Archive for March, 2011

Review of The Odious Ogre, by Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

The Odious Ogre

story by Norton Juster
pictures by Jules Feiffer

Michael Di Capua Books (Scholastic), 2010. 32 pages.
Starred Review

When I heard that the creators of the brilliant book The Phantom Tollbooth, which I loved as a child, had done another collaboration, I knew I had to read it. The Odious Ogre is quite different from their earlier collaboration, since it’s a picture book rather than a chapter book. All the better to make the most of Jules Feiffer’s illustrations.

This is a book that begs to be read aloud. Not to the preschool storytime crowd necessarily — unless they are very good listeners — but definitely to young elementary school classrooms. The large picture book format makes the most of the ogre’s true odiousness for all to see, and the language — Ah! the language!

You see, the odious ogre who has been terrorizing the populace “did have quite an impressive vocabulary, due mainly to having inadvertently swallowed a large dictionary while consuming the head librarian in one of the nearby towns.” The ogre says:

“No one can resist me…. I am invulnerable, impregnable, insuperable, indefatigable, insurmountable.”

But the ogre had never met anyone like the pretty little girl with her flower garden. She is completely unimpressed.

“Oh, you’re not really so terrible,” the girl insisted, with a lovely, musical laugh. “Overbearing perhaps, arrogant for sure, somewhat self-important, a little too mean and violent, I’m afraid, and a bit messy. Your shoes could certainly use a polishing, but I’ll bet if you brushed your teeth, combed your hair, found some new clothes, and totally changed your attitude, you’d be quite nice.”

This book clearly shows that “the terrible things that can happen when you come face-to-face with an Ogre can sometimes happen to the Ogre and not to you.”

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

Battle of the Books First Week Round-Up

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

After a week, School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kid’s Books is going strong.

I made my predictions/fan picks, and when the first match went my way, I thought I was going to do much better this year than last year, when I only picked one right in the entire first round.

However, after five matches, that first one is the ONLY one I’ve gotten right so far. I’m very bummed about the loss of A Conspiracy of Kings, but fondly hope that it will win the Undead Poll. As a fan on the Sounis page pointed out, “But you do know that Eugenides never loses, right? That even when he seems to lose he’s actually PLOTTING HIS VICTORY?”

So here are my predictions/hopes for the first half of the Second Round:

Match 1: The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar
vs. Countdown, by Deborah Wiles
judged by Laura Amy Schlitz

For this match, I’m rooting hard for The Cardturner. I wouldn’t have rooted for it against A Conspiracy of Kings, but I really loved it. Seems like a great book for math geeks and game lovers, and I am both. Roger Sutton on the Horn Book blog complained about the ending, but I loved it and thought it was set up nicely in the comments about Tony.

Match 2: The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie, by Tanya Stone
vs. Keeper, by Kathi Appelt
judged by Naomi Shihab Nye

For this match, I’m solidly in Keeper‘s camp. Another one that I loved. I did pick Hereville in the first round, but I loved both, and am very fickle, and now will be pulling hard for Keeper. I will have a tough time deciding on my third round choice if The Cardturner and Keeper both win. But I’m not really worried about that — more afraid that I’ve jinxed them by naming them as my favorites!

The third match is going to go that way, too. I have The Odyssey, by Gareth Hinds on hold, but the wait is rather long, and I haven’t read it yet. And the fact is, I liked both The Ring of Solomon and Sugar Changed the World very much, and I’m sure to root for the winner of that match in the second round.

But as I said before, most of the fun from The Battle of the Books comes from reading the judges’ comments. These are eloquent writers, and it’s entertaining to hear what each one says about two excellent books.

I’m looking forward to next week’s action!

Review of Bink & Gollie, by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Bink & Gollie

by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

illustrated by Tony Fucile

Candlewick Press, 2010. 82 pages.
2011 Geisel Award Winner
Starred Review

In the tradition of Frog and Toad, George and Martha, and Elephant and Piggie, here’s another easy-to-read book about two friends who are very different, but who have a great time together.

This one’s a beginning chapter book, with 82 pages, rather than a traditional easy reader format. But much of the story is told in the exuberant pictures and there are not a lot of words on each page. Readers will feel they have accomplished something when they finish this book with three chapters.

Bink is short and a little wild, with yellow hair going in every direction. Gollie is tall and calm, and likes things just so. You can see all that from the picture of them rollerskating on the front cover.

The first chapter brings a conflict in their personality types:

“‘Bink,’ said Gollie, ‘the brightness of those socks pains me. I beg you not to purchase them.’

‘I can’t wait to put them on,’ said Bink.”

After some conflict over the socks, the two friends come up with a compromise bonanza.

The book goes on in the classic tradition of friendship tales — with simple situations that test the friendship, but allow the friendship to come out strong and shining. The illustrations in this book tell much of the story and convey much of the emotion behind the words. And it’s fun to read one of these tales where we see cordless phones and a laptop computer in the illustrations. The book is classic — but modern.

This week I had a couple different people ask about chapter books that are not too difficult, but for a child who wants something beyond the traditional easy reader. Bink and Gollie will fill the bill. There are lots of big words: “outrageous socks,” “marvelous companion,” “remarkable fish,” and “extraordinary accomplishment.” But there is not a lot of text on each page, and many of the big words are repeated throughout the book. Children who read it themselves will realize that they have achieved an extraordinary accomplishment.

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

Review of Truce, by Jim Murphy

Thursday, March 17th, 2011


by Jim Murphy

Scholastic Press, New York, 2009. 116 pages.
Starred Review

Jim Murphy’s book is an excellent introduction to World War I. With photographs and maps, and quotations from firsthand sources he explains the basics of why the war began and all the countries involved. Then he talks about the trenches:

“In the autumn days ahead, there would be more charges and countercharges. Heightening the misery was a series of torrential rainstorms, some lasting several days. By October, the armies had come to a grinding halt on every front. ‘The energies of [all warring] armies flagged,’ wrote historian John W. Wheeler-Bennett, ‘worn out by defeats, fighting, and the vileness of the [now] swampy country.’

“Fierce fighting continued, but no army seemed capable of driving back the enemy. Instead, soldiers struggled from village to village, then farm to farm, until the lines of battle seemed to hardly move at all. The closeness of the enemy and rising casualty rates forced the commanders of both sides to make a momentous decision. Soldiers would begin digging trenches to hide from the killing fire.”

Jim Murphy describes trench warfare and the awful conditions. Then he turns his attention to an aspect of World War One that I knew nothing about: when the soldiers in the trenches, on both sides, refused to fight for Christmas.

He quotes from people who were there, such as British soldier Graham Williams:

“Williams and the men in his company watched as more trees appeared along the enemy’s battle line. Then, suddenly, ‘our opponents began to sing “Stille Nact, Heilige Nact.”… They finished their carol and we thought that we ought to retaliate in the same way, so we sang “The First Nowell,” and when we finished that they all began clapping. And so it went on. First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up “O Come All Ye Faithful” the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words “Adeste Fideles.” And I thought, well, this was really a most extraordinary thing — two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.'”

The story that emerges is actually an inspiring one, even though it’s coming out of war. And the story is true, as you can tell by Jim Murphy’s meticulous research. Unfortunately, the commanders and others in charge of the war were not at all happy about the Christmas truce. But the story does make you think.

I like the reflections of Major Murdoch McKenzie Wood on the last page of this story:

“Wood was in the trenches in 1914 and participated in a truce that lasted over two weeks. ‘I . . . came to the conclusion that I have held firmly ever since, that if we had been left to ourselves there would have never been another shot fired. For a fortnight that truce went on. We were on the most friendly terms, and it was only the fact that we were being controlled by others that made it necessary for us to start trying to shoot one another again.”

This focus on the Christmas Truce shines a fascinating light on this well-documented history of World War I for upper elementary and middle school kids. What a great context for examining the reasons wars are fought.

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Source: This review is based on a book I got at the Margaret Edwards Award Luncheon at ALA Annual Conference.

Review of The Off Season, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

The Off Season

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
read by Natalie Moore

Listening Library, 2007. 5 CDs. 6 hours
Starred Review

After listening to Dairy Queen, I simply had to find out what happened next. I very much liked the narrator, Natalie Moore, and I could easily imagine her voice as DJ’s voice. (I was disappointed when the library didn’t have the third book in audiobook version.)

In The Off Season, DJ gets injured badly enough that she decides she’d better stop playing football in order to stay healthy for her true sport, basketball. But that’s only the beginning. She breaks up with Brian. Her brother Win has a devastating injury.

In the middle of this book, it seemed like everything that could possibly go wrong was going wrong for DJ and her family. I almost didn’t want to keep listening, because I was hurting for DJ.

Later, when I heard the author speak, I learned that she used to be a screenwriter, so she purposely used the three-act structure where everything looks black in the second act. And believe me, everything looks black in the middle of this book.

However, the author really pulls off a happy ending. DJ tackles her problems with the same fighting spirit that motivated her to play football in the first book — only now the stakes are much higher. By the end, you’re definitely cheering for her.

I have to say that, even though I didn’t like it when DJ broke up with Brian, because I liked him and had fallen for him with DJ — I was very proud of her. She broke up with him because he was ashamed to be seen with her. He never introduced her to his friends or his parents. And DJ figured out that she wanted to be with someone who was proud of her, who wanted the world to know that they were together. I loved it that she did that. I loved it that she figured out that was a dealbreaker. How often do you see that in books for teens? It was one more thing that made this book great — as well as heart-wrenching.

This review may be unnecessary. Those who read the first book, will, like me, be sure to want to read the second and third. But writing it gives me an excuse to again loudly cheer for DJ Schenk. She’s a high school girl with weaknesses and world-sized problems — but she ends up as an inspiration.

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

Review of I, Librarian: Rex Libris, Volume I, by James Turner

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

I, Librarian
Rex Libris, Volume 1

by James Turner

SLG Publishing, 2007.

I apologize to my readers, but I do have a soft spot for Super-Hero Librarians. And that’s what Rex Libris is all about!

This is a graphic novel of the adventures of the amazing Rex Libris, who travels through the galaxies if someone doesn’t return a book. It’s incredibly silly, but quite clever, and definitely diverting fun.

The caption at the beginning will give you the idea:

“Welcome, adventurous reader, to the first issue of Rex Libris, Public Librarian. Here you will find, for the first time in print ever, the tumultuous tales of the public library system and its unending battle against the forces of evil. This struggle is not just confined to our terrestrial sphere but extends out into the farthest reaches of the cosmos… and beyond! The librarian has faced patrons so terrible, so horrific, that they cannot be described here without the risk of driving readers mad. But enough prattle and preamble! Settle back with a cup of coffee and a donut (or other pastry if you prefer), and prepare to enter the secret world of…


The other librarians at the Middleton Public Library are quite interesting, too. I love it when Circe explains to her co-worker:

“Oh, we all mellow with age, dear.

“I’m over 2000 years old. My trouble-making days are long behind me. Wreaking havoc and seducing adventuring heroes is for young people. These days I like to curl up with a good book and a hot cup of tea.”

Meanwhile, Rex is taking on space beings in an effort to get back a copy of Principia Mathematica.

Like I said, it’s all very silly, but we librarians need to be aware of how we are portrayed in literature, don’t we?

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

Review of Quack and Count, by Keith Baker

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Quack and Count

by Keith Baker

Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999. 28 pages.

Here’s a simple picture book that’s fun and easy to read, and lays a nice foundation for counting and addition.

The story is simple. Lovely cut-paper artwork shows us seven ducklings. There are two rhyming lines on each set of pages, but the innovative part is that on each set of pages, we have different groupings.

On the page after we are initially introduced to the seven ducklings, it says,

“Slipping, sliding, having fun
7 ducklings, 6 plus 1.”

Six ducklings are grouped on the left-hand page, and one duckling has already slid down onto the right-hand page.

The next page is:

“7 ducklings, 5 plus 2
Playing games of peekaboo.”

Now you have five ducklings on the left and two on the right, all hiding in the long grass.

And so it continues.

This book is a beautiful way to give the idea of addition in a fun way, without overt teaching. They will see, without you even having to point it out, that 3 + 4 and 4 + 3 both equal seven. On each page, you can count the left, count the right, and count them all together, and your child will enjoy the experience even before he knows how to count himself.

This book gives an example of a beautiful and fun way to build a number sense into your little one. The short text means it would work well with very young children, and as they get older, you can let them count the ducklings themselves. The lovely artwork adds a level of enjoyment.

As a former math teacher, and a Mom who looked for excuses to teach my kids about numbers, and who has successfully reared two book-lovers and math-lovers, I simply had to highlight this delightful little book.

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

Review of As We Forgive, by Catherine Claire Larson

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

As We Forgive
Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda

by Catherine Claire Larson

Zondervan, 2009. 284 pages.
Starred Review

This powerful and moving book tells the stories of seven survivors of the Rwandan genocide, and their difficult journeys to forgiveness and reconciliation.

Each story is heart-wrenching. But each survivor was able to rise above the horrendous things they experienced. That any one of these people is able to forgive is mind-blowing. Taken together, the book clearly makes the case that the path to healing lies in forgiveness.

And you won’t be ever be able to look at people who’ve wronged you as harshly again. If these survivors, whose families were killed, often before their eyes, can forgive and find healing, well, what has anyone ever done to me that even comes close?

And this book even tells stories of survivors who reach out in reconciliation to the one who harmed them, as they begin to put their nation back together again.

I like Appendix 2 at the back. It lists “Choices on the Way to Peace” for both the Victim and the Offender. Here’s the list for the Victim:

Steps to Forgiveness:
Step 1
– I face my truth.
– I move from denial to grieving the loss.
– I open my wounds and begin to heal my pain and shame.
– I forgive myself and cease blaming.
– I accept God’s forgiveness.

Step 2
The first hand of forgiveness …
I let go of my bitterness and the right to revenge.

Step 3
The second hand of forgiveness …
I confront the offender with a request to uphold my dignity by restoring something of what was lost.

Step 4
I become open to accepting the humanity and dignity of the offender — and even the possibility of restoring the relationship.

I especially like Step 3, because when you think of forgiveness, you don’t necessarily think of asking for restitution. But this list affirms that asking for some restitution is part of the forgiveness process. It’s not revenge — it’s just asking the offender to take some responsibility to help make things right.

The steps don’t talk about what happens if the offender won’t respond to the request, but the book did. The victim CAN forgive and still seek justice in court. The victim is upholding their own dignity by asking for some restitution, whether that restitution is granted or not.

The steps do make it pretty clear that reconciliation is not going to happen if the offender doesn’t respond to that request. (And the four steps for the offender are necessary, too.) But if the victim has already let go of bitterness, their own life will be transformed in a beautiful way, regardless of how the offender responds.

This is a beautiful book about forgiveness played out in actual human lives.

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

Review of Clementine’s Letter, by Sara Pennypacker

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Clementine’s Letter

by Sara Pennypacker
pictures by Marla Frazee

Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2008. 150 pages.
Starred Review

I am so hooked on Clementine! This is the third book about this irresistible third-grader who knows how to pay attention — to the important things.

Just when Clementine is getting the hang of third grade and in sync with her teacher, he applies for a special program to send a teacher to Egypt. The class is supposed to write letters to the judges about their teacher, and Clementine decides to write a letter to make sure he doesn’t go.

Meanwhile, she has to deal with a substitute. A substitute who doesn’t know how things are done in their classroom.

“The rest of the morning got worse. By the time the recess bell rang, I bet I heard a hundred ‘Clementine-pay-attention!’s. And every time, I was paying attention!

“But okay, fine, not to Mrs. Nagel, because she had gone from boring to extra-boring. Instead, I was paying attention to the astoundishing idea that had jumped into my head when I passed by the trash-and-recycling area last night. Which was the opposite of boring, believe me.”

Sara Pennypacker doesn’t settle for just the story of what happens to Clementine at school. She also weaves in Clementine’s interactions with her parents and baby brother, her neighbor the prissy Margaret and Margaret’s brother Mitchell, and Clementine’s scheme to buy her mother a present. I love the way Clementine goes to find names for her brother. Since her name is also the name of a fruit, she feels her brother should have the name of a vegetable. She finds some interesting names at the Chinese grocery, and from then on we hear about Bean Sprout and Bok Choy and Scallion.

These books would make absolutely wonderful bedtime reading — if only I had a child young enough. I’ll keep it in mind some day for a grandchild! And meanwhile, if you’re lucky enough to have an early-elementary-school-age child to read aloud to, I think the Clementine books would make a delightful choice.

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

A Response from a Fairfax County Supervisor

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Last week, I posted an open letter to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, as well as mailing them a letter and a signed copy of the book, This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, by Marilyn Johnson.

Today I received a response! Jeffrey McKay, the Lee District Supervisor, sent me the following letter:

Dear Ms. Eklund:

Thank you for taking the time to write in support of our Fairfax County library system and also for the signed copy of This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.

I appreciated the passages you marked, along with the thoughtful points you make about the value of libraries. Because last year, the budget cuts to our library system were so large, I was very pleased to see that the County Executive spared the libraries this year. While it’s too early to know what the final budget will be, I will be considering your common sense observations about the value of libraries in my deliberations.


Jeffrey C. McKay
Lee District Supervisor

p.s. I am very glad that you were able to rejoin the library system in November.


I’ve got to admit — that’s a nice letter to receive.

Mind you, it’s a politician’s letter. Notice that he definitely does not make any promises about trying to restore library funds.

But I do feel like he’s considered what I had to say, and that’s really what I was after. Times are still hard, and I do realize that coming up with the county budget is a huge task with hard choices. I hope they will at least be thinking about ways to restore library funding. It’s nice to learn that the point I was trying to make was at least heard.

And I really do appreciate such a friendly response.