Archive for February, 2011

Open Letter to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Today I sent the letter below to the members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, along with a copy of This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, by Marilyn Johnson, in support of restoring Library funding. I would love to get lots of comments from readers who support libraries. Please read, comment, and share!

Dear Supervisors,

I am writing to speak up on behalf of Fairfax County Public Library. Please consider restoring some of the funds and hours that were cut in the last two years.

Back in June, my job as Youth Services Manager at Herndon Fortnightly Library was cut, and I was transferred into the Office for Children as a Management Analyst. Although it was the same pay grade, the new job had much less responsibility, much less challenge, did not supervise anyone, and did not require a Master’s degree. Most telling, though, I did not feel that I was doing nearly as much good for the people of Fairfax County as I could daily in my Librarian job.

Shortly after the RIF, I wrote a review of the book, This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, by Marilyn Johnson. The book made me proud to be a Librarian by calling, as it pointed out the many ways librarians serve the people of their communities. It pointed out that in a recession, libraries are more necessary than ever. I said in my review, “This book is indeed overdue! I wished so much that I could afford to send a copy to each member of the county Board of Supervisors!”

In January, the author herself found my review online. She told me she would be happy to donate copies of the book to send to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. So I am now presenting you with this book, signed by the author. I’ve marked a few passages that talk about how librarians benefit the communities where they work.

Along with this gift, I want to make three points about the 30% library budget cuts of the past two years.

1. If Education is truly a high priority in Fairfax County, then we need to have strong libraries to support that education. Students need internet access to do more and more of the assignments. For many students, the Library is where they get that access. But that’s only the beginning of how we support education. The Library still supports students in the traditional way of providing resources for reports, science projects, and supplemental materials. Studies have shown that library summer reading programs make a huge difference in students retaining what they’ve learned during the school year.

But we don’t only serve students who attend the public schools. We serve homeschooled children and those who attend private schools. We serve college and university students. We serve adults who want to teach themselves something new or find out how to complete a project. We serve people who want to acquire new job skills or prepare for certification tests. We serve seniors who suddenly have to use a computer to prepare their taxes. We serve immigrants who want to learn English. We serve people who want to learn about current issues and vote as informed citizens. We serve parents of preschoolers and provide programs that build early literacy skills, making them more ready for success when they start school.

2. If Human Services are truly a high priority in Fairfax County, then we should not cut library funding. Sadly, the people the cuts hurt most are the people who are least likely to speak up. In libraries, I often see homeless regulars. They are too proud to ask for help from more traditional social services. The shelters don’t let them stay there during the day. But they spend their days with dignity at the library, and do not have to apply to get that help. If their local branch is closed, they will not be able to just run over to the nearest regional branch.

I also think of the many people who come to use the library computers to apply for jobs. Most jobs now require an online application, and we see several people applying for such jobs every single day at even the smaller libraries. Or the middle school students who use the library to do homework while their parents are at work. They can’t just go to another branch, either.

3. In the overall scheme of the county budget, the amount cut from the Library was tiny. This was glaringly obvious when last year’s budget carryover was eight times the amount that had been cut from the Library. Conversely, a tiny amount going back to the libraries now will make a huge difference in the service we are able to provide.

Libraries provide vital help to the poor – but they also help the rich! Studies have shown that proximity to a library even increases property values. An investment in libraries provides benefits both tangible and intangible.

Please consider restoring some of the Fairfax County Public Library budget.

Regardless of the decision you make on the budget, I hope you will enjoy this signed copy of This Book Is Overdue! It’s a fun look at how librarianship is changing – and vitally necessary – in the 21st Century. I should add that I am happily back in FCPL as of November, when a Librarian retired. So I’m not making this appeal for my own job, but for the people of Fairfax County. I did write this letter on my own time, expressing my own opinions as a resident of Fairfax County. I am also planning to post the letter on my blog, www.sonderbooks.com/blog.

Empower Fairfax County Public Library to serve your constituents more effectively! “In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste.”

Sincerely,

Sondra Eklund

Here are some links to more articles in support of libraries:

Scott Turow, in an article “Let-Them-Eat-Cake Attitude Threatens to Destroy a Network of Public Assets,” says, “Widespread public access to knowledge, like public education, is one of the pillars of our democracy, a guarantee that we can maintain a well-informed citizenry.”

Philip Pullman writes in “Leave the Libraries Alone. You Don’t Understand Their Value,” “The public library, again. Yes, I’m writing a book, Mr Mitchell, and yes, I hope it’ll make some money. But I’m not praising the public library service for money. I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult. I love it because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight.”

Roberta Stevens wrote an article titled “Technological and Economic Shifts Have Only Made Libraries More Valuable.” She says, “Today’s challenging economy demands strategic investments. While the job market continues to recover, one of the best uses of public and private funds is to help ensure that people are digitally literate and are improving their employment skills.”

What do you think? I’d love it if this gift of books, through the generous donation of Marilyn Johnson, would get people speaking up on behalf of Libraries.

Review of The Blood Red Horse, by K. M. Grant

Friday, February 25th, 2011

The Blood Red Horse

by K. M. Grant
Performed by Maggie Mash

Recorded Books, 2005. 9 compact discs, 9.75 hours.

Here’s a horse story of the same sort I loved as a kid: We’ve got a horse who’s strong and fast and brave, who narrowly escapes death many times, and loves his master. The horse of the title is named Hosannah, and he belongs to a boy in medieval times who sets out on one of the crusades with Richard the Lionheart.

The story is many-layered. We follow Will de Granville and his horse, but also his friend Ellie who must stay behind in England, and his brother Gavin who is betrothed to Ellie and almost kills Hosannah with his recklessness. The book also takes a close look at a Saracen boy who fights against them and also encounters Hosannah. We see many sides to the conflict, and it’s not portrayed as one side either good or bad.

The narrator wasn’t bad, though I would have preferred a male narrator doing so many male voices. This book is the first of a trilogy about the deGranvilles, and I intend to read them all, but will probably read the rest in print form. Still, it did make an enjoyable way to pass many hours in traffic.

This book is good for those who like historical fiction on an epic scale, battles, or just a good old-fashioned horse story.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/blood_red_horse.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of The Man in the Queue, by Josephine Tey

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

The Man in the Queue

by Josephine Tey
Read by Stephen Thorne

Chivers Audio Books, 2000. First published in 1929. Complete and Unabridged. 6 cassettes.
Starred Review

After listening to Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, I’m on a Josephine Tey binge. It turns out that this one, The Man in the Queue, was the first one she wrote, while The Daughter of Time was the last.

The Man in the Queue, naturally enough, is not about a historical mystery like Daughter of Time. However, it’s a good classic whodunit. The detective, Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, is the same one who solves the mystery in the later book. Already we see his “flare,” his sense of people, knowing who’s telling the truth.

The mystery is intriguing. There’s a large queue to get into one of the last nights of a play in London. When the queue starts moving, and gets up to the front of the line, a man falls over on his face, and it turns out that he is dead, stabbed in the back.

The man has no identification on him, but he has a revolver in his pocket. No one comes forward to identify him. So Grant must not only figure out who killed him; he must also figure out who the man is and why he was in the queue with a revolver in his pocket. No one in the queue with him noticed anything, not even if someone had left the queue. They all claim to have never seen the dead man before in their lives.

The only trouble with my Josephine Tey binge is that these audiobooks always make me feel like I’ve gotten to my destination much too quickly, and I want to sit for awhile in the car and hear more.

The book is not politically correct — the main suspect is called “The Dago” for most of the book. But it’s fun to have discovered a classic mystery author of the same style as Agatha Christie, but whose books are all new to me.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/man_in_the_queue.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of The Talented Clementine, by Sara Pennypacker

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

The Talented Clementine

by Sara Pennypacker
Pictures by Marla Frazee

Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, New York, 2007. 137 pages.
Starred Review

I’m hooked on Clementine, and am so happy I finally discovered her. In this second book about her, her third grade class is going to put on a talent show. But Clementine does not think she has any talents that could be displayed in a show. Not like Margaret, whose fourth grade class will also be taking part. Margaret has talents to spare.

This book is full of Clementine’s hilarious attempts to find an act, with an unexpected and satisfying solution.

Once again, Marla Frazee’s brilliant illustrations add to the characterization of Clementine and her friend Margaret. Even before the book begins, we see Clementine walking to the bus with a loaded backpack — until she is overcome by the weight of it and must crawl.

I love the first paragraph, which gives you a taste of Clementine’s way of thinking:

“I have noticed that teachers get exciting confused with boring a lot. But when my teacher said, ‘Class, we have an exciting project to talk about,’ I listened anyway.”

This book is exciting and fun. And I’m not a teacher.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/talented_clementine.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Zombies vs. Unicorns

edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

Margaret K. McElderry Books, New York, 2010. 415 pages.
Starred Review

When I met Diana Peterfreund, author of Rampant and Ascendant, at the 2009 Kidlit Bloggers’ Conference, she told me about this upcoming anthology, and I was waiting for it eagerly ever since. The premise is too fun! I will use the beginning of the Introduction to present it:

“Since the dawn of time one question has dominated all others:

“Zombies or Unicorns?

“Well, okay, maybe not since the dawn of time, but definitely since February 2007. That was the day Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier began the heated exchange about the creatures’ relative merits on Justine’s blog. Since then the question has become an unstoppable Internet meme, crowding comment threads and even making it to YouTube.

“Here in the real world Holly and Justine are often called upon to defend, respectively, unicorns and zombies. The whole thing has gotten so out of hand that the only remedy is . . .

Zombies vs. Unicorns. The anthology.”

Yes, Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier, defenders of the reputations of unicorns and zombies, respectively, have compiled an anthology of stories by stellar authors about unicorns and about zombies. Team Unicorn is represented by Garth Nix, Naomi Novik, Margo Lanagan, Diana Peterfreund, Meg Cabot, and Kathleen Duey. Team Zombie presents stories by Alaya Dawn Johnson, Carrie Ryan, Maureen Johnson, Scott Westerfeld, Cassandra Clare, and Libba Bray.

Now, to be right upfront with you, I am firmly and decidedly on Team Unicorn. My first unpublished and probably never-to-be published children’s novel is about a winged unicorn. I like them. And I don’t like zombies. If this anthology had only included the zombie stories, I would not have been even slightly tempted to pick it up.

However, as it was, I’m am forced to admit that some of the zombie stories were quite good. The one by Maureen Johnson I loved. It reminded me of my favorite vampire story ever with an oppressed wife caring for the adopted vampire children of her abusive husband. In Maureen Johnson’s story an unwitting teenager comes to an isolated house to babysit some toddlers who turn out to be zombies. It probably shouldn’t be read by a teen about to go on her first babysitting job, but I enjoyed it.

The unicorn stories, of course, were brilliant! My favorite was “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn,” by Diana Peterfreund, which tied in beautifully with her books. You would not have to have read her books to enjoy the story, and I hope it will win her some new readers. My second favorite was “Princess Prettypants,” by Meg Cabot. A girl’s crazy aunt gets her a unicorn for her birthday, and at first she’s horrified at such a baby present, but in the end she finds it quite useful.

I do highly recommend this anthology. Whichever fantastical creature you prefer, you’ll find brilliant stories that look at them in a new and interesting way. The banter between the editors before each story is amusing as well.

Go Team Unicorn!

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/zombies_vs_unicorns.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Baking Cakes in Kigali, by Gaile Parkin

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Baking Cakes in Kigali

by Gaile Parkin

Atlantic Books, London, 2009. 361 pages.
Starred Review

This enjoyable yet surprisingly deep book reminded me of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith. Both books are set in Africa, though this one in war-torn Rwanda instead of peaceful Botswana. But in both books, the main character’s profession lets her get to know people from a wide variety of backgrounds and help solve their problems and bring people together. Precious Ramotswe is a detective, but the protagonist of this book, Angel Tungaraza, bakes cakes.

We learn quickly that baking cakes in Kigali is a much more artistic endeavor than baking cakes in America:

“In the same way that a bucket of water reduces a cooking fire to ashes — a few splutters of shocked disbelief, a hiss of anger, and then a chill all the more penetrating for having so abruptly supplanted intense heat — in just that way, the photograph that she now surveyed extinguished all her excitement.

“‘Exactly like this?’ she asked her guest, trying to keep any hint of regret or condemnation out of her voice.

“‘Exactly like that,’ came the reply, and the damp chill of disappointment seeped into her heart….

“‘As you know, Angel,’ the ambassador’s wife was saying, ‘it’s traditional to celebrate a silver wedding anniversary with a cake just like the original wedding cake. Amos and I feel it’s so important to follow our traditions, especially when we’re away from home.’

“‘That is true, Mrs Ambassador,’ agreed Angel, who was herself away from home. But as she examined the photograph, she was doubtful of the couple’s claim to the traditions that they had embraced when choosing this cake twenty-five years ago. It was not like any traditional wedding cake she had seen in her home town of Bukoba in the west of Tanzania or in Dar es Salaam in the east. No, this cake was traditional to Wazungu, white people. It was completely white: white with white patterns decorating the white. Small white flowers with white leaves encircled the outer edges of the upper surface, and three white pillars on top of the cake held aloft another white cake that was a smaller replica of the one below. It was, quite simply, the most unattractive cake that she had ever seen. Of course, Mr and Mrs Wanyika had married at a time when the style of Wazungu was still thought to be fashionable — prestigious, even. But by now, in the year 2000, surely everybody had come to recognize that Wazungu were not the authorities on style and taste that they were once thought to be? Perhaps if she showed Mrs Wanyika the pictures of the wedding cakes that she had made for other people, she would be able to convince her of the beauty that colours could bring to a cake.”

Angel and her husband are from Tanzania. They lost both their adult children to AIDS, and now must take care of their five grandchildren.

“It’s only that we won’t be able to provide for these children as well as we did for our first children. But we must try by all means to give them a good life. That’s why we decided to leave Tanzania and come here to Rwanda. There’s aid money for the university and they’re paying Pius so much more as a Special Consultant than he was getting at the university in Dar. Okay, Rwanda has suffered a terrible thing. Terrible, Mrs Ambassador; bad, bad, bad. Many of hearts here are filled with pain. Many of the eyes here have seen terrible things. Terrible! But many of those same hearts are now brave enough to hope, and many of those same eyes have begun to look towards the future instead of the past. Life is going on, everyday. And for us the pluses of coming here are many more than the minuses. And my cake business is doing well because there are almost no shops here that sell cakes. A cake business doesn’t do well in a place where people have nothing to celebrate.”

Although Angel herself is dealing with some heavy losses, and so are the people around her, she is able to touch people’s lives — from convincing a mother to give her daughter a better name than Goodenough to providing family for a couple getting married who have lost all of their own families. This is an uplifting book and provides enjoyable and interesting reading.

One fun note: I was watching the DVD series of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, which is filmed in Africa, and the first episode happened to have someone selling cakes. I noticed happily that those cakes were indeed far fancier and more colorful than cakes I’d see in America. So apparently I’ve learned something true about baking cakes in Kigali.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/baking_cakes_in_kigali.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of When the Heart Waits, by Sue Monk Kidd

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

When the Heart Waits

Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions

by Sue Monk Kidd

HarperSanFrancisco, 1990. 217 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s another book by a woman exploring the deep questions and issues of facing midlife. Those always resonate with me. This one, with the theme of waiting, of slow growth, seemed particularly apt.

She uses the image of spinning a cocoon and having radical transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly. It takes time. And when the transformation has been made, even unfurling your new wings is difficult.

Here are some passages I especially liked, to give you a taste of the wisdom in this book:

“When it comes to religion today, we tend to be long on butterflies and short on cocoons. Somehow we’re going to have to relearn that the deep things of God don’t come suddenly. It’s as if we imagine that all of our spiritual growth potential is dehydrated contents to which we need only add some holy water to make it instantly and easily appear.

“I received a letter recently from someone who was feeling impatient about taking the long way round. She wrote, ‘Pole vaulting is so much more alluring than crawling.'”

“Most of us Christians don’t know how to wait in pain — at least not in the contemplative, creative way that opens us to newness and growth. We’re told to “turn it over to Jesus” and — presto! — things should be okay.

“But inside things usually aren’t okay. So on top of everything else, we feel guilty because obviously we didn’t really turn our pain over or else it wouldn’t still be with us. Or we decide that God wasn’t listening and can’t be trusted to deliver on divine promises.

“How did we ever get the idea that God would supply us on demand with quick fixes, that God is merely a rescuer and not a midwife?”

“If you want to be impressed, note how often God’s people seem to be waiting….

“I came to the parable Jesus told about the ten maidens waiting for the bridegroom…. I’d always thought that the point of the story was that we should be prepared. But in my reading after the retreat, it seemed to be just as much about waiting. Waiting through the dark night. The idea is that waiting precedes celebration. If you don’t show up prepared to wait, you may miss the transcendent when it happens.

“Most stunning to me was the picture I began to get of God waiting. The parable of the prodigal son would be more aptly named the parable of the waiting father. It tells us much more about God than anything else — a God who watches and waits with a full heart for us to make our homecoming.”

“Shifting from a self-centered focus to a more God-centered focus is terribly hard. I think we’ve gone wrong by assuming that such a radical movement can be achieved simply by setting our jaw and saying one or two prayers of relinquishment.

“Letting go isn’t one step but many. It’s a winding, spiraling process that happens on deep levels. And we must begin at the beginning: by confronting our ambivalence.”

“Looking back, I’m aware of several experiences that sifted together to bring me quietly to the place of letting go. They had the effect of slowly and gently uncurling my grip, finger by finger.”

She takes us through her midlife journey, including many painful moments. But then comes the time of unfurling the new wings:

“When the time is right, the cocooned soul begins to emerge. Waiting turns golden. Newness unfurls. It’s a time of pure, unmitigated wonder. Yet as we enter the passage of emergence, we need to remember that new life comes slowly, awkwardly, on wobbly wings.

“I waited many long months before I felt newness begin to form, and many more before it began to unfold in my life. Gradually — oh, so gradually — my waiting season came to an end. The pain began to diminish bit by bit, as if it had peaked and now was giving way to something new. Many of the questions I’d lived with began to sprout little seeds of insight. Light trickled in. A new vision and way of life began to take shape not only in my head but in my heart and soul as well. It was as if I’d discovered a new room inside myself — a wider, more expansive place than I’d known before, but a room that had been there all along.”

This book will uplift and encourage anyone going through a similar journey. She offers us Hope:

“Hope for you and me and the journeys we undertake. Hope that we would trust our waiting hearts enough to risk entering them, that we would listen for the Voice that bids us come to the edge, and that we would welcome the gentle push of God, who is both our wings and the wind that bears them up.”

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/when_the_heart_waits.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

Out of My Mind

by Sharon M. Draper

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 2010. 295 pages.

Melody introduces herself by talking about words:

“Every word my parents spoke to me or about me I absorbed and kept and remembered. All of them.

“I have no idea how I untangled the complicated process of words and thought, but it happened quickly and naturally. By the time I was two, all my memories had words, and all my words had meanings.

“But only in my head.

“I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old.”

Melody has cerebral palsy, a condition that gives her no control over her body.

“I can’t talk. I can’t walk. I can’t feed myself or take myself to the bathroom. Big bummer.

“My arms and hands are pretty stiff, but I can mash the buttons on the TV remote and move my wheelchair with the help of knobs that I can grab on the wheels. I can’t hold a spoon or a pencil without dropping it. And my balance is like zip — Humpty Dumpty had more control than I do.

“When people look at me, I guess they see a girl with short, dark, curly hair strapped into a pink wheelchair. By the way, there is nothing cute about a pink wheelchair. Pink doesn’t change a thing.”

Because Melody has no way to express herself except a temper tantrum, the world (except maybe her parents and her kind neighbor) doesn’t realize that she’s actually brilliantly intelligent. She’s put in a class for “special” kids who go over the alphabet over and over again.

But things do start looking up. Her school starts a policy of inclusion. Melody and her classmates get to join a music class, and then others. Maybe she’s even making a friend.

But that doesn’t come close to what happens when Melody gets a computer — a computer that can speak for her. At last, she can communicate with the world — and the world is in for a surprise.

Melody can even try out for the Quiz Team, a team that, if it’s good enough, will go to Washington, DC, and be on TV. Maybe her classmates will finally understand her worth.

This book was a good read. I have a friend whose son has cerebral palsy. It took me awhile to understand that the condition did not affect his mind, but only his body. I can only begin to imagine how much frustration that could generate. And this book helped me understand it better.

The author didn’t go with the predictable, feel-good ending. Although this was probably much more realistic, I did find myself wishing she had. But Melody is determined and smart, and I’m sure she’ll overcome anything further that life throws at her.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/out_of_my_mind.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Art and Max, by David Wiesner

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Art & Max

by David Wiesner

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin), Boston, 2010. 40 pages.
Starred Review

Three-time Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner has another stunner here. Art & Max reminds me of The Three Pigs, because it’s also a meta-book, a book about how books are made. Or at least meta-art, art about art.

The story takes place in the desert with various desert reptiles. (I won’t attempt to specify which species.) Arthur is a big horny critter who is also an artist, and obviously very pleased with himself. When little Max comes along and wants to paint, he asks Art (Arthur) what he should paint.

When Art says, “You can paint me,” Max takes him literally. That’s when the fun begins.

Art ends up covered with paint. When the other critters try to fix him, he goes through several different manifestations — created in different art styles. Most catastrophic is when he’s a watercolor and drinks a glass of water — and then becomes a line drawing. Then when he walks away with Max holding his tail — he unravels completely.

Don’t worry, Max does recreate Art, in a whole new style.

I would like to share this with children. Probably old enough that they wouldn’t worry about being unravelled! Though I think kids will understand the playful spirit and that these things could only happen in a world where all the characters are made of paint in the first place.

This book has lots to talk about or just enjoy, and is captivating on many levels.

It wouldn’t have surprised me if this book had earned David Wiesner a fourth Caldecott Medal, since the art is so innovative and stunning. For me personally, the story didn’t have as much heart as his winners, but it’s still a playful and creative look at what you can do with art.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/art_and_max.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Star Crossed, by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Star Crossed

by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2010. 359 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #8 Teen Fantasy Fiction

I so enjoyed Elizabeth Bunce’s first book, A Curse Dark as Gold, when my library didn’t order a copy of Star Crossed as soon as it came out (They do have several copies now.), I ordered myself a copy. I was glad I did, because I’m sure I will read it again, especially since it turns out to be the first book of a series.

The fantasy world of Star Crossed is complicated and complex, but Elizabeth Bunce doesn’t lose the reader or blast us with a data dump. She feeds the information to us gradually and skilfully, stringing us along, making us want to know more. By the time the book is done, you look back at an intricate web of history, magic, relationships, betrayals and loyalties, just wanting to find out what happens next.

The book begins with Digger, a skilled thief, escaping from a heist that has gone bad, trying to escape the Greenmen. Her partner, the man she loves, was captured. Now she needs to get out of the city.

While she’s walking by the river, trying to figure out how to get on a boat and leave the city, she gets a lift with a group of young noblemen and women on a pleasure boat. She pretends to be a lady herself, Celyn Contrare, fleeing from the convent school of the Daughters of Celys.

They take pity on her and get her out of the city. She becomes Merista’s lady’s maid and they go to Meri’s family’s castle to get ready for her kernja-velde. Digger does not have magic herself, but she does have the unusual ability to sense magic, and magic is strong on Meri.

Many guests come to the family’s castle, ending up getting snowed in for the winter. One of them recognizes Digger for the thief she is. He won’t turn her in — as long as she does some stealing for him. Digger gets more and more fond of Meri and her family, but is trapped into spying on them. Can she keep them from getting in trouble? What are they plotting? She finds out more and more secrets that she does not want to reveal.

The intrigue in this book has many layers. There was a historic battle years ago where one side was defeated because of a traitor. There is a missing prince who is out of favor with those in power. There are the Greenmen, vigilant in looking for the forbidden use of magic. There are some surprises in Digger’s background. She gets drawn further and further into the plots until it all erupts into a dramatic, exciting, and satisfying showdown. I found myself immediately rereading the last several chapters, simply to enjoy them again and make sure I saw all the threads weaving beautifully into place.

The best part of the book may have been on the last page: “Digger will return in Liar’s Moon.” I hope I don’t have to wait long!

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