Archive for September, 2014

Review of A Boy and a Jaguar, by Alan Rabinowitz

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

boy_and_jaguar_largeA Boy and a Jaguar

by Alan Rabinowitz
illustrated by Cátia Chen

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2014. 32 pages.
Starred Review

This is a picture book biography, with Alan Rabinowitz telling his own story. The book stands out because his story is riveting and inspiring, and the paintings by Cátia Chen are a perfect match.

Alan Rabinowitz has always been a stutterer. When he was a child, he was put in a class for disturbed children, because the teachers said that whenever he tried to speak, it disrupted the class.

He explains his predicament simply:

I try to explain, but my mouth freezes, just as I knew it would. I am a stutterer. If I try to push words out, my head and body shake uncontrollably.

However, the book begins with Alan standing in front of his favorite animal, a jaguar, at the Bronx Zoo. He explains why:

I can do two things without stuttering. One is sing – only I can’t sing well – and the other is talk to animals.

Alan builds a special relationship with animals. People treat him as broken because he stutters.

I know that my pets listen and understand. Animals can’t get the words out, just as I can’t get the words out. So people ignore or misunderstand or hurt them, the same way people ignore or misunderstand or hurt me.

I make a promise to my pets.

I promise that if I can ever find my voice, I will be their voice and keep them from harm.

Alan gets through school and college and learns to speak without stuttering, but he still feels broken on the inside. So he sets off to study animals.

Later, in Belize, I am the first person to study jaguars. The jungle makes me feel more alive than I have ever felt.

He’s in a wonderfully atmospheric jungle scene for this spread.

But jaguars are being hunted. Alan needs to speak to the prime minister of Belize for a plea to set up a jaguar preserve. Can he do it without stuttering? Can he keep his promise he made to animals in his youth?

The book finishes off with an amazing encounter. As an adult, back in the jungle studying jaguars, he comes face to face with a large male jaguar.

I know I should feel frightened, but I squat down and look into the jaguar’s eyes, just as I had with the sad old female at the Bronx Zoo. But this animal isn’t sad. In this animal’s eyes are strength and power and sureness of purpose.

We are both whole.

We are both at home.

I lean toward him a little, the way I had at the Bronx Zoo so many years before.

“Thank you,” I whisper.

This is a truly beautiful book with an inspiring message. This is a case where what stands out is the strong story and you realize later that because it’s true, technically, it’s a biography, not a storybook. I do hope that readers will find it in the nonfiction section. We’re going to have to make an effort to pull it out and give it the attention it deserves.

panthera.org
stutteringhelp.org
hmhbooks.com

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

Sonderling Sunday – Hinunter, Hinunter, Hinunter

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday – That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books. This week it’s back to the delightful book that started it all — Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, by James Kennedy, otherwise known as The Order of Odd-fish.

Sonderlinge 2

Last time, we left off on page 210 in English, Seite 265 auf Deutsch. Jo and Ian have followed Nick past the Drehkreuz.

Here’s one of those rare phrases that’s shorter in German:
“crowded subway platform” = überfüllten Bahnsteig (Well, okay, just barely shorter. That means, essentially, “over-filled train-climb”)

“straggler” = Nachzügler (“after traveler”)

“tracks” = Gleise

Not as much of a ring to it:
“Down, down, down” = Hinunter, hinunter, hinunter

“cramped and filthy passageways” = enge, schmutzige Gänge

“darker, slimier, and rougher” = dunkler, schleimiger und primitive

“lantern” = Taschenlampe (“pocket-lamp” I wonder if the translator thought it meant a flashlight?)

This sounds even more repulsive in German:
“a wet hole” = ein feuchtes Loch

“slick, spongy moss” = glattem schwammigem Moos

I like this one:
“crawled headfirst” = kroch kopfüber

“which suddenly contracted and slurped”
= das sich plötzlich zusammenzog und ein schlürfendes Geräusch von sich gab
(“that itself suddenly together-moved and a slurping noise from itself gave”)

“warily” = mistrauich

“a sloppy, drooling mouth” = ein schlaffes, sabberndes Maul

One word for this!
“just to make sure” = sicherheitshalber (“for safety’s sake”)

“jealous” = eifersüchtig (“zeal-seeking”)

“tumbling and sliding” = rutschte taumelnd

“splashed” = platschend

“torches” = Fackeln

“their faces looked strange and red in the flickering fire”
= ihre Gesichter wirken im Licht der flackernden Flammen merkwürdig rötlich
(“their faces looked in the light of the flickering flames strangely red”)

“twinkling jewels” = funkelnden Juwelen

“elaborate arched passages” = kunstvoll gemeißelte Durchgänge

“dome” = Kuppel

“humbled by age” = vom Alter gedmütigt

“arranged in glimmering mosaics” = zu schimmernden Mosaiken angeordnet

“whistled” = pfiff

“snorts” = schnaubte

“tame” = zahm

“squids” = Kalmare

“scratched” = kraulte

“We’ll go for a ride.” = Wir machen einen kleinen Ausritt.

“falling off” = herunterfielen

“squeeze them with your legs” = klemmt sie euch zwischen die Beine

“grunting beasts” = grunzenden Tieren

“oozed” = sickerte

“the back of her head” = ihren Hinterkopf

This time English has the compound word:
“slingshot” = Schleuder

“hushed gibbering” = leises Schnattern

“monkey-like beast” = affenähnliches Tier

“bolder” = kühner

“the roar of a hundred tiny throats” = einem tosenden Brüllen aus Hunderten winziger Kehlen

“leaped” = griffen

“snarling shapes” = knurrenden Gestalten

“bursting out of the water” = aus dem Wasser auftauchten
(I like that. auftauchten is, basically, “out-dived.”)

“bucked and dived” = bockte und tauchte

“surface” = Wasseroberfläche

“That was close.” = Das war knapp.

“peevish” = ein bisschen gereizt

“with heavy irony” = troff von Sarkasmus

“a spot of tea” = ein Schlückchen Tee

And let’s finish up with a tremendously useful phrase:
“I understand that knitting is very soothing.”
= Ich habe gehört, Stricken soll sehr entspannend sein.

I find myself hoping my readers don’t have any occasion to say these things this week. May you not hear the leises Schnattern of any affenähnliches Tier, nor einem tosenden Brüllen aus Hunderten winziger Kehlen.

But if you do, you’ll know what to call them!

Review of You Should Have Known, by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

you_should_have_known_largeYou Should Have Known

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

Grand Central Publishing, New York, 2014. 438 pages.
Starred Review

I started reading this book with a certain sadistic glee. The story is of a therapist, Grace Reinhart Sachs, who has written a book called You Should Have Known. Here Grace is talking about her book with a reporter from Vogue:

“Look, I’ve been in practice for fifteen years. Over and over I’ve heard women describe their early interactions with their partner, and their early impressions of their partner. And listening to them, I continually thought: You knew right at the beginning. She knows he’s never going to stop looking at other women. She knows he can’t save money. She knows he’s contemptuous of her – the very first time they talk to each other, or the second date, or the first night she introduces him to her friends. But then she somehow lets herself unknow what she knows. She lets these early impressions, this basic awareness, get overwhelmed by something else. She persuades herself that something she has intuitively seen in a man she barely knows isn’t true at all now that she – quote unquote – has gotten to know him better. And it’s that impulse to negate our own impressions that is so astonishingly powerful. And it can have the most devastating impact on a woman’s life. And we’ll always let ourselves off the hook for it, in our own lives, even as we’re looking at some other deluded woman and thinking: How could she not have known? And I feel, just so strongly, that we need to hold ourselves to that same standard. And before we’re taken in, not after….

“Imagine,” she said to Rebecca, “that you are sitting down at a table with someone for the first time. Perhaps on a date. Perhaps at a friend’s house – wherever you might cross paths with a man you possibly find attractive. In that first moment there are things you can see about this man, and intuit about this man. They are readily observable. You can sense his openness to other people, his interest in the world, whether or not he’s intelligent – whether he makes use of his intelligence. You can tell that he’s kind or dismissive or superior or curious or generous. You can see how he treats you. You can learn from what he decides to tell you about himself: the role of family and friends in his life, the women he’s been involved with previously. You can see how he cares for himself – his own health and well-being, his financial well-being. This is all available information, and we do avail ourselves. But then . . .”

She waited. Rebecca was scribbling, her blond head down.

“Then?”

“Then comes the story. He has a story. He has many stories. And I’m not suggesting that he’s making things up or lying outright. He might be – but even if he doesn’t do that, we do it for him, because as human beings we have such a deep, ingrained need for narrative; especially if we’re going to play an important role in the narrative; you know, I’m already the heroine and here comes my hero. And even as we’re absorbing facts or forming impressions, we have this persistent impulse to set them in some sort of context. So we form a story about how he grew up, how women have treated him, how employers have treated him. How he appears before us right now becomes part of that story. Then we get to enter the story: No one has ever loved him enough until me. None of his other girlfriends have been his intellectual equal. I’m not pretty enough for him. He admires my independence. None of this is fact. It’s all some combination of what he’s told us and what we’ve told ourselves. This person has become a made-up character in a made-up story.”

“You mean, like a fictional character.”

“Yes. It’s not a good idea to marry a fictional character.”

Grace has a beautiful life, with a son Henry at a fine private school and a wonderful husband who’s a pediatric oncologist. Grace doesn’t tell reporters that when she met her husband, she just knew that he was the one for her. It’s sad the way most of her other friends have fallen out of her life. But Jonathan is enough. And too bad that he had such a rotten childhood, and his parents didn’t even come to their wedding.

The reader is not surprised when Grace’s beautiful life begins to fall apart.

Like I said, I rather expected to be gleeful. Here’s one who says you should have known, but in some cases, how can you possibly know?

However, as I read the book, my sympathy for Grace grew to be huge. Yes, she should have known. She had warning signs. But you have complete sympathy for her, since when you’re in love, it’s pretty hard to imagine that this wonderful person is actually a sociopath.

This book actually pairs very well with the dating advice book I recently read, How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk. The problem in You Should Have Known is letting yourself fall in love before you really know the person. Then as you do get to know them, you’re already ready to overlook any flaws, which may come back to bite you later.

So in that sense, this was a therapeutic book to read as I’m starting to date again after my divorce! Nothing like a cautionary tale not to let myself be too swayed by a handsome face!

As for the book itself? I grew to have nothing but sympathy for Grace as her life fell apart and even her story of her marriage in the past had to be modified. And as she tried to figure out how to carry on and how to start life again, I was completely rooting for her, completely on her side. And the book was also therapeutic in thinking about my own marriage. No, my husband wasn’t as sociopathic as Grace’s husband. But some things, on an emotional level, were awfully resonant for me. So if I was applauding Grace moving on with life and putting her marriage behind her, why was I reluctant to do the same?

And the book was lovely, too. We feel realistically hopeful for Grace by the end. It’s not going to be easy for her or her son. But we feel like they’re going to make it.

So therapy, a cautionary tale, and an excellent story all in one package. If the author is saying Grace should have known, at least she’s saying it with compassion.

HachetteBookGroup.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/you_should_have_known.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 Verily, a New Hope, by Ian Doescher

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

verily_a_new_hope_largeWilliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars

Verily, a New Hope

By Ian Doescher

Quirk Books, Philadelphia, 2013. 174 pages.
Starred Review
2013 Cybils Finalist

I’m going to list this on the Teens page – but this is truly a book that spans all ages. I brought it to a party of adults playing Eurogames, and they were all delighted and spontaneously read bits aloud. One of them was a homeschooler, and we agreed that it would be perfect for a group of middle school students getting ready to tackle Shakespeare.

What is it? The complete story of the first Star Wars movie, told in iambic pentameter, as Shakespeare would surely have written it, had he ever heard of space ships. This isn’t a straight translation. The author also used Shakespearean devices such as a Chorus to describe action and multiple uses of soliloquies to tell what the characters are thinking and planning.

This book truly begs to be read aloud or, better yet, performed. And, since everyone knows the story of Star Wars so well, any Shakespearean language the reader doesn’t understand will be readily made clear.

Here’s the scene where Luke has just met Obi Wan Kenobi:

CHORUS Now holdeth Luke the weapon in his hand,
And with a switch the flame explodes in blue.
The noble light Luke’s rev’rence doth command:
That instant was a Jedi born anew.

OBI-WAN [aside:] Now doth the Force begin to work in him.
[To Luke:] For many generations Jedi were
The guarantors of justice, peace, and good
Within the Old Republic. Ere the dark
Times came and ere the Empire ‘gan to reign.

LUKE How hath my father died?

OBI-WAN [aside:] –O question apt!
The story whole I’ll not reveal to him,
Yet may he one day understand my drift:
That from a certain point of view it may
Be said my answer is the honest truth.
[To Luke:] A Jedi nam’d Darth Vader – aye, a lad
Whom I had taught until he evil turn’d –
Did help the Empire hunt and then destroy
The Jedi. [Aside:] Now, the hardest words of all
I’ll utter here unto this innocent,
With hope that one day he shall comprehend.
[To Luke:] He hath thy Father murder’d and betray’d,
And now are Jedi nearly all extinct.
Young Vader was seduc’d and taken by
The dark side of the Force.

Ian Doescher includes a note at the end of the book as to why Shakespeare and Star Wars make a natural pairing. I’m happy to report that the trilogy continues in The Empire Striketh Back.

quirkbooks.com/shakespearestarwars
IanDoescher.com
starwars.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/verily_a_new_hope.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 The Winter Horses, by Philip Kerr

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

The Winter Horseswinter_horses_large

By Philip Kerr

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2014. 278 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a World War II tale unlike any other I’ve read. I loved it from the start. This book will appeal to animal lovers as well as readers who like to see an underdog succeed against all odds. I liked the way the people the characters met were good or bad depending on their own values, not on which side of the conflict or what nationality they were.

Here’s what the author has to say about the truth of the tale, before it gets underway:

Much of this old story has been gathered together like the many fragments of a broken vase. The pieces do not always fit as best they might, and indeed it’s quite possible that several of them do not belong here at all. It cannot be denied that the story has many holes and could not withstand much scrutiny. Historians will object – as they always seem to do – and say there is no real evidence that the old man and the girl who are the story’s hero and heroine ever really existed. And yet if today you were in Ukraine and dared to put your ear into the wind or perhaps took a trip across the steppe and listened to the deep voices of the bison, the whoop of the cranes, or the laughter of the Przewalski’s horses, you might learn that about the truth, the animals are never wrong; and that even if there are some parts of this story that are not exactly true, they could be, and that is more important. The animals would surely say that if there is one truth greater than all of the others, it is that there are times when history must take second place to legend.

This preface is the perfect touch to keep our suspension of disbelief in check. At the end of the book, we see a picture of a Przewalski’s horse at the Askaniya-Nova nature reserve in Ukraine today. So the horses did survive World War II. In fact, we’re told that all of the world’s Przewalski’s horses today are descended from just nine of thirty-one horses in captivity at the end of the war. So that’s enough to convince me this beautiful story might have happened.

The book opens at the Askaniya-Nova nature reserve in the Ukraine. The Germans are coming, so the Communists tell Maxim Borisovich Melnik to kill all the animals so the Germans won’t eat them.

Max has no intention of obeying. Wasn’t it a German, the Baron Falz-Fein, who first set up the sanctuary? Wasn’t he the kindest man Max ever knew? And aren’t the Przewalski’s horses a national treasure, and the rarest horses in the world?

Max was not the only person at Askaniya-Nova who was fond of the wild Przewalski’s horses. A girl had been hiding in the woods at the edge of the steppe for some time, and although she had, like many girls, loved horses as long as she could remember, for some reason that even she could not easily have explained, the wild Przewalski’s horses made friends with her. This was just as well since she had no human friends. Her family were all dead, and the few people who inhabited the scattered villages in the region drove her away from their doors because they were afraid – afraid that if the girl was arrested by the Germans, then they might also be arrested. The girl understood this and did not blame them for shunning her; she forgave them for it and told herself she would probably have done the same, although as this story proves, this was clearly not the case.

The Germans do appreciate the horses at Askaniya-Nova – but mainly the beautiful Hanoverian horses, not the wild Przewalski’s horses. Their view, with animals as well as people, is that “inferior” bloodlines should be eradicated.

So they gun down the horses, and neither Max nor the girl, Kalinka, can do anything to stop them. But two horses escape, a stallion and a mare. And just as winter starts up in all its fury, Kalinka and the horses come to Max’s door.

This book is the story of how Kalinka saves the horses, and how the horses save her. Okay, I have to admit it’s on the unbelievable side. Could Kalinka really have formed such a bond with wild horses? But I agree with the author – There are times when history must take second place to legend. This beautiful story is a triumph.

randomhouse.com/teens

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