Review of Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds

November 21st, 2017

Long Way Down

by Jason Reynolds

Atheneum, 2017. 306 pages.
Starred Review

Will’s brother Shawn just got shot. And Will is sure he knows who did it.

And there are three rules Shawn taught him:

No crying, no matter what.

No snitching, no matter what.

If someone you love
gets killed,

find the person
who killed

them and
kill them.

So Will takes Shawn’s gun and sets out to kill the person who killed him.

He gets in the elevator on the 8th floor. And on each remaining floor someone new gets on… someone who’s dead.

The first dead person in the elevator is Buck – a brother even older than Shawn. He knew the Rules, too, and taught them to Shawn.

In fact most of the people who show up on this elevator lived by the Rules. The thing is: They’re dead now.

This is a novel in verse (and artistic, well-crafted verse), so it’s quick reading. It does pack a punch.

jasonwritesbooks.com
simonandschuster.com/teen

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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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Review of The Skydiving Beavers: A True Tale, by Susan Wood, illustrated by Gÿsbert van Frankenhuyzen

November 19th, 2017

The Skydiving Beavers

A True Tale

by Susan Wood
illustrated by Gÿsbert van Frankenhuyzen

Sleeping Bear Press, 2017. 32 pages.

How’s that for a catchy title? I had to find out about the skydiving beavers!

This nonfiction picture book tells about an effort in 1948 to move beavers from a lake where people had settled to Idaho back country wilderness.

The place where they wanted to relocate the beavers was so wild, it didn’t have any roads or railroads. So how to get the beavers there? Horses or mules wouldn’t be too happy to transport angry beavers, and that would take a long time.

A man named Elmo Heter, who worked for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, came up with a plan. They had plenty of parachutes leftover from World War II, and they decided to use them to transport the beavers.

Elmo designed a box that would automatically open when it landed. But he had to test it to make sure. He caught a beaver and named him Geronimo. He used Geronimo to test his design over and over to make sure it worked. I thought this was funny:

After a while, it seemed Geronimo was growing to like all the skydiving. Each time he touched down and the box sprang open, he’d scurry out . . . then crawl right back in for another go.

Eventually, they used the parachutes and self-opening boxes to transport seventy-six live beavers into the Chamberlain Basin region.

A note at the back gives more details, but also explains that today we try to find ways to live with beavers, because beaver communities are great for the environment. The note tells about a successful such effort in Martinez, California. There’s also a list of surprising facts about beavers.

So even though it will probably never happen again, it was fun to read the true story of the skydiving beavers!

susanwoodbooks.com
hazelridgefarm.com
sleepingbearpress.com

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Review of The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, by Alexander McCall Smith

November 10th, 2017

The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine

by Alexander McCall Smith
read by Lisette Lecat

Recorded Books, 2015. 9 hours 15 minutes on 8 discs.

This is the 16th book about Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana.

I love these books, especially loving the characters and the relationships that have developed through the series. However, it feels like the action moves more and more slowly each time, so I’ve taken to listening instead of reading, because I tend to be more patient with audiobooks. And the lovely narrator’s voice has finally settled for me the pronunciation of “Mma” and “Rra.”

There were still times when I was annoyed with the slow plot arc, since more than once Mma Ramotswe was thinking long and hard about whether she should talk to Mma Makutsi. But the overall story had the usual one or two interesting cases. This time there was one about a scandal in the past of a late government official as well as the story of a little street boy who vandalizes the tiny white van.

But the overall story is about Mma Ramotswe going on holiday. It’s not her idea – her staff seem to be conspiring to get her to take one. Now that she’s a partner, is Mma Makutsi plotting to take over the agency? However, taking a holiday is more difficult than it would seem.

Truly, a woman with a loving husband is like a woman who walks in sunshine. Listening to this book will bring sunshine into your life.

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

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Review of Beyond the Bright Sea, by Lauren Wolk

November 9th, 2017

Beyond the Bright Sea

by Lauren Wolk
read by Jorjeana Marie

Listening Library (Penguin Random House), 2017. 7.5 hours on 6 compact discs.

Beyond the Bright Sea tells the story of a 12-year-old girl living on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts.

Here’s how the book begins:

My name is Crow.

When I was a baby, someone tucked me into an old boat and pushed me out to sea.

I washed up on a tiny island, like a seed riding the tide.

It was Osh who found me and took me in. Who taught me how to put down roots, and thrive on both sun and rain, and understand what it is to bloom….

And then, one night when I was twelve, I saw a fire burning on Penikese, the island where no one ever went, and I decided on my own that it was time to find out where I’d come from and why I’d been sent away.

But I didn’t understand what I was risking until I nearly lost it.

This book is set in the 1920s. The island called Penikese is where about ten years earlier there’d been a leper colony, with the residents kept isolated from any other human beings. Is Crow’s story connected with theirs?

Miss Maggie lives on Cuddyhunk, the next island over. She has helped Osh care for Crow since she first washed up on Osh’s island. Miss Maggie wrote letters to Penikese and several other places, asking about a missing newborn baby, but never got any reply. All the same, the islanders treat her as if she will sprout a dreadful disease at any time.

At first, Crow wants to prove she’s not from Penikese. But the more she finds out, the more that changes.

There’s a surprising amount of adventure in what starts out sounding like a quiet story. Crow’s quest to find her origins ends up involving shipwrecks and pirate treasure, but all with plenty of love from Osh and Miss Maggie.

I wasn’t crazy about the narrator – she read the story almost too calmly and quietly, though to be fair, Crow is a calm and quiet child. There are also some coincidences in the story itself. I was somewhat disturbed by the presence of a purely evil character – I think a little more so because there had also been a purely evil character in Lauren Wolk’s previous book, Wolf Hollow, which was also very good in spite of that. I guess I was willing to overlook it the first time, but the second time that particular objection gets a little stronger.

That said, this audiobook made absorbing listening, and I would love to meet Crow, Osh, Miss Maggie, and their cat named Mouse. Lauren Wolk’s good people feel like real people you’d love to meet, and she makes the world of these 1920s islands come alive.

penguin.com/middle-grade
listeninglibrary.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 Dear Fahrenheit 451, by Annie Spence

November 8th, 2017

Dear Fahrenheit 451

Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks

A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life

by Annie Spence

Flatiron Books, 2017. 244 pages.
Starred Review

Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451,

You know I have to start my review emulating you, but of course you realize that I won’t do as good a job with it as you did. So basically, you’re giving me a sense of inferiority right from the start. I should probably hate you for that, but instead I feel all fangirly, impressed with your wit and cleverness and knowledge of books.

You asked me (“Dear Reader”) in your last letter a few questions, so the least I can do is continue the correspondence.

Did you make me want to reread a book I broke up with long ago? Well, is it fair to answer that you made me want to watch a movie again? One of my favorite parts in here was your letter to the library in Beauty and the Beast. I love when your author admits: “But the main reason she’s my favorite is you, Library. You’re so golden and glorious, towering over everyone with your endless rows of books. To be Belle for a day!” Oh yes!

But alas! I must admit that your author revealed, in many times and in many ways, that her taste is quite different from mine. Most notable was her letter to The Hobbit, where she explained “We just want different things.” Kind of mind-blowing to reject The Hobbit! But in a backhanded way, yes, that made me want to reread that wonderful book. (Oh! And The Time Traveler’s Wife! Yes, I want to reread that now.)

Did I keep notes of all the reading you suggested and now have a gabazillion books on your list? Well, I did put a couple of books on hold. And checked out Nikki Giovanni’s Love Poems (Wow!). But, see above, I discovered your literary taste is somewhat divergent from mine. Nothing personal. We just want different things. On top of that, I’m about to commence a year of reading children’s books for the Newbery Medal, so I’m trying to pare down my other-books-I-want-to-read list. I honestly don’t have time to let you distract me.

Do I want to know where I can get a copy of The One-Hour Orgasm? No, I do not. But your writing about the things you find on the public library shelves, and the books that need to move on, made me laugh out loud with recognition.

Ah, this perhaps explains why, despite my negative answers to your queries, I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. You reveal your author’s passion for books and let me enjoy her witty book references, clever book flirtations, and observations from a Library Insider.

And I have to say, I soooo agree with you about The Giving Tree! Your author gave it to a boy she loved in high school. I gave it to a boy I loved in college – and married him. As you say, “Do you want to guess how that went, Giving Tree? Want to guess who was the tired old stump at the end of that book?” Would you believe that I actually burned the copy I gave him? You are spot on correct about that one, Dear Fahrenheit 451.

I will make a confession: You were on hold for another reader – and I didn’t turn you back in right away! (I know, shocking behavior in a librarian!) Although I check out far more books than I can ever read, turning in books that someone else wants is something I faithfully do. But I was more than halfway through reading you, and you were just plain fun! So I selfishly kept your company for myself.

And I would very much like to quote you from so many different places. The clever letters of love and of good-by. And the handy-dandy reading lists at the end. So very much fun to read, whether I take the recommendations or not, honestly.

But, as I said, I didn’t turn you in immediately when I should have, and I’m feeling guilty about that. I need to finish this review and send you on to the next reader. But first I will say that anyone who loves books or reading or libraries will find something to love about you.

With Much Affection,

Sondy

flatironbooks.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 Full of Fall, by April Pulley Sayre

November 6th, 2017

Full of Fall

by April Pulley Sayre

Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), 2017. 40 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve got a new favorite Autumn storytime book.

Full of Fall tells about the changes in a forest in Autumn – with stunning photo illustrations and simple but not trite rhyming verse.

Here’s an example of the text for two spreads, with appropriately shaded brightly colored leaves under these words.

Hello, yellow.
Greetings, gold.
Oh – it’s orange!
Red, be bold.

The book begins with the start of fall as the leaves change –

One leaf,
Another leaf.
Colors surge.
Meet the trees!
Their shapes emerge.

(Had you ever noticed that when a forest of trees change to different colors, it’s now easier to see the shapes of individual trees?)

And ends with leaves fallen, on the forest floor, and geese flying overhead.

As with so many Autumn books, the last page foreshadows the coming of winter – with a photo of snow falling on colored leaves.

The text is simple enough for a baby storytime, but the photos and concepts are interesting enough for a preschool storytime.

The large photos make this book extraordinary – but the well-chosen words make it readable. There are two pages at the back that explain some of the science shown in the pictures, for use even with school age children.

AprilSayre.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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

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Review of Her Right Foot, by Dave Eggers, art by Shawn Harris

October 31st, 2017

Her Right Foot

by Dave Eggers
art by Shawn Harris

Chronicle Books, 2017. 108 pages.
Starred Review

Dave Eggers has another brilliant children’s nonfiction book about a great American landmark. Like This Bridge Will Not Be Gray, this book has many pages, but not a lot of words on each page. The tone is conversational, but a lot of facts are presented. In both books, the author is not afraid to ask questions.

And this book has a take on the Statue of Liberty that I’d never heard before. In fact, I googled pictures of the statue to make sure he was telling the truth! (He is!)

It’s actually rather difficult to find pictures that show Lady Liberty’s right foot, but Dave Eggers is correct – the statue is walking! Or, as Dave Eggers puts it, “She is going somewhere! She is on the move!”

He goes on about this at some length:

But she is moving. She weighs 450,000 pounds and wears a size 879 shoe, and she is moving. How can we all have missed this? Or even if we saw this, and noticed this, how is it that we have seen and noticed a 450,000-pound human on her way somewhere and said, Eh. Just another 150-foot woman walking off a 150-foot pedestal?

Then he speculates where she might be going.

But especially nice is the idea he presents at the end of this speculation.

If the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom, if the Statue of Liberty has welcomed millions of immigrants to the United States, then how can she stand still?

Liberty and freedom from oppression are not things you get or grant by standing around like some kind of statue. No! These are things that require action. Courage. An unwillingness to rest.

He connects her depiction as moving with the fact that she is still welcoming immigrants today. “It never ends. It cannot end.”

After all, as we’ve learned in this book, the Statue of Liberty is an immigrant herself. She is on the move to meet the immigrants as they arrive.

This book about the Statue of Liberty makes readers look at her with new eyes.

chroniclekids.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 Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green

October 30th, 2017

Turtles All the Way Down

by John Green

Dutton Books (Penguin Random House), 2017. 286 pages.
Starred Review

At the start of this book, Aza’s best friend Daisy asks her a question that changes her life. “Didn’t you go to school with him?”

Aza asks who Daisy is talking about – and it’s Davis Pickett, the son of a billionaire. Aza and Davis went to “sad camp” together years before after Aza’s father died and Davis’s mother died. They were friends back then, but that was a long time ago.

Well, Davis’s father was about to be arrested for bribery, but the night before the raid, he disappeared. There’s a hundred thousand dollar reward for information leading to his return. Daisy is determined that Aza should revive that acquaintance so they can get the reward.

Aza does remember a motion-sensitive camera the family used to keep in the woods by the river. And Aza still has her canoe. It turns out that Davis was feeling lonely and might even be glad to see her.

That’s the outer story. But the inner story is laced all through with Aza’s obsessive thoughts about her health and about bacteria and about all the things that could kill you.

This is a well-written story of a girl with obsessive-compulsive disorder and what it means for her life and her friendships. And the outer story – the mystery of the missing billionaire and the budding romance with the billionaire’s son – is compelling and fascinating as well.

Now, I have to say that whenever I read a book by John Green, I hear John Green’s voice in my head, reading it. This is because I’ve watched many of his video blogs, so I’m used to hearing him talk. But it’s also because all of his characters talk like he does, using big words with quirky ideas and connections. However, I really enjoy listening to that kind of nerdy talk – so it works for me.

But I haven’t communicated how much this book pulls you in. Who knew that “hearing” obsessive-compulsive thoughts would be so compelling? You feel the frustration, the lack of control, along with Aza. I think what ripped me up most inside was when she gets a glimpse of how her friends see her.

But bottom line, this is a hopeful and uplifting book. Aza will overcome. So surely the reader can, too.

johngreenbooks.com
PenguinTeen.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 Earthly Remains, by Donna Leon

October 27th, 2017

Earthly Remains

by Donna Leon

Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017. 308 pages.
Starred Review

I have long meant to read a Donna Leon Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery. Her books are set in Venice – and who can help but love Venice? I finally got my hands on an advance reader copy – and I like to bring those on vacation – so I finally got one read, and think I will have to read some more.

I haven’t read any others, but I was quickly involved in this book. The Commissario gets himself in a situation where he’s given medical leave to take a vacation.

He goes out into the laguna to a villa of a family friend of his wife. He does daily rowing with the old caretaker, who it turns out was a friend of his father. But after some time together, rowing and caring for the old man’s bees – the old family friend turns up dead after a storm.

Guido is enough involved to want to figure out what happened. One thing leads to another….

I enjoyed this book very much. I expected Venice and got the laguna where I’ve never been – but the writing was wonderfully descriptive and atmospheric. But I loved the characters. Guido Brunetti has been around and understands people. I like his curiosity that won’t simply let this rest.

I will say I wasn’t completely happy with how things turned out. When I read a mystery, I expect to see justice done, and there was more than one instance that seemed to be coming up short. But – it’s all presented with Guido Brunetti’s pragmatic awareness of what can be done and his philosophical attitude about what people are really like. And it all makes for enjoyable reading. I think I’m going to be looking for the first book in this series and get some history with these characters whom I liked so much.

groveatlantic.com

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Source: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting.

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Review of Me and Marvin Gardens, by Amy Sarig King

October 26th, 2017

Me and Marvin Gardens

by Amy Sarig King

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2017. 243 pages.
Starred Review

Obe Devlin has loved animals for a long time and looks for animal tracks down by the creek. The creek has been part of his family’s land for generations – but unfortunately they lost most of their land in his great-grandfather’s day. And recently, the farmers who replaced their family have sold the land to developers. But the Devlins still have the creek.

And then Obe discovers an animal no one’s ever seen before. It’s not a dog; it’s not a pig. It has a strange half-hoof. And it eats plastic! Maybe it’s a pollution solution! It’s slimy to touch, but it’s friendly and comes when Obe calls. He finds himself making friends with the animal – and Obe needed a friend, because his best friend has started playing with kids who have moved into the new houses and make fun of Obe.

Obe names the creature Marvin Gardens (his dad loves Monopoly). But then he discovers that Marvin’s poop is horribly foul smelling and apparently toxic. It’s brightly colored like the plastic Marvin eats, and turns grass brown and creates holes in the land. When some kids step in Marvin’s scat and it eats through their shoes and anything they walk on – there’s going to be trouble.

What should Obe do? Who can he trust? Will anyone believe him that he’s found a new species? And how can he protect Marvin if anyone else finds out about him?

This book is wonderfully written with lots of different pieces coming together. Obe’s family are characterized beautifully and realistically. We find out slowly what happened between Obe and his former best friend, and we see him develop a new friendship. We completely understand his worries about getting out to see Marvin, and why he’d be reluctant to tell anyone. Especially we see how Obe’s learning to be a scientist and an environmentalist, and how he’s just the right person to discover this new species and learn about it and protect it.

Here’s the part where Obe first sees the animal’s tracks:

I kept shining my flashlight around the bank. And then I saw the track. I was sitting right next to it.

If I was Bernadette, I would have just taken out my phone and snapped a picture of it, but I was eleven so I didn’t have a phone or even a decent camera. I tried to take a mental picture.

It had toes and a central pad, but also had a hoofed edge. It was part dog and part pig or something. It made no sense, this track. I tried to picture the foot that could have made it. I looked for others, and when there were no others, I figured someone must have been playing a joke on me. Tommy knew about my pocket guide to animal tracks. He was with me when I found my first beaver track downstream. That was the first day he called me Creek Boy.

CREWAHARKKKLTKELTH!

The noise made the hair on my arms and legs stand straight up. Maybe the hair everywhere. My heart beat fast and I thought it was Tommy and his friends because I didn’t believe stories about monsters or ghosts. But it wasn’t Tommy.

The animal was five feet from me, half in the creek, half on the bank.

It was definitely not a dog.

It was definitely not any animal I ever read about in Ms. G’s class or in any other class or in any book.

Big thanks to my co-worker Amanda for booktalking this book – I finally got around to reading it, and was very glad I did!

as-king.com
scholastic.com

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Source: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy I got at an ALA conference.

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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