Archive for the ‘Starred Review’ Category

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

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

This Is What a Librarian Looks Like

A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can I help libraries?

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

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

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

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

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

How can you help libraries?

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

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

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

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

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

What did you think of this book?

Review of Thanks for the Trouble, by Tommy Wallach

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Thanks for the Trouble

by Tommy Wallach

Simon & Schuster, 2016. 276 pages.
Starred Review

This book opens as Parker Santé is in a hotel, looking for something to steal. He sees a girl with silver hair pay for her coffee.

She reached into her purse and pulled out the fattest stack of hundreds I’d ever seen in real life. I’m talking a hip-hop video kind of wad, thick as a John Grisham paperback. She peeled off one of the bills — (I see you, Mr. Franklin) — and handed it over. “Keep the change,” she said. The waiter nodded a stunned little bobblehead nod, then peeled out before the girl could think better of her generosity, leaving her to tap idly at the top of a soft-boiled egg in an elaborate silver eggcup. I stared at her staring off into space, and counted the many ways in which she was incredible.

He’s attracted to the girl, but that doesn’t stop him from stealing the wad of cash when she leaves her purse behind. However, he makes a fundamental mistake, a mistake that reminds him of the myth of Orpheus.

But my dad said it was the most perfect myth ever written, because it represented the most fundamental human error: we all look back.

When I did, I saw that the silver-haired girl had returned to her seat. In spite of the fact that her purse was open and half its contents had spilled out across the tablecloth, she wasn’t screaming or crying or scrambling around, looking for the culprit. Why, you ask? Because she’d been distracted by something else. By what, you ask? Well, by my journal, of course! I’d left it behind when I tore off with all that money. It had my name in it, and my e-mail address, and an incredibly embarrassing story I’d recently written called “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Kingdom,” which she was now reading.

They get to talking. Or, I should say, the girl talks and Parker writes. Parker hasn’t been able to talk since the accident when his dad died.

But the girl tells him her plan:

“I am waiting for a phone call. And when it comes, I’m going to give this money to the first needy person I see. Then I’ll take the trolley to the Golden Gate Bridge and jump off it.”

Parker doesn’t like the sound of that. So he negotiates. He thinks he’s talking her out of jumping off the bridge, but they end up with the deal that she’s going to spend all that money on him (and with him), and he is going to apply to and attend college.

As their adventure takes off, they get to know each other better. When Parker tries to find out more about Zelda, she tells him that she was born in 1770 in Kassel, Germany. She doesn’t age.

Now her second husband is dying of old age, and she’s had enough.

But whether or not he believes her, Parker has some things to show her about life.

And she has many things to teach Parker.

I like all the questions this book opens up. What would it be like not to age? What would you do?

I wasn’t crazy about the framing — It’s supposedly Parker’s college application essay. I didn’t actually believe you’d be able to submit a book-length manuscript online. Though that does add to the fun because you don’t know if it really happened to the character. Though it certainly supports how dramatically his life changed.

An entertaining book that you can think about for a very long time.

tommywallach.com
simonandschuster.com/teen

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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?

Review of Creekfinding, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrations by Claudia McGehee

Monday, May 28th, 2018

Creekfinding

A True Story

by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
illustrations by Claudia McGehee

University of Minnesota Press, 2017. 40 pages.
Starred Review

This picture book tells the true story of restoring a lost creek.

How can a creek be lost? Years before, a farmer had used a bulldozer to fill the creek with dirt, so he could turn the prairie into a cornfield – growing corn where the creek used to be.

A man named Mike Osterholm bought the farm and planned to restore the prairie. Then a neighbor told Mike that he used to catch brook trout at that very spot. Mike set to work to restore the creek.

The book shows the many steps this took. He started with old photographs to mark out where the creek had been. Then he used a bulldozer and an excavator to dig a path for the creek.

Mike said the water remembered.
It seeped in from the sides,
raced down the riffles and runs,
burbled into holes, filled the creek.

But a creek isn’t just water.
It’s plants, rocks, bugs, fish, and birds.

The book goes on to explain how they got each of those ingredients into the restored creek.

It took years to restore the creek, but now:

If you went to the creek with Mike,
you’d see water.

But a creek isn’t just water.
You’d see brook trout and sculpin.
You’d hear the outdoor orchestra –
herons, snipe,
bluebirds, yellowthroat warblers;
frogs, returned home;
and insects –
thousands, and thousands,
and thousands of insects.

Now a new generation can catch trout on Brook Creek – and a new host of creatures has a home.

The art in this book is amazing and evocative of the prairie. The illustrator’s note at the back is poetic:

One hot July afternoon, I visited Prairie Song Farm, home to Brook Creek, to gather images and impressions for this book’s illustrations. As I waded into the deep greenness, all sorts of creatures – winged, scaled, feathered and furred – bustled in the grasses and along the water banks. I wanted to re-create the textures and colors I saw, so readers could “walk” alongside Brook Creek as they learned about its restoration. I made the ripply, sturdy lines of earth, water, and sky in scratchboard and painted the prairie greens, creek blues, and everything in between with watercolors and dyes.

Because of the simple language and picture book format, young children can enjoy this book. But older children will get even more out of the story and learn many things about creatures, creeks, and prairies.

upress.umn.edu

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

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

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

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

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Upside of Stress, by Kelly McGonigal

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

The Upside of Stress

Why Stress Is Good for You and How to Get Good at It

by Kelly McGonigal, PhD

Avery (Penguin Random House), 2015. 279 pages.
Starred Review

The same friend who recommended Kelly McGonigal’s book The Willpower Instinct to me also recommended The Upside of Stress. Even though I don’t think of myself as having a big problem with stress, I also hadn’t thought of myself as having a big problem with willpower – so this time, I put the book on hold right away, and was not surprised when it turned out to be outstanding.

We’ve all heard about the dangers of stress. Too much stress is bad for you, right? Well, this book looks more closely at that question. It turns out that if you think stress is bad for you, then it is. But if you focus on the upsides of stress – and there are many – stress can actually be good for you.

So all by itself, reading this book can make you healthier! You will learn about the many positive effects of stress, thus breaking the belief that stress is bad for you, thus ensuring it is not as bad for you.

On top of that, of course, you’re going to be much happier, the next time you’re in a stressful situation, when you start remembering the good it can do you.

Here’s how the author summarizes her purpose after she saw these new studies about stress.

So, my goal as a health psychologist has changed. I no longer want to help you get rid of your stress – I want to make you better at stress. That is the promise of the new science of stress, and the purpose of this book.

I like the way, in both her books, she bases everything on scientific studies.

It’s helpful to know a little about the science behind embracing stress for two reasons. First, it’s fascinating. When the subject is human nature, every study is an opportunity to better understand yourself and those you care about. Second, the science of stress has some real surprises. Certain ideas about stress – including the central premise of this book: that stress can be good for you – are hard to swallow. Without evidence, it would be easy to dismiss them. Seeing the science behind these ideas can help you consider them and how they might apply to your own experiences.

The advice in this book isn’t based on one shocking study – even though that’s what inspired me to rethink stress. The strategies you’ll learn are based on hundreds of studies and the insights of dozens of scientists I’ve spoken with. Skipping the science and getting straight to the advice doesn’t work. Knowing what’s behind every strategy helps them stick. So this book includes a crash course in the new science of stress and what psychologists call mindsets. You’ll be introduced to rising-star researchers and some of their most intriguing studies – all in a way I hope the reader can enjoy. If you have a bigger appetite for scientific details and want even more information, the notes at the end of this book will let you dig deeper.

But most important, this is a practical guide to getting better at living with stress. Embracing stress can make you feel more empowered in the face of challenges. It can enable you to better use the energy of stress without burning out. It can help you turn stressful experiences into a source of social connection rather than isolation. And finally, it can lead you to new ways of finding meaning in suffering.

She ends the introduction with big goals for her readers – and I have to say that this book really does move you in this direction:

Why would seeing the good in stress help in these circumstances? I believe it is because embracing stress changes how you think about yourself and what you can handle. It is not a purely intellectual exercise. Focusing on the upside of stress transforms how you experience it physically and emotionally. It changes how you cope with the challenges in your life. I wrote this book with that specific purpose in mind: to help you discover your own strength, courage, and compassion. Seeing the upside of stress is not about deciding whether stress is either all good or all bad. It’s about how choosing to see the good in stress can help you meet the challenges in your life.

Many of the interesting studies of stress looked at people’s biological response to stress. You’ve all heard of fight-or-flight, right? Well, that’s only one possible response to stress. We find different physiological changes in the different responses.

There are several prototypical stress responses, each with a different biological profile that motivates various strategies for dealing with stress. For example, a challenge response increases self-confidence, motivates action, and helps you learn from experience; while a tend-and-befriend response increases courage, motivates caregiving, and strengthens your social relationships. Alongside the familiar flight-or-flight response, these make up your stress response repertoire.

I think my favorite chapter was titled “A Meaningful Life Is a Stressful Life.” It turns out there’s a strong correlation between high levels of stress and engaging in meaningful activities – which shouldn’t actually be a surprise. But I liked the observation that just thinking about the meaning behind your stress – why you’re doing this – can increase the physical benefits of stress. One of the studies cited just asked students to write about their values – and this simple act let them see meaning for their stress.

Since that first study, dozens of similar experiments have followed. It turns out that writing about your values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied. In the short term, writing about personal values makes people feel more powerful, in control, proud, and strong. It also makes them feel more loving, connected, and empathetic toward others. It increases pain tolerance, enhances self-control, and reduces unhelpful rumination after a stressful experience.

In the long term, writing about values has been shown to boost GPAs, reduce doctor visits, improve mental health, and help with everything from weight loss to quitting smoking and reducing problem drinking. It helps people persevere in the face of discrimination and reduces self-handicapping. In many cases, these benefits are a result of a onetime mindset intervention. People who write about their values once, for ten minutes, show benefits months or even years later.

I also loved this strategy of comparing your stress to what you would go through if you were climbing Mount Everest:

Everyone has an Everest. Whether it’s a climb you chose, or a circumstance you find yourself in, you’re in the middle of an important journey. Can you imagine a climber scaling the wall of ice at Everest’s Lhotse Face and saying, “This is such a hassle”? Or spending the first night in the mountain’s “death zone” and thinking, “I don’t need this stress”? The climber knows the context of his stress. It has personal meaning to him; he has chosen it. You are most liable to feel like a victim of the stress in your life when you forget the context the stress is unfolding in. “Just another cold, dark night on the side of Everest” is a way to remember the paradox of stress. The most meaningful challenges in your life will come with a few dark nights.

Of course this was good to hear while I’m in the middle of my year of reading as many books as I possibly can for the Newbery committee. So worth it! And just remembering that is sometimes all it takes to feel more able to deal with it.

The second part of the book talks about how to get good at stress. Here’s what that means:

Embracing stress is an act of bravery, one that requires choosing meaning over avoiding discomfort.

This is what it means to be good at stress. It’s not about being untouched by adversity or unruffled by difficulties. It’s about allowing stress to awaken in you these core human strengths of courage, connection, and growth. Whether you are looking at resilience in overworked executives or war-torn communities, the same themes emerge. People who are good at stress allow themselves to be changed by the experience of stress. They maintain a basic sense of trust in themselves and a connection to something bigger than themselves. They also find ways to make meaning out of suffering. To be good at stress is not to avoid stress, but to play an active role in how stress transforms you.

She focuses on learning to use stress to help you engage, connect and grow.

When you engage with stress, you realize that your physical response can help you rise to the challenge. That’s the challenge response in action. I love math, and I remember when I had a math test coming up, I’d be excited and ready to ace that test – my physical response helped me think even more clearly. (I thought of this example when she gave an example of an athlete getting ready to compete. That one doesn’t work for me, though it probably works for more people than my math test example.)

Okay, maybe that’s not the best example for everyone. So let me contrast it with getting up in front of a large group to speak. When I was a kid, that used to always, without fail, make me shake uncontrollably. So when I started feeling nervous, I’d then dread getting the shakes – which of course made the shakes all the worse. (This was a problem when playing in flute recitals, since my entire flute would shake.)

As a matter of fact, the first time I did not shake when getting up in front of a big group was when I gave a Chalk Talk as part of a math competition in high school. Yes, my senses were heightened and my heart rate was up. But in this case, since I was absolutely sure I knew what I was doing, it only made me more alert and able to do a good job. Even knowing nothing about mindset at the time – that shows that how I thought about it made a huge difference. You can think of it as nervousness and as proof that you’re inadequate, or you can think about it as excitement and an extra performance boost.

Viewing your stress response as a resource works because it helps you believe “I can do this.” This belief is important for ordinary stress, but it may be even more important during extraordinary stress. Knowing that you are adequate to the challenges in your life can mean the difference between hope or despair, persistence or defeat. Research shows that how you interpret your body’s stress response plays a role in this belief, whether you are worried about an exam, getting over a divorce, or facing your next round of chemo.

Embracing stress is a radical act of self-trust: View yourself as capable and your body as a resource. You don’t have to wait until you no longer have fear, stress, or anxiety to do what matters most. Stress doesn’t have to be a sign to stop and give up on yourself. This kind of mindset shift is a catalyst, not a cure. It doesn’t erase your suffering or make your problems disappear. But if you are willing to rethink your stress response, it may help you recognize your strength and access your courage.

Having stress motivate you to connect is the tend-and-befriend response to stress. As I suspected, the research bears out that this response comes more naturally to women. When you’re in trouble, reach out to your community! Yes, it will help. (This is partly why church small groups are so effective. They give you a group ready to help when you’re under stress.)

The social nature of stress is not something to fear. When you take a tend-and-befriend approach, even contagious stress can be strengthening. As we’ve seen, caring creates resilience, whether the altruism is a response to rescue us from our own suffering or simply a natural reaction to the pain of others. A sympathetic stress response to another person’s suffering can spark empathy and motivate helping, which in turn enhance our own well-being. Furthermore, we shouldn’t be afraid to let others see the truth of our own struggles – especially when we need their support. In many ways, our transparency is a gift, allowing others to feel less alone and offering them the opportunity to experience the benefits of tending and befriending.

The final chapter was about using stress to increase personal growth. Yes! That chapter got me excited. I’ve come out of the worst time of my life – my divorce – and I feel like on the other side I’m much stronger and more resilient. I’ve grown. So this chapter resonated with me.

This wasn’t saying that terrible events aren’t terrible. Just that good can actually come out of them.

But as much as we want to avoid pain and suffering, it’s almost impossible to get through life without experiencing some trauma, loss, or serious adversity. If avoiding suffering isn’t possible, what is the best way to think about the experience? “Given that it’s happened,” Seery asked, “does it mean your life is ruined?” He thinks his work gives a very clear answer. “People are not doomed to be damaged by adversity.”

Here I turn to the belief that God has promised to work all things together for good. The author takes a secular approach, but she’s also saying that bad experiences can be redeemed by how you react to them.

This is a critical distinction, and one of the most important things to understand about how adversity can make you stronger. The science of post-traumatic growth doesn’t say that there is anything inherently good about suffering. Nor does it say that every traumatic event leads to growth. When any good comes from suffering, the source of that growth resides in you — your strengths, your values, and how you choose to respond to adversity. It does not belong to the trauma.

Here are some inspiring thoughts from her final reflections:

For most of its history, the science of stress focused on one question: Is stress bad for you? (Eventually, it graduated to the question, Just how bad is stress for you?)

But the interesting thing about the science of stress is that despite the overwhelmingly accepted idea that stress is harmful, the research tells a slightly different story: Stress is harmful, except when it’s not. Consider the examples we’ve seen in this book: Stress increases the risk of health problems, except when people regularly give back to their communities. Stress increases the risk of dying, except when people have a sense of purpose. Stress increases the risk of depression, except when people see a benefit in their struggles. Stress is paralyzing, except when people perceive themselves as capable. Stress makes people selfish, except when it makes them altruistic. For every harmful outcome you can think of, there’s an exception that erases the expected association between stress and something bad – and often replaces it with an unexpected benefit.

I like this personal observation:

When I committed myself to the process of embracing stress, I didn’t anticipate the biggest way it would affect my everyday experience of life. To my surprise, I started to feel a flood of gratitude in situations I would also describe as highly stressful. It wasn’t an intentional mindset shift; the gratitude just showed up. I still haven’t fully figured out why this was the biggest change for me, but it probably has something to do with what was most toxic about my experience of stress before I embraced it – a habit of resenting the things in my life that caused stress because I found the experience of stress so distressing.

For me, I’m reading this book at a good time – when my main stress is obviously from a good reason, and is very meaningful – being on the Newbery committee and trying to spend every spare moment reading. But I hope when tougher things come along, I’ll remember to look for the upside – and then the upside will actually become greater.

Got any stress in your life? I highly recommend this book.

kellymcgonigal.com
penguin.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 Hello, Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Hello, Universe

by Erin Entrada Kelly
performed by Ramon de Ocampo and Amielynn Abellera

HarperAudio, 2017. 5 ¼ hours on 5 discs.
Starred Review
2018 Newbery Medal Winner

I was disappointed when I hadn’t read this year’s Newbery Medal Winner before it won – though not too disappointed, because now I had a good book to read! The only problem: When to read it? I need to be reading books eligible for the 2019 Newbery Medal.

However, our committee is trying to avoid listening to eligible books, since a good or bad narrator can influence your opinion of a book – so when the library purchased this book in audio format, I knew what my next commuting book would be.

It’s a quirky story. One thing I like about it is that it stands a writing rule on its head: Don’t use coincidences to move the plot. But in this case, coincidences are used repeatedly – and it’s perfect for this story. It reminds me of the old book by Edward Eager, Magic Or Not? — you aren’t sure if the things happening are coincidences or magic. In Hello, Universe you aren’t sure if events are coincidences or fate.

Among the characters, though, Kaori Tanaka is absolutely sure it’s a fateful day. She says over and over: “There are no coincidences.”

Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic. Her little sister follows her around and helps, in a gratifying and subservient way. Kaori has one client so far, Vergil Salinas. Vergil is very shy, and he feels like a complete failure because middle school ended, and he never said one word to that nice girl he saw in the resource room every Thursday, Valencia Somerset. Valencia is deaf, and she’s recently learned that the girls she thought were her best friends are tired of making the effort to communicate with her. She’s started having the same nightmare every night.

But after Kaori asks Vergil to post her card at the grocery store – with the line “no adults” – the one who picks it up and makes an appointment is Valencia. She hopes to get help with those bad dreams. But the day that Valencia makes an appointment to see Kaori is the same day that Vergil has not shown up for his appointment. What could have happened to him? And will the Universe help them find him?

I like the way the apparent coincidences combine to help each character make some changes.

It’s fun to get a peek when fate brings people together. But then, I was also pretty sure in the Edward Eager books that magic was involved.

harperaudio.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 audiobook 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 Bessie Stringfield, Tales of the Talented Tenth, volume 2, by Joel Christian Gill

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

Tales of the Talented Tenth, Volume 2

Bessie Stringfield

The amazing true story of the woman who became The Motorcycle Queen of Miami!

by Joel Christian Gill

Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado, 2016. 122 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2017.

I think that nonfiction in graphic novel form (okay, necessarily fictionalized a bit) is one of the best things that could happen to education. Joel Christian Gill has started a series about remarkable African Americans, telling their amazing stories in comic book form.

I’d never heard of Bessie Stringfield, but she was the sole woman in the U. S. Army’s civilian motorcycle courier unit during World War II, and the first black woman inducted into the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame and the Harley Davidson Hall of Fame.

The book begins with her childhood. After her family moved to America from Jamaica, her mother died and her father just abandoned her in their hotel room. The book tells about her unusual upbringing after that and how she grew a passion for motorcycles and traveling.

She traveled across the United States eight times, and ended up doing lots of traveling in the Jim Crow South. (I like the way the author pictures bigoted people in this series as giant crows. It’s disturbing, as it should be.) She had run-ins with people who wanted to harm her, but was always able to outrun them on her motorcycle.

The story of her varied exploits is a quick but very entertaining read. And you’ll learn about someone who deserves to be remembered, the Motorcycle Queen of Miami, Bessie Stringfield.

joelchristiangill.wordpress.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?

Review of Phoebe and Her Unicorn, by Dana Simpson

Thursday, May 10th, 2018

Phoebe and Her Unicorn

A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle

by Dana Simpson

Andrews McNell Publishing, Kansas City, 2014. 222 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2016.

I was sent some later volumes about Phoebe and Her Unicorn and realized at last what I’d been missing. I’d even had this first volume checked out, but never cracked it open.

This time, I read the Introduction by Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn, and I knew I needed to read this. He mentions that in the early pages of his book, he wrote, “Unicorns are immortal. It is their nature to live alone in one place: usually a forest where there is a pool clear enough for them to see themselves – for they are a little vain, knowing themselves to be the most beautiful creatures in all the world, and magic besides . . .”

He continues:

A little vain . . . Marigold would be an appalling monster of ego, utterly self-concerned and completely unlikable, if it weren’t for her sense of humor and her occasional surprising capacity for compassion – both crucial attributes when bound by a wish granted to a nine-year-old girl in need of a Best Friend to play invented superhero games with, to introduce to slumber parties and girl-talk gossip and to ride through the wind after being called nerd and Princess Stupidbutt one time too many. For Phoebe is a remarkably real little girl, as bright and imaginative as Bill Watterson’s Calvin, as touchingly vulnerable as Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown. And if these strike you as big names to conjure with, I’ll go further and state for the record that in my opinion Heavenly Nostrils is nothing less than the best comic strip to come along since Calvin and Hobbes. Simpson is that good, and that original.

And yes, he’s right — Phoebe and her Unicorn is in the tradition of Calvin and Hobbes, this time with a nerdy and precocious little girl – so perhaps I related a little more than to Calvin.

However, Phoebe’s Unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, is not an imaginary friend. She’s real, and people can see her, but unicorns are protected by a SHIELD OF BORINGNESS. (This word should be printed in a fancy font.) As Marigold explains, “The SHIELD OF BORINGNESS is a bit of spellcraft that allows unicorns to remain a myth. Those humans who have seen us don’t find it important enough to mention.”

It helped me enjoy the book more once I realized this is a comic strip collection. There is an ongoing story, but most of the strips end with a joke. And they’re good jokes! (Okay, I like the unicorn puns about Phoebe being pointless.) It helped me enjoy reading them more when I realized what I was reading.

There is an ongoing story. But there are also comic-strip traditions in play. For example, Phoebe is a fourth grader at the start of the book. Then she has a lovely summer off and goes back to school – and starts fourth grade.

And like other great comic strips, there are profound observations behind the jokes. This is a lovely book about a nerdy little girl who wants to be awesome, about a unicorn she rescued (by hitting her with a rock and breaking her out of the cycle of gazing at her own reflection) who granted a wish by becoming her best friend, and about a unicorn who is well aware that she is the loveliest thing on the planet.

Tremendously fun!

ampkids.com
gocomics.com/phoebe-and-her-unicorn

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

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

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

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

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Review of Brave Red, Smart Frog, by Emily Jenkins

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Brave Red, Smart Frog

A New Book of Old Tales

by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason

Candlewick Press, 2017. 94 pages.
Starred Review

I have always loved fairy tales. My grandma owned several of the various-colored fairy tale books by Andrew Lang, and I remember sitting in her big comfy chair and reading them when I was quite young.

This is a 2017 book, but our library purchased it in 2018. When my hold came in, I saw the copyright and was going to turn it right back in – I’m reading for the Newbery, and I don’t have time for anything else. However, intrigued by the title and the look of the book, I opened to a random page. The tone and spirit of the tales captivated me quickly. I brought them home, figuring that reading one little story each day wouldn’t hurt anything.

And I really did get it read that way (which is surprising right there). At the end I cheated a little and read two stories in one night.

These are mostly Grimm tales, and I’m very familiar with all of them – but I love these fresh retellings. I like the new names she gives to characters, the explanations of their motivations, and that frozen and cold forest that shows up in almost all the tales. There’s even a place where a character in one story shows up in another! (Hint: There’s a huntsman in both “Snow White” and “Red Riding Hood.”)

Here’s an example paragraph right at the start that gives you the friendly and refreshing tone used throughout the book:

On one side of this frozen forest stood a castle. In it lived a queen who was unhappy. She was a warm person, a bright person. Her husband was chilly and dull. It had been a mistake to marry him. When their first and only daughter was born, the king named the baby Snow White. The queen would have preferred a name like Tulip or Sunshine.

An Author’s Note at the back gives her philosophy of retelling these stories. She wasn’t trying to be accurate to originals or entirely reinvent the tales.

What I’m doing instead is telling these stories largely faithfully, but without adhering to versions made famous by Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and others. I wrote them simply as I myself want to tell them, using the storytelling techniques I have at my disposal. After all, before people began writing them down, these tales were passed down orally. They changed a bit with each new teller. I wrote to bring out what’s most meaningful to me in the stories, and in that way I believe I am part of a tradition that goes back to the earliest tellers of these tales.

The result is delightful. These would be fun to read aloud at bedtime to a child or after lunch to a classroom.

Now, some kisses break enchantments.

And other kisses begin them.

You’re going to find both kinds of kisses in these tales.

candlewick.com

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

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

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

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

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Review of Raymie Nightingale, by Kate DiCamillo, read by Jenna Lamia

Friday, April 27th, 2018

Raymie Nightingale

by Kate DiCamillo
read by Jenna Lamia

Listening Library, 2016. 4 ½ hours on 4 compact discs.
Starred Review
(Review written in 2016.)

I already loved Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale. Now, having heard Raymie’s voice, and the voices of the others of the Three Rancheros, I love Raymie and her friends even more.

I already talked about the plot in my review of the print version. Now let me talk about the new things that struck me when I got to listen to the story.

The narrator of this book is wonderful, giving each of the girls a distinctive voice, and giving all voices a slight southern accent. Being a northerner myself, even though the book is set in Florida, I didn’t hear southern accents when I read it in my head. The accents definitely added to the charm.

Also, after listening, the characters and events are much more memorable. Maybe I read more quickly when it was in my mind. Now I feel more as if I’ve experienced the events of the book. And I now feel like I’ve met the characters, spent some time with them.

Again, the narrator’s characterizations of the girls are spot on. Raymie’s voice is tentative, figuring out the world. I just wanted to hug her and help her through. Louisiana is naïve and hopeful. Beverly Tapinski gives her tough-girl front. She’s not afraid of anything.

The story is a crazy yarn of good intentions that spin out of control. These girls can’t even attend a simple baton-twirling lesson without something going wrong. But we hear the girls tackle setbacks together. Even tough-girl Beverly can’t resist the sweet, innocent, and hungry Louisiana. And we understand how Raymie is pulled along.

This would make good family listening. I don’t remember them saying how old the girls are, but I would say upper elementary school age. There aren’t any boys in the story, but the antics are so amusing, I don’t think anyone in the family will get bored.

This beautiful story only gets better with re-listening. Kate DiCamillo just keeps winning Newbery Medals – and this new story is as great a book as any of them.

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

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

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook 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 Obama: An Intimate Portrait, by Pete Souza

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Obama

An Intimate Portrait

by Pete Souza
Former Chief Official White House Photographer
Foreword by Barack Obama

Little, Brown and Company, 2017. 352 pages.
Starred Review

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve got a crush on Barack Obama.

However, like so many of my crushes, the biggest thing I admire about him is how much he loves his wife and how dedicated he is to her. At this rate, I’ll never fall for someone who’s available.

That sort of crush, though, encourages me by reminding me that faithful men who love and are committed to their wives exist. In this case, I’m also reminded that government leaders who honestly care about the people they’re serving and are trying to help people do exist. Even though he’s out of office, he still gives me hope by providing an example of someone who honestly cared about people and tried to do good things. (I don’t always agree as to what will be good – but it was obvious that’s what he was seriously trying to do. You can see it in these pictures.)

Okay, he’s also a handsome, classy man with a gorgeous family. And he’s adorably cute with small children. And not afraid to show emotion. And, yes, I enjoy looking at a book full of pictures of him.

And Pete Souza is an amazing photographer. Barack Obama says about him:

In fact, what makes Pete such an extraordinary photographer, I think, is something more than his ability to frame an interesting moment. It’s his capacity to capture the mood, the atmosphere, and the meaning of that moment.

Pete Souza has documented 8 years of history in a powerful and moving way. Here are some of his words from the introduction:

But in the 12 years I’ve known him, the character of this man has not changed. Deep down, his core is the same. He tells his daughters, “Be kind and be useful.” And that tells you a lot about him. As a man. A father. A husband. And yes, as a President of the United States.

This book represents the moments I captured of President Obama throughout his Presidency. The big moments and the small moments. Fun moments. Moments of crisis. Moments of laughter. Moments when I had to hide my own tears behind the viewfinder. Intimate family moments. Symbolic moments and historic moments.

I have had the extraordinary privilege of being the man in the room for eight years, visually documenting President Obama for history. This book is the result of that effort; I gave it my all. I hope that the photographs that follow, accompanied by my words, will show you the true character of this man and the essence of his Presidency, as seen through my eyes and felt through my heart.

Reading this book makes me a little bit sad, yes. But it also gives me hope – still – that it’s possible to have dignity and kindness and a servant’s heart in the Oval Office. May that day come again.

petesouza.com
littlebrown.com

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

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

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

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

What did you think of this book?