neat and tidy plans get completely shaken up in a beautiful way.

mollyostertag.com
scholastic.com

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Review of The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess, by Tom Gauld

The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess

by Tom Gauld

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2021. 32 pages.
Review written October 29, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This picture book gives a sweet original fairy tale about perseverance and devotion. It hit just exactly the right note with me.

As we begin, a king and queen (with different color skin from each other) are childless and want a baby. The king goes to see the royal inventor, and the queen goes to see a clever old witch.

They both asked for the same thing: a child.

And so the little wooden robot and the log princess come to life. They love each other and are loved by their parents and play happily together. But at night, the log princess turns back into a log when she goes to sleep and has to be woken up with magic words.

Usually, her brother wakes her first thing in the morning, but one morning he’s distracted by a traveling circus.

When he gets back, the log that is his sister has been thrown out the window!

So begins a long saga to rescue her. And then he winds down, and his sister needs to rescue him. And it all comes full circle in the end and we get a nice surprise at who does the ultimate rescuing before happily ever after.

And it’s just such a nice story that makes me really happy.

My favorite pages, though, are the ones about the adventures they have along the way, “too many to recount here.” For the little wooden robot, they are:

The Giant’s Key
The Family of Robbers
The Old Lady in a Bottle
The Magic Pudding
The Lonely Bear
The Queen of the Mushrooms

These adventures are listed on a page with a small picture for each adventure — so intriguing and fun! There’s a similar page when it’s the log princess’s turn to have adventures.

I suppose part of why you just have to love these characters is their smiley face features and the sweet simplicity of their determination.

This one would be good for young elementary school kids as well as preschoolers, so I’m going to mark it to booktalk next summer.

HolidayHouse.com

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Review of The Debt Project, by Brittany M. Powell

The Debt Project

99 Portraits Across America

by Brittany M. Powell
with a foreword by Astra Taylor

West Margin Press, 2020. 216 pages.
Review written October 29, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Wow. This book is simply photographs of 99 Americans from all over the country, sitting in their living space. Accompanying each portrait is a copy of a handwritten page by the subject talking about their debt.

Readers, there’s so, so much debt.

At first I was surprised how many people listed mortgages — I think of that as good debt, because a home equity loan allowed me to pay off $39,000 of credit cards. And my home now would sell for considerably more than what I paid for it. But of course a mortgage is indeed debt. Some of the people featured lost homes in hurricane Katrina or their home lost value in the recession, so they owe more than what it’s worth.

Many, many people were in debt after divorce, which was the source of my own credit card debt. But by far the most common source of large debts was student loans. Many of the portraits here were of young people with staggering amounts of debt they incurred in order to get an education. Many had debt from medical bills. Many are unemployed and have no idea how they’ll pay it all off.

Altogether, it’s a sobering set of portraits. Some of the subjects admit to making poor choices, but for many it was a matter of survival. Taken together, these stories show staggering debt is a common problem in America today.

I would have appreciated this book even more when I had the credit card debt. (And I was only able to buy the home that saved me from it because my dad gave me the down payment. On my own, the amount of debt continued to rise.) At least by looking at this book, you know you’re not alone.

It also brings home the point that this is a societal problem. So many young people are beginning their adult lives with crippling debt. Shouldn’t there be a better way to launch young adults? Shouldn’t there be a better way for older adults to get a new start with a graduate degree? This book left me asking those questions.

debtcollective.org
neweconomynyc.org
ourfinancialsecurity.org
rollingjubilee.org
mappingstudentdebt.org
WestMarginPress.com

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Review of If I Go Missing, by Brianna Jonnie with Nahanni Shingoose, art by Nshannacappo

If I Go Missing

by Brianna Jonnie with Nahanni Shingoose
art by Nshannacappo

James Lorimer & Company, Toronto. First published in Canada in 2019. Published in the United States in 2020. 64 pages.
Review written October 7, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This book takes a letter written by the author to her local police station when she was 14 years old and illustrates it in graphic novel format. She noticed that Indigenous women who go missing do not get searched for as quickly or as effectively as white people who go missing.

Here’s a powerful part, with sinister pictures of men shown in the background:

I am more likely than my friends to be murdered by a person unknown to me.
I am more likely to be raped, assaulted or sexually violated.
I cannot take public transit or go for a walk without being approached or ogled at by men I do not know, even in a safe part of the city; even during the daytime.

She points out that treating Indigenous people who go missing differently than white people who go missing teaches everyone that Indigenous lives are not as valuable.

And she concludes with instructions to the police if she should go missing. It would not be from running away or by her own choice.

Provide details that humanize me, not just the colour of my hair, my height and my ethnicity.

Tell them that I have goals, dreams and aspirations and a future I want to be part of.

Do not treat me as the Indigenous person I am proud to be.

This book will haunt you. It draws your attention to an important human rights issue in a powerful way.

lorimer.ca
lernerbooks.com

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Review of Dragonfell, by Sarah Prineas

Dragonfell

by Sarah Prineas

Harper, 2019. 261 pages.
Review written December 24, 2019, from my own copy purchased via amazon.com

People in Rafi’s village are afraid of him. He’s different. He’s got fire-red hair, he likes to hang out up high on the fell where a dragon used to hoard teacups, there’s a spark in his eyes, he isn’t bothered by heat or cold, and most alarming of all, he has been seen to start fires by looking at something.

But when people come from the factory owner from the big city and they notice Rafi, that’s when trouble starts up. They threaten his Da and threaten his village if he doesn’t come with them.

With one thing and another, Rafi sets out on a quest to find and save the dragons. But he’s being followed. The factory owner Mr. Flitch wants something from Rafi, and he’ll take it from Rafi’s village if Rafi won’t give it up.

I like the dragons in this book. They’re varying ages, abilities, and sizes, and they all hoard something distinctive, things like knitted items, or pieces of glass, or spiders. Rafi has to travel far to talk to the different dragons. Mr. Flitch is after the dragons, and they’re in danger. Is there anything Rafi can do about that?

I also especially like Maud, the companion Rafi meets along the way. She says she’s a dragon scientist, and she’s interested in dragons for the love of them. She’s not bothered or scared by the ways Rafi is different, and she helps him along the way.

Despite being chased, this book comes across as a gentle story of a kind-hearted boy who’s dragon-touched and is trying to figure out what that means.

sarah-prineas.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Sun Flower Lion, by Kevin Henkes

Sun Flower Lion

by Kevin Henkes

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 32 pages.
Review written October 3, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is a brilliant book for very young children or very beginning readers. The language is simple. The pictures are simple. But it’s got patterns and a progression.

We’ve got four things – the sun, a flower, and a lion, that are all drawn with the same basic pattern. We’ve also got six chapters. Each chapter is just one spread or a spread-and-a-half.

Here are the words for the first chapter:

This is the sun.
Can you see it?

The sun is in the sky.
It is shining.
It is as bright as a flower.

In the next chapter, we meet the flower, and then the lion.

My favorite page is this one:

The lion runs home.
Can you see him?
No, you can’t.
He is running too fast.

And it all ends with him cozy and back with his family.

Amazing that Kevin Henkes can tell a satisfying story with so few words – and so few shapes.

kevinhenkes.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley

Firekeeper’s Daughter

by Angeline Boulley
read by Isabella Star LaBlanc

Macmillan Audio, 2021. 14 hours.
Review written September 21, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Firekeeper’s Daughter is an amazingly good mystery/thriller for teens by an indigenous author. From the cover image, I mistakenly expected a fantasy, but got a lovely contemporary novel focusing on Daunis Fontaine, the daughter of a Native American Firekeeper and a non-Native woman. Only her mother is still alive, but Daunis has embraced Native American spirituality and the traditions of her people.

Since I listened to the audio version, I don’t trust myself with spelling the Native American terms freely used through this book in a natural way, but the narrator helped make their use seamless. As the book begins, Daunis has graduated from high school, but has not left for college because she doesn’t want to leave her grandmother, who recently had a stroke, and who is being cared for by Daunis’s mother. Daunis is also troubled by the recent death of her uncle, a chemistry teacher, which neither she nor her mother believes was really from an overdose of meth.

Daunis had been a star on the hockey team, but an injury has sidelined her, though she still supports the team with her brother the captain this year. An attractive new kid has come to town, but he turns out to have some secrets.

And before long, there are more deaths and more people using meth, and Daunis gets pulled into the investigation and mystery of who is behind the meth ring and how does that relate to her uncle’s death. It all seems tied up in the reservation and the hockey team, and Daunis has insider information on both.

This book is wonderful on many levels. Yes, it becomes suspenseful and yes, our main characters are in danger. But it also works as a richly emotional story before any suspense is present, about romance and family and belonging and caring for others and learning to trust. There are also underlying issues as to Native American people and their treatment by law enforcement, and citizenship issues on the border with Canada.

Something I loved about this book was the same thing I loved about Darcie Little Badger’s Native American fantasy, Elatsoe — Daunis is part of a community and gets help from the community. She respects and values her elders and gets important help from them, and it’s lovely how it works out.

angelineboulley.com

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Review of What Linnaeus Saw, by Karen Magnuson Beil

What Linnaeus Saw

A Scientist’s Quest to Name Every Living Thing

by Karen Magnuson Beil

Norton Young Readers, 2019. 256 pages.
Review written January 14, 2020, from a library book.

This book is a middle school and up biography of Carl Linnaeus, who founded the science of taxonomy by coming up with a system to classify and name all creatures on earth. He even thought at the time that he could complete this task. But in his attempt, he furthered scientific progress tremendously by giving scientists all over the world a way to know they were talking about the same animals.

Carl Linnaeus was born in 1707 in Sweden. His parents badly wanted him to be a pastor, but he wasn’t suited for that at all. He headed into medicine, much to their disappointment – being a medical doctor wasn’t a respected profession at that time. But it was a profession suited for someone obsessed with botany, the study of plants. At those times, doctors made their own medicines. His study of plants and his methodical nature ended up changing the world.

Part of what’s so interesting about this story is how differently the world was seen in those days. Something that earned Linnaeus fame was determining that the Seven-Headed Hydra of Hamburg was a fake. I love that it took a scientist to figure that out!

The book is full of illustrations, and many of them are reproductions from Linnaeus’s notebooks. There are sidebars with interesting notes, and the story of his life is told in an engaging way. This is an interesting story about someone I never before realized was so important.

nortonyoungreaders.com

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Review of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V. E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

by V. E. Schwab
narrated by Julia Whelan

Macmillan Audio, 2020. 17 hours, 10 minutes.
Review written October 5, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

This is the amazing epic tale of a girl who sold her soul to the god of Darkness.

She was at her wits’ end. She lived in a small village in France in 1714. At 23 years old, her family had decided she must marry an older man from the village. Her life stretched out before her bleak and hard. She wanted to live! And she wanted to be free.

But when she prayed desperately to the gods on the day of her wedding, she hadn’t realized that the sun went down and it was the Dark who answered. He was happy to give her the wish – but when she got tired of living, her soul would be forfeit.

However, in granting her wish to be completely free, the Dark cursed her to never be remembered. She could interact with people, but as soon as they turned their back or a door closed between them and Addie, they would completely forget her. And there was more – she couldn’t speak her name or tell her story. If she tried to write words or make any kind of mark, it was instantly erased. In fact, the only person who remembered her and knew her name was the god of Darkness himself.

First, her family and the friends in her village forgot her, as if she had never existed. But Addie quickly learned that it was difficult even to order food or rent a room. Eventually, she learned that she could steal, because that is anonymous. But if someone saw her stealing and was able to stop her, she would still suffer.

She could suffer – but she did not age or get illness or lasting wounds. She had immortality – and the Dark underestimated her stubbornness, as well as her excitement in discovering new things. She wasn’t willing to forfeit her soul. She even learned, over the years, that ideas are more lasting than memory. While she never could have an accurate painting or photograph made of her, she could and did inspire art and music.

But one day in New York City, almost 300 years from the day she was cursed, she brings a book back to a bookstore that she stole from it the day before – and the bookstore clerk remembers her! And it continues! She finds she can even tell him her name.

And so, after almost three hundred years, Addie LaRue’s life changes. But the reason why this boy can remember her brings with it a new set of problems.

This story tells about Addie’s long life and adventures interspersed with scenes from the present (2014), weaving a rich tapestry of an amazing life, which may not have been entirely invisible.

And of course it raises many questions. Would it be worth living a long life if you couldn’t leave any mark on the world? Is it possible to love people who forget you? What are the things that make life worth living? And of course the big one: What would you be willing to give up your soul to get?

The audiobook was wonderful, giving Addie a slight French accent and distinguishing the characters well, but it’s very long. I enjoyed a trip through Skyline Drive in early Autumn to finish it off, and it made the drive all the more incredible.

macmillanaudio.com

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