Review of Homerooms & Hall Passes, by Tom O’Donnell

February 6th, 2020

Homerooms & Hall Passes

by Tom O’Donnell

Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins), 2019. 337 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #9 Children’s Fiction
2019 Cybils Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Finalist

This book is a whole lot of fun, standing the idea of Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games on its head.

As the book opens, we meet a band of young adventurers – Thromdurr, a barbarian; Sorrowshade, a gloom elf; Vela the Valiant, a paladin; and Devis, a thief. They are scouring a dark and dismal dungeon for treasure and uncover an ancient evil, which they must defeat. Then the scene flashes back to Albiorix, an apprentice wizard, who is eagerly looking forward to his friends’ return, when they will play their weekly role-playing game, Homerooms & Hall Passes.

Welcome to Homerooms & Hall Passes, the role-playing game of nonadventure! With this book (and a set of dice), you and your friends will unlock a strange new world of routine and boredom set in the fictional realm of Suburbia. Imagine, if you will, a place without monsters, magic, treasure, elves, quests, or even, to be perfectly honest, much excitement at all. This place is called middle school.

Albiorix is an avid Hall Master, with a pile of manuals explaining all aspects of the game.

The module he was currently running was called The Semester of Stultification. In tonight’s game, the players would face a daunting series of challenges: a grueling five-paragraph essay dumped on their characters right at the beginning of JADMS Spirit Week. Not to mention an upcoming earth sciences quiz, a concert band recital, a class election, and a big algebra test. To rise to these challenges would take skill, cunning, impeccable time management, and of course a few lucky rolls of the dice. Albiorix chuckled maniacally to himself.

Well, after defeating an evil sorcerer in the dungeon, Devis came back with some cursed treasure. When Albiorix translates the inscription aloud, a curse takes hold – and they are all transported into the game. Can our adventurers actually handle middle school?

They appear in Suburbia with their characters’ names and families – but unfortunately they didn’t magically get the skills of their characters. If they fail or get expelled, they’re out of the game. And that’s a challenge more daunting than any dungeon.

It’s all full of humor as our characters reflect on how different middle school is from “the real world.” I like the way they need help in all their classes – but dazzle everyone in gym class. And I laughed out loud when the gloom elf falls under the sway of the popular girls’ clique.

Our heroes do have some resources ordinary middle school students don’t. But things become much more complicated when an evil part of the “real world” shows up at school.

tomisokay.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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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 One Fox: A Counting Book Thriller, by Kate Read

February 5th, 2020

One Fox

A Counting Book Thriller

by Kate Read

Peachtree, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 9, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 in Picture Books

I always enjoy counting books. Nothing helps a kid learn numbers better. But it’s nice when the book adds a little something to make it more interesting than just the numbers. This “Counting Book Thriller” actually tells an exciting story.

It’s all simple – and will give little ones so much to talk about to tell the adult reader about all the subtext. You can even think of this as a wordless picture book – with numbers, though there are a few words. But the story is in the pictures.

The first numbers are:

One famished fox

Two sly eyes

Three plump hens

Four padding paws

Five snug eggs

Oh, but the pictures! There’s nothing routine about them.

I’m going to save this book for a preschool storytime. You want the kids to be interested in the counting and also be able to infer what the famished fox wants with those plump hens.

There is a surprise ending, and a note at the book reassures us: “No hens or foxes were harmed in the making of this book.”

kateread.co.uk
peachtree-online.com

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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 Potter’s Boy, by Tony Mitton

February 5th, 2020

The Potter’s Boy

by Tony Mitton

David Fickling Books, 2019. First published in the United Kingdom in 2017. 246 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 16, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #8 Children’s Fiction

The Potter’s Boy surprised me by its loveliness and its wisdom. I read it quickly, trying to decide before the deadline which book to nominate for a Cybils Award, and ended up wishing I’d had time to slowly absorb its contents and pull out wise quotations from it.

There’s a dragon on the cover, but I’m not quite sure it’s a fantasy book. There is an episode with a dragon, but that part may well be a dream or vision. Most of the book is a roughly historical tale set in a country similar to ancient Japan.

Ryo, our hero, is the son of a potter who loves his work, and Ryo is apprenticed to him. But one day, brigands attack their village, and a traveler defeats and confounds the brigands. Ryo asks the traveler to teach him to fight like that. The traveler tells him to wait a year, until he is thirteen, and then to seek the Hermit on Cold Mountain.

The book tells the story of Ryo’s journey when he does, in fact, go to the Hermit on Cold Mountain to be trained. So it’s an educating-a-young-person story, but this one takes some surprising turns.

All along the way, Ryo is trained in mindfulness and even nonviolence (which seems surprising for a fighter). It isn’t identified as Buddhism until the author’s note in the back, though some Japanese terms are used in the teaching.

But it’s all so lovely. A compelling story of a young person’s journey and coming of age – but also full of wisdom.

Just a warning — there is a terrible tragedy in the second half of the book. How Ryo deals with that tragedy is where this becomes not a typical fantasy tale. But please don’t expect all sweetness and light.

There were plenty of wise quotations in this book, and here’s an example:

The important thing is to live and to love, and, if possible, where possible, to make something good from time to time. It may be something you can see and touch and hold on to, like a pot or a fine garment or a painting. Or it may be something more ephemeral, such as good food, which is made and gone in a short space of time. Or it may simply be the art the skill, the knack, of making people happy, or cheerful or at their ease.

It does not matter so much what it turns out to be, but I urge you, if you are reading this, whoever you are, to ask yourself, “What do I make or do that is good, that brings beauty, pleasure, or happiness into the world?” And if you can find no answer to that, seek inside yourself to find the seed, the grain, of something that might fulfill that purpose. We cannot all be great artists or musicians, scientists or storytellers. We cannot reckon to be the best at what we do. But we can, each one of us, look inside ourselves to find a leaning, a direction, that suggests to us how we might make something of worth, while we are here. Is this not true?

An uplifting story of finding one’s calling.

scholastic.com

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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 Toll, by Neal Shusterman

February 3rd, 2020

The Toll

Arc of a Scythe, Book 3

by Neal Shusterman

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 625 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 5, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 in Teen Fiction

I should not have checked this book out and taken it home when I was supposed to be reading Middle Grade Speculative Fiction for the Cybils Awards. But how could I possibly resist? Still… 625 pages! I could have read three middle grade books in the time it took to read this.

And I didn’t read it all at once. I used a couple of chapters of this book as a reward for doing my other reading, which actually worked surprisingly well – by this time in the series, the author had several threads going at once, so there were logical places to pause my reading.

Yes, you need to read this trilogy in order. Definitely. And I don’t want to give much away about the earth-shaking way Book 2 ended.

Amazingly, Neal Shusterman brought all the threads and all the characters to a satisfying conclusion. I was surprised how well he pulled it off.

This third book’s title character is the Toll – a prophet who’s arisen among the Tonist religion, the only one the Thunderhead will talk to, because the whole world is Unsavory. But there’s a lot going on beyond that – power has been seized by ruthless people. Scythes are supposed to kill a small percentage of people to keep the earth from becoming overpopulated. But they aren’t supposed to enjoy it.

Can the surviving main characters we’ve come to care about in this series do anything about the seizure of power by those who are evil? Can the Thunderhead do anything, despite the separation of scythe and state?

I am still amazed that Neal Shusterman was able to come up with satisfying affirmative answers to those questions.

This series makes you look at life and mortality and the human race with new eyes.

storyman.com
simonandschuster.com/teen

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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 Dark Lord Clementine, by Sarah Jean Horwitz

February 1st, 2020

The Dark Lord Clementine

by Sarah Jean Horwitz

Algonquin Young Readers, 2019. 332 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 7, 2019, from a library book
2019 Cybils Finalist Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #7 in Children’s Fiction

Clementine’s father is under a curse. Slowly, he is turning into a wooden puppet, and parts of him are being whittled away as he gets smaller and smaller. But he won’t tell Clementine what happened. Instead, he shuts himself in his study with books about witches, and Clementine is left to run the castle, and even to come up with a Dastardly Deed for the Council of Evil Overlords.

Clementine’s father is the Dark Lord Morcerous, and their family has been the evil lords of these mountains for generations. But as her father’s wards begin weakening, Clementine has to start dealing with the local hedgewitches and people of the village.

Clementine doesn’t know how to fix a fence to keep the fire-breathing chickens from harming the ordinary chickens. She needs help feeding the nightmares and harvesting the poison apples, but the animated scarecrows are slowing down as her father gets whittled away. So Clementine needs some help.

She finds a huntress to help with farm work, and then some village boys who want to learn to be knights. It’s all working toward an encounter with the Whittle Witch, but Clementine learns many things about herself along the way.

Here’s a scene when Clementine notices something is wrong:

Clementine stared at the scarecrow. Not once, in all the years she’d spent watching the animated scarecrows at work, had one ever stopped in the middle of a task. In fact, sometimes they were a little too enthusiastic in their work. They had to be given specific instructions, like exactly when to start and stop, or they were liable to turn the same pile of hay over and over again for days on end, or trim the grass in the castle courtyard until there was nothing left but dirt.

Like many things on the farm, the scarecrows were animated by her father’s magic – a complex combination of spells and wards and willpower that kept their estate secure, productive, and most importantly, operating according to the Dark Lord’s express rules and wishes. Nonhuman farmhands would never show up late, or demand vacation time or dental insurance, or even tire. The Dark Lord’s estate hadn’t employed any actual people – with the exception of their castle cook and Clementine’s ever-rotating cast of ill-fated governesses – for decades, at least since her father had inherited the title. Why bother with human workers when the alternative was so much simpler and efficient?

But Clementine had never seen Ethel the cook or any of her governesses simply stop like this, every limb frozen in place. this scarecrow wouldn’t have looked out of place in an actual cornfield – and what use would the Morcerouses have for it then?

Despite being about a Dark Lord, I loved the good-heartedness of this book. There’s a problem – Clementine has to keep things going as her father succumbs to a curse, and there are plot twists and revelations along the way. We thoroughly enjoy getting to know Clementine as we go through these things with her.

sarahjeanhorwitz.com
AlgonquinYoungReaders.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 How Many? by Christopher Danielson

January 29th, 2020

How Many?

A Different Kind of Counting Book

by Christopher Danielson

2019, Charlesbridge. First published in 2018 by Stenhouse Publishers. 39 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #2 in Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

I already loved Christopher Danielson’s earlier book, Which One Doesn’t Belong? It came to my attention when it won a Mathical Book Prize. Now Charlesbridge has taken on his books to hopefully reach a wider audience.

Here’s how the book explains that it is different from other counting books:

This book doesn’t tell you what to count.

It doesn’t start with small numbers and end with big ones.

Instead you decide what to count on each page. You have many choices.

The longer you look, the more possibilities you notice.

And that’s what you get. The illustrations are photographs. The pictures show things like an apple being cored and two shoes in a shoebox. The text asks, “How many do you see?”

After that first picture, the narrator says:

If you thought, “how many what do I see?” then you get the idea.

It does give examples of things you can count: shoes, pairs of shoes, shoelaces, holes for the laces, yellow stitches. And it asks, “What other things can you count?”

The pictures get interesting in different ways. There’s a picture of an egg carton with one egg in it. There’s a picture of eggs frying, one of which has a double yolk. The eggshells are by the stove, and the eggs that were not used are still in the carton next to the stove.

In other pictures, some fruit gets cut in half. We’ve got pictures of pizza, and then pizza in slices. Pictures toward the end show kitchen scenes with many of the things we already looked at – including shoes on the floor.

Questions at the back give you ways to extend the ideas. I do love that there are no answers anywhere in this book.

This is a wonderful book for curious children! It builds sophisticated mathematical ideas into preschool and early elementary school children. Anyone who has learned to count will have something to think about with this book.

As the author says at the end, “When you count carefully and clearly state what you’re counting, you’re doing some great math!”

talkingmathwithkids.com
charlesbridge.com
Stenhouse.com

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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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Watching the 2020 Youth Media Awards

January 28th, 2020

This morning I watched the American Library Association’s 2020 Youth Media Awards, fondly remembering last year when our committee met early in the morning, called the winners, and then had reserved seats at the announcements.

I have read and reviewed many of the winners. I’m afraid there are many that I’ve written a review, but haven’t posted it yet. My plan going forward will be to finish posting my 2019 Sonderbooks Stand-outs, then try to finish posting any award winners whose reviews I haven’t posted yet, and then, yes, finish posting the reviews of my 2018 Sonderbooks Stand-outs. (I couldn’t post any of those children’s book reviews until after the Newbery was announced, so I got way behind.) Then I will try to start catching up on new reviews. We’ll see how I do.

I can honestly say I’m happy about every single book that won. Since I don’t review every picture book I read (There are so very many!), there are many picture book winners that I read but didn’t review. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re wonderful books.

Here is the list of winners from American Libraries magazine.

My list is in the same order as they were presented this morning (except I’ll put winners before honors):

Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature

Picture Book Winner: Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom, by Teresa Robeson, illustrated by Rebecca Huang
[I read this one and thought it was wonderful, but didn’t review it, which I now regret.]

Picture Book Honor: Bilal Cooks Daal, by Aisha Saieed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed
[Haven’t read yet]

Children’s Literature Winner: Stargazing, by Jen Wang [Review coming!]

Children’s Literature Honor: I’m OK, by Patti Kim [Haven’t read yet]

Young Adult Literature Winner: They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker [My #1 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Longer Children’s Nonfiction]

Young Adult Literature Honor: Frankly in Love, by David Yoon [Review coming!]

Sidney Taylor Book Awards given by the Association of Jewish Libraries

Picture Book Winner: The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come, by Sue Macy, illustrated by Stacy Innerst [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Picture Book Honors: Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story, by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Amy June Bates [Review coming!]

The Key from Spain: Flory Jagoda and Her Music by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Middle Grade Winner: White Bird, by R. J. Palacio [#6 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Children’s Fiction!]

Middle Grade Honors: Games of Deception: The True Story of the First US Olympic Basketball Team at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany, by Andrew Maraniss [Not read yet]

Anya and the Dragon, by Sofiya Pasternack [Not read yet]

Young Adult Winner: Someday We Will Fly, by Rachel Dewoskin [Not read yet]

Young Adult Honors: Dissenter on the Bench, by Victoria Ortiz [Not read yet]

Sick Kids in Love, by Hannah Moskowitz [Not read yet]

American Indian Youth Literature Awards

Picture Book Winner: Bowwow Powwow: Bagosenjige-niimi’idim, written by Brenda J. Child (Red Lake Ojibwe), translated into Ojibwe by Gordon Jourdain (Lac La Croix First Nation), and illustrated by Jonathan Thunder (Red Lake Ojibwe) [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Picture Book Honors: Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, written by Kevin Noble Maillard (Seminole Nation, Mekusukey Band), illustrated by Juana Martínez-Neal (Peruvian-American)
[read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Birdsong, written and illustrated by Julie Flett (Cree-Métis) [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

At the Mountain’s Base, written by Traci Sorell (Cherokee), illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva/Scots-Gaelic) [Not read yet]

We Are Grateful, written by Traci Sorell (Cherokee), illustrated by Frané Lessac [read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Raven Makes the Aleutians, adapted from a traditional Tlingit story and illustrated by Janine Gibbons (Haida, Raven of the Double-Finned Killer Whale clan, Brown Bear House) [Not read yet]

[I haven’t read any of the remaining American Indian Literature Award Winners. I plan to remedy this.]

Middle Grade Winner: Indian No More, written by Charlene Willing McManis (Umpqua/Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde) with Traci Sorell (Cherokee)

Middle Grade Honors: I Can Make This Promise, written by Christine Day (Upper Skagit)

The Grizzly Mother, written by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (“Bret D. Huson,” Gitxsan), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Métis Nation of British Columbia)

Young Adult Winner: Hearts Unbroken, by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee)

Young Adult Honors: Surviving the City, written by Tasha Spillet (Nehiyaw-Trinidadian), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Métis Nation of British Columbia)

Reawakening Our Ancestors’ Lines: Revitalizing Inuit Traditional Tattooing, gathered and compiled by Angela Hovak Johnston (Inuk), with photography by Cora De Vos (Inuk)

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People, written by Debbie Reese (Nambé Owingeh) and Jean Mendoza adapted from the adult book by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Apple in the Middle, written by Dawn Quigley (Ojibwe, Turtle Mountain Band)

Schneider Family Book Awards
(For books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience)
[Of all of these, I’ve only read one. I’ll note it. And I will do some reading.]

Books for Young Children Winner: Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You, written by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Rafael López

Books for Young Children Honor: A Friend for Henry, written by Jenn Bailey, illustrated by Mika Song [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Middle Grades Winner: Song for a Whale, by Lynne Kelly

Middle Grades Honor: Each Tiny Spark, written by Pablo Cartaya

Books for Teens Winner: Cursed, written by Karol Ruth Silverstein

Books for Teens Honor: The Silence Between Us, written by Alison Gervais

Stonewall Book Awards
(Mike Morgan & Larry Romans?Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award given annually to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender experience)

Winner: When Aidan Became a Brother, written by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita [Read and reviewed!]

Winner: The Black Flamingo, written by Dean Atta, illustrated by Anshika Khullar [Not read yet]

Honors: Pet, written by Akwaeke Emezi [Not read yet]

Like a Love Story, written by Abdi Nazemian [Not read yet]

The Best at It, written by Maulik Pancholy [Not read yet]

Coretta Scott King Awards

Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement

Mildred D. Taylor

John Steptoe New Talent Award

Illustrator: What Is Given from the Heart, illustrated by April Harrison, written by Patricia C. McKissack

Author: Genesis Begins Again, written by Alicia D. Williams [Not read yet, but this book is already checked out and what I’m reading next]

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards

Winner: The Undefeated, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, written by Kwame Alexander [Reviewed! Not sure why I didn’t make this one of my Stand-outs, because I loved it.]

Honors: The Bell Rang, illustrated and written by James E. Ransome [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace, illustrated and written by Ashley Bryan [Read and reviewed in 2020 — may well be a 2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out! Review will be posted soon.]

Sulwe, illustrated by Vashti Harrison, written by Lupita Nyong’o [Not read yet]

Coretta Scott King Author Awards

Winner: New Kid, written and illustrated by Jerry Craft [Read and reviewed!]

Honors: The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, written by Junauda Petrus [Not read yet]

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, written by Kwame Mbalia [Review coming]

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, written by Jason Reynolds [Read and reviewed!]

Alex Awards
(for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences)
[I haven’t read any of these.]

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, by C. A. Fletcher
Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh
Dominicana, by Angie Cruz
Gender Queer: A Memoir, by Maia Kobabe
High School, by Sara Quin and Tegan Quin
In Waves, by AJ Dungo
Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
Red, White & Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston
The Swallows, by Lisa Lutz

Margaret A. Edwards Award
(for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults)
Steve Sheinkin, specifically for the books Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights, The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery, and Lincoln’s Grave Robbers

William C. Morris Award
(for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens:)

Winner: The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, written by Ben Philippe [Not read yet]

Finalists: The Candle and the Flame, written by Nafiza Azad [Not read yet]

Frankly in Love, written by David Yoon [Review coming]

Genesis Begins Again, written by Alicia D. Williams [Next up!]

There Will Come a Darkness, written by Katy Rose Pool [Not read yet]

YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults

Winner: Free Lunch, by Rex Ogle [My #4 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Longer Children’s Nonfiction]

Finalists: The Great Nijinsky: God of Dance, written and illustrated by Lynn Curlee [Not read yet]

A Light in the Darkness: Janusz Korczak, His Orphans, and the Holocaust, written by Albert Marrin [Not read yet]

A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II, written by Elizabeth Wein [Not read yet, but soon]

Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of “The Children’s Ship,” written by Deborah Heiligman [Not read yet]

Michael L. Printz Award
(for excellence in literature written for young adults)

Winner: Dig, by A. S. King [Not read yet]

Honors: The Beast Player, written by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano [Not read yet]

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell [Not read yet]

Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir, written by Nikki Grimes [My #3 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Longer Children’s Nonfiction]

Where the World Ends, written by Geraldine McCaughrean [Not read yet]

Odyssey Award
(for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults)

Winner: Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction, written by Jarrett J. Krosoczka and narrated by the author, Jeanne Birdsall, Jenna Lamia, Richard Ferrone, and a full cast [I haven’t listened to this yet, but the graphic novel it’s based on was my #5 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Longer Children’s Nonfiction for 2018. The review isn’t posted yet, though.]

Honors: Redwood and Ponytail, written by K. A. Holt and narrated by Cassandra Morris and Tessa Netting [Haven’t listened yet]

Song for a Whale, written by Lynne Kelly and narrated by Abigail Revasch with the author [Haven’t listened yet]

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, written by Traci Sorell and narrated by Lauren Hummingbird, Agalisiga (Choogie) Mackey, Ryan Mackey, Traci Sorell, Tonia Weavel [Haven’t listened yet]

We’re Not from Here, written by Geoff Rodkey and narrated by Dani Martineck [Haven’t listened yet, but the book it’s based on is my #1 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Children’s Fiction, and the book was my library’s Newbery Book Club Winner]

Pura Belpré Awards
(honoring a Latino writer and illustrator whose children’s books best portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino cultural experience)

Illustrator Award Winner: Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln, illustrated by Rafael López, written by Margarita Engle [Not read yet]

Illustrator Honors: Across the Bay, illustrated and written by Carlos Aponte

My Papi Has a Motorcycle, illustrated by Zeke Peña, written by Isabel Quintero [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market, illustrated and written by Raúl Gonzalez [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Author Award Winner: Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, written by Carlos Hernandez [My #5 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Children’s Fiction]

Author Honors: Lety Out Loud, written by Angela Cervantes [Not read yet]

The Other Half of Happy, written by Rebecca Balcárcel [Review coming]

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre, written by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar [Read and reviewed]

Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh [Read and enjoyed but not reviewed]

2020 ALSC Children’s Literature Lecture Award
(recognizing an author, critic, librarian, historian, or teacher of children’s literature, who then presents a lecture at a winning host site)

Winner: Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop

Mildred L. Batchelder Award
(for an outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States)

Winner: Brown, written by Håkon Øvreås, illustrated by Øyvind Torseter, translated by Kari Dickson [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Honors: The Beast Player, written by Nahoko Uehashi, illustrated by Yuta Onoda, and translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano [Not read yet]

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree, written by Paola Peretti, illustrated by Carolina Rabei, translated from the Italian by Denise Muir [Not read yet]

Do Fish Sleep? written by Jens Raschke, illustrated by Jens Rassmus, translated from the German by Belinda Cooper [Not read yet]

When Spring Comes to the DMZ, written by Uk-Bae Lee, illustrated by the author, translated from the Korean by Chungyon Won and Aileen Won [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award
(for most distinguished informational book for children)

Winner: Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, written by Kevin Noble Maillard and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal [Read and enjoyed but not reviewed]

Honors: All in a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World, written by Lori Alexander, illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger [Not read yet]

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality, written by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy [Review coming]

Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir, written by Nikki Grimes [My #3 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Longer Children’s Nonfiction]

Hey, Water! written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis [Read and enjoyed but not reviewed]

Children’s Literature Legacy Award
(honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children through books that demonstrate integrity and respect for all children’s lives and experiences)

Winner: Kevin Henkes

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award
(for the most distinguished beginning reader book)

Winner: Stop! Bot! written and illustrated by James Yang [Not read yet]

Honors: Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot! written and illustrated by Cece Bell [Read and enjoyed but not reviewed]

Flubby Is Not a Good Pet! written and illustrated by J. E. Morris [Read and enjoyed. I reviewed a different book about Flubby.]

The Book Hog, written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli [Read and enjoyed but not reviewed]

And at this point they always make a comment about the oldest and most well-known Children’s Book Awards:

Randolph Caldecott Medal
(for the most distinguished American picture book for children)

Winner: The Undefeated, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, written by Kwame Alexander [Read and reviewed] [Finally! A Caldecott Medal for Kadir Nelson! So deserved!]

Honors: Bear Came Along, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, written by Richard T. Morris [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Double Bass Blues, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez, written by Andrea J. Loney [Not read yet]

Going Down Home with Daddy, illustrated by Daniel Minter, written by Kelly Starling Lyons [Read and enjoyed but not reviewed]

John Newbery Medal
(for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature)

Winner: New Kid, written and illustrated by Jerry Craft [Read and reviewed]

Honors: The Undefeated, written by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson [Read and reviewed]

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, written by Christian McKay Heidicker, illustrated by Junyi Wu [Review coming]

Other Words for Home, written by Jasmine Warga [Read and reviewed]

Genesis Begins Again, written by Alicia D. Williams [Next up!]

A couple of historic things in this set of awards:

The first time a graphic novel has won the Newbery Medal.

I think (but have not yet checked) it’s the first time that both the Newbery and the Caldecott Medal winners matched the Coretta Scott King Award Winners.

What a wonderful set of books!

Happy Reading!

Review of White Bird, by R. J. Palacio

January 27th, 2020

White Bird

by R. J. Palacio
inked by Kevin Czap

Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. 220 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 29, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #6 in Children’s Fiction
2020 Sidney Taylor Book Award Winner

This beautiful graphic novel written and illustrated by the author of Wonder is framed as a story told by the grandmother of a boy who’s a bully in Wonder. But his grandmother tells him the story of how she was hidden in a barn during the Holocaust – and that story will touch anyone’s life.

The boy who helped her escape and whose family saved her life had been crippled by polio. So the other children mocked him, and Sara did not stand up for him against that bullying, even though she’d sat next to him for years because their last names both started with B.

The story of Sara’s escape, and then the constant fear of discovery, and the way Julien and his mother helped her keep her courage up – but at great risk – all makes gripping reading. The story is not true, but there is information at the back telling about how it is all based in fact.

In the present, Julien’s grandmother tells him this was the boy he and his father were named after – someone who showed great kindness when any kindness felt like a miracle. The image of a white bird found throughout the book and the lessons drawn about standing up to evil and showing kindness make this a story that will resonate.

rhcbooks.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.

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 Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez

January 25th, 2020

Sal & Gabi Break the Universe

by Carlos Hernandez

Disney Hyperion, 2019. 390 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 4, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 in Children’s Fiction
2019 Cybils Finalist, Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

This is the first one of the “Rick Riordan Presents” imprint that I’ve read that doesn’t feel like Rick Riordan could have written it if he belonged to that culture. Yes, it’s an “Own Voices” book from Cuban-American culture. But it doesn’t follow the formula of kid-finds-out-mythological-characters-are-real-and-they-are-part-of-it. Instead, this is science fiction involving parallel universes, a kid who is able to open windows between universes, and his father who studies “calamity physics.”

Now, I have to say that I think the “science” in this book is silly and bogus. There’s hand-waving that goes on about how Sal is able to open windows between universes and pseudoscience about “calamitrons” that result. Also, the thing that happened at the end didn’t make sense to me.

I’ve said before that if a novel makes too much of alternate universes, we start asking, why then are we hearing the story of this particular universe, when a story exists where the characters make different choices? To me, it cheapens the importance of those choices.

However, that said, I loved this book! The characters, especially Sal and Gabi, are completely delightful. I love that Sal, who can open windows between universes and bring things through, is a showman and a magician. What a great trick – to bring a dead chicken from an alternate universe and then make it disappear without a trace!

Right at the start, Sal stands up to a bully by putting a dead chicken in his locker. He does it with flare, and later the evidence disappears. Gabi’s a friend of the bully, and we soon learn that she’s not the sort of person who’s going to let a mystery like that stand.

Sal and Gabi attend an Arts Magnet School – and it makes me wish such a school existed. The teachers and principal are reasonable and try to be fair. Sal’s also got diabetes, and dealing with that is a nice underlying realistic piece of the plot.

There’s a spot where Sal scares Gabi much more thoroughly than he meant to – and he apologizes beautifully. That’s where I thought, What a wonderful kid! But then later in the book, we see an alternate reality Sal whose mother never died of diabetes, and that Sal isn’t nearly so thoughtful. I like that nod to the way difficult experiences make us grow. I could believe that Sal was so aware of others’ feelings because of what he’d been through.

And let’s face it, the interaction between universes was so much fun, I was willing to suspend my disbelief. A chicken in a bully’s locker. Sal’s dead mother coming from another universe and thinking she’s still married to his Papi. A Calamitron-scanner with artificial intelligence and a personality. A lie detector using brain science that Sal turns into a performance.

So maybe the “science” is very hand-wavy. But as a novel about people – people interacting with grace, performing, and dealing with the hard parts of life – this novel shines. I agree with the blurb on the back by William Alexander, “filled to the brim with a fiercely unstoppable joy.”

@WriteTeachPlay
@camphalfblood
DisneyBooks.com

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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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Saturday, by Oge Mora

January 24th, 2020

Saturday

by Oge Mora

Little, Brown and Company, 2019. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 29, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #2 in Picture Books

Oge Mora won a Caldecott Honor with her first book, Thank You, Omu! This second book is a delightful story of a girl and her mother trying to have a special Saturday. She knows how to insert just the right amount of repetition and anticipation, and her collage illustrations are fun to look at.

The book begins:

This morning Ava and her mother were all smiles.
It was Saturday!

Because Ava’s mother worked
Sunday,
Monday,
Tuesday,
Wednesday,
Thursday,
and Friday,
Saturday was the day they cherished.

We learn their plans for the day – the library for storytime, the salon for a hairdo, the park for a picnic, and the theater for a special one-night-only puppet show.

As they prepare for each event, we’re assured:

The day would be special.
The day would be splendid.
The day was SATURDAY!

But with each item on their agenda, something goes wrong.

The first three times, what happens after they are stymied is similar:

They paused, closed their eyes,
and — whew! — let out a deep breath.

“Don’t worry, Ava,” her mother reassured her.
“Today will be special.
Today will be splendid.
Today is SATURDAY!”

But when they don’t have the tickets for the puppet show, it’s Ava’s turn to be reassuring.

And they come up with a wonderful solution – together – for a beautiful Saturday.

This book reads aloud well, and it’s a modern story with a working, single mother. But the repetition gives it overtones of a folk tale, and it’s got a whole lot of love.

ogemora.com
lbyr.com

Buy from Amazon.com

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

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?