Archive for the ‘Current Issues’ Category

Review of This Is What a Librarian Looks Like, by Kyle Cassidy

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

This Is What a Librarian Looks Like

A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information

by Kyle Cassidy
with thoughts on libraries from Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin, Nancy Pearl, Cory Doctorow, Jude Deveraux, Amy Dickinson, Amanda Palmer, Samira Ahmed, Sara Farizan, Jeff VanderMeer, John Scalzi, and more

Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2017. 234 pages.
Starred Review

It’s no surprise I love this book. It contains photos of hundreds of librarians, with short quotations from them about their jobs. There are essays about the importance of libraries. Essays by famous writers about their experiences with libraries and other essays featuring notable libraries and the good work they are doing. In short, the subtitle says it well – this is a celebration of librarians and libraries and the vast depth of resources they bring to their communities.

I hope that non-librarians will look at this book and gain a new appreciation of all that modern librarians do. I already know all this! In fact, non-librarian friends and family, please read this book as a favor to me. You’ll understand all the better why I am so proud to be a librarian and see librarianship as my calling.

And yes, I have several friends featured in these pages – well, they are at least acquaintances and people I have worked with on committees. I’ve spoken and worked with them. Even had lunch with a few at conferences.

But besides that, this is a beautiful look at the wide variety of missions of librarians and libraries in American communities today.

Here’s how the author and photographer starts the book in the Introduction:

How can I help libraries?

That’s a question I never really thought about until recently. But now it’s something constantly on my mind, because libraries can use some help, and very often the people in the best position to do so are those of us who haven’t thought about them for a long time.

If you travel across America talking about libraries, you will meet some people who love them, some who are indifferent, and others who think they are a waste of resources. The functions that libraries serve are bound up with their communities; indeed, the two are symbiotic. The more love you put in, the more you will get out.

And here’s how he finishes the book in the Afterword:

There’s so much work being done in every community across the country by these people. This isn’t a book about America’s most significant libraries; it’s a book about everyday libraries doing everyday work. They’re just drops of rain in a thunderstorm, but together they work to make the ground fertile.

Wherever you are in America, there is a librarian fighting to get you something, whether it’s a computer, an audio book, a children’s book, a banned book, job skills, a citizenship test, a record deal, a movie to watch, a fishing rod, answers about thirteenth-century clothing, voter registration, local archives, a place to stay warm or cool or dry, a kayak on a breezy summer afternoon, or any of a thousand thousand other things. These librarians are fighting against incredible odds and against powerful forces and against ignorance and arrogance. They don’t even know you, but they’re getting up every morning, relentlessly building a colossus for you to stand on to see farther, reach higher, and achieve more. They’re fighting for your right to access information.

How can you help libraries?

What are you waiting for? Check this book out from your local library! If you need help finding it, I know someone who’d be glad to help.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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?

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

Tuesday, 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.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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?

Review of Stormy Seas, by Mary Beth Leatherdale

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Stormy Seas

Stories of Young Boat Refugees

by Mary Beth Leatherdale
illustrated and designed by Eleanor Shakespeare

Annick Press, 2017. 64 pages.

Stormy Seas is in large picture book format – but the large amount of text on each page presents information for upper elementary age children. There are striking illustrations on each page, usually incorporating photographs – getting the information across with charts and maps as well as text.

This book tells the individual true stories of five young people who were refugees and traveled by boat: Ruth, 18 years old in 1939, leaving Germany; Phu, 14 years old in 1979, leaving Vietnam; José , 13 years old in 1980, leaving Cuba; Najeeba, 11 years old in 2000, leaving Afghanistan; and Mohamed, 13 years old in 2006, leaving Ivory Coast.

For each young person, the book describes their journey, explaining why they were desperate enough to leave, the frightful conditions of their boat journey, and each story ends up with what happened to them after their journey. All of the journeys were much longer than I ever would have realized – the narrative includes the time they had to spend to get on the boat in the first place.

Most of the journeys didn’t have a happy result when they landed, either. Ruth’s ship of German Jewish refugees got turned away from Cuba and had to sail back to Europe. Phu and his family got put in a refugee camp. José and his family were shocked by the neighborhood in New York City with its poverty and drugs. Najeeba was held in a detention center in Australia for 45 days. Mohamed ended up homeless in a train station in Rome for awhile.

There’s nothing like stories and faces to give you empathy. This book does provide numbers of refugees and gives statistics. But the individual stories put faces to those numbers in a way that will stick with the reader.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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?

Review of This Land Is Our Land, by Linda Barrett Osborne

Monday, August 28th, 2017

This Land Is Our Land

A History of American Immigration

by Linda Barrett Osborne

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016. 124 pages.
2017 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award Finalist
Starred Review

I heard Linda Barrett Osborne speak at the awards ceremony for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Awards. She commented that her book wasn’t as timely when she began writing it in 2013. The facts in the book go up to 2015, but I do hope that her publisher comes out with an updated version before long. Though we may need to see how the next few years go.

The history of immigration in America is fascinating. In her talk, the author surprised us with facts such as that Benjamin Franklin didn’t want too many Germans to immigrate, and immigrants from Asia were not allowed to become citizens until 1952.

This book covers more than 400 years of immigration in America – and it’s surprising how similar attitudes have been over the years. In the introduction, we read what George Washington wrote about discouraging immigration, and then the author says this:

Both of these ways of looking at immigration – openness to all or restrictions for some – are part of our heritage. In the early twenty-first century, we still debate who and how many people should be allowed into our country, and if and when they should be allowed to become citizens. Some Americans think of the United States as multicultural, made stronger by the diversity of different ethnic groups. Others think that there should be one American culture and that it is up to the immigrant to adapt to it. Still others have believed that some immigrant groups are incapable of adapting and should not be permitted to stay.

Americans whose families have lived here for some time – whether centuries, decades, or just a few years – often discount their own immigrant heritage. They look down on newcomers from other countries. Indeed, far from inviting Lazarus’s “huddled masses,” our laws, policies, and prejudices have often made it difficult for many immigrants to enter the United States or to find themselves welcome when they are here.

This Land Is Our Land explores this country’s attitudes about immigrants, starting from when we were a group of thirteen English colonies. Until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which kept Chinese workers from immigrating to the United States, there were no major national restrictions on immigration – therefore, there were no illegal immigrants, or what we now call “undocumented aliens”: people from foreign (alien) countries who have no official papers to enter the United States.

The author quotes from a letter by Benjamin Franklin about the many Germans settling in Pennsylvania in 1751. (Some of those were my ancestors!)

Now imagine the same words today, with “Mexican” substituted for “German.”

As they came, settled, and endured, each immigrant group went through a remarkably similar experience. They left their countries to escape poverty, war, starvation, or religious and political persecution – or for economic opportunity. As foreigners who came from different cultures and often spoke languages other than English, they faced prejudice from groups that were already here. They seemed to threaten American customs and values established as early as the 1600s. Often, they were denied jobs and housing. They did the hardest and least well paid work. Yet they saved money and made homes here. Immigrant men brought over their wives and children; immigrant children brought their siblings and parents. Families reunited. Whole communities left their country of birth and regrouped in America. The children and grandchildren of immigrants, born here, spoke English. They absorbed American attitudes and ways of living. They grew in numbers and gained political power.

They often acted toward immigrant groups that came after them with the same kind of prejudice and discrimination that their families had encountered when they first moved here.

This Land Is Our Land does not attempt to answer all the questions and solve all the problems associated with immigration. Rather, it looks at our history to provide a context for discussion. If we examine the way Americans have responded to immigrants over time – and the responses have been startlingly similar and consistent – we gain an insight into immigration issues today. Why do we sometimes invite immigration and sometimes fear it? How much does race play a part in whether we accept new immigrants? Does the legacy of our country’s origin as a group of English colonies still shape our attitudes?

This book also presents the experiences of immigrants who left their home countries to start a new life here. How did their expectations and aspirations match the realities of living in the United States? How was the experience of different groups affected by racial prejudice? How did they eventually succeed, if they did, in becoming Americans?

You can see that the author has big ambitions for this book – but I believe she succeeds.

Now, you may guess that she does have an agenda in presenting this background, and I think that agenda shows when she talks about how we all have immigrant ancestors – except for Native Americans. But her point is well taken. As she says in the Epilogue:

Do we treat them as fellow human beings, with respect and compassion – the way we wish our immigrant ancestors had been treated, no matter who they were, no matter which country they left to pursue the American Dream?

This book got an award from the Young Adult Library Services Association, and my library has it in the Juvenile Nonfiction section. The target audience seems to be upper elementary and middle school students, perhaps through high school. There are plenty of historical photographs included as well as copies of old documents. The large, wide pages make it seem a little younger – but there is enough information packed onto those pages, even with largish print, that older readers won’t feel talked down to – if they pick the book up.

It does seem like a good time to know about the history of immigration in America – this book is a good way to bring yourself up to speed. Our country’s attitudes haven’t changed a whole lot over the years – but it’s good to know that those immigrants we did welcome to our shores over the years are the very people who have helped to make our country great.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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?

Review of Tell Me How It Ends, by Valeria Luiselli

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

Tell Me How It Ends

An Essay in Forty Questions

by Valeria Luiselli

Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2017. 119 pages.
Starred Review

This little book is not pretentious, calling itself an “essay” rather than a “book” – but it packs a punch.

I was expecting forty short chapters. Instead there are four chapters of varying lengths. The questions of the title refer to the forty questions on the intake questionnaire for unaccompanied child migrants used in the federal immigration court in New York City where the author began working as a volunteer interpreter in 2015.

Here’s how she describes this work:

My task there is a simple one: I interview children in court, following the intake questionnaire, and then translate their stories from Spanish to English.

But nothing is ever that simple. I hear words, spoken in the mouths of children, threaded in complex narratives. They are delivered with hesitance, sometimes distrust, always with fear. I have to transform them into written words, succinct sentences, and barren terms. The children’s stories are always shuffled, stuttered, always shattered beyond the repair of a narrative order. The problem with trying to tell their story is that it has no beginning, no middle, and no end.

I find I don’t have the heart to quote excerpts from the stories in this book from the children the author met. I’m left speechless. This book is eye-opening.

One of the stories is that of a teenage boy who found the same gang he was fleeing in Tegucigalpa was active in Hempstead, New York. Members of the gang beat him up in Hempstead, and another gang offers him protection if he’ll join them. He’s resisting.

She reflects on this story and on media reports about the child migrants coming from Central America:

Between Hempstead and Tegucigalpa there is a long chain of causes and effects. Both cities can be drawn on the same map: the map of violence related to drug trafficking. This fact is ignored, however, by almost all of the official reports. The media wouldn’t put Hempstead, a city in New York, on the same plane as one in Honduras. What a scandal! Official accounts in the United States – what circulates in the newspaper or on the radio, the message from Washington, and public opinion in general – almost always locate the dividing line between “civilization” and “barbarity” just below the Rio Grande….

The attitude in the United States toward child migrants is not always blatantly negative, but generally speaking, it is based on a kind of misunderstanding or voluntary ignorance. Debate around the matter has persistently and cynically overlooked the causes of the exodus. When causes are discussed, the general consensus and underlying assumption seem to be that the origins are circumscribed to “sending” countries and their many local problems. No one suggests that the causes are deeply embedded in our shared hemispheric history and are therefore not some distant problem in a foreign country that no one can locate on a map, but in fact a transnational problem that includes the United States – not as a distant observer or passive victim that must now deal with thousands of unwanted children arriving at the southern border, but rather as an active historical participant in the circumstances that generated that problem.

The belief that the migration of all of those children is “their” (the southern barbarians’) problem is often so deeply ingrained that “we” (the northern civilization) feel exempt from offering any solution. The devastation of the social fabric in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and other countries is often thought of as a Central American “gang violence” problem that must be kept on the far side of the border. There is little said, for example, of arms being trafficked from the United States into Mexico or Central America, legally or not; little mention of the fact that the consumption of drugs in the United States is what fundamentally fuels drug trafficking in the continent.

Here’s where she explains where the book got its title:

The children who cross Mexico and arrive at the U.S. border are not “immigrants,” not “illegals,” not merely “undocumented minors.” Those children are refugees of a war, and, as such, they should all have the right to asylum. But not all of them have it.

Tell me how it ends, Mamma, my daughter asks me.

I don’t know.

Tell me what happens next.

Sometimes I make up an ending, a happy one. But most of the time I just say:

I don’t know how it ends yet.

It is very possible that our policies in the United States and our actions as citizens will determine how these stories end. Which is a sobering thought.

Highly recommended reading. It’s not pleasant reading, but it is eye-opening and thought-provoking.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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?

Review of Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, by Al Franken

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate

by Al Franken

Twelve (Hachette), 2017. 404 pages.

Okay, I’m going to stop being embarrassed for liking Al Franken’s books so much. Years ago, I read Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right and enjoyed it, but I didn’t post a review because I wasn’t ready to admit how much I enjoyed it. (Though to be fair, he included more “jokes” in that one, and I thought went a little too far in spots.)

This book has a lot more restraint – and he talks about how difficult it was to learn that restraint! Yes, I also liked that he left out foul language. There’s a note right at the beginning of the book:

Throughought this volume, whenever you see a very mild oath like “Fiddlesticks!” (or some gentle name-calling like “numbskull” or “dimwit,” or some old-timey synonym for “bull—-” like “poppycock” or “flim-flummery”), followed by the letters “USS” in superscript, that means I’ve replaced something far more plainspoken with a less offensive phrase or expression. The “USS” stands for “United States Senate,” the body in which I now serve. I feel I have a duty to both my colleagues and my constituents to make at least a token effort to preserve its dignity and decorum. I wish I could say the same for that dunderhead [USS] Ted Cruz.

Call me a prude, but I found the result much more pleasant reading – and more creative language – than his earlier books where he didn’t show that restraint. (Though I did think the note was really funny!)

This book tells the story of how Al Franken got into politics and what he’s trying to do in the Senate (represent the people of Minnesota).

He’s a Progressive, and so am I, so that’s partly why I enjoyed his book so much. But it’s also an entertaining story (He does know how to write and how to entertain.) of politics in America today.

It’s funny, though – He does tell a lot of stories about jokes his staff wouldn’t let him tell! Way to get back at them! And most of them are quite funny. And the context tells the reader that they are, in fact, jokes. In almost all cases, you can see that his staff was right and he shouldn’t have told the jokes when he was initially tempted to.

The chapter on Health Care was enlightening – and timely. I also like the chapters where he shows that it is still possible to do good work on things both parties can agree on. And I like the chapters with stories of Minnesotans. These show why Al Franken is doing the work he does.

But I think my favorite chapter was the one on “Lies and the Lying Liar Who Got Himself Elected President.” He explains at the beginning that maybe it’s a little weird, but dishonesty has always gotten under his skin. I guess that rang true because I’ve always felt the same way. I feel like catching someone in a lie should be their utter disgrace.

But he goes on to say:

Back in the good old days, fact-checking politicians was a different ball game. Looking back now, it seems almost adorable that I made a decent living writing books about catching right-wing Republicans in their lies. What I did was effective, I realize now, mainly because a lot of their lies had the veneer of plausibility, and because at least some of the liars liked to pretend that they were telling the truth – which was of course a lie, but which was also part of the fun.

But now we seem to have entered an era where getting caught lying openly and shamelessly, lying in a manner that insults the intelligence of both your friends and foes, lying about lying, and lying for the sake of lying have all lost their power to damage a politician. In fact, the “Trump Effect” yields the opposite result: Trump supporters seem to approve of the fact that he lies constantly, including to them. Like a movie that is loosely based on a true story, Trump’s fans seem to feel that he is making the dull reality of politics more fun and interesting by augmenting it with gross exaggeration, and often utter fantasy.

He goes on to explain why this is important.

I really think that if we don’t start caring about whether people tell the truth or not, it’s going to be literally impossible to restore anything approaching a reasonable political discourse. Politicians have always shaded the truth. But if you can say something that is provably false, and no one cares, then you can’t have a real debate about anything….

I’ve always believed that it’s possible to discern true statements from false statements, and that it’s critically important to do so, and that we put our entire democratic experiment in peril when we don’t. It’s a lesson I fear our nation is about to learn the hard way.

That’s why my Global Jihad on Factual Inaccuracy will continue. I cling to the hope that national gullibility is a cyclical phenomenon, and that in a few short years we may find ourselves in an era of Neo-Sticklerism. And a glorious era it shall be.

One can only hope!

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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?

Review of Thirty Million Words, by Dana Suskind, MD

Friday, March 10th, 2017

Thirty Million Words

Building a Child’s Brain

Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns

by Dana Suskind, M.D.

Dutton, 2015. 308 pages.
Starred Review

The thirty million words of the title refer to the number of words children hear from birth to 3 years of age. But that’s not the total number of words — that’s the gap between the number of words children from language-rich families hear and the number that children from language-poor families hear.

The number is based on a study done by Betty Hart and Todd Risley.

The data answered the paramount question: Was a child’s ultimate ability to learn related to the language heard in the first years of life? Three years of painstaking analysis left no doubt. It did. Counter to prevalent thought at the time, neither socioeconomic status, nor race, nor gender, nor birth order was the key component in a child’s ability to learn because, even within groups, whether professional or welfare, there was variation in language. The essential factor that determined the future learning trajectory of a child was the early language environment: how much and how a parent talked to a child. Children in homes in which there was a lot of parent talk, no matter the educational or economic status of that home, did better. It was as simple as that.

When they followed up with the children years later, the trend continued.

The essential wiring of the human brain, the foundation for all thinking and learning, occurs largely during our first three years of life. We now know, thanks to careful science, that optimum brain development is language dependent. The words we hear, how many we hear, and how they are said are determining factors in its development. The significance of this cannot be overemphasized since this window of time, if neglected, may be lost forever. When Hart and Risley looked at their data, the influence of early language on a child was unmistakable, the negative impact of a poor early language environment critical, including the effect on vocabulary acquision. Even more significant was evidence of the effect on IQ at three years of age.

Also important was what was said.

But quantity of words was only one part of the equation. While the number of words a child heard was important, imperatives and prohibitions appeared to stifle a child’s ability to acquire language.

“We saw the powerful dampening effects on development when [a child’s interaction with a parent] began with a parent-initiated imperative: ‘Don’t’ ‘Stop’ ‘Quit that.'”

Two other factors seemed to have an effect on language acquisition and IQ. The first was the variety of vocabulary the child heard. The less varied the vocabulary, the lower the child’s achievement at age three. The other influence was family conversational habits. Hart and Risley found that parents who talked less produced children who also spoke less.

This book is ultimately a book of hope, about teaching parents how important their words are.

The incredible power that helps nurture the brain into optimum intelligence and stability is parent talk. If the most profound mysteries of the brain are still to be discovered, that truth has already been revealed. And it shows you how smart the brain really is, because, in absolute evolutionary brilliance, it harnesses a plentiful, natural resource as the key catalyst for its own development. The process is so simple and hidden that you aren’t even aware it’s happening. You can’t sell it, you can’t store it, you can’t list it on the New York Stock Exchange, but a caregiver’s language is the essential resource of every country, every culture, every person, extending into every crevice of who we are, what we can do, and how we behave.

The book goes on to talk about how parent talk helps in every area of brain development.

But then it talks about how to turn this research into action. In the Thirty Million Words Initiative, parents are being taught effective ways to talk with their little ones.

I like the memorable Three Ts that parents are taught: Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns.

A little bit more about each one:

Of the Three Ts, Tune In is the most nuanced. It involves a parent’s making a conscious effort to notice what a baby or child is focused on, then, when it’s appropriate, talking with the child about it. In other words, focusing as the child is focused. Even if the child is too young to understand the words being spoken, even if the focus is constantly changing, Tuning In refers to a parent’s following and responding to a child’s lead. It represents the first step in harnessing the power of parent talk to build a child’s brain. If a parent is not Tuned In, the other Ts will not work.

The second T, Talk More, seems self-explanatory.

Talk More, which goes hand in hand with Tune In, refers to a parent’s increased talking with a child, especially about what the child is focusing on, not to him or her. While this may seem a subtle distinction, it is fundamental to the TMW approach. Talking More with a child requires a mutual level of engagement between the child and the parent. Like Tune In, it is another critical element of parent-child attachment and brain development.

And the final T puts it all together.

The final T, Take Turns, entails engaging a child in a conversational exchange. The gold standard of parent-child interaction, it is the most valuable of the Three Ts when it comes to developing a child’s brain. In order for the necessary serve-and-return of conversational interaction to be successful, there has to be active engagement between the parent and child. How does the parent achieve this? By Tuning In to what the child is focused on and Talking More about it. The key, whether a parent has initiated interaction or is responding to a child’s initiative, is for the parent to wait for the child to respond. That is what sets the stage for the critical Taking Turns.

The book goes on to talk about practicalities, and how this applies in many different ways and many different subject areas. But I like how nicely the content is summed up in the title alone.

As a children’s librarian, reading this book urges me to communicate these important principles to parents and helps me realize how important parent talk is, even from birth. I recommend this book for all parents, but also for anyone who works with babies or parents of babies. A powerful, hopeful message.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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?

Review of $2.00 a Day, by Kathryn J. Edin & H. Luke Shaefer

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

2_dollars_a_day_large$2.00 a Day

Living on Almost Nothing in America

by Kathryn J. Edin & H. Luke Shaefer

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2015. 210 pages.
Starred Review

This book was published in 2015, so it was written before the election season got going, but it has strong political repercussions.

The book puts faces on extreme poverty, but the approach is a scientific one. Nothing here is sensationalized. The authors took statistics and facts, then dug deeper to give an understanding of what’s going on so that such deep poverty has become so widespread. At the end, they offer some ideas for things we can and should do about this.

This book is based on academic studies and census data. In the 1990s, author Kathryn Edin did an in-depth study of welfare recipients. But in 2010, she found more families in much worse shape.

In the summer of 2010, Edin returned to the field to update her work on the very poor. She was struck by how markedly different things appeared from just fifteen years before. In the course of her interviews, she began to encounter many families living in conditions similar to those she would find when she met Susan and Devin Brown in 2012 — with no visible means of cash income from any source. These families weren’t just poor by American standards. They were the poorest of the poor. Some claimed food stamps, now called SNAP, for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A few had a housing subsidy. Most had at least one household member covered by some form of government-funded health insurance. Some received an occasional bag of groceries from a food pantry. But what was so strikingly different from a decade and a half earlier was that there was virtually no cash coming into these homes. Not only were there no earnings, there was no welfare check either. These families didn’t just have too little cash to survive on, as was true for the welfare recipients Edin and Lein had met in the early 1990s. They often had no cash at all. And the absence of cash permeated every aspect of their lives. It seemed as though not only cash was missing, but hope as well.

Edin dug deeper and met Luke Shaefer, a leading expert on the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).

That fall, during an early morning meeting in her office in Cambridge, Edin shared with Shaefer what she had been seeing on the ground. Shaefer immediately went to work to see if he could detect a trend in the SIPP data that matched Edin’s observations. First, though, he needed to determine what income threshold would capture people who were experiencing a level of destitution so deep as to be unthought-of in America. Accordingly, he borrowed inspiration from one of the World Bank’s metrics of global poverty in the developing world — $2 per person, per day. At the time, the official poverty line for a family of three in the United States worked out to about $16.50 per person, per day over the course of a year. The government’s designation of “deep poverty” — set at half the poverty line — equated to about $8.30 per person, per day. As far as Shaefer and Edin could tell, no one had ever looked to see whether any slice of the American poor fell below the even lower threshold of $2 a day for even part of a year. With the SIPP, it was fairly easy to estimate how many American families with children were reporting cash incomes below this very low threshold in any given month….

The results of Shaefer’s analysis were staggering. In early 2011, 1.5 million households with roughly 3 million children were surviving on cash incomes of no more than $2 per person, per day in any given month. That’s about one out of every twenty-five families with children in America. What’s more, not only were these figures astoundingly high, but the phenomenon of $2-a-day poverty among households with children had been on the rise since the nation’s landmark welfare reform legislation was passed in 1996 — and at a distressingly fast pace. As of 2011, the number of families in $2-a-day poverty had more than doubled in just a decade and a half.

It further appeared that the experience of living below the $2-a-day threshold didn’t discriminate by family type or race. While single-mother families were most at risk of falling into a spell of extreme destitution, more than a third of the households in $2-a-day poverty were headed by a married couple. And although the rate of growth was highest among African Americans and Hispanics, nearly half of the $2-a-day poor were white.

One piece of good news in these findings was that the government safety net was helping at least some households. When Shaefer added in SNAP as if it were cash — a problematic assumption because SNAP cannot legally be converted to cash, so it can’t be used to pay the light bill, the rent, or buy a bus pass — the number of families living in $2-a-day poverty fell by about half. This vital in-kind government program was clearly reaching many, though not all, of the poorest of the poor. Even counting SNAP as cash, though, Shaefer found that the increase in the number of families with children living in $2-a-day poverty remained large — up 70 percent in fifteen years. And even after throwing in any tax credits the household could have claimed in the prior year, plus the cash value of housing subsidies, the data still showed a 50 percent increase. Clearly, the nation was headed in the wrong direction.

Reflecting on these numbers, we, Shaefer and Edin, sought out even more confirmation that what we had found represented a real shift in the circumstances of families at the very bottom. With this in mind, we began to look for other evidence, beyond the SIPP, of the rise of $2-a-day poverty. Reports from the nation’s food banks showed a sizable rise in the number of households seeking emergency food assistance since the late 1990s. A look at government data on those receiving SNAP revealed a large increase in the number of families with no other source of income. And reports from the nation’s public schools showed that more and more children were facing homelessness. Taken together, these findings seemed to confirm the rise of a new form of poverty that defies every assumption about economic, political, and social progress made over the past three decades.

The questions the authors bring to these numbers reflect what they’re trying to explain in this book:

Statistics can help identify troubling trends like these, but they can’t tell us much about what’s going on beneath the numbers. In fact, these statistics led to more questions than answers. What had caused the rise in $2-a-day poverty among households with children? Was the landmark welfare reform of 1996 partly to blame? Were these families completely detached from the world of work? Or were they enmeshed in a low-wage labor market that was itself somehow prompting spells of extreme destitution? How was it even possible to live without cash in modern America? What were families in $2-a-day poverty doing to survive? And were these strategies different from those poor families had been using prior to welfare reform, when AFDC still offered such families a cash cushion against extreme destitution? What was so indispensable about cash — as opposed to in-kind resources such as SNAP — for families trying to survive in twenty-first-century America?

In 2012, they launched an in-depth study in four different areas in America.

In each of these places, we looked for families with children who had spent at least three months living on a cash income of less than $2 per person, per day. In most cases, these spells of such dire poverty proved to be much longer. We visited with these families over the course of many months — and, in some cases, years — talking with them frequently, sharing meals, and observing their daily lives. As common themes emerged from their stories — such as their surprisingly high level of attachment to the formal labor market and the frequency with which doubling up with family or friends precipitated a spell of $2-a-day poverty — we looked back to the SIPP and to other sources of data to see if we could see them there as well.

In the end, we followed eighteen families, eight of them featured here. As had been true of those Edin first encountered in the summer of 2010, some of these households received SNAP or lived in subsidized housing. But others weren’t getting even those benefits. During the course of our fieldwork, some of these families escaped $2-a-day poverty; others did not. Most escaped only to fall back into extreme destitution again.

The book does show the reader these families, helps the reader understand what’s going on, puts faces on this level of poverty. Rather than demonizing the poor as just looking for government hand-outs, we can see and begin to understand how people can get trapped in this.

Here’s the concluding section of the Introduction:

America’s cash welfare program — the main government program that caught people when they fell — was not merely replaced with the 1996 welfare reform; it was very nearly destroyed. In its place arose a different kind of safety net, one that provides a powerful hand up to some — the working poor — but offers much less to others, those who can’t manage to find or keep a job. This book is about what happens when a government safety net that is built on the assumption of full-time, stable employment at a living wage combines with a low-wage labor market that fails to deliver on any of the above. It is this toxic alchemy, we argue, that is spurring the increasing numbers of $2-a-day poor in America. A hidden but growing landscape of survival strategies among those who experience this level of destitution has been the result. At the community level, these strategies can pull families into a web of exploitation and illegality that turns conventional morality upside down.

None of the people whose stories appear in this book see a hand-out from the government — the kind that the old system provided prior to welfare reform — as a solution to their plight. Instead, what they want more than anything else is the chance to work. They would like nothing better than to have a full-time job paying $12 or $13 an hour, a modest dwelling in a safe neighborhood, and some stability above all else. In the 1990s, we, as a country, began a transformation of the social safety net that serves poor families with children. More aid has been rendered to a group that was previously without much in the way of government assistance — the working poor. Extending the nation’s safety net in this way has improved the lives of millions of Americans. But there are simply not enough jobs, much less good jobs, to go around. And for those without work, there is no longer a guarantee of cash assistance.

$2.00 a Day shows that the transformation of the social safety net is incomplete, with dire consequences. We believe the time has come to finish the job. Doing something more to help these families won’t be easy; it will require a commitment by all of us. The government’s emphasis on personal responsibility must be matched by bold action to expand access to, and improve the quality of, jobs. But there will always be circumstances in which work as a primary approach to alleviating poverty won’t work. In those cases, we need a system that truly acts as a safety net for families in crisis, catching them when they fall.

The bulk of the book looks at the lives of these eight families in detail. It helps you understand and feel the pain of the plight they face. You have to admire some of the creative ways they’re finding to survive.

The authors particularly look at things like “perilous work” — jobs that even endanger health, that don’t offer reliable hours and terminate employment at the slightest “offense.” They look at housing problems and cobbled-together solutions, and what the poor will do to try to keep their children safe.

This is an academic study, but the authors are good at telling the stories of the people they encountered.

In their chapter on solutions, the authors don’t advocate going back to welfare, since it robbed people of their dignity and self-worth. They point out that the Earned Income Tax Credit has the opposite effect.

In-dept interviews with 209 EITC claimants in the Northeast and Midwest in 2007 showed that while TANF receipt confers stigma and shame, claiming the EITC gives people dignity and restores their pride. First, the EITC is tied to employment. Second, tax credits are included as part of your federal tax refund — along with wages that were overwithheld. This lends the impression that the government benefit is “earned,” a just reward for hard work. Third, you don’t have to go to a welfare office to apply — an address that in and of itself connotes stigma. Instead, roughly 70 percent of EITC beneficiaries find their way to a professional tax preparation firm such as H&R Block, Liberty Tax Service, or Taxman. There you are not a supplicant. Instead you are a customer, there to claim your tax refund like any other American.

I could relate to this because, when my husband joined the Air Force, before I found a job at our new assignment, we qualified for WIC. But to get the benefits, we had to sit through a “class” teaching about nutrition, and all the staff pretty much treated the applicants as idiots. I never went back. Fortunately, I found a part-time job, but I remembered that getting this government assistance meant giving up my dignity. (The Earned Income Credit, though, was another story.) That’s one thing I love about libraries. We offer help to all, and there is no shame tied to it.

The authors go on:

We are not arguing here that the EITC is a solution to $2-a-day poverty. But it does offer a critical lesson in how antipoverty policy ought to be crafted. Too often, America has gone down the road of trying to shame those in need. We’ve put up barriers. We’ve made people jump through hoop after hoop — all based on the not-so-subtle presumption that they are lazy and immoral, intent on trying to put something over on the system. TANF is a perfect example. Yet research shows that the intrusive treatment people typically receive at the welfare office can undermine their confidence in government and erode political participation. It stands to reason that this kind of treatment could also erode the very confidence that is so necessary for pulling yourself out of $2-a-day poverty. Shame may act as a barrier to claiming that little bit of cash that might stop a downward spiral. As a nation, the question we have to ask ourselves is, Whose side are we on? Can our desire for, and sense of, community induce those of us with resources to come alongside the extremely poor among us in a more supportive, and ultimately more effective, way?

There are many more ideas of things we can do in that final chapter.

Our approach to ending $2-a-day poverty is guided by three principles: (1) all deserve the opportunity to work; (2) parents should be able to raise their children in a place of their own; and (3) not every parent will be able to work, or work all of the time, but parents’ well-being, and the well-being of their children, should nonetheless be ensured.

There’s so much more in this book I’d like to copy out. Don’t rely on my review, because you’ll miss so much. This book is worth reading! It’s impeccably researched and clearly presented, and it will stir your heart.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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?

Review of Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

men_explain_things_to_me_largeMen Explain Things to Me

by Rebecca Solnit

Dispatch Books, Haymarket Books, Chicago, Illinois, 2014. 130 pages.
Starred Review

I’m afraid most intelligent women need to hear nothing more than the title of this book to give a knowing smile. Rebecca Solnit starts the essay with a particularly stunning example of a man who knew nothing about a topic Rebecca had written a book about, trying to explain things to her. He even mentioned an “important book” she should have read, which it turned out he had not actually read but had read about in the New York Times Book Review. This was the book she had written.

I like incidents of that sort, when forces that are usually so sneaky and hard to point out slither out of the grass and are as obvious as, say, an anaconda that’s eaten a cow or an elephant turd on the carpet.

Yes, people of both genders pop up at events and hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.

Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.

Now, she does make clear that she’s not talking about all men, nor even the majority of men. But there are men out there who don’t respect women’s knowledge or opinions and feel they automatically have more important things to say. My first Master’s degree was in mathematics, and I always felt like I had to prove myself. And always, I must admit, took great delight in getting higher scores than my male classmates on math tests – which was more about me than about them. But where did I get the idea I had to prove myself?

The rest of the essays in this book talk about other ways women are silenced and marginalized. There’s also some discussion about marriage equality in that context.

The phrase [“marriage equality”] is ordinarily employed to mean that same-sex couples will have the rights different-sexed couples do. But it could also mean that marriage is between equals. That’s not what traditional marriage was. Throughout much of its history in the West, the laws defining marriage made the husband essentially an owner and the wife a possession. Or the man a boss and the woman a servant or slave.

Another essay is about a powerful international figure who raped a hotel maid in his luxury suite – and how that can be a metaphor for many things.

The opening essay begins with what is really a humorous scene. But this is not a humorous book. Overall, it’s about feminism and how we’ve made progress, but there is still progress that needs to be made.

Rebecca Solnit will make you think and consider and speak.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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?

Review of Beyond Magenta, by Susan Kuklin

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

beyond_magenta_largeBeyond Magenta

Transgender Teens Speak Out

written and photographed by Susan Kuklin

Candlewick Press, 2014. 182 pages.
Starred Review
Stonewall Honor Book, 2015.

I checked out this book after it won a Stonewall Honor. It looked interesting, but I had a lot of books to read, and I figured this one didn’t really apply to me, and wasn’t really anything I needed to know about, so I turned it back in. (Oh such arrogance!) Then this summer, my 27-year-old son told me they were changing gender, so now they are my daughter. When I got home, one of the first things I did was check out this book.

Whether you have such a personal connection or not, this book helps you see the world through other people’s eyes. I think one reason some have a problem with transgender people is a failure of empathy, and an inability to even imagine how someone could possibly want to be identified as anything other than the gender they were assigned at birth. This book goes a long way toward helping the reader understand.

The author tells the stories, with photos, of six individuals. She chose a diverse group of teens and young adults. She uses the highlighted individual’s actual words from in-depth interviews, interspersed with her own narration.

There’s a great deal of variety in the people featured, their gender expressions, their ethnicities, their backgrounds, and their ways of telling their stories. I like the way the book finishes up with a poet-performer.

Most of all, I wish I had read this book before I had such a personal reason. This is a book of people’s stories. Those stories are far outside my experience. As I try to understand their stories, I believe I grow as a person in empathy and compassion.

Yes, transgender people are in the news and popular culture more than ever before. I’m coming to realize that I may have been encountering many without even knowing it. I love that this book gives a group of transgender teens a voice. It helps others know that they are not alone, and helps cisgender folks understand that those who are different are people, too, people with hopes and dreams and interesting loves and lives.

And even if it weren’t for the timely topic, this book is an outstanding work of art in the way it presents these six lives.

I like what the first featured individual has to say:

When most trans men go through transition, they don’t want anything to do with femininity. They don’t want anything to do with being a woman. They just want to be completely accepted in the straight world. When I first started my transition, I wanted it to be complete, from one side to the other. But now I’m embracing my in-between-ness. I’m embracing this whole mix I have inside myself. And I’m happy. So forget the category. Just talk to me. Get to know me.

This book is a way to do that, to see the people under the outward appearance.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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?