Archive for August, 2017

Review of All the Way to Havana, by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Mike Curato

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

All the Way to Havana

by Margarita Engle
illustrated by Mike Curato

Godwin Books (Henry Holt and Company), 2017. 36 pages.
Starred Review

I fell for this book because of the wonderful, lilting use of language and onomatopoiea. The story is of a boy and his family going for a drive to Havana.

We have a gift, and we have a cake,
and today we’re going to drive all the way
to the big city to see my new baby cousin
on his zero-year birthday!

But before they set out on their drive, they need to figure out why their old blue car isn’t making its usual noises: “cara cara cara cara, cluck, cluck, cluck,” but instead sounds like “pio pio, pio pio, pfffft.”

Papá opens the trunk and lets me hand him
the heavy toolbox. Then he raises the hood
to show me all the rattling parts
that have been fixed with wire, tape,
and mixed-up scraps of dented metal.

The boy is involved in choosing tools and tinkering, twisting, and tightening – until “Cara Cara once again begins to sound like a chattering hen.”

The drive into town involves giving rides to neighbors – and a new set of noises. There’s a gorgeous and colorful spread as they come into town, driving on the curved road by the seawall, with many other old cars in all colors on the road along with them.

At the party, there fun and food with cousins, and then it’s time to come home again.

So we zoom and bump all the way back
to our little village, where we will soon
have a chance to
cara cara
taka taka
pio pio
clunk
sleep.

I love the Author’s Note at the back of the book. It adds depth to what is already such a lovely (for the eyes) and melodious (for the ears) story.

Due to a complex historical situation, many of the American cars on the island of Cuba are pre-1959 and so old that parts under the hood have been replaced many times, often with makeshift inventions. Despite more than half a century of poverty and hardship, the Cuban people remain so creative that they manage to keep machines of all sorts running long past the age when wealthier people would discard them. This simple poem about the island’s noisy old cars is intended as an expression of admiration for the everyday ingenuity of poor people everywhere who have to struggle, persevere, create, and invent on a daily basis, never losing hope. Undoubtedly, a boy like the one in this story would dream of modern cars and space-age inventions along with plans to keep his family’s antique car running smoothly.

margaritaengle.com
mikecurato.com
mackids.com

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

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

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

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Review of Angels in My Hair, by Lorna Byrne

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Angels in my Hair

The True Story of a Modern-Day Irish Mystic

by Lorna Byrne

Harmony Books, 2011. First published in the United Kingdom in 2008. 319 pages.
Starred Review

Ever since she was a little girl, Lorna Byrne has been able to see angels and other spirits. This book tells her story. And it’s lovely.

Here’s how she begins the book:

When I was two years old the doctor told my mother I was “retarded.”

When I was a baby, my mother noticed that I always seemed to be in a world of my own. I can even remember lying in a cot – a big basket – and seeing my mother bending over me. Surrounding my mother I saw wonderful bright, shiny beings in all the colors of the rainbow; they were much bigger than I was, but smaller than her – about the size of a three-year-old child. These beings floated in the air like feathers; and I remember reaching out to touch them, but I never succeeded. I was fascinated by these creatures with their beautiful lights. At that time I didn’t understand that I was seeing anything different from what other people saw; it would be much later that I learned from them that they were called angels.

As the months passed, my mother noticed that I’d always be looking or staring somewhere else, no matter what she’d do to try to get my attention. In truth, I was somewhere else: I was away with the angels, watching what they were doing and talking and playing with them. I was enthralled.

I was a late talker, but I had been conversing with angels from very early on. Sometimes we used words as you and I understand them, but sometimes no words were needed – we would know each other’s thoughts. I believed that everyone else could see what I saw, but then the angels told me that I was not to say anything to anyone about seeing them, that I should keep it a secret between us. In fact, for many years I listened to the angels and I didn’t tell people what I saw. It is only now in writing this book that I am for the first time telling much of what I have seen.

The author writes all about growing up with angels around her and about her marriage and children. She didn’t write the book until her children were grown. Now people come to her from all over, asking for prayer.

Her perspective is lovely. I like the way she talks matter-of-factly about how there are always lots of angels around places of worship – churches, synagogues, and mosques alike.

She also talks about souls that stay around after death to comfort their loved ones, or come back to comfort their loved ones. In fact, one of the first spirits she saw, and played with, was her older brother Christopher, who died as a baby.

She sees different kinds of angels – and tells us that everyone has a guardian angel who is with them all their live

Review of When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

When the Moon Was Ours

by Anna-Marie McLemore

Thomas Dunne Books, 2016. 273 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Stonewall Honor Book

Samir and Miel live in a small town and they are best friends. Sam’s family is from Pakistan. He paints moon lamps and hangs them all over town. He’s a gentle person, and when Miel fell out of the old water tower and seemingly materialized out of water, Sam was the one who calmed her down. He and his mother found a home for Miel with Aracely, who lived next door.

Hinting at her mysterious origins, the hem of Miel’s skirt is always wet. Even more mysterious, though, is that she grows roses out of her wrist. After one blooms and falls away, another grows. The color of each depends on what Miel has been thinking about.

As you can probably tell, this book is full of magical realism, which isn’t really my thing. I like fantasy with rules of magic that make sense, that seem understandable. This has several wild things going on, which I wasn’t crazy about, although I did enjoy reading the beautiful prose.

Here’s a section toward the beginning:

They’d touched each other every day since they were small. She’d put her palm to his forehead when she thought he had a fever. He’d set tiny gold star stickers on her skin on summer days, and at night had peeled them off, leaving pale constellations on her sun-darkened body.

She’d seen the brown of her hand against the brown of his when they were children, and holding hands meant nothing more than that she liked how warm his palm was in the night air, or that he wanted to pull her to see something she had missed. A meteor shower or a vine of double-flower morning glories, so blue they looked dyed.

All these things reminded her of his moons, and his moons reminded her of all these things. He’d hung a string of them between her house and his, some as small as her cupped palms, others big enough to fill her arms. They brightened the earth and wild grass. They were tucked into trees, each giving off a ring of light just wide enough to meet the next, so she never walked in the dark. One held a trace of the same gold as those foil star stickers. Another echoed the blue of those morning glories Sam could find even in the dark. Another was the pure, soft white of the frost flowers he showed her on winter mornings, curls of ice that looked like tulips and peonies.

The main problem of the book arises when the four Bonner sisters decide they want Miel’s roses, that those roses belong to them. Miel had been offering them to her mother by drowning them in the river. But now Ivy Bonner tells Miel that if she doesn’t give them her roses, they will tell the whole town that Sam’s name is really Samira.

Miel knows that Sam has a girl’s body, but she also knows that he is a boy, and his body doesn’t matter. In fact, the book opens with the first time they sleep together.

One thing I loved about the book was this dealing with a transgender person as the person he really is. Along with everything else, this book is fundamentally a love story, and a beautiful one. This is the first time I’ve read a love story involving a transgender person, and that aspect of it was beautifully done.

The Author’s Note at the back explains why Anna-Marie McLemore can write this so well. She met her own husband and fell in love with him when they were teens – but before he had admitted to himself that he was transgender. Combined with the questions she had about her own life, it sounds like this book came from a deep place in her heart, her own questions and struggles growing up beautifully expressed in magical realism.

This book is about secrets and truth and power. But it’s also a love story about two teens discovering who they really are.

http://author.annamariemclemore.com
thomasdunnebooks.com
stmartins.com

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

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

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Review of This Land Is Our Land, by Linda Barrett Osborne

Monday, August 28th, 2017

This Land Is Our Land

A History of American Immigration

by Linda Barrett Osborne

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016. 124 pages.
2017 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award Finalist
Starred Review

I heard Linda Barrett Osborne speak at the awards ceremony for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Awards. She commented that her book wasn’t as timely when she began writing it in 2013. The facts in the book go up to 2015, but I do hope that her publisher comes out with an updated version before long. Though we may need to see how the next few years go.

The history of immigration in America is fascinating. In her talk, the author surprised us with facts such as that Benjamin Franklin didn’t want too many Germans to immigrate, and immigrants from Asia were not allowed to become citizens until 1952.

This book covers more than 400 years of immigration in America – and it’s surprising how similar attitudes have been over the years. In the introduction, we read what George Washington wrote about discouraging immigration, and then the author says this:

Both of these ways of looking at immigration – openness to all or restrictions for some – are part of our heritage. In the early twenty-first century, we still debate who and how many people should be allowed into our country, and if and when they should be allowed to become citizens. Some Americans think of the United States as multicultural, made stronger by the diversity of different ethnic groups. Others think that there should be one American culture and that it is up to the immigrant to adapt to it. Still others have believed that some immigrant groups are incapable of adapting and should not be permitted to stay.

Americans whose families have lived here for some time – whether centuries, decades, or just a few years – often discount their own immigrant heritage. They look down on newcomers from other countries. Indeed, far from inviting Lazarus’s “huddled masses,” our laws, policies, and prejudices have often made it difficult for many immigrants to enter the United States or to find themselves welcome when they are here.

This Land Is Our Land explores this country’s attitudes about immigrants, starting from when we were a group of thirteen English colonies. Until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which kept Chinese workers from immigrating to the United States, there were no major national restrictions on immigration – therefore, there were no illegal immigrants, or what we now call “undocumented aliens”: people from foreign (alien) countries who have no official papers to enter the United States.

The author quotes from a letter by Benjamin Franklin about the many Germans settling in Pennsylvania in 1751. (Some of those were my ancestors!)

Now imagine the same words today, with “Mexican” substituted for “German.”

As they came, settled, and endured, each immigrant group went through a remarkably similar experience. They left their countries to escape poverty, war, starvation, or religious and political persecution – or for economic opportunity. As foreigners who came from different cultures and often spoke languages other than English, they faced prejudice from groups that were already here. They seemed to threaten American customs and values established as early as the 1600s. Often, they were denied jobs and housing. They did the hardest and least well paid work. Yet they saved money and made homes here. Immigrant men brought over their wives and children; immigrant children brought their siblings and parents. Families reunited. Whole communities left their country of birth and regrouped in America. The children and grandchildren of immigrants, born here, spoke English. They absorbed American attitudes and ways of living. They grew in numbers and gained political power.

They often acted toward immigrant groups that came after them with the same kind of prejudice and discrimination that their families had encountered when they first moved here.

This Land Is Our Land does not attempt to answer all the questions and solve all the problems associated with immigration. Rather, it looks at our history to provide a context for discussion. If we examine the way Americans have responded to immigrants over time – and the responses have been startlingly similar and consistent – we gain an insight into immigration issues today. Why do we sometimes invite immigration and sometimes fear it? How much does race play a part in whether we accept new immigrants? Does the legacy of our country’s origin as a group of English colonies still shape our attitudes?

This book also presents the experiences of immigrants who left their home countries to start a new life here. How did their expectations and aspirations match the realities of living in the United States? How was the experience of different groups affected by racial prejudice? How did they eventually succeed, if they did, in becoming Americans?

You can see that the author has big ambitions for this book – but I believe she succeeds.

Now, you may guess that she does have an agenda in presenting this background, and I think that agenda shows when she talks about how we all have immigrant ancestors – except for Native Americans. But her point is well taken. As she says in the Epilogue:

Do we treat them as fellow human beings, with respect and compassion – the way we wish our immigrant ancestors had been treated, no matter who they were, no matter which country they left to pursue the American Dream?

This book got an award from the Young Adult Library Services Association, and my library has it in the Juvenile Nonfiction section. The target audience seems to be upper elementary and middle school students, perhaps through high school. There are plenty of historical photographs included as well as copies of old documents. The large, wide pages make it seem a little younger – but there is enough information packed onto those pages, even with largish print, that older readers won’t feel talked down to – if they pick the book up.

It does seem like a good time to know about the history of immigration in America – this book is a good way to bring yourself up to speed. Our country’s attitudes haven’t changed a whole lot over the years – but it’s good to know that those immigrants we did welcome to our shores over the years are the very people who have helped to make our country great.

abramsyoungreaders.com

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

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

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

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Review of A More Christlike God, by Bradley Jersak

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

A More Christlike God

A More Beautiful Gospel

by Bradley Jersak

Plain Truth Ministries, Pasadena, California, 2015. 330 pages.
Starred Review

This is a beautiful book. It made my heart sing. In the introduction, the author offers this as a mantra:

God is Good. God is Love. Life happens but redemption is coming. “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (I John 2:8).

Yes.

I ordered this book from Amazon because I had just finished a book on universalism that I loved, Flames of Love, by Heath Bradley. I was looking for another book on theology, and I’d enjoyed Bradley Jersak’s book, Her Gates Are Never Shut. I liked the description of this book. It turned out to be a wonderful choice.

The book is about exploring what God is like. Here’s where the author starts:

The Christian faith, at its core, is the gospel announcement that God – the eternal Spirit who created, fills and sustains the universe – has shown us who he is and what he’s like – exactly what he’s like – in the flesh and blood human we sometimes call Emmanuel (‘God with us’). Conversely, we believe Jesus has shown us the face and heart of God through the fullness of his life on earth: revealed through eyewitness accounts of his birth, ministry, death and resurrection. We regard this life as the decisive revelation and act of God in time and space. That’s still a faith statement, but for Christians, it is our starting point. To look at Jesus – especially on the Cross, says I John – is to behold the clearest depiction of the God who is love (I John 4:8). I’ve come to believe that Jesus alone is perfect theology.

This does shake up some of the prevalent teaching about God.

When I personally turned my gaze to the God who is completely Christlike, I was confronted with how un-Christlike the ‘church-God’ or even the ‘Bible-God’ can be. Setting Jesus as the standard for perfect theology, many of our current Christian beliefs and practices would obviously face indictment. Even significant swaths of biblical literature don’t line up well with the Christ of the Gospels. Claiming that God is revealed perfectly in Jesus triggers tough questions about the God I once conceived and preached. Jesus’ life and character challenges my religious clichés and standby slogans – especially the rhetoric of supreme power and irresistible force. Christ never reveals God that way in his teachings and especially not in his Passion (that is, Jesus’ arrest, trial, torture and death). Yes, he proves victorious, especially in his resurrection, but remember that Paul resolved to preach ‘Christ and him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2). you could resist him, you could mock him and beat him up. You could kill him. And we did. Our God is the cruciform Christ, the ‘weakness of God’ (1 Cor. 1:25) who is stronger than men. Why? Because he operates by overcoming love, not by overwhelming force.

Here are some more sections from the first chapter:

Jesus’ favorite image of God was Father (seventy times in the Gospels!). Jesus showed us in the Gospels what fatherhood meant to him: extravagant love, affirmation, affection and belonging. It meant scandalous forgiveness and inclusion. Jesus showed us this supernaturally safe, welcoming Father-love, extended to very messy people before they repented and before they had faith. Or better, he was actually redefining repentance and faith as simply coming to him, baggage and all, to taste his goodness and mercy. He didn’t seem to appreciate our self-loathing. The repentance he wanted was that we would welcome his kindness into our deepest needs and wounds.

After all, this is what Jesus said about himself.

Add to Jesus’ depiction of God as Father his startling Last Supper announcement, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). Somehow we need to let his words jar us again. Maybe we’re too used to the phrase, but it’s what I’ve hinted at in the title. For our own sakes, we might take a break from trying to convince ourselves that Jesus was and is God and to spend this twenty-first century meditating on the truth that God is like Jesus. Exactly like Jesus.

This book explores the ramifications of this observation. And the result is truly beautiful, as the subtitle promises.

Now there’s a whole lot in here that’s wonderful. I’ve marked many sections to add to Sonderquotes, and while I was reading it, I couldn’t stop talking about it with some of my friends.

He especially talks about the theology of the Cross. Here’s a paragraph that sums up the direction he goes. (Kenosis means “self-emptying,” used of Christ in Philippians 2.)

In the next few chapters, we will begin to explore the grand mystery of how a kenotic, cruciform and Christlike God can reign – can be present, active and ‘sovereign’ – in the world, when he is neither coercive nor controlling, but nevertheless infinitely close and caring. We’ll notice together how such a God rules, saves and serves by grounding and filling all that is with the power of love – a divine love with a particular content defined as consent and participation.

Further, we’ll see that we surrender to God’s reign, cooperate with the Spirit’s grace, and receive Christ’s salvation in the same way: by consent and participation. The fullness of God’s saving comes as God participates fully in the human condition – from birth to death – and consents to enduring temptations, trials and even the extreme humiliation of crucifixion. The fullness of our salvation comes as we participate in Christ’s death and as we fully consent – cooperate and surrender – to his grace.

The book is full of the exploration of these ideas and what they mean in our lives. And it gets into big theological questions – and answering them by looking at Christ.

Here’s a section that blew me away. I had never thought of God this way:

In that sense, I say God is in charge, but he is not in control, because he doesn’t do control. Sometimes I wish he did, but as I scan history and humanity, I don’t see him controlling. Sometimes he seems and feels absent, distant and silent, weak or maybe even dead. Did God simply die and abandon us all to go to ‘hell in a hand basket’?

No! Rather than control and coerce, God-in-Christ cares and consents to suffer with and for us. We don’t concede to the false image of a ‘lame duck’ dad who sits by silently, watching his kids getting beaten by the bully. Instead, we look to the true image of the cruciform – Christ himself – the One who heard our groans and came down to suffer and die with us in order to overcome affliction, defeat death and raise us up to live and reign with him.

I also really appreciated the section on the Gospel – and “unwrathing” the Cross. I especially appreciated how he lays out the foundation before he started looking at Gospel metaphors used in the Bible:

I would like to explore some of the salvation metaphors in detail, unpacking key biblical and historical symbols of atonement. Before I do, I must say it again: atonement theories are not the gospel. Across the New Testament, while metaphors do appear to hint at the ‘how’ of atonement, the emphasis is not on these symbolic explanations, but on the story itself. Preaching the gospel never meant theorizing how atonement happens but, rather, proclaiming good news: the events and impacts of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. When the evangelists in the Book of Acts went preaching, whether it’s Peter or Stephen to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, or Paul and Barnabas to pagan Gentiles in Greek and Roman cities, their message is consistent. They usually follow this basic storyline:

God sent Jesus into the world to announce the good news of peace, to turn us from wickedness and save us (from ourselves).

Jesus was crucified (and sometimes, “You killed him”).

God raised him from the dead.

Jesus is Lord and Saviour; he is making all things new.

Now turn to this Jesus, entrust your life to him, and he will make you new too.

Do you see how this outline follows the Passion story? No theories, no clever analogies. The gospel is what actually happened in space-time history. The facts.

But the best part of this book is that the author really does “unwrath” the gospel. He shows that Jesus was not saving us from the Father. Jesus was fully God at the moment of his crucifixion.

Somehow, we must affirm both truths: that Christ entered an authentic experience of our sense of abandonment and that he never ceased to be God, nor did the Trinity ever cease to be one.

And I loved this point about how the gospel is often presented:

But further, where did we ever get the idea that God is too holy, righteous and pure to look on sin? Did it somehow escape our notice that God is everywhere and sees all things? If God was too holy to look on sin, would he know anything about anyone? In fact, did not Jesus walk, talk and eat with sinners every day of his life? Are we saying that Jesus was not God incarnate, fully God and fully man throughout every moment of his life? What Jesus saw, God saw – sin stains and all.

And here’s a further challenge:

I would challenge readers to find one instance in the four Gospels where Jesus casts the Father as the principal conspirator and punisher on Good Friday. Examine every instance of the gospel being preached in Acts (25% of the book!). See if you can spot even a single hint that God the Father was the culprit in the crucifixion. Yet, paradoxically, God did orchestrate our salvation through it. Even the Pauline language of God sending his Son as an ‘atoning sacrifice’ is a far cry from this picture of a retributive God turning from or lashing out against Jesus in order to fully satiate his wrath.

He sums this up beautifully by referring to “The Gospel in Chairs” – which you can find on Youtube! I strongly recommend watching this. One friend I sent the link to said, “That’s why they call it Good News!”

And that’s the message here:

God never turns away from humanity. God is perfectly revealed in Jesus. When did Jesus ever turn away from sinful humanity and say, “I am too holy and perfect to look on your sin?” Did Jesus ever do anything like that? No. The Pharisees did that. They were too holy and turned away. God is like Jesus, not like a Pharisee.

The gospel is this: when we turn away, he turns toward us. When we run away, he confronts us with his love. When we murder God, he confronts us with his mercy and forgiveness.

Truly beautiful indeed.

bradjersak.com
ptm.org

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com.

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

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Review of The Simplicity of Cider, by Amy E. Reichert

Monday, August 21st, 2017

The Simplicity of Cider

by Amy E. Reichert

Gallery Books, 2017. 309 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a nice romance for adults, with interesting story, setting, and characters to go along with the romance.

Sanna Lund has inherited a gift for making cider – she sees the juices of their family’s different apple varieties in different colors. She can mix them by color and know how the finished product will taste. They’ve owned the orchard for generations, but now it’s down to her and her father. They’re going to try to sell Sanna’s cider in larger batches.

But they hit financial snags – and then Sanna’s father gets injured. They have to hire help even in the off-season, but that still may not be enough to pay bills.

The help they hire is Isaac and his 10-year-old son Sebastian (Bass). Isaac is trying to give Bass one last summer to be a kid before he tells him the bad news about Bass’s mother. Sanna gets off to a prickly start with Bass, but Isaac may be exactly what their orchard needs. Meanwhile, Sanna’s brother is urging them to sell to a developer and someone’s harming the heirloom trees that Sanna loves.

Now, the evil developer plot line sometimes veered toward melodrama, but mostly things stayed interesting and realistic. I liked that Sanna is 6 feet 3 inches and as distinctive as that implies. I had to mentally adjust to her point of view in several scenes! All the characters are richly drawn.

The author blurb says she “likes to write stories that end well with characters you’d invite to dinner.” That sums up her books rather well – except that I would be sure her characters were the ones cooking the dinner! This is a thoroughly enjoyable story, and I feel like I have indeed had dinner in the friendly company of these characters.

SimonandSchuster.com
amyereichert.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/simplicity_of_cider.html

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

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

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

What did you think of this book?

Review of All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, by Leslie Connor

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

by Leslie Connor

Katherine Tegen Books, 2016. 382 pages.
Starred Review

Perry Cook has grown up in prison at Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in Surprise, Nebraska. His mother is a resident, and Perry was born shortly after she came to the minimum security prison twelve years ago. Warden Daugherty is officially Perry’s foster parent, and Perry has his own room next to the warden’s office.

Perry goes to school in Butler County, and as the book starts, he’s getting ready to start middle school. He met his best friend, Zoey Samuels, when she moved there in the middle of fourth grade. Zoey moved to the area because of her stepdad’s job. The description of the stepdad rang true – always trying too hard with her and coming across like a big fake.

But then Zoey’s stepdad Tom VanLeer finds out about Perry. And Tom is the new district attorney. A boy living at a prison? He’s outraged. Without telling Zoey, he decides to Do the Right Thing and take Perry into his own home. What’s more, Warden Daugherty gets suspended, and Perry’s mother’s parole hearing gets postponed.

Tom also tries too hard with Perry. Tom thinks he’s saving him from a horrible life growing up in prison. Perry only knows that he’s been forced to leave his mom and his home.

Then their English teacher assigns the students a project to find out why their family came to Butler County. Perry decides to learn the stories of his Blue River family, including his mother’s full story.

I didn’t expect to even like this book much, but I loved it. Maybe it stretches plausibility just a tad, and things do tie up pretty neatly in the end – but the characters are so well-drawn, they’re a delight to spend time with, especially including Perry’s family at Blue River.

And while the overall situation of a boy growing up in prison may be a little hard to believe – if you accept the premise, it’s easy to believe this is how things would work out, including the residents and their quirky personalities, the comments Perry gets from kids at school, and the reaction of the self-righteous district attorney.

Most of the book is told from Perry’s perspective, with chapters here and there from his mother’s perspective. Personally, I think the book could do without his mother’s chapters – but they don’t harm the book. I just don’t think they’re necessarily needed. You can figure out how she feels about all of this.

Perry’s a great person to spend time with. As he learns the stories of the residents, the reader gets a chance to feel some empathy as well and see how easily lives can go off-course. But the big question: Can Perry do anything to help his mother get parole?

This story is filled with hope, compassion, love, and understanding. We see Perry get understandably angry with district attorney VanLeer – and figure out a way to rise above his anger. We see the power of learning people’s stories, even someone like VanLeer.

leslieconnor.com

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

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Review of Tell Me How It Ends, by Valeria Luiselli

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

Tell Me How It Ends

An Essay in Forty Questions

by Valeria Luiselli

Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2017. 119 pages.
Starred Review

This little book is not pretentious, calling itself an “essay” rather than a “book” – but it packs a punch.

I was expecting forty short chapters. Instead there are four chapters of varying lengths. The questions of the title refer to the forty questions on the intake questionnaire for unaccompanied child migrants used in the federal immigration court in New York City where the author began working as a volunteer interpreter in 2015.

Here’s how she describes this work:

My task there is a simple one: I interview children in court, following the intake questionnaire, and then translate their stories from Spanish to English.

But nothing is ever that simple. I hear words, spoken in the mouths of children, threaded in complex narratives. They are delivered with hesitance, sometimes distrust, always with fear. I have to transform them into written words, succinct sentences, and barren terms. The children’s stories are always shuffled, stuttered, always shattered beyond the repair of a narrative order. The problem with trying to tell their story is that it has no beginning, no middle, and no end.

I find I don’t have the heart to quote excerpts from the stories in this book from the children the author met. I’m left speechless. This book is eye-opening.

One of the stories is that of a teenage boy who found the same gang he was fleeing in Tegucigalpa was active in Hempstead, New York. Members of the gang beat him up in Hempstead, and another gang offers him protection if he’ll join them. He’s resisting.

She reflects on this story and on media reports about the child migrants coming from Central America:

Between Hempstead and Tegucigalpa there is a long chain of causes and effects. Both cities can be drawn on the same map: the map of violence related to drug trafficking. This fact is ignored, however, by almost all of the official reports. The media wouldn’t put Hempstead, a city in New York, on the same plane as one in Honduras. What a scandal! Official accounts in the United States – what circulates in the newspaper or on the radio, the message from Washington, and public opinion in general – almost always locate the dividing line between “civilization” and “barbarity” just below the Rio Grande….

The attitude in the United States toward child migrants is not always blatantly negative, but generally speaking, it is based on a kind of misunderstanding or voluntary ignorance. Debate around the matter has persistently and cynically overlooked the causes of the exodus. When causes are discussed, the general consensus and underlying assumption seem to be that the origins are circumscribed to “sending” countries and their many local problems. No one suggests that the causes are deeply embedded in our shared hemispheric history and are therefore not some distant problem in a foreign country that no one can locate on a map, but in fact a transnational problem that includes the United States – not as a distant observer or passive victim that must now deal with thousands of unwanted children arriving at the southern border, but rather as an active historical participant in the circumstances that generated that problem.

The belief that the migration of all of those children is “their” (the southern barbarians’) problem is often so deeply ingrained that “we” (the northern civilization) feel exempt from offering any solution. The devastation of the social fabric in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and other countries is often thought of as a Central American “gang violence” problem that must be kept on the far side of the border. There is little said, for example, of arms being trafficked from the United States into Mexico or Central America, legally or not; little mention of the fact that the consumption of drugs in the United States is what fundamentally fuels drug trafficking in the continent.

Here’s where she explains where the book got its title:

The children who cross Mexico and arrive at the U.S. border are not “immigrants,” not “illegals,” not merely “undocumented minors.” Those children are refugees of a war, and, as such, they should all have the right to asylum. But not all of them have it.

Tell me how it ends, Mamma, my daughter asks me.

I don’t know.

Tell me what happens next.

Sometimes I make up an ending, a happy one. But most of the time I just say:

I don’t know how it ends yet.

It is very possible that our policies in the United States and our actions as citizens will determine how these stories end. Which is a sobering thought.

Highly recommended reading. It’s not pleasant reading, but it is eye-opening and thought-provoking.

coffeehousepress.org

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

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

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

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Review of Little Wolf’s First Howling, by Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Kate Harvey McGee

Friday, August 11th, 2017

Little Wolf’s First Howling

by Laura McGee Kvasnosky
and Kate Harvey McGee

Candlewick Press, 2017. 28 pages.

I just read this book in a storytime, along with three other picture books I personally like better – and this book was far and away the kids’ favorite. I decided to review it after all!

Little Wolf is going with his father Big Wolf up to the top of the hill to howl the full moon up to the top of the sky.

Big Wolf demonstrates how it should be done.

Little Wolf responds with things like:

aaaaaaaaaaaaoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
dibbity dobbity skibbity skobbity
skooo-wooooo-wooooooooooo

Big Wolf explains that Little Wolf was off to a good start, but his finish was not proper howling form. He demonstrates again.

After Little Wolf’s third attempt, Big Wolf can’t resist – and jumps in with his own jazzy howling.

The children at storytime simply loved demonstrating the proper way to howl with Big Wolf. I think it would be a whole lot of fun to take this book home. It wouldn’t be long before a child would learn all of Little Wolf’s jazzy variations.

The lovely pictures make it look like a serious book about wolves. Kids are delighted with the surprise twist.

This book reminds me of Froodle, but with wolves instead of birds, and some nice father-child interaction. I like that Big Wolf eventually is willing to be jazzy, too.

candlewick.com

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

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

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Review of When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

When Dimple Met Rishi

by Sandhya Menon

Simon Pulse, 2017. 380 pages.

When Dimple Met Rishi is an adorable teen romance. Dimple Shah has a passion for coding and web development. She has gotten accepted to Stanford and is super excited about attending – even though she’s sure about her parents that “the only reason they had agreed was because they were secretly hoping she’d meet the I.I.H. [Ideal Indian Husband] of her – no their — dreams at the prestigious school.”

For the summer, Dimple wants nothing more than to go to Insomnia Con, where participants “come up with a concept for the most groundbreaking app they could conceive during their month and a half at the SFSU campus.” It costs a thousand dollars, so she’s a little suspicious when her parents readily agree.

Meanwhile, Rishi Patel is looking at a picture of Dimple, a girl his parents have picked out for him to get to know. She is the daughter of their long-time friends who are from the same part of Mumbai as they are. And to get to know her, he can attend a summer program in San Francisco….

Rishi is very traditional and appreciates his parent’s loving concern for him. Naturally, he assumes Dimple’s parents have filled her in, too, and that she’s amenable to these plans.

So when Rishi sees Dimple at Starbucks as soon as he gets on campus, he tries to joke about their meeting:

“Hello, future wife,” he said, his voice bubbling with glee. “I can’t wait to get started on the rest of our lives!”

Dimple stared at him for the longest minute. The only word her brain was capable of producing, in various tonal permutations, was: What? What?

Dimple didn’t know what to think. Serial killer? Loony bin escapee? Strangely congenial mugger? Nothing made sense. So she did the only thing she could think to do in the moment – she flung her iced coffee at him and ran the other way.

Well, despite that inauspicious beginning, what follows is a sweet romance. I would have liked Dimple to resist a little longer, but the way things unfold is quite plausible and a lot of fun.

Now, I do have some skepticism regarding Insomnia Con. But I haven’t done any research – perhaps there does exist a web development program like that where a lot rides on a talent show (really?) in the middle of the program. Perhaps working in pairs never runs into trouble of two people both passionate about their app idea. Some of the subplots worked out a little too neatly as well.

Now, in case my readers need a warning, yes, they have sex – that’s pretty standard in teen romance any more, even when both participants are from families where they know their parents don’t want that for them. The book doesn’t dwell on it – or on any consequences of how it affects their relationship. (They give lip service to thinking about it before they do. And they think about it maybe a day.)

But make no mistake about it – I thoroughly enjoyed this book – enough that it kept me reading all through the night.

This is a sweet story about a girl with a passion and what happens when she finds herself falling in love, against all her plans. Combined with a story about a boy whose well-laid plans get shaken up when confronted with an actual person. Very fun.

sandhyamenon.com
simonandschuster.com/teen

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

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

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

What did you think of this book?