Review of We Used to Be Friends, by Amy Spalding

August 21st, 2020

We Used to Be Friends

by Amy Spalding

Amulet Books, 2020. 362 pages.
Review written March 23, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is ultimately a sad book. It’s about the Senior year in high school of two lifelong best friends and how by the end of the year, they weren’t friends any more.

However, although I’m not generally a fan of sad books these days – I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this one. The story is gripping and you get to understand who the girls really are and how this could have happened, even though it wasn’t what either of them wanted.

I hope that a lesson readers will take away from the book is that people who love you can’t read your mind if you don’t tell them what’s going on, but also that you probably need to be receptive. Anyway, it’s not a book about lessons – but it’s a book with friendship dynamics that seem very real, so don’t be surprised if readers pick up some insights.

The story is told out of chronological order, in a way that makes you very eager to know how each part happened. The chapters alternate the perspectives of the two girls, and the book opens with James (one of the girls) headed off to college, wishing Kat were there to say good-by. And then we scoop back to the beginning of the year, when Kat found out her boyfriend had slept with another girl. It’s not too many chapters in when Kat replaces him with a girlfriend.

The skipping around keeps things intriguing. I was honestly amazed that the author pulled off the non-chronological order. I did go back and read the first chapter after reading the last one. Right at the beginning, James mentions that they wrote letters and put them in a time capsule four years ago – “back before Kat’s mom died, or my mom left.” We find out more about those things later in the book.

This is a novel about friendship in high school. And life. And pressures. And secrets you never meant to be secrets. And popularity. And how you care about people. It’s refreshing and it’s fun, besides being touching. And Amy Spalding tells a really good story.

theamyspalding.com
amuletbooks.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 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 Attucks! by Phillip Hoose

August 20th, 2020

Attucks!

Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City

by Phillip Hoose

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018. 212 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 14, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

I am not a fan of sports books. Ho hum. Who really cares?

So I was completely surprised to be mesmerized and pulled into this story of an all-black high school in Indianapolis that built a championship basketball program, despite discrimination.

Phillip Hoose puts a special note at the front of the book about an interview he did with Oscar Robertson in 1986 about basketball fever in Indiana.

One scrap from that conversation inspired the book you’re reading now.

“You know,” Oscar said, “when the Ku Klux Klan started our school, they really didn’t understand what they were doing.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“They did something they couldn’t foresee by making Attucks an all-black school. The city of Indianapolis integrated because we were winning. All the black guys, the really great players, went to Attucks. We were winning all those games, and the coaches didn’t like it. And then a lot of black kids started going to other schools . . .”

What could he be talking about? A high school in a major American city – in the North – started by the Ku Klux Klan? And a basketball team integrating that city?

Oscar wasn’t laughing.

Could it be true?

So Phillip Hoose is telling the story of winning basketball teams, building a championship basketball program, and one of the greatest high school basketball players ever – but he does all that against the backdrop of overcoming racism and the whole city of Indianapolis building pride in the championship team at the all-black high school.

There are spoilers in the note at the front. The author doesn’t hide that Oscar Robertson led the Attucks team to state championships in 1955 and 1956. But how they got there – That’s a story!

The Prologue actually begins before Oscar was even in high school – with the game where his big brother had an amazing game-winning shot with seven seconds left.

Then the main text goes back to the founding of Cristpus Attucks high school in 1927 – yes, it was started by the Klan in order to separate the black kids who had been moving to Indianapolis from the south. He carefully gives us several threads to follow, including how the basketball program developed as well as Oscar’s childhood, obsessed with basketball from an early age.

The first basketball coach at Attucks was concerned that his players not offend anyone – which doesn’t make for the toughest team. But even when they got an excellent coach, the larger white schools wouldn’t play against them, and they weren’t even allowed in the statewide tournament until 1942.

The author includes several seasons, including some with real heartbreaker games. He highlights many of their great players (not just Oscar, the Big O). It all builds to a breathtaking finish and a description of their undefeated season when they became state champions.

And I should probably stop saying that I don’t like sports books. This one was outstanding.

philliphoose.com
fiercereads.com

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Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

August 17th, 2020

The Water Dancer

by Ta-Nehisi Coates
read by John Morton

Random House Audio, 2019. 14 hours, 14 minutes.
Review written August 10, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

With regular library audiobooks, I confess, if it’s due and I have almost finished listening, sometimes I do renew to get a little more time. But I listened to this book on eaudiobook. I knew there were several holds. So I ended up staying up until 3 am to finish listening.

The story is mesmerizing, and John Morton’s wonderful deep voice brings it to life. It’s the story of Hiram, one of the “tasked” on a Virginia plantation before the Civil War. His father is the plantation owner, but his mother got sold further south when he was very young. But he’s found favor with his father and has been made the personal servant of his half-brother.

As the book opens, something strange happens involving a blue light and a river and the road they are taking disappearing. Hiram’s white brother drowns, which changes things for Hiram. Listeners learn about his life growing up on the plantation, the struggles the “quality” are having as tobacco uses up the Virginia soil, and Hiram’s growing desire for freedom.

Eventually, it becomes apparent that Hiram has some otherworldly powers, but doesn’t know how to harness them. He becomes involved in the underground, and even meets Harriet Tubman, who can powerfully wield “conduction” herself.

I was tempted to speed up the audio as I finished so I wouldn’t have to stay up until 3 am after all, but the narrator’s deep, rich voice has a meditative quality to it, and speeding it up ruined the peace I felt from listening to it. And it was totally worth the lack of sleep.

This is a powerful story which looks at history from a new angle.

ta-nahesicoates.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 an eaudiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Madame Badobedah, by Sophie Dahl, illustrated by Lauren O’Hara

August 13th, 2020

Madame Badobedah

by Sophie Dahl
illustrated by Lauren O’Hara

Walker Books, 2020. First published in the United Kingdom in 2019. 52 pages.
Review written August 8, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Madame Badobedah (rhymes with ooh-la-la) is a picture book, but it’s on the long side and has three parts, so it’s more for young elementary school students than the usual preschool picture book crowd. Those who can settle into the story will be completely charmed, as I was.

Our narrator, a little girl named Mabel, lives in a Bed and Breakfast, the Mermaid Hotel. The book begins on a day when they get a new guest, an old lady who comes with two dogs, two cats, a tortoise on a cushion, and 32 suitcases. She gets installed in the Mermaid suite on the top floor.

Mabel, who likes to do a little spying, quickly determines that Madame Badobedah (the name Mabel has for her) is a villainess on the run after her jewel heists. After all, the bag Mabel carried for her was so heavy, she knew it contained gold bars. Madame Badobedah doesn’t go out much, and Mabel does some surveillance through the keyhole.

But one day, Madame Badobedah invites Mabel in, and they have tea together. These visits become more common, until Mabel is even willing to share the secret of the Mermaid Room.

We end up with a charming and imaginative story about an intergenerational friendship, one which brings joy to both participants.

walkerbooksus.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 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 My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me, by Jason B. Rosenthal

August 11th, 2020

My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me

by Jason B. Rosenthal
read by the author

HarperAudio, 2020. 7 hours on 6 CDs.
Review written August 11, 2020, from a library audiobook
Starred Review

On March 3, 2017, beloved children’s author Amy Krouse Rosenthal (okay, she wrote things for adults, too, and even made films, but being a children’s author is what I loved her for) had a column published in the New York Times, “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” It told about her impending death from ovarian cancer, which indeed happened ten days later, but also about what a wonderful man her husband was, how beautiful their life together, and hoping that he would start a new love story after her death, because she wanted him to have a happy life.

This book is Jason’s follow-up. It tells about his life with Amy and their joyful partnership, about the two years he cared for her after her cancer diagnosis, and about dealing with grief. Amy gave him the gift of a platform to talk about end of life, the grieving process, and meeting life after loss with resilience.

As a divorced woman, I’ve dealt with loss. I’m glad that Jason acknowledges that he was lucky to have the loving relationship he had. And Amy blessed it with her last loving act of writing that column. Divorced people (especially those blind-sided by a spouse who leaves before they realize anything’s wrong) don’t get that benediction, but we still have to deal with the absence of someone we love. I appreciated that Jason doesn’t shy away from telling about the good times as if to avoid pain. And his insights are helpful for anyone dealing with loss, even if on the surface, your loss seems quite different from the too-early death of a beloved spouse.

Another thing I have in common with Jason is a succession of losses. Both my parents died, two months apart, last Fall. In the two years since Amy’s death, both Jason’s father and Amy’s father died, as well as the dog that was their family’s companion for many years. Loss piled on top of loss has its own difficult impact. Jason expresses so well the process of dealing with loss upon loss while remembering the love and joy. He doesn’t pretend to have it all together. He talks about times of weeping. And he is again and again thankful to Amy for urging him to fill those empty pages with a new love story.

Listening to Jason’s own voice makes it all the more personal. Listening to this audiobook feels like a brother or a close friend sharing their life and offering encouragement. I understand why hundreds of people have written to him. Amy’s column alone makes me wish it just so happened that I was right for him. (For starters, I don’t live in Chicago.) I have no doubt he’s going to again be a wonderful husband to some lucky woman. (And he has started dating someone. I’m a little envious that he was able to find someone “organically” without using online dating, but hey, everyone’s life is different.)

The part about his life together with Amy was full of joy. I drooled at the description of the home they built – with a wall covered with bookshelves from the basement to the third floor. And I love that they set goals for their relationship while on their honeymoon. They traveled the world together. They made room for quality time with their children and with each other. And they were each other’s biggest fans.

But he’s also got encouraging and uplifting things to say about his life now and about dealing with loss and having resiliency. This is not a sad book, even though it’s centered around a very sad event. It’s the story of a joyful and loving partnership and about someone learning to continue to live a joyful and meaningful life after that partnership ended far too soon.

Like I said, it feels like the author is talking to you personally. I will resist the urge to add to the pile of letters he’s received. Let me just say it now: Jason, thank you for this book. Thank you for telling Amy’s story and your story. Thank you for giving others a window into navigating the journey of loss and new beginnings.

jasonbrosenthal.com

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Source: This review is based on an audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Magic for Marigold, by L. M. Montgomery

August 7th, 2020

Magic for Marigold

by L. M. Montgomery

McClelland-Bantam, Toronto, 1988. Originally published in 1929. 274 pages.
Review written August 3, 2020, from my own copy, purchased for me by a friend at Green Gables in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island.

I’m still rereading all my L. M. Montgomery books, in honor of the trip I got to take to Prince Edward Island last Fall. I’ve slowed down my reading since the trip, but am still plugging away. After this one, I only have six of her novels left, and then the posthumous short story collections.

This particular copy of Magic for Marigold was brought to me from Prince Edward Island by a friend who had visited in 1988 – when the book had gone out of print in the United States but was coming out in paperback in Canada. The funny thing is that she brought me back two books – this one and also The Blue Castle — and they turned out to be my favorite (The Blue Castle) and least favorite (Magic for Marigold). Also interesting is that these two books were written the same year of L. M. Montgomery’s life.

Rereading Magic for Marigold many years later, I enjoyed it a lot more than I did the first time, because I knew what to expect. There’s no romance, and it amounts to essentially a series of short stories about a little girl as she grows from birth to age 12. L. M. Montgomery is a brilliant writer of short stories, and taken that way, this book is as delightful as her others.

Many themes that show up in the author’s other books are present here. Marigold’s father died before she was born, and she lives with her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother in the ancestral home, part of an enormous family of relations. The foibles of family are at the heart of many of the situations Marigold faces.

They live in a small farming community on Prince Edward Island. I always love the names L. M. Montgomery invents for farming communities on Prince Edward Island. This one is Harmony.

Marigold is an imaginative child with an imaginary friend she can meet with if she follows a certain ritual. Her trouble making flesh-and-blood friends is one of the ongoing themes of the book, though her imagination is seen as a strength, not a weakness.

One thing, though, I’m afraid I hate this time through – the ending. Marigold has finally made a good local friend, a boy. But then another new boy comes into town and the first boy stops playing with Marigold or doing things with her. Well, after a tiff between them, he comes back to Marigold – but then makes up with the other friend. Marigold learns that sometimes you need to share your friends, and that’s fine. She figures out she shouldn’t pretend to like things she doesn’t like – such as hunting snakes and digging for worms. That’s fine, too.

What I don’t like is what her aunt tells her. There’s some good stuff about how we have to share our friends with others. But I didn’t like when she inserted gender into it with these words: “We – women – must always share.” And with that background, Marigold’s last line bothered me: “’And I’ll always be here for him to come back to,’ she thought.”

As a friend, okay. I’m still a friend to my friends who go through a spell of not having time for me. I do like the principle that you can have more than one friend at a time. That even best friends can have more than one friend at a time. But that feeling of waiting in one place? No, Marigold, go off and have adventures, too! When that boy comes back, it’s okay if you’re busy having fun with other friends yourself.

But that’s a small thing. As with every single L. M. Montgomery book, reading this gave me a feeling of joy and a reminder to notice the beauty around me. And now I can think back to my time on Prince Edward Island and imagine the characters in that stunning setting.

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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 Hand on the Wall, by Maureen Johnson

August 5th, 2020

The Hand on the Wall

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 369 pages.
Review written March 17, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The Hand on the Wall is the third and final book in the Truly Devious mystery series, and ties everything up beautifully. Yes, you have to read these books in order. You will be rewarded with an exquisitely crafted series.

In this trilogy, each book gives you pieces of the mysteries in the past and in the present, and each book gives you parts of the solution. You get information about the past mystery in flashbacks as our hero, Stevie Bell, figures out clues. You also have at least one death in each volume. In this book, Stevie and the reader figure out what happened.

This book also has the added drama – perfect for a mystery – of a bunch of students blizzard-bound at the ever-so-interesting isolated Vermont campus created by the eccentric millionaire Albert Ellingham. A blizzard always makes a good backdrop for murder! Can Stevie figure out the solution before the snow melts and she has to go home?

I so appreciate all the atmosphere and nods to great detective fiction that Maureen Johnson slipped into this book. Both mysteries – past and present – have layers to them so that even stretched over three books, they didn’t lag. And enough happened in each book to feel that it deserved to be a book and not just cram the whole thing together.

But the final volume, pulling everything together, was indeed the most satisfying. This is a mystery series with teens taking the starring roles, including the brilliant detective and the person getting a little too close to the truth for her own good. Mystery and danger both! And the fantasy of a school where you can study what you’re good at – even if that talent is finding a murderer.

maureenjohnsonbooks.com
epicreads.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 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 Imagine, by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

August 3rd, 2020

Imagine

by Juan Felipe Herrera
illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Candlewick Press, 2018. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 2, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

I confess – when I first read this book at the library, I looked through it hastily and wasn’t impressed. But when the publisher sent it to my house, I gave it another look, knowing what it was, took my time, and this time was touched by its beauty.

This picture book is an illustrated poem – an autobiographical poem addressed to the reader and intended to inspire.

It’s short – I admit that it’s easy to dismiss if you don’t take your time with it and stop to look at each picture.

Juan Felipe Herrera was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2015 to 2017. This poem shows us his humble beginnings, and his journey to become a poet.

Each stanza ends with the word “imagine” and covers a double-page spread. Here are the first few stanzas:

If I picked chamomile flowers
as a child
in the windy fields and whispered
to their fuzzy faces,

imagine

If I let tadpoles
swim across my hands
in the wavy creek,

imagine

If I jumped up high
into my papi’s army truck
and left our village of farmworkers
and waved adios
to my amiguitos,

imagine

You see the boy gradually getting bigger in the pictures. The poetry also talks about his experiences:

If I moved
to the winding city
of tall, bending buildings
and skipped
to a new concrete school
I had never seen,

imagine

If I opened
my classroom’s wooden door
not knowing how to read
or
speak in English,

imagine

It takes him through writing stories and poetry, singing in front of people, and finally reading out of his own poetry book in front of the Library of Congress as the Poet Laureate of the United States of America.

And then, finally, the book finishes all the sentences:

imagine what you could do.

Inspiring and beautiful – and there’s also a treat under the paper cover! (The stars of the cover are embossed in gold foil on the book with the title.)

candlewick.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 a book sent by the publisher.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Lift, by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat

July 30th, 2020

Lift

by Minh Lê
illustrated by Dan Santat

Disney Hyperion, 2020. 52 pages.
Review written July 17, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a wonderful picture book told in comic book format with not a lot of words and with fabulous richly colored illustrations.

The book begins with a small family getting into an apartment building elevator. We focus in on the little girl. She says:

Hi, my name is Iris.
When I’m feeling a bit down, there’s one thing that always cheers me up:
PUSHING ELEVATOR BUTTONS.

Luckily, that’s my job. Up or down, our floor or the lobby,
I always get to push the button.

But then one day, her baby brother pushes the button. And her parents are happy! Betrayal! In her rebellion, Iris pushes ALL the buttons.

Later, one of the elevators is out of order. Iris sees the repairman throw an old elevator call button into the trash. She fishes it out and later tapes it to the wall in her room so she has a button to push.

And it’s then that her adventures begin. For when she pushes the button, to her surprise it gives a Ding and lights up. And when she opens her closet door, she discovers magical worlds to explore.

Now pushing the button gives her a lift in a whole new way.

There’s some more family dynamics in the rest of this book, a wonderful celebration of adventure and imagination and family and small things that give you a lift.

And Dan Santat is so wonderful at making imagination come to life in his pictures. Another perfect pairing of author and illustrator.

minhlebooks.com
dantat.com
DisneyBooks.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 book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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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Mathematical Colors and Codes, Episode Six — Binary Codes and Booktalks

July 28th, 2020

Episode Six of Mathematical Colors and Codes, my Virtual Program Series for the library is up!

Episode Six now looks at the Base Two number system, binary, and puts that into a code. To finish up the series, I talk about more books that play with mathematical ideas.

Like all the other videos in the series, this one has a downloadable coloring page. This one has a chart for a Binary Code.

Here’s this week’s video:

Here are links to the entire Mathematical Colors and Codes series:

Episode One, Prime Factorization
Episode Two, Prime Factorization Codes
Episode Three, Nondecimal Bases
Episode Four, Color Codes with Nondecimal Bases
Episode Five, More Codes with Nondecimal Bases
Episode Six, Binary Codes and Booktalks