Archive for the ‘Starred Review’ Category

Review of Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Can an Aardvark Bark?

by Melissa Stewart
illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), 2017. 32 pages.
Starred Review

I don’t need to keep on raving about Steve Jenkins’ ultra-realistic cut paper illustrations. In this book they’re paired with a text that invites young readers to wonder and to learn.

This book is in question-and-answer format, and all the questions are about animal sounds. The title question answers, “No, but it can grunt.” There’s also a paragraph on that page about when an aardvark might grunt. When we turn the page, we find out “Lots of other animals grunt too.” There are pictures and short explanations of the grunting that comes from river otters, Hamadryas baboons, white-tailed deer, and oyster toadfish.

The same format is used with six more types of animal noises: barking, squealing, whining, growling, bellowing, and laughing. All the questions asked rhyme (“Can a giraffe laugh?”), and one animal can actually make the rhyming sound! (A porcupine can whine. Who knew?)

The animals are not your typical animals seen in every animal book – and the pictures of them are varied and attention grabbing. I like the picture of the ostrich growling, across the page from other growlers like a platypus, a king cobra, and a coastal giant salamander.

This book has too much detail for preschool storytime, but it has exactly enough detail for a bright precocious preschooler who eats up information. This will carry easily through early elementary school students who will be fascinated enough to learn to read even the longer words.

This engaging format with striking illustrations and surprising animal facts puts a whole new spin on animal sounds. A brilliant early science book.

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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 Yaffa and Fatima, adapted by Fawzia Gilani-Williams

Friday, August 10th, 2018

Yaffa and Fatima

Shalom, Salaam

adapted by Fawzia Gilani-Williams
illustrations by Chiara Fedele

Kar-Ben Publishing (Lerner), 2017. 24 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a lovely tale about cross-cultural caring. The note at the front says it’s adapted from a tale with both Jewish and Arab origins about two brothers. The author has changed it to a story about two neighbor ladies, one Jewish and one Muslim.

The story is told simply and beautifully, fitting for a traditional tale.

Here’s how it begins:

In a beautiful land, called the Land of Milk and Honey, there lived two neighbors. One was named Yaffa and the other was named Fatima.

Yaffa and Fatima each owned a beautiful date grove. During the week they both worked very hard gathering their dates.

On most days Yaffa and Fatima sold all their dates at the market and were able to buy plenty of tasty food to eat – which they often shared.

Yaffa loved Fatima’s shwarma. And Fatima loved Yaffa’s schnitzel.

The book tells more about Yaffa and Fatima’s routines. Yaffa is highlighted in blue and Fatima in red, against a lovely brown background. They pray in different places. The read from a different book in the morning. They fast at different times. They celebrate different holidays. But this is still true:

They both loved God, and they both loved to follow God’s way.

They each wish the other “Peace,” but use a different word to do it.

When a drought hits the land, each of the neighbors lies awake at night worrying that the other neighbor doesn’t have enough to eat. So each one goes secretly to put some of her dates in the other’s basket.

Each one is surprised when they find more dates than they thought they had.

The next night, they go to do the same thing – but this time they spot each other. They hug, laugh, wish each other peace – and decide to share a meal of dates and tea.

Now, my summary doesn’t really communicate the charm and warmth of this lovely book. Children will readily understand the message that people can deeply care for one another despite external differences.

karben.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 The Crown’s Game, by Evelyn Skye

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

The Crown’s Game

by Evelyn Skye

Balzer + Bray, 2016. 397 pages.
Starred Review

This book is about a magic duel in Imperial Russia.

Russia has always had magic, but over time it is hidden, and the people don’t believe in it. But the tsar needs an Imperial Enchanter, who draws on the magic of Russia. However, there can only be one, or they will dilute the magic. The magic needs to be concentrated.

The tsar explains the Crown’s Game to the two participants, Vika and Nikolai:

The Game is a display of skill and a demonstration of strategy and mettle. The goal is to show me your worthiness to become my Imperial Enchanter — my adviser for all things from war to peace and everything in between.

The Game will take place in Saint Petersburg, and you will take turns executing enchantments. There is no restriction on the form of magic you choose, only that you do not alarm or harm the people of the city….

Each enchanter will have five turns, at the most. As the judge, I may declare a winner at any point in the Game, or I may wait until all ten plays have been made. Remember, your moves will reveal not only your power but also your character and your suitability to serve the empire. Impress me.

So the two enchanters start the Crown’s Game. Besides impressing the tsar, they can end the game by killing the other enchanter. At the end of ten moves, if both are still alive, the tsar will declare a winner. The other will be incinerated by the brand placed on each enchanter at the start of the game.

So Nikolai and Vika begin the work they’ve trained for all their lives. Neither one expected to find a kindred soul in their opponent. It shouldn’t be a surprise, since never before has either one met someone who can work with magic like they can. But there is only room for one Imperial Enchanter.

The book gives the flavor of Imperial Russia. Nikolai has grown up in fashionable Saint Petersburg, a friend of the son of the tsar, mentored by harsh and power-hungry Galina. Vika grew up out in the country, learning how to manipulate nature from her kind mentor Sergei. For the first time, both are going to show their magic to the world.

evelynskye.com
epicreads.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 Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education, by Raphaël Frier, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

Malala

Activist for Girls’ Education

by Raphaël Frier
illustrated by Aurélia Fronty

Charlesbridge, 2017. 45 pages.
Starred Review

This is a picture book biography of Malala. Her story is told simply, in a way that children can understand.

Malala was born in 1997 in Pakistan, the daughter of a teacher who had founded a school for girls. As the Taliban rose to power, Malala became an activist for girls’ education, even though she was still a child.

When she was eleven, she spoke against the Taliban trying to take away her education, in a speech covered by newspapers and television. After the Taliban did close down schools for girls, Malala was offered a chance to write a blog for the BBC about girls and education.

When she was still thirteen:

Malala is elected speaker of the child assembly associated with the Khpal Kor Foundation, which promotes the rights of children. In this leadership role, she begins as a children’s rights activist.

She wins the first-ever National Youth Peace Prize in Pakistan, and starts an educational foundation. But the Taliban does not like her work. Assassins come onto her school bus and shoot her three times. (This page is rendered symbolically with silhouetted figures in guns, but a bright light (like an explosion) coming off Malala. The faces of the girls are peaceful.)

Malala is flown to England, where she recovers. And then she begins a fresh wave of activism. Now she’s working for girls all over the world.

On Malala’s sixteenth birthday, July 12, 2013, hundreds of people from around the world hear her speak at the United Nations in New York City. Malala wears a shawl that belonged to Benazir Bhutto, a Pakistani prime minister who was assassinated.

The book includes quotations from that speech and tells us that the next year, at seventeen, Malala was the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

This book is packed with facts, but they are presented in a way children can understand. The illustrations are lovely, and tend toward symbolic depictions of ideas. There are 10 pages of back matter with photos and more information.

malala.org
charlesbridge.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 Waylon! Even More Awesome, by Sara Pennypacker

Monday, August 6th, 2018

Waylon!
Even More Awesome

by Sara Pennypacker
pictures by Marla Frazee

Disney Hyperion, 2017. 204 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2017

Here’s a second wonderful book about Waylon, a fourth grader who plans to be a scientist.

This book jumps right into the action. Dumpster Eddy, the stray dog that Waylon loves but can’t own because of his mother’s allergies, has been captured and is in the police station again.

Baxter is a police officer’s son, and he and Waylon usually break Dumpster Eddy out just before he has to go to a shelter. But this time there are some big obstacles. The first being that someone new is in charge of the animals at the station, so Dumpster Eddy doesn’t have as much time as usual.

Baxter’s helping Waylon, but Waylon’s still not sure he should associate with someone so obsessed with criminal behavior.

Also, it’s winter. The boys don’t want Eddy to be cold – so they build an igloo. But some more problems come up.

The way the obstacles and various subplots are resolved are all satisfying and lovely. Waylon learns about friendship and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and good collaboration. And the story’s engaging, funny, and realistic.

I do love Sara Pennypacker’s characters, children and adults both. They are always quirky, and come alive that way. Waylon’s dad, for example, has taken two years off from working with numbers in order to pursue his dream of making it as a writer, while Waylon’s mother is a scientist. Baxter is obsessed with criminology, and our friend Clementine makes some appearances, still giving her little brother the names of vegetables.

sarapennypacker.com
marlafrazee.com
DisneyBooks.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 Stairways to Heaven, by Lorna Byrne

Saturday, August 4th, 2018

Stairways to Heaven

by Lorna Byrne

Coronet, 2011. First published in the United Kingdom in 2010. 293 pages.
Starred Review

Stairways to Heaven continues the life story of Lorna Byrne begun in Angels in My Hair, including telling about the process of becoming an author and people finally knowing that she can see angels.

Lorna Byrne has been able to see angels all her life. This book begins after her husband’s death and tells how the angels helped her move with her youngest daughter to a new home. Along the way, she reveals many things that angels have told her about life and about spiritual things.

Some of the things in this book seem a little out there. I’m thinking that it’s possible that even with all the study of the Bible I’ve done, I don’t know everything there is to know about spiritual things! Lorna Byrne doesn’t claim to know it all either, and she has a simple, humble style. She just tells what the angels have told her.

Since this book covers publishing her book, she’s also starting to answer many of the questions that people ask her now that the world knows she can see angels.

For the most part, these things are extremely inspirational and uplifting. Some points I especially like are that each one of us has a guardian angel who loves us and is with us always. And that there are many other angels all around us that we can call on to help.

This paragraph sums up nicely an important thrust of her teaching:

Many of us don’t understand how important the relationship between mankind and angels is. We have free will, but we have angels to prompt us to do the right things, to prompt us to do what God would want us to do in each and every circumstance. This is the task God has given angels and, because it is God’s task, angels will never ever give up. Every time you pray you are talking directly to God. Regardless of your belief in angels, angels are praying with you at the same time, adding power and strength to your prayer. This is one of the tasks God has given the angels. We never pray alone.

This is an inspiring and eye-opening book, though, like me, you may have to set aside some of your previous assumptions to fully appreciate it.

lornabyrne.com
hodder.co.uk

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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 my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com.

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 Ruined, by Amy Tintera

Friday, August 3rd, 2018

Ruined

by Amy Tintera

HarperTeen, 2016. 355 pages.

Ruined begins with the main character killing someone, which is fair enough – It’s a violent and bloody book. But the author wins you over anyway.

The stakes are obviously high right from the start. Em and two Ruined fighters are attacking the carriage of the princess of Vallos. This princess is the one who killed Em’s father, the King of Ruina, and left his head on a stick for her to find. The princess was traveling to marry the prince of Lera. Lera was responsible for the death of Em’s mother, and they took her sister Olivia captive. Em is going to take the princess’s place and marry Cas, the prince of Lera.

The plan is dangerous. If anyone discovers her deception, she will of course be killed. At the start of the book, as Em meets the royal family of Lera, with each person she meets, she thinks about how she could kill them if things go bad. What weapons are handy? How could she use them?

The Ruined are feared because they have magic. Anyway, most of them have magic. Em was born without magic and is considered useless. Her powerful sister was to be the next queen. Em hopes that by infiltrating the royal family, she can learn Olivia’s whereabouts, before warriors from Olso attack with the remaining Ruined.

Em didn’t expect to find Cas so different from his parents, so willing to listen to reason. She didn’t expect to fall in love with him.

This book is full of action and, yes, blood and gore. There’s a violent history on both sides. And not everything goes smoothly in the attack Em had tried to coordinate.

By the time I read this book, during my reading Teen Speculative Fiction for the 2016 Cybils, I was getting tired of girls falling in love with a prince-of-a-family-who-oppressed-my-people-but-has-a-heart-of-gold. Really? I did enjoy the book, but wasn’t quite comfortable with that aspect of it, even by the end.

Unfortunately, this is only Book One. Though the story comes to a decent stopping place, it’s not finished. There will be conflict ahead! Fortunately, this is only Book One. There will be more!

Amytintera.com
Epicreads.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 Inspired, by Rachel Held Evans

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

Inspired

Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

by Rachel Held Evans

Nelson Books (Thomas Nelson), 2018. 236 pages.
Starred Review

In this book, Rachel Held Evans takes a look at the Bible with love, affection, imagination, and scholarship.

In the Introduction, she talks about her history with the Bible, actually very similar to my own – beginning by seeing it as an almost magical book. But as she got older, she started finding out about problematic passages, and different people’s interpretations, all claiming to be “Biblical.”

I loved the way the Introduction ended:

Inspiration is better than magic, for as any artist will tell you, true inspiration comes not to the lucky or the charmed but to the faithful — to the writer who shows up at her keyboard each morning, even when she’s far too tired, to the guitarist whose fingers bleed after hours of practice, to the dancer who must first learn the traditional steps before she can freestyle with integrity. Inspiration is not about some disembodied ethereal voice dictating words or notes to a catatonic host. It’s a collaborative process, a holy give-and-take, a partnership between Creator and creator.

While Christians believe the Bible to be uniquely revelatory and authoritative to the faith, we have no reason to think its many authors were exempt from the mistakes, edits, rewrites, and dry spells of everyday creative work. Nor should we, as readers, expect every encounter with the text to leave us happily awestruck and enlightened. Inspiration, on both the giving and receiving end, takes practice and patience. It means showing up even when you don’t feel like it, even when it seems as if no one else is there. It means waiting for wind to stir.

God is still breathing. The Bible is both inspired and inspiring. Our job is to ready the sails and gather the embers, to discuss and debate, and like the biblical character Jacob, to wrestle with the mystery until God gives us a blessing.

If you’re curious, you will never leave the text without learning something new. If you’re persistent, you just might leave inspired.

In this book she includes some Midrash-inspired fiction leading into chapters about different types of literature found in the Bible. I like the playfulness of those parts, but I especially liked the things she had to say about the different stories found in the Bible.

She’s coming to the Bible with deep love and reverence – but acknowledging that this book was written by humans and we don’t have the original manuscripts, and our individual interpretations may or may not be correct.

And that’s what it’s all about. Christians believe the Bible is inspired by God. But what does that mean? This book is central to our faith, and I do believe it has power. I was blessed by this closer look at its pages, at the stories found there.

If I’ve learned anything from thirty-five years of doubt and belief, it’s that faith is not passive intellectual assent to a set of propositions. It’s a rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred, all-night-long struggle, and sometimes you have to demand your blessing rather than wait around for it.

The same is true for Scripture. With Scripture, we’ve not been invited to an academic fraternity; we’ve been invited to a wrestling match. We’ve been invited to a dynamic, centuries-long conversation with God and God’s people that has been unfolding since creation, one story at a time. If we’re lucky, it will leave us with a limp.

Or, as she ends the book:

We may wish for answers, but God rarely gives us answers. Instead, God gathers us up into soft, familiar arms and says, “Let me tell you a story.”

thomasnelson.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 my own copy, ordered via Amazon.com.

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 Octopus Escapes Again! by Laurie Ellen Angus

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018

Octopus Escapes Again!

by Laurie Ellen Angus

Dawn Publications, 2016. 32 pages.
Starred Review

This beginning science book is so simple, our library system is shelving it with picture books – but it’s also full of facts.

Facts about the common octopus are indeed presented as a story – the story of an octopus spending her day looking for food – and meanwhile escaping the predators who want to eat her.

Along the way, we learn what sort of creatures an octopus likes to eat, but especially the clever ways an octopus escapes being eaten.

The illustrations are gorgeous, and with a wide amount of variety. Done with cut paper, there’s a nice realistic effect.

I already knew that an octopus is clever. This one escapes by squeezing into an empty shell, by using its ink to confuse an attacker, by speeding away with a blast of water through its siphon, by releasing an arm, and by quickly changing color to camouflage itself.

The story is simple enough to read to preschoolers, but there is a paragraph of facts about each escape technique. At the end of the book there are five pages of back matter, complete with ideas for enrichment activities.

A fantastic choice for beginning science lessons.

dawnpub.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 The Atlas of Beauty, by Mihaela Noroc

Friday, July 6th, 2018

The Atlas of Beauty

Women of the World in 500 Portraits

by Mihaela Noroc

Ten Speed Press, 2017. 352 pages.
Starred Review

This book is amazing! Amazing and wonderful.

Mihaela Noroc has traveled the world and taken pictures of women – beautiful women. These beautiful women come in all colors and sizes, young and old, dressed formally or casually. There is even at least one transgender woman. Many are not what you would call traditionally beautiful. But when you see them through the photographer’s eyes, you know – every one of these women is beautiful.

They come from countries all over the world. As an example, one of the collage pages has photos from Ethiopia, China, Singapore, Germany, France, Spain, Nepal, Uruguay, USA, Switzerland, Mongolia, Greece, Romania, India, Portugal, Chile, Sweden, and England. Another collage has pictures from Uzbekistan, Egypt, Cuba, Portugal, Tajikistan, Netherlands, Italy, Russia, Germany, Peru, India, Greece, Guatemala, Russia, Nepal, Argentina, England, Turkey, South Africa, Colombia, Ethiopia, China, Spain, and Mexico.

And these women are indeed beautiful. This photographer makes the viewer see beauty in even the most old and “plain” women she features.

The book does remind me of Humans of New York with little stories of each portrait subject.

For example, I opened the book at random and came on this pair of photos:

HELSINKI, FINLAND
After her mother was diagnosed with cancer, Katariina started to see life in a different way. For years she had worked in the perfume industry, but her mother’s illness made her think more about health issues related to beauty products, and to want to do something. She gathered a team of specialists and created an amazing free phone app that scans the barcode of a cosmetic product and informs the user about the safety of the ingredients.

EAST JERUSALEM, DISPUTED TERRITORY
After studying in the United States and England, this young Palestinian returned home to put her knowledge in the service of Palestinian people. Raya was pregnant with her second baby when I met her, but besides becoming a mother for the second time she was also on a mission to empower Palestinian women.

As a young entrepreneur, Raya started a cosmetic company, and most of her employees are Palestinian women from marginalized communities. She also works for Palestine’s largest bank, and one of her main projects is to increase the percentage of female employees in all ranks at the bank.

“Supporting so many women is what keeps me going, and gives me the passion, enthusiasm, and energy to have two jobs at a time when I have two young children.”

Many of the text descriptions are shorter, such as this pair:

NAPLES, ITALY
I met these sisters, Monica, Francesca, and Rosanna, in their hometown, though now they all live in different parts of Italy, far from one another. They had reunited to visit their mother, and spend some time together.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
When I met Rachelle, she was glowing with pregnancy and the city’s late afternoon light.

“We are resting, after a long day at work.”

The book actually doesn’t need any text at all to be stunning. Though it’s also amazing how many different places on the globe she traveled and took pictures of women.

This book is marketed and produced for adults, with very small print in the captions. But if I had a young daughter in my home, I would be sure to purchase this book and place it where she could easily browse through it. Now that I think about it, if I had a teenage daughter in my home, it might feel all the more important. As it is, I’m going to purchase my own copy to remind myself that Beauty comes with many, many different faces.

Looking at this book made me feel part of a sisterhood of women from all over the globe, part of the human family. It reminded me that we come in all shapes and sizes and ages and colors. And we are Beautiful.

tenspeed.com
crownpublishing.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.

What did you think of this book?