Archive for the ‘Children’s Nonfiction Review’ Category

Review of How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh? by Alison Limentani

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh?

by Alison Limentani

Boxer Books, 2016. 28 pages.
Starred Review

The more I look at this book, the more I like it. Right now, I’m planning to use it for my next Toddler and Preschool Storytimes, and even bring it to Kindergarten and first grade classes for booktalking. The idea is simple, but it’s got so much depth.

Here is the text of the first several pages:

10 ants weigh the same as 1 ladybug.

9 ladybugs weigh the same as 1 grasshopper.

8 grasshoppers weigh the same as 1 stickleback fish.

7 stickleback fish weigh the same as 1 garden snail.

You get the idea! The book progresses, counting down, through starlings, gray squirrels, rabbits, and fox cubs to 1 swan. Then, of course, to finish off, we learn:

1 swan weighs the same as 362,880 ladybugs.

The illustrations are simple and clear. This whole book could almost be thought of as an infographic, except that the animals are not icons, but detailed illustrations.

I love that the animals chosen are not your typical animal-book animals. But most of them (except maybe the stickleback fish) are ones a child is quite likely to see in their own yard or neighborhood.

The back end papers list average weights of all the animals (in a colorful diagram) with the note, “Different animals of the same species can vary in weight, just as different people do. All the weights in this book are based on animals within the average healthy weight range.”

I love the way this is a counting book, a math book (about relative weight and even multiplication), a beginning reader, and a science book (about these different species).

It’s also a beautiful picture book. The note at the front says, “The illustrations were prepared using lino cuts and litho printing with digital color.” They are set against lovely solid color backgrounds, so the animals show up nice and clear.

I have a feeling that reading this book frequently with a child will get that child noticing small animals and insects in the neighborhood and thinking about weights and differences and good things like that.

A truly brilliant choice for early math and science thinking.

boxerbooks.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 Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story, by Caren Stilson

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Sachiko

A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story

by Caren Stilson

Carolrhoda Books, 2016. 144 pages.
Starred Review
2016 National Book Award Longlist
2017 Sibert Honor Book
2016 Cybils Award, Middle Grade Nonfiction
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #7 Children’s Nonfiction

This book is what the title says it is: The story of a survivor of the Nagasaki atom bomb.

Sachiko Yasui was six years old when the bomb fell on her city. The book first sets the stage, briefly explaining how the war was going and American attitudes toward the Japanese at the time. Throughout the book, background information is inserted with spreads on darker-colored pages, so it’s clear they are background. But we’re given a detailed, hour-by-hour account of what happened in Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Of course Sachiko and her family lost their home. But one by one, she also lost all her family members.

The first to die was her two-year-old brother, who had a wooden stick go through his head in the initial blast. All of the girls Sachiko was playing with at the moment the bomb went off also died. Her other two brothers took longer to die of radiation sickness.

Fortunately, Sachiko had her parents to take her out of the city and to help her survive and to put her in school. Though years later, it was cancer that took their lives, a result of the radiation from the bomb.

Sachiko herself suffered from radiation sickness and was bullied in her new school because she lost her hair and had scaly skin. I do like the way the author weaves in stories of those who inspired Sachiko: Her father revered the teachings of Gandhi; Sachiko got to see Helen Keller when she visited Japan; and she was impressed by the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It was a long time before Sachiko was ready to tell her story, but since 1995, she has traveled around the world, especially speaking to students, and promoting peace.

Sachiko also tells young people that, as she was inspired by Helen Keller, she hopes to inspire them. “I’ll try to speak about how strong you can be as a human being when you encounter difficulties in the future.”

This book is illustrated with plenty of photographs and presents a powerful and important story, in a way that young people can understand and that will move anyone’s heart.

May her words be true: “What happened to me must never happen to you.”

hibakushastories.org
lernerbooks.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 The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

The Singing Bones

by Shaun Tan

Foreword by Neil Gaiman
Introduced by Jack Zipes

Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016. 185 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 Children’s Nonfiction

This is a book of art. But all the art is based on fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm. Shaun Tan has created sculptures based on the tales. On each spread, there’s a short excerpt from the featured fairy tale on one page, and a photograph of the sculpture on the other page.

In the Afterword, Shaun Tan tells us about the sculptures:

The main materials I’ve used are papier-maché and air-drying clay, carved back and painted with acrylics, oxidized metal powder, wax, and shoe polish. The resistance of clay in particular at a small scale encourages simplicity, especially where the key tools are blunt fingers and thumbs: Faces and gestures are abbreviated, just like characters in the tales themselves. The concept of a thing also becomes more important than a detailed likeness: A fox need only be a few red triangles, a sleeping man requires no body, and a queen’s face can be eroded away by the force of a single, elemental feeling: jealousy. What matters above all else are the hard bones of the story, and I wanted many of these objects to appear as if they’ve emerged from an imaginary archaeological dig, and then been sparingly illuminated as so many museum objects are, as if a flashlight beam has passed momentarily over some odd objects resting in the dark galleries of our collective subconscious. Like the tales themselves, they might brighten in our imagination without surrendering any of their original enigma.

He achieves this feeling of simple forms, of the bare bones of the stories. As Neil Gaiman says,

Shaun Tan does something else here: something profound. His sculptures suggest, they do not describe. They imply, they do not delineate. They are, in themselves, stories: not the frozen moments in time that a classical illustration needs to be. These are something new, something deeper. They do not look like moments of the stories: instead, they feel like the stories themselves….

Here they gather for you, timeless and perfect, a mixture of darkness and light that manages to capture Grimms’ stories in a way that nobody, to my knowledge, has done before.

Shaun Tan makes me want to hold these tales close, to rub them with my fingers, to feel the cracks and the creases and the edges of them. He makes me want to pick them up, inspect them from unusual angles, feel the heft and the weight of them. He makes me wonder what damage I could do with them, how badly I could hurt someone if I hit them with a story.

All of Shaun Tan’s work is eerie, abstract, and creepy. But combining his images with timeless folk tales gives them whole new power.

In short, you really need to see these images. Check out this book and take a look!

shauntan.net
arthuralevinebooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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

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

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Review of A Poem for Peter, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, pictures by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

A Poem for Peter

The Story of EZRA JACK KEATS and the Creation of THE SNOWY DAY

by Andrea Davis Pinkney

pictures by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson

Viking, 2016. 52 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Children’s Nonfiction

This is a picture book biography — in poetry form. And the narrative poem is written addressing Peter, the hero of the classic picture book The Snowy Day.

We’ve got all the details of Ezra Jack Keats’ life. His parents were immigrants from Poland, and he grew up in Brooklyn, knowing about poverty and discrimination. Even as a child, he wanted to be an artist, and his father found ways to get him paints. There are a couple of special pages when he discovered the Brooklyn Public Library.

It tells about the art scholarship he won and had to give up when his father died of a heart attack, then about his struggles finding work during the Depression — eventually getting to work as an artist with the Works Progress Administration. Then he served in World War II, but after the war had to change his name from Jacob Ezra Katz to sound less Jewish in order to get work.

When Ezra started writing and illustrating picture books, he’d noticed there weren’t many picture book scenes like those in his Brooklyn neighborhood, nor many children who looked like his neighbors.

I especially like the pages when Peter is created and the book is born.

Peter, child,
you brought your stick.
Yes, you did.
Smack-smacked at a tree.
Some say you were whacking
at ice-packed intolerance,
shaking it loose from narrow-
minded branches.

When prejudice fell,
you rolled it, packed it,
put its snowball in your pocket
of possibility,
where it melted away.

Peter and Ezra,
you made a great team.
Together you brought a snowstorm
of dreams.
A blizzard of imagination.
Flurries of fun!

And soon readers called for
more of where are you?
And between you two,
the one-of-a-kind snowflakes
kept falling.
Onto sweet pages
of brown-sugar good.

More neighborhood friends.
More books with kids who
answered where are you?
with here we are!

The art is lovely as well, with many images of Peter straight out of Ezra Jack Keats’ work and lovely snowflake pictures, as well as a variety of images illustrating Ezra’s life.

penguin.com/YoungReaders

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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

Friday, 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 When Green Becomes Tomatoes, by Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad

Monday, October 17th, 2016

when_green_becomes_tomatoes_largeWhen Green Becomes Tomatoes

Poems for All Seasons

by Julie Fogliano
pictures by Julie Morstad

A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2016. 56 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a lovely book that goes through the seasons with poetry. Each poem’s title is a calendar date. The book begins and ends with March 20 as the seasons go around.

The poems have nice variety. Some rhyme and some don’t. The styles and thoughts cover many different moods. The wonderful pictures make a lovely accompaniment. This is a meditative book and will help you notice the moments.

A few examples:

march 22

just like a tiny, blue hello
a crocus blooming
in the snow

march 26

shivering and huddled close
the forever rushing daffodils
wished they had waited

may 10

lilac sniffing
is what to do
with a nose
when it is may
and there are lilacs
to be sniffed

june 15

you can taste the sunshine
and the buzzing
and the breeze
while eating berries off the bush
on berry hands
and berry knees

Okay, I should stop with Spring! These are only some of the shortest poems, and the book does go through all the seasons. (The “When Green Becomes Tomatoes” poem falls on July 10.)

I will copy out one more, which I just love:

January 5

i would not mind, at all
to fall
if i could fall
like snowflakes
(more drift and swirl
than tumble thump
more gentle float
than ouch and bump)
the most perfect way of all
to fall
is to fall
and fall
like snowflakes

These are lovely. I like the simple child-voice, but with beauty that adults can appreciate.

mackids.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 I Dissent, by Debbie Levy, illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

i_dissent_largeI Dissent

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

by Debbie Levy
illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016. 40 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a picture book biography of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The story is simplified for young readers (I’d say middle to upper elementary), but strikingly told.

The introductory page uses large dramatic fonts to express not being afraid to disagree:

You could say that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life has been . . .
one disagreement after another.

Disagreement with creaky old ideas.
With unfairness.
With inequality.
Ruth has disagreed,
disapproved,
and differed.

She has objected.
She has resisted.
She has dissented.

Disagreeable? No.
Determined? Yes.

This is how Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed her life – and ours.

Although the story is told quite simply, it’s still filled with details. We learn about her childhood in 1940 in an immigrant neighborhood, her love of reading, and family travels where they saw signs that Jews weren’t allowed.

Ruth was left-handed, but was told to use her right hand and got a D in penmanship – until she protested. I like the pages where it tells what she doesn’t do well – cooking and singing. After she got married, her family agreed that it was best for her husband to do the cooking.

But the bulk of the book covers her career as a lawyer. They speak in general terms of cases she presented before the Supreme Court, and then her appointment to the Supreme Court. There are notes at the back with more information and listing specific cases.

I didn’t know before that Justice Ginsburg wears a different lace collar over her robes when she writes a majority opinion from the one she wears when she writes a dissenting opinion.

Here’s how the author summarizes some of her dissenting opinions:

I DISSENT,
Justice Ginsburg said when the court wouldn’t help women or African Americans or immigrants who had been treated unfairly at work.

I DISSENT,
when the court rejected a law meant to protect the right of all citizens to vote, no matter their skin color.

I DISSENT,
when the court said no to schools that offered African Americans a better chance to go to college.

This is an interesting story and an inspiring story. I hope many girls and boys will read this story and think about making their own mark.

The quote on the back of the book from Ruth Bader Ginsburg sums up the book well:

Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.

debbielevybooks.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 What in the World? Numbers in Nature, by Nancy Raines Day and Kurt Cyrus

Friday, September 9th, 2016

what_in_the_world_largeWhat in the World?

Numbers in Nature

by Nancy Raines Day
illustrated by Kurt Cyrus

Beach Lane Books, New York, 2015. 32 pages.

This is a simple picture book introducing a little bit of counting and a little bit of science to young readers.

Each number is introduced by a question, “What in the world comes . . .” and gentle pictures by the seaside illustrate each set.

Here’s an example from the middle:

What in the world comes four by four?

Petals of poppies, hooves – and more.

What in the world comes five by five?

The arms of sea stars, all alive.

There are only two lines per double-page spread, and plenty of open space in each painting, so this is for young readers who can handle the gentle pace. It would make a nice bedtime book, since the book finishes up with “sets too big to count.” The final two spreads show us a darkening sky with the words

Stars in the sky –

a vast amount!

You can hear from these examples that the rhyming isn’t stellar, but it’s doesn’t quite cross the line into bad. One other quibble I have is that on the sets of ten page with “Fingers and toes that wiggle and bend,” the picture of the boy does show his fingers and toes (in the water), but his arms are crossed with one thumb hidden – so you can’t use the picture to count ten fingers and ten toes.

However the simple idea – a counting book based on nature – is a lovely one. This is a gentle book that naturally leads into counting with children things in the world around them. A great way to practice counting and a great way to open their eyes to nature.

NancyRainesDay.com
KurtCyrus.com
KIDS.SimonandSchuster.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 We Will Not Be Silent, by Russell Freedman

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

we_will_not_be_silent_largeWe Will Not Be Silent

The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler

by Russell Freedman

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2016. 104 pages.

Here’s a large-format nonfiction book, with photographs on every spread, about a group of German students who defied Hitler by writing and distributing pamphlets that denounced him. The original founders of the group were executed for their “crimes.”

The Preface neatly summarizes what this book covers:

In 1942, when World War II was in its third year, leaflets began to appear mysteriously in mailboxes all over Nazi Germany. Someone would open an envelope, pull out a leaflet, take one look, then turn and glance around nervously to make sure no one was watching. A person could not be too careful. Anyone caught with a seditious leaflet was marked as an enemy of the state and could land in a concentration camp, or worse.

Neatly typed, run off on a mimeograph machine, these documents were headed “Leaflets of the White Rose.” They assailed the Nazi “dictatorship of evil,” denounced Adolf Hitler as a liar and blasphemer, and called on the German people to rise up and overthrow the Nazi regime.

Where were these inflammatory leaflets coming from? Who was the White Rose? Was more than one person involved? The Nazi secret police, the Gestapo, organized a special task force to hunt down those responsible. A reward was offered for information leading to their “speedy arrest.”

I like when a nonfiction book for children has information I don’t know myself. I’d never heard the story of Hans and Sophie Scholl and the movement they founded. It’s good to read about Germans who didn’t fall for Hitler’s lies. These ones gave their lives for it.

In a gruesome note, I’ve read a lot about concentration camps, but I hadn’t realized that Hitler’s favorite method of execution of his enemies was the guillotine. These students were actually beheaded when they were caught – but their movement continued. Today there is a memorial and museum about them at Munich University, where they were students.

This book is accessible to kids, with so many relevant photographs throughout the book. It also presents a wealth of information for anyone of any age who’s interested in true acts of heroism.

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 Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation, by Peggy Thomas and Stacy Innerst

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

thomas_jefferson_grows_a_nation_largeThomas Jefferson Grows a Nation

by Peggy Thomas
illustrations by Stacy Innerst

Calkins Creek (Highlights), Honesdale, Pennsylvania, 2015.

I expected this picture book to be about Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase. Yes, that’s included. But what I didn’t expect was all the information about Thomas Jefferson as a farmer and as a scientist studying agriculture.

There’s an amazing and amusing extended story right toward the beginning. Thomas Jefferson got into a sort of competition with a French naturalist, Count Buffon, who wrote a book claiming that America’s very wildlife showed it to be an inferior continent.

The wildlife was inferior, he said. “Shrivelled.” “Diminished.” Sheep were “meagre, and their flesh less juicy.” A jaguar was no bigger than a beagle, and dogs were “mute.” The New World, he argued, had nothing as grand as an elephant, and the weather produced an infestation of lowly reptiles and insects.

Thomas Jefferson worked hard to set the record straight. He even had a moose carcass shipped to him in France!

The book also covers Jefferson’s many experiments with different plants for farming, and his study of invasive pests. He practiced crop rotation and was interested in the science of farming. He even won a gold medal from the French Society of Agriculture for a device that improved plows.

When he was President and responsible for the Louisiana Purchase, it was only natural that he was also behind Lewis and Clark’s expedition, cataloguing the plants and animals of the new territory.

This is a nontraditional look at Thomas Jefferson, and made all the more interesting with the illustrations. Although it’s a picture book, there is plenty of text on each page, more suitable for upper elementary school readers. A fascinating presentation of the life of someone I thought I already knew about.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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

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

What did you think of this book?