Archive for the ‘Starred Review’ Category

Review of The Gift of Anger, by Arun Gandhi

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

The Gift of Anger

And Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi

by Arun Gandhi

Gallery Books (Jeter Publishing), 2017. 292 pages.
Starred Review

This book is filled with stories of things that Arun Gandhi learned as a child when he lived for two years on the ashram with his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi. I read a chapter a day, which gave me some nice, inspirational food for thought. I learned much I didn’t know about Mahatma Gandhi, but what I love most about this book is how it radiates peace and nonviolence. Reading this book makes it much easier to see how counterproductive it is to hold onto anger.

The chapters themselves are listed as “lessons.” So “Lesson One” is “Use Anger for Good.” Lesson Four is “Know Your Own Worth.” Lesson Five is “Lies Are Clutter.” Lesson Six is “Waste Is Violence.” And Lesson Eight is “Humility Is Strength.” The book includes eleven lessons, all illustrated by stories and insiights. Lesson Nine gives us “The Five Pillars of Nonviolence,” and throughout the book, a picture develops of the power of a nonviolent life.

I wasn’t surprised by the title story and the lesson “Use Anger for Good,” because I’d read about that incident in Arun Gandhi’s picture book, Grandfather Gandhi. When Arun came to the ashram as a boy, he had a lot of anger. His grandfather talked with him, including this insight:

Bapuji looked over at me from behind his spinning wheel. “I am glad to see you can be moved to anger. Anger is good. I get angry all the time,” he confessed as his fingers turned the wheel.

I could not believe what I was hearing. “I have never seen you angry,” I replied.

“Because I have learned to use my anger for good,” he explained. “Anger to people is like gas to the automobile – it fuels you to move forward and get to a better place. Without it, we would not be motivated to rise to a challenge. It is an energy that compels us to define what is just and unjust.”

Grandfather explained that when he was a boy in South Africa, he too had suffered from violent prejudice, and it made him angry. But eventually he learned that it didn’t help to seek vengeance, and he began to fight against prejudice and discrimination with compassion, responding to anger and hate with goodness. He believed in the power of truth and love. Seeking revenge made no sense to him. An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.

And that’s only the first lesson! The lessons progress, and are usually accompanied by stories from Arun’s life with his grandfather, though there are usually other illustrations as well. The lessons include Mahatma Gandhi’s time of political activism, using nonviolent protest to free India from British rule, and they continue all the way up to his death, and Arun’s struggles with wanting revenge. Ultimately, honoring his grandfather’s legacy won out.

“Forgiveness is more manly than punishment,” Bapuji had said.

When we are tested, we don’t prove our strength with violence or anger but by directing our actions for good. India had given Bapuji the great gift of a brief peace after his death. I had to give him the similar gift of forgiveness in the face of great evil. Bapuji had once explained that it is easy to love those who love you, but the real power of nonviolence comes when you can love those who hate you.

There’s lots of wisdom in this little book.

SimonandSchuster.com

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

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

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Review of Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig, by Deborah Hopkinson

Sunday, October 14th, 2018

Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig

By Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Schwartz & Wade Books, New York, 2016. 40 pages.
Starred Review

This charming picture book tells a slightly fictionalized account of what happened when Beatrix Potter borrowed a neighbor’s prized guinea pig in order to paint it. The main fictionalization is that the author changed Beatrix Potter’s age to be a child when this incident happened, rather than the 26-year-old she actually was.

But the story is based on truth – Beatrix Potter kept many different animals as pets – and sad fates befell many of them. And when Beatrix borrowed a guinea pig named Queen Elizabeth from her neighbor, it did feast on blotting paper and string, writing paper and paste – and died.

Deborah Hopkinson shows Beatrix giving her neighbor a painting of the guinea pig as compensation. She says she hopes she kept it because in 2011, a painting Beatrix Potter made of a guinea pig – probably painted the same year as the unfortunate borrowing – sold for more than $85,000.

The book is styled as a letter to the reader, which is appropriate since Beatrix Potter’s first stories appeared in letters. The words and watercolors are charming.

“I would love to draw Queen Elizabeth,” declared Beatrix. “She is truly magnificent.”

Her friend beamed. “Her family is indeed impeccable. Queen Elizabeth comes from a long line of distinguished guinea pigs. She is the daughter of Titwillow the Second, and a descendant of the Sultan of Zanzibar and the Light of Asia.”

You might well think the young ladies were discussing royalty, not rodents. In the end, Miss Paget was so flattered by Miss Potter’s appreciation of the merits of Queen Elizabeth that she eagerly fetched the squealing creature.

“Thank you,” said Beatrix. “I will return her – unharmed – in the morning.”

Alas, it was an empty promise.

I’m not quite sure how Deborah Hopkinson has made a story about animals dying so utterly delightful, but she has managed it!

deborahhopkinson.com
randomhousekids.com

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

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

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Review of The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, by Jan Thornhill

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk

by Jan Thornhill

Groundwood Books, 2016. 42 pages.
Starred Review

This picture book, by focusing on one extinct species, is an accessible and understandable introduction to the need for conservation.

The book begins:

Behold the Great Auk! The Gejrfugl! The northern penguin!

Less than four centuries ago, hundreds of thousands of these magnificent birds lived in the frigid seas between Europe and North America.

Now there are none.

So what happened?

It’s a complicated story. Although humans – as you may suspect – did indeed have a heavy hand in the Great Auk’s extinction, there were other factors that contributed to its demise, not the least of which was the bird’s own anatomy and behavior.

The story is told beginning from when the Great Auk thrived. They couldn’t fly, and could barely walk, but could swim swiftly. They live mostly on and in the water, but they had to lay their eggs on land. So they protected their young by nesting in inaccessible places.

I thought this tidbit was fascinating:

During the last Ice Age, when much of northern Europe and most of Canada lay frozen beneath a half mile of ice, the oceans were colder, so the Great Auk was found further south. Five thousand years before the glaciers retreated, a group of Stone Age humans entered a cave not far from the Mediterranean. They mixed charcoal and red-ochre pigment into paint, then used crude brushes and their fingertips to make images of the animals they hunted.

They painted ibex and bison. They painted wild horses and big-antlered deer.

And they painted Great Auks.

Paleontologists have found other signs that early humans enjoyed eating fire-roasted Great Auk just as much as we enjoy eating barbecued chicken today. Numerous tool-marked remains of the bird’s big bones have been unearthed from ancient fire pits and trash heaps on both sides of the Atlantic, up and down the coasts. Some charred bones are almost ninety thousand years old.

As humans developed better and better seafaring abilities, the places where Great Auks could nest safely dwindled.

Though the final last straw, sadly, happened in 1830 when a volcanic eruption caused one of their last nesting grounds to disappear under the sea.

The book explains the whole story with colorful pictures, including the danger that came from collectors as well as those who wanted to eat the birds. In many of the pictures, the Great Auk is only present in a ghostly outline form, where they were once numerous, but now are nowhere to be found.

The book finishes with the birth of the conservation movement. Here’s hoping the tragic tale of the Great Auk will not be lived out by many other species.

groundwoodbooks.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 Transforming, by Austen Hartke

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

Transforming

The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians

by Austen Hartke

Westminster John Knox Press, 2018. 198 pages.
Starred Review

I picked this book up from the library, and the very next day was glad I did, having a reason to defend transgender people to some well-meaning Christian friends. My own oldest child is a transgender woman. I’ve seen for myself this isn’t some kind of delusional temporary whim. I’m also in a Facebook group for mothers of transgender children. I’ve heard many sad stories of what happens when a church family rejects a transgender person and the harm it causes their entire families. At the same time, I’ve read happy stories of what happens when people transition with love and acceptance from their faith communities.

This book is written by a transgender pastor. He brings in the voices of many other transgender people. He talks about the good it does transgender people when their churches accept them – but also the good it brings to churches when they embrace their transgender members.

There’s background at the front. There are personal stories. I’m not going to repeat every argument why it is not biblical to reject transgender people or to require that gender dysphoria is the one medical condition that should not receive medical treatment of any kind.

I knew that the Bible does not speak against being transgender. But I hadn’t realized how much there is specifically for those who don’t fit gender norms.

I was especially touched by the author’s description of how he found life in the passage Isaiah 56:3-8. I’ll copy a little bit of that here:

“Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
“I am just a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast to my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off….
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.”

I was floored. I could swear I had never heard these verses before in my life, despite having read through the book of Isaiah for a class only the year before. I felt an immediate connection to the eunuch and the foreigner. Their fear of separation, fear of being forgotten, fear of being kept out of God’s family – all based on identities as unchosen as the place of their birth and as intrinsic as the shape of their body. Their fears were my fears too. Yet here was God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, quieting those fears and promising an unequivocal welcome.

He goes on to explain why eunuchs, especially after the Babylonian exile, were in a place similar to transgender people today. And yet God gives them in this passage a name, legacy, family, acceptance, and blessing.

And of course there is more about eunuchs in the Bible. Jesus talked about them, and the evangelist Philip was sent by the Holy Spirit specifically to the Ethiopian eunuch. I like this paragraph:

Whether you believe Jesus was advocating for castration, for celibacy, or for something else entirely in Matthew 19, the fact that he uses eunuchs as a positive example is huge. It means that Jesus knew about people who fell outside the boundaries of sex and gender, and that he did not see them as broken or as morally corrupt. He saw them as people with a variety of experiences and as people with something important to teach the world about God’s kingdom.

There’s lots more “apologetics” – defending that transgender people belong in the church and should not be excluded. But he moves on to explain why this is important:

This is when trans Christians experience life in abundance – when they are welcomed into community; when they are loved for all of who they are; when their differences are respected; when they know they can count on their community to help with their daily human needs; and when they feel safe enough to drop their defenses in order to take on Jesus’ gentle yoke of discipleship. That may sound like a lot to ask of a church, but in reality these are commitments we try to make to the cisgender members of our communities. So why not include trans folks? After all, if the life Jesus promises is abundant, surely there’s enough to go around!

In the concluding chapter, he looks at the parable of the lost sheep.

But what if we imagined this story a different way? What if the lost sheep didn’t wander away from the safety and goodness of the shepherd? What if it was just trying to escape the cruelty of the flock? Sheep will occasionally pick out a flock member who doesn’t fit in – maybe because of an injury or a strange marking – and they’ll chase that individual away. There are times when I think Christians need to see ourselves more in the ninety-nine sheep who stayed put, and ask ourselves if we may have been part of the reason that the lost sheep got lost in the first place.

And his appeal reminds us that we as a church have much to gain by being more welcoming:

But what’s at stake for Jesus in this situation isn’t just that one single lost sheep, and it’s not just the ninety-nine back home. It’s the integrity of the flock as a whole. Saving just the main group or just the individual wouldn’t do any good, because the flock is more than just the sum of its parts. When Jesus goes after that lost sheep, what he’s telling the flock – what he’s telling us – is that we’re not complete without each other.

In this book, transgender Christians have shared their stories and the ways that Scripture, faith, and gender identity interact in their lives. I hope you’ve been able to read these stories and come to the same conclusion the shepherd did: that our faith communities and churches aren’t complete without trans folks and their experiences.

At the messy, lovable, chaotic potluck that is life in the church, transgender Christians have a lot to bring to the table. We can help the church see Scripture through different lenses; we can help other Christians understand their own gender identities; we can help to break down barriers created by sexism and misogyny; we can remind people of the diversity of God’s creation, and of God’s unlimited nature; we can stand in the gaps and bridge middle spaces where others may be uncomfortable or uninformed; we can help make connections between the sacred and the secular, making the church more relevant for the world, and we can provoke people into asking questions about themselves and about God that they may never have thought to ask before. And that’s all while most churches still don’t affirm our existence as Christians! Imagine what we could do if we worked together!

There’s a lot more in this book. I hope that reading it will open many hearts. Let’s follow the teaching of Scripture and welcome all into our churches, including those who were once outcasts.

wjkbooks.com

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

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

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

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Review of Sam Sorts, by Marthe Jocelyn

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

Sam Sorts

(One Hundred Favorite Things)

by Marthe Jocelyn

Tundra Books, 2017. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a wonderful picture book full of early math concepts that can be used in many different ways. It’s also good as a story (Well, a little bit – a story about a boy tidying up), and for those children who enjoy super-detailed illustrations (like I Spy and Where’s Waldo).

Mainly, it’s about Sam’s quirky collection of one hundred favorite things and the many different ways they can be sorted and counted.

After a page declaring that his things are in a heap and need to be tidied up, Sam starts in:

First he finds Obo the robot, one of a kind. Then two snarling dinosaurs, three little boxes, and four fake foods. How many things is that?

Sam gathers many things in various groupings. I like the page that shows a Venn diagram with three circles made of string.

Spider Rock joins the other rocks. Sam’s favorite rock is the round one. He looks for more round things. Two of the buttons are exactly the same. What else comes in twos?

The Venn diagram shows rocks in the first set, then round things, then things that come in twos. There are things in both intersections. There are things that don’t fit any of those categories on the outsides.

Things continue to be sorted in various ways.

Another way Sam makes a pair is by finding a rhyme.

Some things match because they have stripes. A few have dots or holes. Only one has checks. The snake is striped AND green . . .

On another page, the things are sorted onto a rainbow by color. Then many other categories are shown. (“Soft,” “Noisy,” “Pointy,” . . .)

Sam gets overly exuberant after putting out all his “guys.” “Look out, guys . . . The animals are coming!”

Once things are in a heap again, Sam decides to tidy up again. The next page has all the things laid out, separated by a striped background. The text asks, “How many categories? How many things?” There are ten categories with ten things each, so here is a great exercise in counting to one hundred. (One little problem with that page is that for at least a couple categories, it’s hard to figure out what the category might be.)

But if nothing else, this introduces the concept of sorting and sets and looking at things in different ways. This is a wonderful early math activity, and I love the playful approach.

www.penguinrandomhouse.ca

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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 Assassin’s Heart, by Sarah Ahiers

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

Assassin’s Heart

by Sarah Ahiers

HarperTeen, 2016. 420 pages.
Starred Review

I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Come on, it’s about a girl assassin, from a family of assassins. The plot of the book is about finding vengeance.

Not long after the book opens, Lea’s entire family is murdered, burned to death in their sleep, because of a betrayal. I read the start of the book before going to sleep — and woke up the next morning to some pretty depressing thoughts!

But I wasn’t ever tempted to stop reading the book. Despite its dark subject matter, this is good writing and compelling characters.

The world of the book is innovative and unexpected. The nine Families of clippers (assassins) in Lovero serve the goddess Safraella by accepting contracts to kill people. That is also how they keep order in Lovero. If someone pays for someone else to be killed without a good reason, they can be sure their own death will be next. The kingdom accepts this service and doesn’t interfere in matters between the Families.

As part of the service, clippers place a gold coin in the mouth of those they kill.

The coin would act as a balm and prevent the man from becoming an angry ghost, because it signaled that the person deserved a quick rebirth. Instead of wandering the dead plains, Safraella, goddess of death, murder, and resurrection, patron of Lovero, would see the offering and grant him a faster return to a new life. A better life.

Ever since the king of Lovero devoted himself and the kingdom to Safraella, angry ghosts stay out on the plains outside the kingdom. Now Loverans can go out of their homes at night without fearing their souls will be pulled out of their bodies.

But because the Families are outside the law, Lea Saldana has nowhere to turn when her whole family is killed in the fire. She knows the Family that did this will try to hunt her down once they learn she survived. She needs to find her one living relative, an uncle who was banished from the Family years ago. Of course, that will mean crossing the dead plains, filled with angry ghosts. And then somehow finding her uncle, who has gone deep into hiding.

Besides being a compelling story (even if it did had a lot of death and gore), this book also had some twists and turns I didn’t see coming. There’s also romance — and I always have a soft spot for a romance that shows true character in the beloved, someone who’s more than a handsome face.

sarahahiers.com
epicreads.com

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

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

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Review of The Hour of Land, by Terry Tempest Williams

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

The Hour of Land

A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks

by Terry Tempest Williams

Sarah Crichton Books (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), 2016. 389 pages.
Starred Review

I got to hear Terry Tempest Williams speak about this book at an ALA conference before it was published and got a chapbook of the first chapter, so I was watching eagerly for it to come out. However, it still took me a long time to get it read. I tend to read nonfiction slowly, a chapter at a time, and this one continued to be on hold at the library, so I couldn’t just renew it and keep going. I finally buckled down to finish and was even more impressed than I expected to be.

I expected a lot of meditations on the beauty of our National Parks, but what I found is a lot more than that. There is much information about their history, and yes, about the wildlife and landscape, but there’s also a great deal about current concerns, such as oil companies taking over the land all around a national park and creating environmental devastation inside the park. Or the devastation wrought by an oil spill on a national park on the coast. Since this was written before the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, it was hard to read about the challenges and be pretty certain that things aren’t getting better.

Here are some things Terry Tempest Williams has to say in the introductory chapter.

In my wanderings among these dozen national parks, my intention was to create portraits of unexpected beauty and complexity. I thought it would be a straightforward and exuberant project, focusing on the protection of public lands, as I have done through most of my life. But, in truth, it has been among the most rigorous assignments I have ever given myself because I was writing out of my limitations. I am not a historian or a scientist or an employee of a federal land agency privy to public land policy and law. My authority is simply that of a storyteller who lives in the American West in love with this country called home.

I have been inspired by the photographs and people included in this book. I have learned that there is no such thing as one portrait or one story, only the knowledge of our own experience shared. I no longer see America’s parks as “our best idea,” but our evolving idea; I see our national parks as our ongoing struggle as a diverse people to create circles of reverence in a time of collective cynicism where we are wary of being moved by anything but our own clever perspective.

“The purpose of life is to see,” the writer Jack Turner said to me on a late summer walk at the base of the Tetons. I understand this to be a matter of paying attention. The nature of our national parks is bound to the nature of our own humility, our capacity to stay open and curious in a world that instead beckons closure through fear. For me, humility begins as a deep recognition of all I do not know. This understanding doesn’t stop me, it inspires me to ask questions, to look more closely, feel more fully the character of the place where I am. And so with this particular book, I have sought to listen to both the inner and the outer landscapes that spoke to me, to not hide behind metaphor or lyricism as I have in the past, but to simply share the stories that emerged in each park encountered.

At a time when it feels like we are a nation divided, I am interested in how a sense of place can evolve toward an ethic of place, especially within our national parks….

This is the Hour of Land, when our mistakes and shortcomings must be placed in the perspective of time. The Hour of Land is where we remember what we have forgotten: We are not the only species who lives and dreams on the planet. There is something enduring that circulates in the heart of nature that deserves our respect and attention.

The national parks she explores in this book are Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, Acadia National Park in Maine, Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa, Big Bend National Park in Texas, Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska, Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida and Mississippi, Canyonlands National Park in Utah, Alcatraz Island and Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California, Glacier National Park in Montana, and César E. Chavez National Monument in California.

What she discovered in these parks is fascinating and surprising and thought-provoking. This book is a treasure and a challenge.

fsgbooks.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 Life on Mars, by Jon Agee

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

Life on Mars

by Jon Agee

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017. 32 pages.

I love the silliness that comes from the mind of Jon Agee. In his latest picture book, a boy has come to Mars to find life. He’s bearing a gift of chocolate cupcakes. He’s sure there’s life on Mars, even though other people don’t think so.

But alas! All he finds when he looks around are rocks and dirt. There’s no life on Mars after all!

Meanwhile, children will see the large monster-shaped Martian following the kid around. The boy even climbs on “this mountain” (the creature’s belly) to find where he left his spaceship.

When the kid gets back in the spaceship headed home, he decides he deserves a treat. But who ate the chocolate cupcakes?

This is a child’s first taste of an unreliable narrator, and they’ll love knowing what he doesn’t. It’s an exercise in perspective, too, as you can talk about why the boy doesn’t see the Martian, but we do.

jonagee.com
penguin.com/children

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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! by Raúl Colón

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

Imagine!

by Raúl Colón

A Paula Wiseman Book (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), 2018. 44 pages.
Starred Review

Look! A 2018 picture book that I can review!

Why can I review it? Well, I’m on the 2019 Newbery committee, but the Newbery Medal is given for the text of a book – and this book has no words. So it can’t win. (The Caldecott Medal is another story, by the way.) And I can review it.

In this book, a boy leaves his house on a skateboard and crosses a bridge to go into the city. He enters the Museum of Modern Art and checks his skateboard at the checkroom.

But when he looks at the paintings, some of the characters come out and join him! The first one, from Matisse’s Icarus, dances with him, and they climb into Picasso’s Three Musicians and get the musicians to come along, too. Next they round up a lion and another musician from Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy. Now they practically have a band!

The happy throng goes out of the museum, exchanging instruments along the way. They have joyful adventures around New York City. They finish up in Central Park with songs, balloons, and bubbles.

When the adventures are done, it’s back to their paintings, and then the boy rides his skateboard back home. And he finishes by drawing a mural of his day with his friends.

This is a beautiful and joyous book. I feel confident that children will find more in its pages every time they go through it.

simonandschuster.com/kids

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

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

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Review of How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, by Patricia Love and Steven Stosny

Sunday, September 16th, 2018

How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It

Finding Love Beyond Words

by Patricia Love, EdD, and Steven Stosny, PhD

Broadway Books, 2007. 224 pages.
Starred Review
2007 Sonderbooks Standout: #1, Relationships

Okay, why am I reviewing a book about marriage today, when I’ve been divorced for 8 years, separated for 13 years, and with no prospects or evidence that I’ll ever marry again, besides being too busy reading for the Newbery committee to do any dating – or to have time for more than one book for adults at a time?

Well, I’m not sure I completely know the answer to that. It’s partly that it’s a Steven Stosny book. I’d recently reread some others, and they’re so full of wisdom. I’ve also spent a lot of time alone while doing so much reading – but since I don’t have time to date, maybe reading about marriage satisfies a little bit of that loneliness. I’m hoping I can learn some things while my emotions aren’t invested and busy triggering and blinding me – so maybe I won’t make the same mistakes the next time.

This book also has some super interesting things to think about, many ideas about men and women and how we respond and think differently. Everything they say about women rings true, so I suspect what they say about men is also true, and I’m still hoping I’ll absorb some of that.

Besides, the first time I read this book, when I still hoped against hope that my own marriage would be healed, I was taking grad school classes for my Master’s in Library Science, and didn’t have time to write or post a review. When I named it as a 2007 Sonderbooks Standout, I promised to write a review some day. So I’m finally keeping that promise for this book!

Besides, it’s an outstanding book! I read it too late to help my marriage, but I will always wonder if I’d read it sooner and tried some of these things, if something might have changed. As it is, if there’s anyone I can point to this book before it’s too late, that would be a wonderful outcome of writing this review, and nothing would make me happier.

The main premise of the book is similar to the book Love and Respect, by Emerson Eggerichs, which says that a man’s deepest need is respect and a woman’s deepest need is love. Or John Eldredge’s books, as in the book Captivating, that says women need to answer the question, “Am I lovely? Am I worthy of love?” and men need to answer the question, “Do I have what it takes?”

But Doctors Love and Stosny take a different approach. And those books I mentioned are from a Christian perspective and refer to the Bible to make their points. This is a secular book and refers to research, but I think it’s the flip side of the same ideas.

They say that a woman’s deepest vulnerability is fear, and a man’s deepest vulnerability is shame.

Most of the book is about how this falls out and how we can overcome it and use these vulnerabilities to connect rather than resent each other. But let me also talk about the promise in the title – these methods do not require lots of talking about it or building your “communication skills.”

They are not disconnected because they have poor communication; they have poor communication because they are disconnected.

The ideas for connecting are excellent – I wish I could try them out! But what’s helpful for me and can teach me even when I’m not in a relationship is better understanding a man’s perspective, better understanding what things I do that would trigger shame in my partner – despite my best intentions.

I was really surprised by the idea that a woman sharing unhappiness with her husband can make him feel like he’s failing to protect her or she doesn’t appreciate all she does.

Women build alliances with other women by doing what they learned in early childhood: exposing vulnerability. Marlene doesn’t have to mention to her girlfriends that she feels sad, unhappy, lonely, or isolated. They infer it from her body language or tone of voice, just as she can tell if something is wrong with them. As soon as one woman senses a friend in emotional need, they become more interested and emotionally invested in each other. But what do you think happens when Marlene tells Mark that she feels bad? (She has to tell him – his defense against feeling failure and inadequacy has blinded him to her emotional world by this time.) You guessed it – once she forces him to face her vulnerability, he feels inadequate as a protector. He responds with typical shame-avoidant behavior: impatience, distractedness, defensiveness, resentment, anger, criticism, or “advice” that sounds an awful lot like telling her what to do.

Here’s why talking doesn’t help:

One reason that talking about your relationship has not helped is that fear and shame keep you from hearing each other, regardless of how much “active listening” or “mirroring” you try to do. The prerequisite for listening is feeling safe, and you cannot feel safe when the threat of fear or shame hangs over your head. The threat is so dreadful that the limbic system, the part of your brain in charge of your safety, overrides any form of rational thinking. Almost everything you hear invokes fear or shame.

This is also why things sometimes change drastically when a couple gets married. Or why someone outside the marriage suddenly seems much more understanding. If a male friend talks about quitting his job and starting a business, I might admire him for his vision, for living out his principles. But if my husband does that? Oh, you can be sure my fears will get triggered! And if I express my concerns or start asking questions, “Have you thought about this….?” or offering suggestions or even criticism – You better believe I’ll be triggering his shame. [I can’t even begin to express what a comfort it was to me that when my then-husband retired from the military and was looking for a job, I was not in his life and was not in a place to give any input whatsoever. I could all too easily imagine how those conversations would have gone. This book explains why.]

This dynamic is explained in a chapter addressed to men. Again, I hadn’t realized how much a man’s identity is tied to making his wife happy – in a way that’s not as true when they are dating.

There was a time when your partner, before she was your partner, talked to you about various things that made her feel anxious or insecure. You most likely responded with a sense of protectiveness. You knew intuitively that she was upset. If she felt disregarded, you paid more attention to her. If she felt unimportant, you showed her that she was important to you. If she felt accused, you reassured her. If she felt guilty, you helped her feel better. If she felt devalued, you valued her more. If she felt rejected, you accepted her; if she felt powerless, you tried to empower her; if she felt inadequate, you helped her appreciate her competence; and if she felt unlovable, you loved her more. You did all this out of a natural desire to protect the person you loved.

You fell in love because you were able to connect, and you were able to connect because you felt protective. It started to go wrong when you began to see your impulse to take care of her, which made you feel great while dating, as costing too much time or money in a committed love relationship. You probably had good reasons for starting to feel that way, but as long as you feel that way, you will not find viable solutions to time and money problems. In other words, things will certainly get worse until you decide to be protective of your partner’s fear as you used to be; and in the long run, this will cost far less in time and money than a disconnected relationship and divorce.

Of course, this switch in how you reacted to her anxiety was confusing to her, to say the least. She was doing the same thing that used to invoke your protectiveness – worrying or expressing needs – but now she provoked your anger and resentment. It’s as if once you got married you expected that she would never again feel bad, or at least not show that she did. When she did show it, you interpreted her complaints as an indictment of your failure as a provider.

There’s a lot more about how things break down. Before rereading this, I would have said – no, I have actually said – that I don’t have much of a problem with fear.

But I came to see that I work so hard at managing my fear, I’m not even conscious of it. That’s what was going on when I’d give my husband career advice, or over-manage one of the many times we moved. That may be behind my tendency to plan way ahead, to over-pack for trips. I can so easily visualize every What-if scenario. And of course there’s physical fear. Women are trained from childhood not to go for a walk alone at night, for example. I am smaller than most adults, and there’s some fear that comes with that. I plan around it.

And of course the deepest fear is of not being loved, and ending my life alone and abandoned. When that fear’s triggered – well, is it any wonder your partner might feel like you don’t trust him as a lover? Once his shame is triggered, if he withdraws to feel better, my fear’s going to increase, and so on.

But the main thrust of this book is about overcoming those vulnerabilities, seeing your partner’s perspective, and being able to connect. Besides all the insights, there are some wonderful techniques that can build your connection to each other and remind you of your love for each other. Like I said, I really hope I get a chance some day to try these techniques out!

Here’s the last paragraph in the book:

The most profound moments between two people occur when their emotions resonate, soothing their different vulnerabilities and raising their hearts to simple enjoyment. When emotional connection goes deeper than talking, women overcome the stifling limitations of their anxieties, and men abandon destructive shame-avoiding behavior. The best protections from fear and shame are compassion, appreciation, and a sense of connection that is so deep, flexible, and resilient that it creates love beyond words.

I like that the title doesn’t say anything about fixing a bad marriage. This book offers a way to improve your marriage. Even good marriages can stand a little improvement! I hope some of my friends will try it out! And I will plan to reread it if I ever get married again. Until then, I’ve got some food for thought, and I’m mulling over what parts of my life are affected by fear I didn’t even realize I had.

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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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