Archive for May, 2018

Review of Bessie Stringfield, Tales of the Talented Tenth, volume 2, by Joel Christian Gill

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

Tales of the Talented Tenth, Volume 2

Bessie Stringfield

The amazing true story of the woman who became The Motorcycle Queen of Miami!

by Joel Christian Gill

Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado, 2016. 122 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2017.

I think that nonfiction in graphic novel form (okay, necessarily fictionalized a bit) is one of the best things that could happen to education. Joel Christian Gill has started a series about remarkable African Americans, telling their amazing stories in comic book form.

I’d never heard of Bessie Stringfield, but she was the sole woman in the U. S. Army’s civilian motorcycle courier unit during World War II, and the first black woman inducted into the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame and the Harley Davidson Hall of Fame.

The book begins with her childhood. After her family moved to America from Jamaica, her mother died and her father just abandoned her in their hotel room. The book tells about her unusual upbringing after that and how she grew a passion for motorcycles and traveling.

She traveled across the United States eight times, and ended up doing lots of traveling in the Jim Crow South. (I like the way the author pictures bigoted people in this series as giant crows. It’s disturbing, as it should be.) She had run-ins with people who wanted to harm her, but was always able to outrun them on her motorcycle.

The story of her varied exploits is a quick but very entertaining read. And you’ll learn about someone who deserves to be remembered, the Motorcycle Queen of Miami, Bessie Stringfield.

joelchristiangill.wordpress.com

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

Newbery Notes – 48-Hour Book Challenge Finish Line

Friday, May 11th, 2018

I did it! I focused on reading and reviewing for a solid 48 hours, and now I’m ready to report.

I’m a little disappointed in my totals, since I’ve broken 30 hours in previous years, but since I still have the weekend, it’s still good.

Here are my totals for the 48 hours from 1:30 on May 9 to 1:30 on May 11:

Grand Total of time spent: 26 hours, 5 minutes

15 hours and 45 minutes of that time was reading.
4 hours and 20 minutes was writing reviews.
2 hours and 10 minutes was other blogging.
2 hours and 15 minutes was messing with my spreadsheets and gathering books. (!)
15 minutes was listening to an audiobook while I drove to and from Silent Book Club.
1 hour and 20 minutes was posting two reviews.

In that time, I read 15 complete books and 4 partial books, but 9 of those complete books were picture books. I read a total of 2,090 pages.

I wrote 12 reviews, posted 2 reviews, the Starting Line post, and 2 Sonderquotes posts, for a total of 5,537 words written.

This brings my totals for Newbery-eligible books to:
229 books received from publishers (including now 2 duplicates).
107 middle grade books read, including 14 not finished, for a total of 22,504 pages.
32 young adult books read, including 2 not finished, for a total of 10,253 pages.
188 picture books read, for a total of 7,090 pages.

Grand total: 327 books read, 39,847 pages.

Best of all, this year’s 48-Hour Book Challenge was fun! The weather has been glorious, just perfect for sitting out on my balcony and reading. I also got caught up on writing reviews – though I still need to write reviews of the last two books I read. So far, I’ve been able to mostly vary the styles of books enough that I’m not getting bored. (I began each hour of reading by reading a picture book, for example.)

And here are parts of my view while reading:

There are still an awful lot of books left that I need and want to read. But at least I’m having fun doing it!

Review of Phoebe and Her Unicorn, by Dana Simpson

Thursday, May 10th, 2018

Phoebe and Her Unicorn

A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle

by Dana Simpson

Andrews McNell Publishing, Kansas City, 2014. 222 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2016.

I was sent some later volumes about Phoebe and Her Unicorn and realized at last what I’d been missing. I’d even had this first volume checked out, but never cracked it open.

This time, I read the Introduction by Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn, and I knew I needed to read this. He mentions that in the early pages of his book, he wrote, “Unicorns are immortal. It is their nature to live alone in one place: usually a forest where there is a pool clear enough for them to see themselves – for they are a little vain, knowing themselves to be the most beautiful creatures in all the world, and magic besides . . .”

He continues:

A little vain . . . Marigold would be an appalling monster of ego, utterly self-concerned and completely unlikable, if it weren’t for her sense of humor and her occasional surprising capacity for compassion – both crucial attributes when bound by a wish granted to a nine-year-old girl in need of a Best Friend to play invented superhero games with, to introduce to slumber parties and girl-talk gossip and to ride through the wind after being called nerd and Princess Stupidbutt one time too many. For Phoebe is a remarkably real little girl, as bright and imaginative as Bill Watterson’s Calvin, as touchingly vulnerable as Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown. And if these strike you as big names to conjure with, I’ll go further and state for the record that in my opinion Heavenly Nostrils is nothing less than the best comic strip to come along since Calvin and Hobbes. Simpson is that good, and that original.

And yes, he’s right — Phoebe and her Unicorn is in the tradition of Calvin and Hobbes, this time with a nerdy and precocious little girl – so perhaps I related a little more than to Calvin.

However, Phoebe’s Unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, is not an imaginary friend. She’s real, and people can see her, but unicorns are protected by a SHIELD OF BORINGNESS. (This word should be printed in a fancy font.) As Marigold explains, “The SHIELD OF BORINGNESS is a bit of spellcraft that allows unicorns to remain a myth. Those humans who have seen us don’t find it important enough to mention.”

It helped me enjoy the book more once I realized this is a comic strip collection. There is an ongoing story, but most of the strips end with a joke. And they’re good jokes! (Okay, I like the unicorn puns about Phoebe being pointless.) It helped me enjoy reading them more when I realized what I was reading.

There is an ongoing story. But there are also comic-strip traditions in play. For example, Phoebe is a fourth grader at the start of the book. Then she has a lovely summer off and goes back to school – and starts fourth grade.

And like other great comic strips, there are profound observations behind the jokes. This is a lovely book about a nerdy little girl who wants to be awesome, about a unicorn she rescued (by hitting her with a rock and breaking her out of the cycle of gazing at her own reflection) who granted a wish by becoming her best friend, and about a unicorn who is well aware that she is the loveliest thing on the planet.

Tremendously fun!

ampkids.com
gocomics.com/phoebe-and-her-unicorn

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/phoebe_and_her_unicorn.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 Paul Among the People, by Sarah Ruden

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Paul Among the People

The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time

by Sarah Ruden

Pantheon Books, 2010. 214 pages.

I checked out this book because I’d read and loved the author’s book The Face of Water (written later) where she takes a fresh look at the translation of several biblical passages.

In this book, the author uses her knowledge of Graeco-Roman literature and culture to take a fresh look at Paul and give us the cultural context of his writings.

Now, I didn’t find this book nearly as pleasant as The Face of Water. The fact is that the context of Paul’s writings was rather horrible. Slaves were not really considered people. Homosexuality was commonplace – but the only one despised was the passive partner. Paul spoke against those who preyed on others, the people his culture thought were real “man’s men.” He was speaking against oppression, and not really from anything like the same context from which we look at those things.

But my summary doesn’t do this work justice. It opened my eyes – though not always in ways I wanted them opened. She examines Paul and pleasure, Paul and homosexuality, Paul and women, Paul and the state, and Paul and slavery. In the context of his own culture, Paul’s words take on a whole new aspect. He’s much less harsh – in fact, he’s speaking up against a harsh culture.

But I think my favorite chapter was the final one, “Love Just Is: Paul on the Foundation of the New Community,” where she looks at I Corinthians 13, “the Love Chapter.” There were plenty of insights I’d had no idea about (how the “clanging cymbal” relates to the cult of Cybele for example). I especially liked finding out that the list of qualities of love that begins in verse 4 (“Love is patient; love is kind….”) are all verbs.

It’s more or less a necessity of our language that the standard translations here contain a lot of adjectives. The Greek does not contain a single one. Instead we have a mass of verbs, things love does and doesn’t do. This is the ultimate authority for the saying “Love is a verb.” . . .

So manically verb-centered is the passage that Paul takes two adjectives and creates a one-word verb from each (neither verb being attested previously in Greek); and he creates yet another verb, in Greek a one-word metaphor….

If we take the meaning from the form, we could say that he is preaching, “You know the right ways to feel? Turn those feelings into acts and perform those acts, ceaselessly. You know the wrong ways to feel? Don’t, ever, perform the acts that spring from them.”

Pick up this book if you’d like a fresh look at the backdrop the Apostle Paul wrote from.

sarahruden.com
pantheonbooks.com

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

Newbery Notes – 48-Hour Book Challenge May 2018

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Yes! I took almost a week off this week (all but Monday) for my “annual personal spiritual retreat” (Hey, I made it up, but I love it – I began last year.) – which this year is including a 48-Hour Book Challenge.

I can’t imagine a better beginning than I had yesterday. The weather has turned lovely – highs in the 70s, with gentle breezes and sunny skies. In the morning, I spent some extra time praying and thinking about goals. (Right now my goals are pretty simple: Read! A lot!) I began a walking program that I’ve done in previous years but usually give up on when the sun stops getting up early. After lunch, I visited Burnside Farms and took pictures of tulips.

I even brought some home.

After that, my plan was to get my house clean (vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom and kitchen, dusting… that sort of thing) before I began the serious work of reading. But it’s hard to face housework – so during the rest of the afternoon, I alternated spending a half-hour on my balcony reading and then spending fifteen minutes cleaning my house. And I had such a lovely time on the balcony, with the breezes practically caressing me they were so gentle, and the sun shining brightly and the birds singing… it spilled over into enjoying doing the housework.

By the time it got dark, I could envision finishing – and then being able to read the rest of the week and not having to do any housework! And I did it!

What does all that have to do with reading for the Newbery? Well, see how you have to arrange your life to find more time to read? I’m trying to do a 48-Hour Book Challenge once per quarter and a 24-Hour Book Challenge once a month. (I didn’t bother to blog about last month’s.) But I’m excited to have this time smack in the middle of the year. Because, yes, I’m feeling behind.

Here are my current stats, before I started the 48-Hour Book Challenge at 1:30 pm today. Yes! I’ve made progress since I last posted on April 17. Of course, I am fated to always fall further behind. No matter how many books I get read, it will not be as many as I’d like to get read.

But so far, this is how many Newbery-eligible books I’ve read:

Middle grade books: 99 books (11 not finished) and 21,197 pages.
Young adult books: 31 books (2 not finished) and 9,864 pages.
Picture books: 180 books and 6,802 pages.

This comes to a grand total of 310 books (more than half picture books) and 37,863 pages.

It sounds like a lot – but I don’t think I’ve even read half of the eligible books published so far.

And I have received 225 books from publishers so far. I haven’t read half of those.

However, I’ve got fourteen other committee members out there looking for good books. Also, I’ve asked the kids in the Newbery Book Club to alert me when they read a good book.

And that reminds me of one of the highlights of the time since I blogged about Newbery reading – I got to talk to a middle school group and an entire fifth grade at a local elementary school. The day after my talk to the fifth grade, two of the kids sent suggestions, via their school librarian, of titles I should be sure to read. This makes me happy that they were so engaged.

The day after that, I had a meeting of the Newbery Book Club at the library. I had some regulars return, and I had a new boy come. He brought in a copy of a book that had just been published the day before – was a little bothered that I had it in an advance reader copy when he’d just bought it. But then he got excited about the advance reader copies I was offering to the kids and asked if he could bring some extra for his friends. I said sure as long as he gets them to give me their opinions. (I’m asking the kids to rate the books with one to five stars and put their opinion on an index card. I’m collecting these during the year. We’ll have a vote among the kids at the end of the year among books they rated with 5 stars.)

It makes me happy that I do have quite a few kids now who are interested in letting me know which of the new books being published are the really good ones that I shouldn’t miss. Hooray for getting kids excited about reading!

Of course, I’m hoping to have higher totals at the end of 48 hours. The one catch is that, besides needing to get more books read, before I even started the challenge, I’ve got a stack of 7 books that I’ve read already and need to write reviews for. That’s not counting new books I get read during the Challenge. (I’m writing reviews to post after we select our winner. That’s the only way I can remember what the different books were about.)

So – a lot of the 48 hours will be spent writing reviews and not just reading. And I’m also allowing blogging time (like this) and posting old reviews. I still have a backlog of 164 reviews I wrote before 2018 began. I’d like to get all those posted before we announce our winner and I can do 2018 reviews – but I need to try to post a review every day. (Of course, then I’ll have a new backlog of 2018 books. At some point, I’ll probably give up and decide I don’t have to post all the reviews. We’ll see.)

And now I’ve had enough of a break – I’m going back out on my balcony to do some more reading!

Singing in the Rain, illustrated by Tim Hopgood

Monday, May 7th, 2018

Singing in the Rain

based on the Song by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown
pictures by Tim Hopgood

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

Yes, this is the song from the film by the same name, illustrated in a picture book. It’s nice simply to have the words!

But yes, the illustrations are what make this extra delightful. We’ve got seven children wearing the colors of the rainbow, some with umbrellas, some with hoods – enjoying the rain.

There are fanciful elements. At some points, their umbrellas make them fly, and they get a trip through a rain forest. Other scenes show them enjoying puddles and rain in a city. The opening page has a girl dancing around a lamp post like Gene Kelly.

I like the artist’s note at the back:

Apart from “Singing in the Rain” being the centerpiece of one of my favorite films, the reason I chose to illustrate this song is its underlying positive message. As adults, it is easy to forget the joy of rain.

We tend to view it as an inconvenience rather than the wonderful thing that it is. Rain is something beautiful that connects all life, from the city to the rain forest. So next time it rains, don’t stay indoors. Go outside and soak it up like the children in this book. What a glorious feeling it is!

Truly a joyous book!

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/singing_in_the_rain.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 99 Stormtroopers Join the Empire, by Greg Stones

Friday, May 4th, 2018

99 Stormtroopers Join the Empire

by Greg Stones

Chronicle Books, 2017.

Okay, this book honestly made me laugh out loud. I’d never noticed how many different ways stormtroopers die in the Star Wars movies.

And that’s what this book is about. It begins innocently enough:

Ninety-nine stormtroopers join the Empire.

We see a relatively calm picture of Darth Vader reviewing his troops.

But one by one and group by group, bad things happen to the new recruits.

One stormtrooper becomes bantha fodder….

One stormtrooper fails to shoot first….

One stormtrooper asks for a promotion….

Two stormtroopers underestimate a princess….

One stormtrooper doesn’t let the Wookiee win….

Thirty-six stormtroopers are stationed on Alderaan….

You get the idea. The illustrations are hilarious, too – with the joke often in the illustrations. (Sometimes we see an illustration showing a notable crash from the movie – with a stormtrooper in the way.)

Instead of page numbers, we’ve got a running count of how many stormtroopers are left.

The last lucky stormtrooper lives happily ever after… on the Death Star.

I’m afraid this may be the book that gets me to count stormtrooper deaths the next time I watch a Star Wars movie.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/99_stormtroopers.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 The Rose and the Dagger, by Renée Ahdieh

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

The Rose and the Dagger

by Renée Ahdieh

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016. 416 pages.
Review written in 2016.

The Rose and the Dagger is the conclusion to the story begun in The Wrath and the Dawn. I enjoyed this volume even better than the first. It was a little less confusing, a little easier to believe and understand who was in love with whom.

Anyway, in this volume, Shahrzad and her caliph Khalid are separated after the storm that blew apart his city. But Shahrzad is learning that she has magic of her own. She needs to learn to use it. And that starts with a flying carpet.

This book involves Shahrzad learning magic and trying to break Khalid’s curse. But his kingdom is also in danger, and there are shifting loyalties and treacheries around them to navigate.

Can they break the curse and simply live together in a peaceful kingdom? Or is that too big a dream?

This yarn will keep you absorbed with its twists and turns. A tale of love and magic and treachery and loyalty in the desert.

reneeahdieh.com
penguin.com/teen

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/rose_and_the_dagger.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 The House of Unexpected Sisters, by Alexander McCall Smith, narrated by Lisette Lecat

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

The House of Unexpected Sisters

by Alexander McCall Smith
narrated by Lisette Lecat

Recorded Books, 2017. 9.5 hours on 8 compact discs.

Another book about Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency! I keep reading these books (now listening) because the characters feel like an extension of my family. Now that I’m on the 2019 Newbery committee, during 2018 I’m trying not to listen to Newbery-eligible books, not wanting to be swayed by a good or bad narrator. But that gives me one opportunity to “read” books for adults – during my commute. This is a wonderful choice, because Lisette Lecat’s accents make me feel like I’m in Botswana itself.

I wouldn’t, though, recommend that anyone first introduce themselves to the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency with this book. They only have one real case, and it’s one they don’t get paid for, which makes me wonder how they’re carrying on.

Alexander McCall Smith’s books all seem to progress at a leisurely pace, but this one seemed even slower than usual. I still enjoyed it – because I love these characters. But even I thought of switching to something else a few discs in.

One place where I laughed out loud – not in a good way – was when something villainous came up and you-know-who was involved – Yes, none other than Violet Sepotho! It’s getting a bit silly how much she gets around. I remember at the beginning of the series, there were some very creative puzzles. Instead of having the main mystery be how did Violet Sepotho cause trouble this time?

But the part I enjoyed most was the part that related to the title – discovering unexpected sisters. I won’t say more, because I’ll let you enjoy what drama there is. It is truly a surprise – but ends up (no surprise there) being a delightful one.

recordedbooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/house_of_unexpected_sisters.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 Brave Red, Smart Frog, by Emily Jenkins

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Brave Red, Smart Frog

A New Book of Old Tales

by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason

Candlewick Press, 2017. 94 pages.
Starred Review

I have always loved fairy tales. My grandma owned several of the various-colored fairy tale books by Andrew Lang, and I remember sitting in her big comfy chair and reading them when I was quite young.

This is a 2017 book, but our library purchased it in 2018. When my hold came in, I saw the copyright and was going to turn it right back in – I’m reading for the Newbery, and I don’t have time for anything else. However, intrigued by the title and the look of the book, I opened to a random page. The tone and spirit of the tales captivated me quickly. I brought them home, figuring that reading one little story each day wouldn’t hurt anything.

And I really did get it read that way (which is surprising right there). At the end I cheated a little and read two stories in one night.

These are mostly Grimm tales, and I’m very familiar with all of them – but I love these fresh retellings. I like the new names she gives to characters, the explanations of their motivations, and that frozen and cold forest that shows up in almost all the tales. There’s even a place where a character in one story shows up in another! (Hint: There’s a huntsman in both “Snow White” and “Red Riding Hood.”)

Here’s an example paragraph right at the start that gives you the friendly and refreshing tone used throughout the book:

On one side of this frozen forest stood a castle. In it lived a queen who was unhappy. She was a warm person, a bright person. Her husband was chilly and dull. It had been a mistake to marry him. When their first and only daughter was born, the king named the baby Snow White. The queen would have preferred a name like Tulip or Sunshine.

An Author’s Note at the back gives her philosophy of retelling these stories. She wasn’t trying to be accurate to originals or entirely reinvent the tales.

What I’m doing instead is telling these stories largely faithfully, but without adhering to versions made famous by Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and others. I wrote them simply as I myself want to tell them, using the storytelling techniques I have at my disposal. After all, before people began writing them down, these tales were passed down orally. They changed a bit with each new teller. I wrote to bring out what’s most meaningful to me in the stories, and in that way I believe I am part of a tradition that goes back to the earliest tellers of these tales.

The result is delightful. These would be fun to read aloud at bedtime to a child or after lunch to a classroom.

Now, some kisses break enchantments.

And other kisses begin them.

You’re going to find both kinds of kisses in these tales.

candlewick.com

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