Archive for the ‘Starred Review’ Category

Review of The Queen of Blood, by Sarah Beth Durst

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

The Queen of Blood

Book One of The Queens of Renthia

by Sarah Beth Durst

Harper Voyager, 2016. 353 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Alex Award Winner

Daleina is ten years old when her entire village is destroyed by the spirits – all except her family, who Daleina manages to save. She suddenly discovers in the terror of the destruction that she has an affinity to command the spirits. But she wasn’t strong enough to save the village.

But why didn’t the queen save their village? The queen is supposed to control the spirits and command them all to do no harm.

Ven, a champion who got to the village too late, doesn’t get a satisfactory answer either. In fact, he gets disgraced in return for questioning the queen.

Years pass. Daleina goes to the Academy to be trained to command the spirits. She wants to be chosen to be trained by a champion and then to be one of the heirs. The heirs must be ready in case of the queen’s death. Because then the spirits must be stopped from their instinct to destroy and made to choose a new queen, a new queen who will then harness their energy afresh and keep the people safe.

The people of Aratay lives in the trees. Wood spirits have been compelled to grow homes and bridges in the trees. Fire spirits provide light. Air spirits, ice spirits, water spirits, and earth spirits all work to make life continue in Aratay – even though those spirits would like to feed on human flesh.

This book has some elements of a wizard-in-training novel, and of a young leader learning what qualities are important in a ruler. But there are also elements of corruption in power. There is mystery as to what is going on and how it can be stopped. And, in keeping with the title, there’s a whole lot of death and blood.

The story is compelling. You can’t help but love Daleina. She’s not as skilled as her classmates. Her power is less direct. But she’s loyal and good at bringing teams together. Why does the disgraced champion choose her?

I spent a happy afternoon reading this novel. The world it presents is inventive, and the characters are people you want to spend time with. (I only wished fewer had died.) I’m looking forward to the next installment from the creative mind of Sarah Beth Durst.

Here’s the scene at the start when Daleina meets the champion, after her village has been destroyed, with only her family left:

For a brief instant, she imagined him sweeping her away, taking her to the capital, and proclaiming her his chosen candidate. It happened that way in the tales: a champion would appear in a tiny village, test the children, and pluck one to be trained to become an heir, and the heirs became legends themselves, creating villages, securing the borders, and keeping the spirits in check, in conjunction with the queen. She imagined herself in the palace, a circle of golden leaves on her head, with her family beside her, safe because of her power. Never again huddling afraid in a hut in a tree.

Her story should have begun right then, in that moment. Fate had declared that her power would emerge in her village’s tragedy, and chance had put the champion in the nearby trees at the moment the spirits attacked, too late to save the village but in time to meet Daleina. It should have been the beginning of a legend, the moment he recognized her potential and she embraced her future with both arms.

But it wasn’t.

The champion looked away, across the ruined village and the broken bodies. “Only the best can become queen. And she is not the best.” Daleina felt his words hit like slaps, and then he added the worst blow of all: “If she were, these people would still be alive.”

sarahbethdurst.com
hc.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 Imagine Heaven, by John Burke

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Imagine Heaven

Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits You

by John Burke

Baker Books, 2015. 348 pages.
Starred Review

Imagine Heaven looks at accounts of near-death experiences (NDEs) from all over the world, from various cultures, religions, and backgrounds — and shows how the accounts match what the Bible says about heaven.

I’ve been interested in near-death experiences for awhile. Most of the books I’ve reviewed on the topic were quoted in this book: Proof of Heaven, Heaven Is For Real, To Heaven and Back, and even the book where the author went to hell first, My Descent Into Death. (Reading my review of My Descent Into Death, it was apparently the book that got me started reading other such books.)

Author John Burke does stick with a strictly evangelical perspective in his interpretation of the experiences. I tend to think they give support to Universalism. But one thing that is striking, which I hadn’t noticed before, is how those who have experienced NDEs describe heaven using very similar terms with the descriptions in Revelation.

When I was in the middle of reading this book, my sister had a dream about our mother, who is in late-stage Alzheimer’s. She dreamed that they were climbing stairs together. My Mom was much better, happy and eager, and climbing the stairs. At the top, there was a door, and Jesus was at the door. Becky left Mom with Jesus, and Mom was so happy to be there. Reading this book, and a dream like that, reminds me that Yes, heaven is a wonderful place. Yes, what’s important is Love.

The highlight of many NDEs, for all who claim to have come near, is this mystical Being of Light who fills them with a love beyond imagination.

A common experience across cultures is that this Being of Light gives them a Life Review.

One of the greatest indications that the God NDErs describe is the God of the Jewish/Christian Scriptures is how they depict their life review in his presence. Despite vividly seeing all their deeds, good and evil, and all the relational ripple effects of both, they do not experience a Being who desires to condemn. They experience a compassion coming from this Being of Light.

The author looks at the work of other researchers:

Dr. Long talks about how the unified theme of thousands of NDEs is the importance of love first. Muhammad in Egypt said after his NDE, “I felt that love is the one thing that all humans must feel towards each other.

The book does go on about details — the “sea of glass, clear as crystal,” the “rainbow that shone like an emerald,” the streets of pure gold, like glass. The author throws in lots of interpretation — but with many valid conclusions.

For me, the book encouraged and uplifted me, reminding me that God is Love, that heaven is not something to fear, and that what’s important, in this life and the next, is Love.

johnburkeonline.com
bakerbooks.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 Duels & Deception, by Cindy Anstey

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

Duels and Deception

by Cindy Astey

Swoon Reads (Feiwel and Friends), April 2017. 345 pages.
Starred Review

Oh, these Cindy Astey Regency romances are so much fun! In this one, we meet Lydia Whitfield, a friend of our heroine from Love, Lies and Spies, but you don’t have to read the first book to enjoy this one.

Lydia thinks of herself as not romantic at all. Before he died, her papa picked out the man she should marry, Lord Aldershot, so their estates could be joined. Lydia wants to draw up a contract about the arrangements between them – and gets kidnapped! Her carriage is diverted, while the handsome young law clerk is in it. He is shortly thrown out, but after Lydia is imprisoned in an abandoned barn, Mr. Newton comes to rescue her.

Together they seek to investigate who was behind the nefarious plot. But whoever it was wants to destroy Lydia’s reputation with knowledge that she was out all night in the company of a young man. Unless she will give in to blackmail.

Meanwhile, Lydia’s drunken uncle is guardian of her estate together with a lawyer who’s showing signs of senility. And Mr. Newton’s friend got himself embroiled in a duel.

Lydia’s a delightful heroine and it’s lovely to watch her figure out she might think romance is a good thing, after all.

Here’s how the book begins. You get a nice taste of Lydia’s character. It also leads up to the carriage accident, caused by her uncle, which is where she first meets Mr. Newton.

Had Miss Lydia Whitfield of Roseberry Hall been of a skittish nature, the sound of a rapidly approaching carriage would have caused considerable anxiety. As it was, the driver behind her did nothing to stay her steps. Besides, she recognized the bells on Esme’s harness and Turnip’s nicker of protest – poor creature hated to canter. The vehicle could be none other than the family landau.

However, as the nickering changed from protest to panic, Lydia was certain the carriage was now descending the steep hill too quickly. The road from Spelding was rocky and rutted, especially in the spring, and it made for a rough ride. Most drivers took it at a walk.

But not this driver.

This book was simply tremendous fun. If you like Jane Austen at all, this is more fast-paced, but still gives you a lovely taste of that world, with remarkable characters you’ll enjoy spending time with.

swoonreads.com

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

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 Cloud and Wallfish, by Anne Nesbet

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

Cloud and Wallfish

by Anne Nesbet

Candlewick Press, 2016. 385 pages.
Starred Review

One day both Noah’s parents come to pick him up from school. He is informed that they are taking a sudden trip to Germany, leaving now. And not West Germany, the one they’d talked about going to for vacation some day, the other Germany. Noah’s Mom is going to continue her PhD research, looking at education for people with disabilities on both sides of the Wall.

That’s only the beginning for Noah. They also tell him that he’s going to be called Jonah and he has a different birthday than the one he’s always used. They even made a book for him, showing him the history of his life – with fake elementary school pictures and fake places they supposedly lived.

It’s 1989, and Noah and his parents – now the Brown family instead of the Keller family – are going to live in East Berlin for six months.

They’ve got a set of Rules. They must not draw attention to themselves. They must smile. They must not talk about serious things indoors, where they’ll be bugged. If Noah absolutely must talk about the past, he must stick to the Jonah Book.

Noah has a stutter, which makes German, with all its consonants, even harder for him than English, even though he has a gift for languages and can understand. But the authorities don’t think he can speak it well enough to go to school. He meets a girl named Claudia (pronounced “Cloud-ee-a”) who lives in their apartment building with her grandma and missed school because she was sick.

Before contact is forbidden, Noah/Jonah and Claudia, who both feel like Changelings, invent a fairyland and draw pictures of that place on a map of Berlin. On the map, West Berlin is blank, so they fill it in as fairyland.

The adult reader will know this was an interesting time to be in Berlin – and sure enough, things progress as events move toward the Wall coming down. To fill in historical details, every chapter has a “Secret File” giving some background. I was a little ambivalent about those being included. But since it was information I had already, it seems only fair that kids should have that information, too.

I was pulled into this book right away, as Noah was bewildered by his parents’ news of the sudden move and name change. The characterization is brilliant as his parents take on East Germany, and Noah observes, follows the Rules, and makes a Changeling friend.

Of course, I’ve got a soft spot for this book since I lived in Germany for 10 years, though it was after the Wall fell. There was even a Sonderschule mentioned. It’s a school for special needs kids, but hey, it’s part of a special book.

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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 Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet, by Carmen Agra Deedy

Friday, March 24th, 2017

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!

by Carmen Agra Deedy
illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Scholastic Press, 2017. 48 pages.
Starred Review

Yes, I heard this book read by the author on Inauguration Day, 2017. Yes, this is a book with a message. Yes, I am a fan.

(And Carmen Agra Deedy had first regaled us with stories of her family. She is a magnificent storyteller!)

La Paz was a village “where streets rang with song from morning till night.”

You can hear the rhythm to Carmen Agra Deedy’s words with this early page:

Dogs bayed,
mothers crooned,
engines hummed,
fountains warbled,
and everybody sang in the shower.

But the village was a very noisy place, so the people elect a new mayor, who promises peace and quiet.

The new mayor’s rules start quite reasonable: “NO LOUD SINGING IN PUBLIC,” but they progress through NO LOUD SINGING AT HOME to NO SINGING to ¡BASTA! QUIET, ALREADY!

The village is now a very quiet place. Even the teakettles were afraid to whistle. But then a rooster wandered into the village with his family.

When the little rooster awoke the next morning, he did what roosters were born to do.

He sang:

Kee-kee-ree-KEE!

As his rotten luck would have it, the mango tree grew beneath the cranky mayor’s window.

Uh-oh.

A showdown proceeds between the rooster and the mayor. Here’s the first encounter:

“You, there!” groused Don Pepe. “No singing! It’s the law!”

“Well, that’s a silly law,” said the merry gallito. “Smell this sweet mango tree! How can I keep from singing?”

“Humph! Then I’ll chop down that stinky tree!” huffed Don Pepe. “Will you sing then?”

The plucky gallito shrugged. I may sing a less cheerful song. But I will sing.”

And he did.

As the encounters continue, the rooster sings a lonelier song, a hungrier song, and a darker song.

A crowd gathers for the final showdown, where the rooster says, “I sing for those who dare not sing – or have forgotten how. If I must sing for them as well, señor, how can I keep from singing?”

And when the mayor then threatens the rooster’s life, he proclaims:

“But a song is louder than one noisy little rooster and stronger than one bully of a mayor,” said the gallito. “And it will never die – so long as there is someone to sing it.”

And then the crowd joins in the little rooster’s song and causes the mayor to flee.

The Author’s Note at the back brings the point home. And though technically, that probably isn’t necessary, I so much love her way of putting it, and I feel the message is so timely, I’m going to copy it out here:

Roosters sing at sunrise; they also sing
at noon, sundown, and in the middle of the night.
Roosters sing when they please, and that’s all there is to that.

Much like roosters, human children are born with voices
strong and true – and irrepressible.

Then, bit by bit, most of us learn to temper our opinions,
censor our beliefs, and quiet our voices.

But not all of us.

There are always those who resist being silenced,
who will crow out their truth,
without regard to consequence.

Foolhardy or wise, they are the ones
who give us the courage to sing.

Thank you, Carmen Agra Deedy!

carmenagradeedy.com
eugeneyelchinbooks.com
scholastic.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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The Jazz of Physics, by Stephon Alexander

Monday, March 20th, 2017

The Jazz of Physics

The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe

by Stephon Alexander

Basic Books, 2016. 239 pages.
Starred Review

I heard Stephon Alexander speak at ALA Midwinter Meeting last year. He speaks with passion about how his love of jazz gave him insights into cosmology. (Of course, I was disposed to like him, because when I got the book signed and showed him my prime factorization scarf, he liked it so much, he called over his girlfriend, an artist, from another part of the exhibits so she could see it.)

As a Black American with roots in Trinidad, Stephon Alexander knows what it’s like to be a minority in physics. This book also tells his story and how he was inspired to turn to science.

I’ll admit, I don’t understand much about the equations or the physics mentioned in this book. But the author’s excitement comes across as he explains how he discovered insights about physics in music.

During all the years of formal training as a scientist, I found myself trying to reconcile my passion for music with physics. I started to not only see how the act of doing physics research could benefit from musical analogies but how our physical world actually had a musical character. Aside from the few mentors, such as Chris Isham and Robert Brandenberger, who had encouraged me to blend the two, I felt pressure to keep these two worlds separate. Physics to some is about absolute truths encoded in rigid mathematics, and music is a language of emotion. Perhaps this tension would not have been a big deal had I known that in the early days of science, music and astronomy were inseparable. To the modern musician and scientist, this may seem preposterous, but to early people, who lacked the scientific tools we now have, music became an analogy for the ordering and structure of the cosmos.

The book talks about sound and vibration and how it relates to string theory. He talks about sonic black holes and cosmic background radiation. Especially interesting is how he arrived at a breakthrough in string theory and cosmology by thinking about jazz improvisation.

I may not understand the details presented here, but I understand passages like this:

Weaving music and physics into one avenue of thought has showed me how to use notions in music as points of access to various fields in modern physics and cosmology. Analogies have helped make the physics more accessible and stimulating.

It is wonderful to think of following the footsteps of our ancestors — the great ancient thinkers who sought to understand physics through sound, and sound through physics. Pythagoras played with hammers and strings to try to understand where the pleasures of music came from, while Kepler used his intuition that the universe was musical to make major advances in the fields of astronomy, physics, and mathematics.

He talks about how the analogies not only help explain physics, but they also help new discoveries be made.

This book is not only about the analogy between music and cosmology but also about the importance of musical and improvisational thinking in doing physics. Theoretical physicists exemplify John Coltrane’s approach to music. We use an arsenal of conceptual and mathematical tools that we practice through examples that were worked out by past masters, like Einstein and Feynman. Likewise, jazz musicians like Coltrane master their tradition throughout countless hours of practice. But for both the theoretical physicist and the jazz improviser, it is not enough to simply master the material of the past; discoveries must be made.

He ends the book by saying, “My journey to reconcile jazz with physics serves as a living example of how a small group of physicists, in the spirit of the jazz tradition, embraced me and allowed me to improvise physics with them, while challenging me to go beyond my limits.”

stephonalexander.org
basicbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting and had signed to me by the author.

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 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 Scythe, by Neal Shusterman

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Scythe

by Neal Shusterman

Simon & Schuster, 2016. 435 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Printz Honor

Scythe is set in the future, when mankind has conquered death completely. The Age of Mortality is over. Everybody’s got nanites inside them that heal them quickly. Revival centers can bring “deadish” people back to life – even people who fall from buildings and splatter on the pavement. (Which of course becomes a reckless teen thing to do.)

Yes, people grow old, but when their body starts wearing out, they get surgery to “turn the corner” and rejuvenate their body to a younger age.

Earth indeed is run by computers, but that’s not seen as a disaster in this book. Here’s how they describe it.

The greatest achievement of the human race was not conquering death. It was ending government.

Back in the days when the world’s digital network was called “the cloud,” people thought giving too much power to an artificial intelligence would be a very bad idea. Cautionary tales abounded in every form of media. The machines were always the enemy. But then the cloud evolved into the Thunderhead, sparking with consciousness, or at least a remarkable facsimile. In stark contrast to people’s fears, the Thunderhead did not seize power. Instead, it was people who came to realize that it was far better suited to run things than politicians.

In those days before the Thunderhead, human arrogance, self-interest, and endless in-fighting determined the rule of law. Inefficient. Imperfect. Vulnerable to all forms of corruption.

But the Thunderhead was incorruptible. Not only that, but its algorithms were built on the full sum of human knowledge. All the time and money wasted on political posturing, the lives lost in wars, the populations abused by despots – all gone the moment the Thunderhead was handed power. Of course, the politicians, dictators, and warmongers weren’t happy, but their voices, which had always seemed so loud and intimidating, were suddenly insignificant. The emperor not only had no clothes, turns out he had no testicles either.

The Thunderhead quite literally knew everything. When and where to build roads; how to eliminate waste in food distribution and thus end hunger; how to protect the environment from the ever-growing human population. It created jobs, it clothed the poor, and it established the World Code. Now, for the first time in history, law was no longer the shadow of justice, it was justice.

The Thunderhead gave us a perfect world. The utopia that our ancestors could only dream of is our reality.

There was only one thing the Thunderhead was not given authority over.

The Scythedom.

When it was decided that people needed to die in order to ease the tide of population growth, it was also decided that this must be the responsibility of humans. Bridge repair and urban planning could be handled by the Thunderhead, but taking a life was an act of conscience and consciousness. Since it could not be proven that the Thunderhead had either, the Scythedom was born.

Scythes operate under their own jurisdiction, ruled by ten commandments. Scythes are to kill without bias, bigotry, or malice aforethought. They kill within quotas and give a year of immunity to the families of those who submit to the gleaning. The families of those who resist are gleaned as well.

Scythes are to lead an exemplary life in word and deed and to keep a journal.

So this is the background of this book. Such creative world building! It makes you think about the repercussions of such a world, and Neal Shusterman brings up many things I would have never dreamed of.

As the book begins, two teens, Citra and Rowan, are chosen to be apprentices of Scythe Faraday, a conscientious scythe. He chooses them partly because they don’t want to be scythes.

But scythes don’t usually take two apprentices. Scythe Faraday assures them that whoever is not chosen will resume a normal life after the year is up. But at the gathering of scythes, a new “modern” faction takes issue with that and demands that whichever one becomes a scythe, their first act will be to glean the other.

Scythe Faraday thinks of a way to get around this, but it backfires. The book takes the shape of a whodunit and a thriller.

Meanwhile, this other faction of scythes includes a leader who carries out mass gleanings and takes joy in killing. Which group will prevail, the conscientious gleaners who live simply and strive to serve humanity, or those who take joy in killing and think humanity should serve them?

This book is outstanding. The premise sounds a little grim, but it’s thoughtful and visionary and a good read as well.

The flap says this is the start of a series, but the book ties up completely. I wouldn’t have guessed it was more than a stand-alone if I hadn’t read the flap. All the same, I will be delighted to return to this intriguing future earth.

storyman.com
simonandschuster.com/teen

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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 Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill

Monday, March 13th, 2017

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

by Kelly Barnhill

Algonquin Young Readers, 2016. 388 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Newbery Medal Winner

In the Protectorate every year, the youngest baby is left in the woods for the Witch.

But this year, the mother of the child protests and goes mad and has to be locked up.

And Antain, the young apprentice to the Elders is disturbed by what he sees and asks uncomfortable questions. But the elders leave the baby anyway.

They left her knowing that there surely wasn’t a witch. There never had been a witch. There were only a dangerous forest and a single road and a thin grip on a life that the Elders had enjoyed for generations. The Witch – that is, the belief in her – made for a frightened people, a subdued people, a compliant people, who lived their lives in a saddened haze, the coulds of their grief numbing their senses and dampening their minds. It was terribly convenient for the Elders’ unencumbered rule. Unpleasant, too, of course, but that couldn’t be helped.

They heard the child whimper as they tramped through the trees, but the whimpering soon gave way to the swamp sighs and birdsong and the woody creaking of trees throughout the forest. And each Elder felt as sure as sure could be that the child wouldn’t live to see the morning, and that they would never hear her, never see her, never think of her again.

They thought she was gone forever.

They were wrong, of course.

Now, there is a witch who lived in the woods named Xan. Here’s her perspective on the Day of Sacrifice:

For as long as Xan could remember, every year at about the same time, a mother from the Protectorate left her baby in the forest, presumably to die. Xan had no idea why. Nor did she judge. But she wasn’t going to let the poor little thing perish, either. And so, every year, she traveled to that circle of sycamores and gathered the abandoned infant in her arms, carrying the child to the other side of the forest, to one of the Free Cities on the other side of the Road. These were happy places. And they loved children.

But this year, which was turning out so differently from usual, something about the baby caught at Xan’s heart. And as she journeyed with the baby, she accidentally fed it moonlight rather than the usual starlight.

There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. But because the light travels such a long distance, the magic in it is fragile and diffused, stretched into the most delicate of threads. There is enough magic in starlight to content a baby and fill its belly, and in large enough quantities, starlight can awaken the best in that baby’s heart and soul and mind. It is enough to bless, but not to enmagic.

Moonlight, however. That is a different story.

Moonlight is magic. Ask anyone you like.

So, baby Luna gets enmagicked, and Xan realizes that means she must care for the baby herself. So Luna grows up in the forest with tiny dragon Fyrian (who thinks he is Simply Enormous) and bog monster Glerk. When her magic comes in, there may be disastrous consequences, so Xan has to take momentous steps to control it.

Luna has no idea of her origins. And Xan has no idea what she has set in motion – things that are going to change the lives of everyone in the Protectorate and the forest. They will find the source of all the Sorrows and discover how to fight against it.

This is a lovely book with a fantasy world not quite like any other. We have the usual quest of good versus evil, but it proceeds in surprising ways.

I like the way this book celebrates Love and Joy. And conquering those who feed on Sorrows.

kellybarnhill.wordpress.com
AlgonquinYoungReaders.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 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.

thirtymillionwords.org

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/30_million_words.html

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?