Archive for January, 2014

Review of The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes

Friday, January 31st, 2014

The Year of Billy Miller

by Kevin Henkes

Greenwillow Books, 2013. 229 pages.
2014 Newbery Honor Book

Kevin Henkes gets kids. He knows what they think about, what they worry about, and how they act. And he’s able to express that on the page.

Billy Miller is about to start second grade. His teacher says it’s the Year of the Rabbit. But Papa says, “It’s the Year of Billy Miller.”

He has some setbacks right from the start. He’s afraid his new teacher will think he doesn’t like her. So he comes up with a plan to make things right. But plans don’t always go smoothly.

Other scenarios Billy deals with include making a diorama, dealing with his little sister, trying to stay up all night, and writing and reciting a poem. They’re child-size episodes and everything Billy does rings true.

This book reminds me of the Clementine books, looking at life from a child’s perspective. Billy’s a little more worried about things than Clementine, but he also can’t hold still. He will win just as firm a place in children’s hearts.

kevinhenkes.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Locomotive, by Brian Floca

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Locomotive

by Brian Floca

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013. 64 pages.
Starred Review
2014 Caldecott Medal
2014 Sibert Honor Book

Our library is shelving this with nonfiction, and I think I’m going to list it there. Technically, this is a fictional story, but the book is more about facts than the story of the travelers featured. The story merely provides a frame for telling about steam travel across the country as it would have been in 1869, when the transcontinental railroad went all the way through.

The charm of this book lies in the magnificent artwork. The book is a large square shape, with lots of room for details. Small train lovers as well as big train lovers will be delighted to pore over each page.

The basic text tells a fairly simple story of a family traveling to meet their father and husband in California, addressing the reader, telling you what it would have been like.

Now comes the locomotive!
The iron horse, the great machine!
Fifty feet and forty tons,
wheels spinning, rods swinging,
motion within motion, running down the track!
She’s bright in her paint and her polish —
the pride of her company and crew.
She pulls her tender and train behind her,
she rolls up close to where you wait,
all heat and smoke and noise:

Hear the clear, hard call of her bell:
Clang-clang! Clang-clang! Clang-clang!

Hear the Hisssssssss and the Spit of the steam!

Hear the engine breathe like a beast:
Huff Huff Huff!

Brian Floca uses font, size, and position on the page to make the words themselves part of the story, especially the sound effects. On this page, the words come closer and push the family back, as they gaze at the giant locomotive.

The journey goes all the way across the country, and so many details are given. Pictures of landmarks decorate the pages, and we see the different kinds of terrain, what the passengers are doing, and what the train workers are doing, from the boy who sells newspapers to the engineer.

The extra large pages give the reader both panoramic vistas and extreme close-ups to things like the engine and the mighty wheels. The inside front cover tells about building the Transcontinental Railroad and the inside back cover tells about how steam power works in the locomotive. No space is wasted.

This book is a train-loving kid’s dream come true. And it may create some train lovers as well.

brianfloca.com
KIDS.SimonandSchuster.com

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

Review of Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Flora and Ulysses

The Illuminated Adventures

by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by K. G. Campbell

Candlewick Press, 2013. 231 pages.
Starred Review
2014 Newbery Medal Winner

Flora is a girl who loves comic books. Her mother, a romance writer, wants Flora to “work to turn her face away from the idiotic high jinks of comics and toward the bright light of true literature.”

But because of Flora’s knowledge of comic books, she knows exactly what to do when she meets a superhero squirrel.

You see, their neighbor, Mrs. Tickham, was given a new Ulysses Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain 2000X vacuum cleaner for her birthday. When she tries it out, it accidentally sucks up everything in sight, including her book of poetry, and a squirrel.

Flora sees it happen from her bedroom window. She rushes down and shakes the squirrel out of the vacuum.

He didn’t look that great. He was missing a lot of fur. Vacuumed off, Flora assumed. His eyelids fluttered. His chest rose and fell and rose again. And then it stopped moving altogether.

Flora knelt. She put a finger on the squirrel’s chest.

At the back of each issue of The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto! there was a series of bonus comics. One of Flora’s very favorite bonus comics was entitled TERRIBLE THINGS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU! As a cynic, Flora found it wise to be prepared. Who knew what horrible, unpredictable thing would happen next?

Thanks to her reading, Flora is able to give the squirrel CPR and revive him. She names him Ulysses, after the vacuum cleaner.

His encounter with the vacuum cleaner has given him amazing superpowers. He is super strong. He can type. He can write poetry. And he can fly.

But all good superheroes have an arch-nemesis. In Ulysses case, that arch-nemesis is none other than Flora’s mother, who believes squirrels are filthy beasts and wants Flora to have nothing to do with him.

Can Flora and Ulysses overcome evil and save the day?

Various parts of this book, particularly the parts with Ulysses’ superpowers, are shown in comic panel form, which is appropriate to the story. All the characters they encounter are bizarre in at least one way or another, which is also appropriate to a story of a superhero squirrel. It all adds up to a fun and quirky story with a lot of heart.

candlewick.com

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

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Sonderling Sunday – Ken Kiang

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

At last! It’s again time for Sonderling Sunday, that time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books. What with Christmas and a vacation in California, it’s been more than a month since my last installment, so I’m happy to get back to it tonight.

And after such a long time off, of course I’m coming back to my stand-by, Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, The Order of Odd-Fish, by James Kennedy.

Last time, we finished up chapter 12, so now we begin Chapter 16, which is page 199 in the English original, and Seite 251 auf Deutsch. We are almost to the halfway point! (There are 403 pages in the English version, and 511 pages in the German version.)

The chapter starts with a question we may well ask:

“But what about Ken Kiang?”
= Wie aber war ist Ken Kiang ergangen?
(“But how has Ken Kiang fared?”)

“Ken Kiang was overwhelmed. He was overpowered.”
= Ken Kiang war überwältigt, er war übermannt.

“before he would feel his soul dwindle and teeter on the precipice of being blasted to nothing by the sheer demonic grandeur that was the Belgian Prankster”
= sonst lief er Gefahr, dass seine Seele schrumpfte und er kurz davor war, ins Nichts zu verschwinden, und das allein durch die reine dämonische Größe, die den Belgischen Scherzkeks ausmachte
(“otherwise he was in danger, that his soul shrank and he was shortly into nothing to disappear, and that alone through the pure demonic size, that the Belgian Joke-Cookie achieved.”)

“He had come away baffled and reeling.”
= Vollkommen verdattert und mit schwindelndem Kopf hatte er ihn verlassen.
(“Completely flabbergasted and with dizzy head had he left him.”)

“so hugely, senselessly lawless”
= so Gewaltigem, gefühllos Gesetzlosem

“piddling mischief” = kläglichen Übermut

“unimaginably gargantuan evil” = unvorstellbaren, riesigen Bösen

“a slap in the face” = ein Schlag ins Gesicht

“only play into the schemes of his incalculable foe”
= nur seinem unberechenbaren Feind in die Hände spielte

“bit players” = Statisten

“crackling fire” = knisterndes Feuer

“invincible” = Unbesiegbaren

“inscrutable mechanisms” = unergründlichen Mechanismen

“awesome calculations” = Ehrfurcht einflößenden Berechnungen
“Glory-fear inspiring calculations”)

“minor functionary” = unbedeutendes Rädchen
(“insignificant cog”)

“vainglory” = eitlen Ruhm (“vain fame”)

“vanity” = Eitelkeit

“burned away” = vernichtet

“painstakingly” = pingelig

“Fleet of Fury” = Furiosen Flotte

“moody teenager” = launischer Teenager

“stashed” = verstaut

“crawling chaos” = wimmelndes Chaos

“coaxed” = hervorlockten

“silly props” = albernen Kostüme

“showy fanfare” = schmetternde Fanfare

That’s it for tonight, finishing at the end of page 201, thus being so close to the halfway point of the book.

And tomorrow morning, the Youth Media Awards are announced, including the Newbery and Caldecott Medals! There will be some wonderful schmetternde Fanfare for a situation that is Ehrfurcht einflößenden!

Have a wonderful week! May you avoid both kläglichen Übermut and unvorstellbaren, riesigen Bösen!

Review of The Plantagenets, by Dan Jones

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

The Plantagenets

The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England

by Dan Jones
read by Clive Chafer

Blackstone Audio, 2013. 21 hours on 17 CDs.

Thank you to Liz Burns for recommending this book on her A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy blog. I read her recommendation when I had recently learned that I have a few drops of Plantagenet blood in my veins – one of my distant ancestors was a distant descendant of an illegitimate child of King John, whom Dan Jones describes as the worst of the Plantagenet rulers.

I don’t think I could have read all this history in the print book. As it was, I skipped and listened to other things in between some of the CDs. So I know a whole lot more about British history than I ever did before, but it’s more of a grand overarching view than remembering all the details. And I confess I was far more interested in historical characters that I’d read about in historical novels than anyone else. Especially since I was interrupting my listening, I often got the different Henrys and Edwards confused, and wasn’t always sure exactly which king he was talking about.

I loved the narrator’s voice and British accent at first. However, he used the same “quoting” voice every time he was quoting someone. Not that they should be different – they were mostly quotes from historians or from various kings. But after awhile, it all sounded the same.

Still, I can’t think of a more painless way to get a grand overview of an era of British history (and some of my own ancestors!) than listening to this narrative on the way to and from work. I learned about the many wars, about revolutions and uprisings, about the establishment of laws, and about what was expected of a medieval king. And despite being history, it was never boring.

The blurb on the back says that Dan Jones is working on a new history of the War of the Roses. That’s the era that comes next, and I’m looking forward to finding out more.

BlackstoneAudio.com

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

Review of Far Far Away, by Tom McNeal

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Far Far Away

by Tom McNeal

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2013. 369 pages.
Starred Review
2013 Capitol Choices Selection

Here is how Far Far Away begins:

What follows is the strange and fateful tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost. The boy possessed uncommon qualities, the girl was winsome and daring, and the ancient ghost . . . well, let it only be said that his intentions were good.

If more heavily seasoned with romance, this might have made a tender tale, but there was yet another player in the cast, the Finder of Occasions, someone who moved freely about the village, someone who watched and waited, someone with tendencies so tortured and malignant that I could scarcely bring myself to reveal them to you.

I will, though. It is a promise. I will.

This strange and fateful tale is narrated by the ghost himself — who is, in fact, the ghost of Jakob Grimm, and someone who knows something about tales.

Jakob was alarmed, after death, not to find his brother Wilhelm anywhere about. He did, however, find a boy in a small town who was able to hear ghosts, Jeremy Johnson Johnson. But this boy was in danger. Jakob knew that somewhere in the same town was the Finder of Occasions, who would want to harm such an uncommon boy.

This story tells about that harm, and how Jakob attempted to help. Along the way is a remarkable tale, fully worthy of the Brothers Grimm. Jeremy and his friend do go far far away, but can they end up with a happily ever after?

I always said that I’m not particularly a fan of ghost stories. Yet 2013 may have changed my mind about that. It seems to have been a year for excellent ghost stories, each one having a flavor and plot all its own. In this story, there’s nothing sinister about the ghost. But there are definitely sinister forces endangering Jeremy, which the ghost tries to protect him from. Beautifully told.

mcnealbooks.com
randomhouse.com/teens

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/far_far_away.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 my own copy, which I got at ALA Annual Conference, and had signed by the author.

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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Dinosaur Kisses, by David Ezra Stein

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Dinosaur Kisses

by David Ezra Stein

Candlewick Press, 2013. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Reading this book makes me want to immediately do a toddler storytime. It’s got so many elements to make toddlers giggle: Kisses, dinosaurs, and stomping, chomping, and whomping.

Dinah is a baby dinosaur who discovers she likes stomping (STOMP!) and chomping (CHOMP!). Then she sees a kiss and wants to try that. There’s a lovely and oh-so-frightening page as she sets off: “Who can I kiss?”

She doesn’t get it right. Cue lots of toddler giggles.

“I will kiss you!”

WHOMP!

“Whoops,” said Dinah.

Even I laughed out loud when I first read these pages:

“This time, if I’m really, really careful and I only use my lips . . .

then I can do it!

“I will kiss you!”

[page turn]

But she ate him.

“Whoops,” said Dinah. “Not good.”

It all ends with silly happiness when Dinah finds a newly hatched dinosaur like herself who has the same ideas about kisses.

A wonderful, whomping, stomping romp!

candlewick.com

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

Review of Bedtime Math, by Laura Overdeck, illustrated by Jim Paillot

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Bedtime Math
by Laura Overdeck

A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late

illustrated by Jim Paillot

Feiwel and Friends, New York, 2013. 86 pages.
Starred Review
2013 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #6 Children’s Nonfiction

I already talked about Bedtime Math on my blog, when it only referred to a website. Then I used the book in my Every Child Ready to Read program, “Fun with Math for Parents and Preschoolers.”

I am tremendously excited about Bedtime Math, because I discovered how wonderful it is years ago, when my second son was about five years old. I’m not sure how it started, but he began asking for math problems at bedtime. (It might have been when I told him that when he turned six, his age plus his age would equal his brother’s age, and his age *times* his age would equal my age. His next question was, “What’s times?” One week later, his brother asked him “What’s 16 times 4?” and he figured out the answer in his head!)

Anyway, this started a stretch where I’d make up math problems for him at bedtime, after reading three books, when he was tucked in and cozy in bed. He learned the magic words I was NOT able to resist that would extend bedtime on and on: “Just one more math problem, Mommy, please!”

The problems in Bedtime Math are much better and more fun than the simply numerical problems I made up for my son. Each two-page spread has a fun scenario, followed by related math problems, one for “wee ones” (involving counting), one for “Little kids,” and one for “Big kids.” You can also get problems from their website or app.

The categories used are “Exploding Food,” “Wild Pets,” “Extreme Vehicles,” “Sports You Shouldn’t Try at Home,” and “Really Odd Jobs.”
For example, after telling us about squirt bottles for ketchup (“Squirting ketchup is also more fun than throwing a tomato: While a tomato smacking into something might explode and make a mess, ketchup already is a mess.”), here are the problems listed:

Wee ones: If you squirt 3 squirts of ketchup on a hot dog, and then 1 more squirt on your friend’s head, how many squirts did you fire off?

Little kids: If you line up some burgers and squirt ketchup on the 1st burger, then every 3rd burger after that, which burger in the lineup is the 4th burger to get squirted?

Big kids: If you squirt 2 cups of ketchup, and each cup used 14 tomatoes, how many tomatoes’ worth of ketchup did you just squirt?

I am excited about Bedtime Math! May the Math Madness spread! Laura Overdeck says in the Introduction:

Bedtime Math’s goal is simple: to make math a fun part of kids’ everyday lives, not just something found only in homework assignments. Math should be as beloved as the bedtime story….We never hear people say “Ewww, a book at bedtime?!” Likewise, there’s absolutely no reason to say that about math. Numbers are beautiful, and kids love attention. Bedtime Math just puts the two together. With that, let the games begin.

bedtimemath.org
mackids.com

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

Review of Top Dog, by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Top Dog

The Science of Winning and Losing

by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman
read by Po Bronson

Hachette Audio, 2013. 9 hours on 8 CDs
Starred Review
2013 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #9 Nonfiction

I’ve enjoyed all of Po Bronson’s books that I’ve read, most recently NurtureShock, which was also written with Ashley Merryman. I’ve been accused of being too competitive, and I recently joined a weekly board game group, so I was thinking about competition when this book became available.

Po Bronson explores many different aspects of his topic, presenting studies done in any way related to competition. All of them are fascinating. Some of those things include how performance is affected by competition, what happens in our bodies when we compete, differences between men and women in competitions, family dynamics and competition (only children are less competitive — no surprise there!), what happens when teams are involved, and how we respond to winning and losing.

The part about the differences between men and women was especially interesting, except that I was annoyed that no data was given as to how prevalent these differences are. In other words, are all women as described, or just the majority? I’m curious if, as a competitive member of a large family, the qualities they attribute to women apply to me.

Since I listened to it, I can’t quote great bits. I found it interesting that some people do better when competing — and some people do worse. I love playing games, but many of my friends don’t enjoy it at all. This book helped me see that probably has a lot to do with our genes and our upbringing, and not something either of us is likely to change in a hurry.

In the section on teams, I thought it was interesting that teams do best not when everyone is equal, but when there are well-defined roles. I thought that related to recent plans to do away with some of the hierarchy at my workplace. It’s not necessarily a good idea.

If you’re at all interested in any type of competition, this book is sure to cover some aspect of that type. Fascinating stuff.

TwelveBooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

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

Another Sonderbooks Stand-out!

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Oops! Announcing another 2013 Sonderbooks Stand-out!

Here’s the deal. In all the years previously, I’d go back through my earlier posts before I chose my stand-outs and make a list of all the books I reviewed that year. But it got confusing on the years where I didn’t finish posting all the reviews of the previous year when that year started.

So this year, I had a bright idea. I’d make a spreadsheet of every book I read from the beginning of 2013 onward. Then I used the spreadsheet list to choose my Stand-outs. So much easier!

There was only one little problem. I forgot to write down some titles. So far, I’ve moved my total of books read up to 552 from the original 549 I posted. But the very worst oversight is the one I realized today. This morning I went to Capitol Choices, where we finalize our list for 2013. And I realized, to my horror, that I had not put Midwinterblood, by Marcus Sedgwick, on my list.

How could I possibly have forgotten Midwinterblood? The only defense I have is that I read it very early in the year — and somehow I forgot to put it on my spreadsheet.

As soon as I remembered it, there was no doubt in my mind that I have to put it on my list. This is super annoying, since I already numbered the lists. But Midwinterblood is the new #4 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Teen Fiction!

And I’m going to be so careful in 2014 not to forget to write down any titles!