Archive for the ‘Starred Review’ Category

Review of I Am Farmer, by Baptiste & Miranda Paul, illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

I Am Farmer

Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

by Baptiste & Miranda Paul
illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon

Millbrook Press, 2019. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 20, 2019, from a library book

This picture book biography tells about Farmer Tantoh of Cameroon, who ever since he was a small boy loved the soil and wanted to be a farmer. So much so that he took that as his name in high school and purposely flunked an exam that could have given him an office job.

Later he did go on to college, and to this day he works to bring clean water throughout his country and spreads good farming practices and cooperation.

The book follows Farmer Tantoh from childhood, through his college years when he caught typhoid from contaminated water, through his work today.

Here’s an example from one spread:

One project leads to another and another. Farmer Tantoh founds Save Your Future Association, a nonprofit organization to which people around the world can donate money and supplies. With local and international support, he finds a way to bring clean water to Njirong, a village suffering after a thirty-year conflict.

He begins a water delivery service for blind students. He hires engineers to design stairways, railings, or ramps for villagers with physical disabilities. In places with large populations, communities build reservoirs so that in times of drought, people can get the water they need.

The book is beautifully illustrated with Elizabeth Zunon’s wonderful collage artwork, and there are photographs on the endpapers which bring home that this is a real person. I like the Author’s Note, which tells us, “We traveled to northwest Cameroon in 2017, and we were overwhelmed by the number of villagers – from the very young to the elderly – who were beyond eager to tell or show us how Tantoh’s work had changed their lives.”

This is an inspiring story that I’m so glad to have read about.

baptistepaul.net
mirandapaul.com
lizzunon.com
lernerbooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/i_am_farmer.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.

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 The Stone Sky, by N. K. Jemisin

Saturday, June 15th, 2019

The Stone Sky

The Broken Earth, Book 3

by N. K. Jemisin

Orbit Books, 2017. 416 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Hugo Award Winner
Review written May 18, 2019, from a library book

The Stone Sky finishes off The Broken Earth trilogy, the first trilogy ever to have all three books win Hugo Awards, and the first time an author has won three consecutive Hugo Awards. You should definitely read the books of this trilogy in order, because it would be very confusing without the background laid in the first two books.

The strength of this trilogy is in the world-building, though perhaps I should say in the world-breaking. The planet has literally been broken apart and humanity is dying and all life is struggling in this latest Fifth Season, with the sky full of ash and the earth unstable. There are two people who can do something about that – Essun and her daughter Nassun.

But Essun and Nassun are far apart from each other. Both have been growing more powerful as the trilogy progressed. Nassun has been taken under the wing of Schaffa, the Guardian Essun once thought she’d killed. Essun has been wanting to get to her daughter all this time, but other matters of survival got in the way. By now we wonder what will happen when they come together.

Besides orogeny – feeling and manipulating the forces of earth – the two are learning to manipulate the silvery magic in all living things – including the earth itself – and to harness the power of the obelisks, made by ancient people centuries in the past. But using that power comes with great risk.

The reader also learns more about the Stone Eaters. They were human once, long ago, about the same time that the obelisks were made. In this volume, we hear more of their stories.

I can’t say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading these books. Lots of death and destruction in the middle, and this final book was awfully cerebral – I felt like I sort of understood the mechanisms of magic and orogeny and the obelisks, but not completely.

All the same, this book is unlike anything I’ve read in a long time, and I am amazed at the author’s mastery of world-building and unusual narrative structure. It works, and all tells a fascinating story about family, love, and the fate of the world.

nkjemisin.com
orbitbooks.net

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/stone_sky.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.

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 A Piglet Named Mercy, by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Friday, May 31st, 2019

A Piglet Named Mercy

by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Candlewick Press, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 20, 2019, from a library book.

Here it is! A picture book that tells how a Mercy the Porcine Wonder came to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Watson just when they needed something a little less predictable in their lives.

When a baby piglet falls off a pig transport truck in the night, Mr. Watson discovers her next to his newspaper in the morning. They fall in love. Of course the next-door neighbor Eugenia Lincoln is horrified and her sister Baby Lincoln helpfully brings the piglet a bottle of warm milk.

It doesn’t take long before they learn that the little piglet loves buttered toast very much. She is a wish come true and a mercy, and that’s how she gets her name. (With Eugenia exclaiming in frustration.)

It helps, of course, to have met Mercy before, but it’s actually a wonderful and self-contained story of a couple adopting a piglet. I’m going to use it soon in storytime – which will perhaps entice those children into the longer beginning chapter books when they are ready to read on their own.

Delightful all by itself.

candlewick.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/piglet_named_mercy.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.

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 On the Come Up, by Angie Thomas

Wednesday, May 29th, 2019

On the Come Up

by Angie Thomas
performed by Bahni Turpin

HarperCollins, 2019. 11.75 hours on 10 discs.
Starred Review
Review written May 18, 2019, from a library audiobook

Here’s a second book by Angie Thomas, set in the same city of Garden Heights as her award-winning debut novel, The Hate U Give. Sixteen-year-old Bri has noticed a greater police presence in Garden Heights since the shooting from the earlier book and the protests that followed. They’ve also found that the security guards at her private school target the black and brown kids.

But right now, all Bri is concerned about is getting her big break. She’s loved to rap since she was a little girl. Her father was a rapper before her, but he was shot in gang violence when she was small. Now Bri is going to compete in the Ring, and what happens there gets her some attention.

Meanwhile, Bri gets harassed and thrown to the ground by school security, who called her a hoodlum. That’s simmering in her brain when she gets a chance to record a song, “On the Come Up.”

The song is popular – but plenty of people take it the wrong way. And that gets Bri’s temper flaring. Which doesn’t make her mother happy. But what her mother doesn’t know won’t hurt her. She recently lost her job, and if Bri can make it big as a rapper, maybe she can keep the electricity on and change all their lives.

One thing I love about this book and listening to the audio is that you get to hear the rapping. It bothers me when authors write about characters doing well in a competition but don’t let you see or hear what they use to compete. (A recent book that did that was Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo. It’s a wonderful book – but what poems did Xiomara use in the poetry slam?) In this audiobook, you get to hear “On the Come Up,” and I promise it will start going through your head.

One word of warning is that there’s plenty of profanity in this audiobook, so you probably won’t want to make this family listening – young kids might pick up more than the songs.

But if you’re looking for a profound book about dreams of making it as an artist combined with social issues and dealing with poverty and family dynamics and friendship dynamics and the question of what constitutes selling out – this wonderfully entertaining audiobook does all of that.

angiethomas.com
harperaudio.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/on_the_come_up.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.

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 The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Monday, May 27th, 2019

The Undefeated

by Kwame Alexander
illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Versify (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2019. 40 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 16, 2019, from a library book

Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson pretty much form my dream team of picture book creators. Kadir Nelson creates lavish, lush paintings of people who are radiant with light. Kadir Nelson writes poetry that sings. In this book they use those powers together to celebrate black Americans through the ages.

Kwame Alexander wrote a poem beginning in 2008, the year his second daughter was born and the year Barack Obama was elected the first African American president of the United States. He explains in the back many reasons he wrote the poem, culminating in this one:

But mostly I wrote a poem to remind Samayah and her friends and her family and all of you, and to remind myself, to never, ever give up, because, as Maya Angelou wrote, “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. It may even be necessary to encounter the defeat, so that we can know who we are. So that we can see, oh, that happened, and I rose. I did get knocked down flat in front of the whole world, and I rose.”

Keep rising.

The poem references African American history, and the magnificent portraits that accompany the poem show people in action, some historical figures and some unnamed.

There are lines like this, accompanied by a portrait of Jesse Owens leaping:

This is for the unforgettable.
The swift and sweet ones
who hurdled history
and opened a world of possible.

There are lines like this, accompanied by a large portrait of Martin Luther King Jr.:

This is for the unlimited,
unstoppable ones.
The dreamers
and doers
who swim
across The Big Sea
of our imagination
and show us
the majestic shores
of the promised land:

There are lines like this, accompanied by a portrait of Jack Johnson, the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion:

This is for the unflappable.
The sophisticated ones
who box adversity
and tackle vision.

There are several pages with a whole group of people shown – and in the back you can check a list of historical figures with short bios to find out who they are.

The poem finishes:

This is for the
undefeated.
This is for you.
And you.
And you.
This
is
for
us.

And every portrait is of an African American person – but lifting the dignity of other humans raises us all. Celebrating triumph over obstacles elevates us all. So I believe this book is for me, too.

Magnificent.

kwamealexander.com
kadirnelson.com
hmhco.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/undefeated.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.

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 Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits, by Julian Gough & Jim Field

Monday, May 13th, 2019

Rabbit & Bear

Rabbit’s Bad Habits

story by Julian Gough
illustrations by Jim Field

SilverDolphin, San Diego, 2018. First published in Great Britain in 2016. 101 pages.
Starred Review

I want to call this a charming beginning chapter book, but it doesn’t actually have chapters. It’s got the format and length and skill level of a beginning chapter book, though, and is perfect for those readers. (I find myself wishing they’d stuck chapter breaks in just so the kids could say they’d read a chapter book.)

The story is about Bear waking up early in the middle of winter and deciding she’s going to build a snowman. She meets Rabbit, who knows much more about making a snowman than Bear does, and has plenty of advice.

Along the way, they make friends, even though Rabbit has done some not-very-nice things. But he has given Bear a carrot for her snowman, so when a Wolf is after Rabbit, Bear uses what she’s learned to save the day.

And we learn that you can be friends with someone who may have some quirks and may not be nice every moment. Not that you should be friends with someone who’s mean, but read the book! It manages just the right balance.

What’s more, we learn why rabbits eat their own poo! (Their food is only half-digested. But it’s all explained clearly.)

The overall product is a making-friends story with charmingly flawed and friendly characters.

And it’s the start of a series! I can’t wait for more.

silverdolphinbooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/rabbit_and_bear.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.

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 The Fox on the Swing, by Evelina Diaciutè, illustrated by Aušra Kiudulaite

Saturday, May 4th, 2019

The Fox on the Swing

by Evelina Diaciutè
illustrated by Aušra Kiudulaite

Thames & Hudson, 2018. First published in the United Kingdom in 2018. Original edition published in Lithuania in 2016. 48 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Mildred L. Batchelder Award Winner

This picture book is completely bizarre and utterly delightful at the same time. The creators are from Lithuania, and I guessed a European origin before I looked it up, but even in Lithuania, a boy living in a tree and making friends with a fox who swings on a swing about once a week has got to be somewhat unusual.

When I read this, I happened to be gathering books for a story time of Strange Picture Books. This particular book is a little too long to use in story time, but I would love to sit down and read it with a precocious child. And it fits the category. What Strange Picture Books have in common is completely bizarre details accepted as the matter-of-fact truth. There are no real cues to tell the reader that this situation is unusual except the child’s own knowledge of the world.

In this book, a boy named Paul lives in a very large tree with his father and mother. His father is a helicopter pilot, taking off from a platform at the top of the tree. His mother makes orange pottery. And every day, Paul goes to the bakery to get three fresh bread rolls. (Ah! That’s one thing that tipped me off this book is from Europe.)

What Paul liked best was to take the shortest route to the bakery and the long way home. Walking the same way twice was a little bit boring, after all.

Much of the charm in this book is in the details and the illustrations. Here’s what happens on the way home:

Paul always kept his eyes wide open as he walked home. He didn’t want to miss a thing. He saw strangely shaped stones, fascinating twisted roots, fancy birds that had escaped from the zoo, and puddles that glistened on the ground.

That page shows many birds holding signs that say things like, “No to zoos!” “No to cages!” “Free the birds!” “Parrots for peace!” “Freedom!” and “No, no no!”

But the thing that Paul liked most of all was the old swing in the park. Not to swing on himself, but because there was a fox who liked to curl up and sleep on the seat of the swing. Paul didn’t see her there every day. Maybe about once a week.

Then one day, the fox is swinging on the swing!

Then she stopped, sniffed at the air, looked Paul in the eye and said: “Being generous is like an ocean. Would you like to be a drop in that ocean?”

Paul didn’t understand, but he nodded anyway.

“Then give me one of your rolls,” the fox said.

So begins the friendship of Paul and the fox on the swing. The fox had a grandmother who was a wise old fox, and she likes to tell strange stories and give wise advice. Sometimes the fox would be in a bad mood, and sometimes she would not.

One day, when the fox was in a very good mood, she said, “The best thing to do is just keep on swinging.”

Then she explained that the happiest things in the world are orange.

“Happiness is a fox on a swing and a big orange orange!” she yelled as the swing carried her high into the sky. “Happiness is carrot cake, goldfish, marmalade, and trees in autumn!”

But alas! The time comes when Paul’s father tells him that “soon they would be moving to an even bigger city, where they would live in an even taller tree in an even bigger park. And he would fly an even bigger helicopter.”

So Paul must cope with having to leave his best friend.

But this is not really a book about dealing with loss. Because, after some time, things turn out very nice indeed.

This book reminds me of The Little Prince with its philosophy and childlike matter-of-factness about bizarre details. And a wise fox! It would be a delight to read this book with a child. (I’m sure they will notice many things in the illustrations.) And it certainly helps anyone who reads it notice things around them that bring happiness.

thamesandhudsonusa.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/fox_on_the_swing.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.

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 Voices, by David Elliott

Monday, April 29th, 2019

Voices

The Final Hours of Joan of Arc

by David Elliott

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 195 pages.
Review written April 17, 2019, from a library book
Starred Review

Voices is a novel in poetry – and I mean real poetry here, not simply prose broken up into artful lines. For the most part, it’s even rhymed poetry. David Elliott gives us Joan of Arc thinking about her life as she waits to be burned at the stake.

Between poems in Joan’s voice, we’ve got poems expressing the voices of objects and people in her life – things like a tunic, armor, cattle, a red dress, swords, and the saints who spoke to her. For those poems, the author used poetic forms that were used even back in Joan’s day – things like a ballade, sestina, villanelle, and triolet.

The note at the front casts light on short quotations presented throughout the book:

Much of what we know about Joan of Arc comes from the transcripts of her two trials. The first, the Trial of Condemnation, convened in 1431, found Joan guilty of “relapsed heresy” and famously burned her at the stake. The second, the Trial of Nullification, held some twenty-four years after her death, effectively revoked the findings of the first. In both cases, the politics of the Middle Ages guaranteed their outcomes before they started. It is in the Trial of Condemnation that we hear Joan in her own voice answering the many questions her accusers put to her. In the Trial of Nullification, her relatives, childhood friends, and comrades-in-arms bear witness to the girl they knew. Throughout Voices, you will find direct quotes from these trials.

The craft in this book is stunning – the various poetic forms are used skillfully. Many are typed in the shape of the object whose voice is heard. I’m not used to a novel in verse using so much rhymed poetry, and using it well. I was a little disappointed, though, that the words didn’t move me as much as I felt like they should have – and that may just be me. I do find myself wanting to read it again – there’s a lot of depth here concentrated in the few words of poetry. (Or better yet, I would like to listen to this in audiobook form.)

A couple of things stood out to me. One was the poems in the voice of the Fire, waiting to burn Joan. Those poems were eerie and disturbing. Another was that in her trial the way they knew she was of the devil was that she dressed like a man. Things have not changed so much in 500 years.

Whatever else this book is, it’s a stunning accomplishment.

davidelliottbooks.com
hmhbooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/voices.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.

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 Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019

Spinning Silver

by Naomi Novik

Del Rey, 2018. 466 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Alex Award Winner
Review written April 11, 2019, from a library book

Ahhhh, such a lovely book! I love reworked fairy tales, and this one only had the beginnings of an idea from one, but spun an intricate tale with a mythic feel.

Here’s how the book begins:

The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard. The real story is, the miller’s daughter with her long golden hair wants to catch a lord, a prince, a rich man’s son, so she goes to the moneylender and borrows for a ring and a necklace and decks herself out for the festival. And she’s beautiful enough, so the lord, the prince, the rich man’s son notices her, and dances with her, and tumbles her in a quiet hayloft when the dancing is over, and afterwards he goes home and marries the rich woman his family has picked out for him. Then the miller’s despoiled daughter tells everyone that the moneylender’s in league with the devil, and the village runs him out or maybe even stones him, so at least she gets to keep the jewels for a dowry, and the blacksmith marries her before that firstborn child comes along a little early.

Because that’s what the story’s really about: getting out of paying your debts. That’s not how they tell it, but I knew. My father was a moneylender, you see.

He wasn’t very good at it. If someone didn’t pay him back on time, he never so much as mentioned it to them. Only if our cupboards were really bare, or our shoes were falling off our feet, and my mother spoke quietly with him after I was in bed, then he’d go, unhappy, and knock on a few doors, and make it sound like an apology when he asked for some of what they owed. And if there was money in the house and someone asked to borrow, he hated to say no, even if we didn’t really have enough ourselves. So all his money, most of which had been my mother’s money, her dowry, stayed in other people’s houses. And everyone else liked it that way, even though they knew they ought to be ashamed of themselves, so they told the story often, even or especially when I could hear it.

But when things get desperate and her mother gets sick, the narrator, Meryam, decides to take on the duties of moneylender herself. She gets out her father’s ledgers and demands what is owed. And people pay her.

In fact, she’s so good at it, she gloats a little that she can turn silver into gold. And the king of the Staryk people hears her. Three times, he leaves her silver that she must turn into gold. If she doesn’t, she knows she’ll be destroyed. If she does – he’s going to marry her. And that is only the beginning of her troubles.

That is one of the three main threads in this book. Another involves the recipient of the jewelry she has made with the silver from the Staryk – jewelry that attracts a fire demon who is inhabiting the tsar, the tsar who needs a wife. The other thread involves a poor family who owes money to the moneylender. When he can’t pay it, Meryam takes the services of his daughter Wanda to pay off the debt. Wanda likes spending her days at the home of the moneylender more than staying at home.

All three young women are thought to be powerless in their world, and all three discover their power and their usefulness.

There’s plenty of magic in this story, with the Staryk prolonging winter, so crops fail and people die, and magical bridges between the Staryk world of ice and the sunlit world. And the plot twists and turns and what we mostly want is for these resourceful women to discover their power and be able to help the people they love.

Naomi Novik spins a magical and mesmerizing tale with threads within threads.

naominovik.com
randomhousebooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/spinning_silver.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.

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 The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter, by Diane Magras

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter

by Diane Magras

Kathy Dawson Books (Penguin Young Readers Group), March 2019. 271 pages.
Review written February 25, 2019, from an Advance Reader Copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting.
Starred Review

This book bills itself as a “Companion” to The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, suggesting you can read them in any order, but I think you’ll be better off reading the first book first – to find out how the young daughter of the war lord known as the Mad Wolf became the best friend of the lord of a castle who’s on the run and wounded.

The book is set in medieval Scotland. Drest rescued her father and brothers from the castle dungeon in the last book, but it turned out that Emerick’s uncle wants him dead, so he escaped the castle with them, still without having his wounds tended.

Drest’s father thinks it’s time for them to take care of Drest, but she learned in the last book that she can take care of herself. And Emerick doesn’t trust anyone to guard him as he trusts Drest.

But Emerick’s uncle has put a price on Drest’s head, so anyone who finds her will kill her. On top of that, he’s coming to look for her, as well as Emerick. If Emerick dies, he will be lord of the castle. Can Drest protect Emerick and help him find healing while staying alive herself?

This is another rollicking adventure with a girl who is deservedly a legend.

dianemagras.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/hunt_for_the_mad_wolfs_daughter.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.

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?