Review of Playlist, by James Rhodes


The Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound

by James Rhodes
illustrated by Martin O’Neill

Candlewick Studio, 2019. 68 pages.
Review written April 1, 2020, from a library book
2019 Cybils Award Winner, Senior High Nonfiction
Starred Review

This book is visually stunning as well as audibly stunning (more on that in a minute). It’s oversized, but many will realize it’s the same square shape and size as a record album.

Once inside, every spread is a presentation. This is an author who loves classical music and is excited about it. If anyone can communicate that love and excitement to a young reader, this would be the person.

Here’s an excerpt from his Introduction:

I’ll be honest with you: classical music is not usually seen as riveting material for a book. I know that. You know that. It is thought of as dull, irrelevant, belonging to other (usually old) people, and about as interesting as algebra. I will say this though: classical music saved my life when I was a kid. And even today, many years later, every single time I listen to it, it makes me feel amazing.

Classical music has a bad and, in my mind, unfair reputation. Those composers with the white curly wigs, such as Bach and Mozart, might seem super old-fashioned now. But they were the original rock stars. They changed history, inspired millions, and are still listened to and worshipped all around the world today. So I hope you’ll leave behind your preconceptions: even if you think you hate it, give it an hour or two of your time and then decide.

It does have to be said that there are a LOT of classical composers, and it can be quite overwhelming to decide where to begin. I have chosen seven composers to get us started. For each composer I have selected two pieces to discuss and listen to. I’m also going to explain a bit about the lives of the composers. (You won’t believe some of their stories. Did you know Beethoven peed into a chamber pot he kept under his piano and Bach had twenty children?) I’ve chosen Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, and Ravel: the perfect introduction to classical music.

So that gives the format of what follows: We’ll have a spread for each composer, then a spread telling about his life, then a spread for each of the two pieces of music that James Rhodes analyzes for us. And that’s what makes this book extra vivid: At the front he’s got a playlist of all the music. You put into a browser, and you’ll get to listen to all the pieces on Spotify. So you get to listen to the music as he describes it.

And his enthusiastic descriptions help you appreciate and understand the significance of the pieces he chooses.

All of his descriptions ring with his love for the pieces. Here’s an example taken from the spread about Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Finale:

As we know, Rachmaninoff was a giant, and this concerto requires really, really big hands. He asks the pianist to play enormous chords and super-fast runs of notes and jumps from the bottom of the keyboard to the top and back again. The last movement, which we’re going to focus on here, is my favorite, for reasons that will become obvious as you listen to it. It has everything that any music fan could ever want – incredible, unforgettable melodies, insane piano pyrotechnics (I mean just listen to the first time the piano enters!), excitement, melancholy, heartbreak, and heroism, all in eleven minutes. There are giant cymbal crashes, sweeping romantic tunes with the entire orchestra and solo piano playing at full volume, and an electrifying ending. But it’s the big tune, perhaps his most famous melody, that really does it for me. It starts at 1’47, and Rachmaninoff, knowing how special it is, repeats it three times during the course of the movement, each time adding little touches and making it fresher and more magnificent until the very last time (9’55 OMG), when it becomes this enormous, grand, sweeping melody that has inspired dozens of Hollywood composers and would feel right at home in one of the Jurassic Park, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, or Incredibles movies.

Speaking of movies, in the section on the composer’s life, he always includes some movies that use music by the composer.

There are some additional spreads with musical terms and a timeline of Western Classical Music, and absolutely nothing in this book is remotely boring. It gives the reader a nice background of classical music, and a wonderful audio sampling of the riches you can find there.

At first when I opened this book, I was reluctant to go to the trouble of listening to the playlist. By the time I was done, I was eager to hear and notice the things James Rhodes pointed out.

As he says to finish his Introduction:

So, this is my plea: give this music a chance. Read the book, listen to the pieces in the playlist I’ve built for you (turn the page!), and then, if you want, NEVER listen to it again, safe in the knowledge you’ve given it a go and hated it. But maybe, just maybe, it’ll blow your mind and improve your life a little bit, and you’ll want to send me a giant box of cookies as a thank-you. (I’m not even joking – send as many as you like.)

Enjoy. Take it slowly. Allow yourself to experience something magical.

Count me as someone whose mind was blown. Though in lieu of sending cookies, I’m writing this review.

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What did you think of this book?

Review of Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

Thank You, Omu!

by Oge Mora

Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 3, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Picture Books – Silly Fun
2019 Caldecott Honor Book

Here’s a contemporary story with a folk tale feel about a friendly elderly lady who makes a delicious big fat pot of thick red stew and shares with everyone who asks. A note at the front tells us that “Omu” is the Igbo term for “queen.”

As the thick red stew simmered on the stove, its scrumptious scent wafted out the window and out the door, down the hall, toward the street, and around the block, until –


Someone was at the door.

Here’s the first encounter, with a little boy:

“Little boy!” Omu exclaimed. “What brings you to my home?”

“I was playing with my race car down the hall when I smelled the most delicious smell,” the little boy replied. “What is it?”

“Thick red stew.”

“MMMMM, STEW!” He sighed. “That sure sounds yummy.”

Omu thought for a moment. She was saving her stew for dinner, but she had made quite a bit. It would not hurt to share. “Would you like some?”

The little boy nodded.

And so Omu spooned out some thick red stew from the big fat pot for her nice evening meal.

“THANK YOU, OMU!” the little boy said, and went on his way.

A progression of people show up at Omu’s door, smelling the delicious stew. She gives to all – and then when she’s ready for her delicious dinner, there is nothing left!

But that is not the end of the story. Everyone who received from Omu that day comes back in the evening with something in return – and there’s a happy celebration.

I’m going to try to use this one in storytime and get the kids to call out “Thank you, Omu!” every time a character says that. This is a happy story about the joy of sharing.

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What did you think of this book?

Review of Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me

by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

First Second, 2019. 300 pages.
Review written February 11, 2020, from a library book
2020 Michael L. Printz Honor

This graphic novel won a Printz Honor, which doesn’t happen often for graphic novels, so I had to take a look. Unlike the Newbery, the Printz considers the art as well as the text, and a quick glance through the pages already told me this graphic novel is creative and innovative, using panel layouts and angles of view in interesting ways.

The story is about Freddy, writing to an online advice columnist after Laura Dean has broken up with her for the third time. The third time is extra bad when she finds Laura Dean making out with someone else at a Valentine’s Day party. But before long Laura Dean is back, and Freddy takes her back.

Meanwhile, things are going on in the lives of her other friends, but Freddy keeps thinking about Laura Dean.

This book is a quick read, but there are a lot of insights to be gained from watching other people mess up – and realize they’re messing up.

I like the point the advice columnist makes that breaking up and being in love have a lot in common, so questions about breaking up are also questions about the nature of the love between you.

And I like this line from her advice: “It’s true that giving can be a part of love. But, contrary to popular belief, love should never take from you, Freddy.”

Thinking about these questions in someone else’s love story can certainly help you think about them in your own.

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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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Genesis Begins Again, by Alicia D. Williams

Genesis Begins Again

by Alicia D. Williams

A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Atheneum), 2019. 364 pages.
2020 Newbery Honor
2020 John Steptoe New Talent Author Award
2020 William C. Morris Award Finalist
Review written February 1, 2020, from a library book

This book begins as thirteen-year-old Genesis Anderson walks home with the popular girls – to see all her family’s possessions on the front lawn. They’ve been evicted from their apartment again.

But after dealing with that, her father takes them to a fancy new home in the suburbs. Genesis starts at a new school, and she wants things to go well there. She starts singing in the choir and even thinks about auditioning for the talent show. And has she finally made some real friends?

But her father isn’t exactly being honest about things. Her mother’s thinking about leaving, and Genesis isn’t ready to leave again. Time with Grandma confirms that everyone’s disappointed that Genesis ended up with dark skin like her father and not light skin like her mother. Genesis is willing to do anything to make her skin lighter. Then she’ll be beautiful and maybe her father can love her.

I’m going to be watching this author, because even in this debut novel she pulls us into Genesis’ world and all the different pressures surrounding her. It doesn’t all wrap up in a tidy bow, but Genesis is starting to learn to love herself, and the book ends with the reader reasonably hopeful that Genesis is going to deal with whatever the future holds.

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Watching the 2020 Youth Media Awards

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!

Cybils Finalists 2019!

Every year New Year’s Day is also Cybils Finalists Day, when the Finalists are announced for the various categories of the Cybils Awards, the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards.

This year, I was in California on New Year’s Day to attend my mother’s memorial service, so I’m not getting this posted until now. I served as a first-round panelist in the category of Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction, and I’m very proud of our choices.

On Valentine’s Day, one winner in each category will be announced, but I especially like the lists of Finalists in each category. I like being a panelist, because it’s not all riding on one choice. Different people enjoy different books, and I like that we try to compose a strong list, with something for everyone.

In addition, I like the way the Cybils Awards have ten different categories, so this really is a place you can find good possibilities for any young reader.

It turns out I haven’t yet posted reviews for very many of our finalists. I didn’t want to while we were evaluating them, and it turned out only one of these choices I’d read before I joined the panel. But I will try to add links to my reviews once I post them.

These are our Finalists, and you can read more about them on the Cybils page:

We’re Not From Here, by Geoff Rodkey
Cog, by Greg van Eekhout
Homerooms and Hall Passes, by Tom O’Donnell
Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits, by Anna Meriano
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez
The Dark Lord Clementine, by Sarah Jean Horwitz
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mballa

Stay tuned on Valentine’s Day to find out which one the second-round judges pick as the big winner!

And I have to add: a book I nominated got chosen by another panel!

A Is For Elizabeth, by Rachel Vail, is a Finalist in the Early Chapter Books category.

Review of Damsel, by Elana K. Arnold


by Elana K. Arnold
performed by Elizabeth Knowelden

HarperAudio, 2018. 7.75 hours on 7 discs.
Starred Review
2019 Printz Honor winner
Review written October 16, 2019, from a library audiobook.

First let me say that I have a new favorite audiobook narrator. Yes, Elizabeth Knowelden has a wonderful accent and her voice is a delight to listen to, but she also has the ability to pack every word with drama. When I raved about her reading this book and tried to imitate her, I simply sounded overdramatic, but when she does it, she makes every word seem important. She achieves exactly the right amount of emphasis and compels your attention.

The book itself is amazing.

Now, there’s a startling ending – but I had a strong clue what that ending would be from hearing the author’s Printz Honor speech. I had a feeling that Ama would not meekly succumb to the forces urging her to be a good little girl and submit. Let me say only that this book is perfect for the “Me Too” generation.

For generations, the prince of the kingdom of Harding, in order to become king after his father dies, must conquer a dragon and rescue a damsel. He will bring the damsel back to his castle and marry her at the Winter Solstice. They will have one child, a son, who will repeat this process after them.

Ama wakes up in Prince Emory’s arms, and he tells her that he rescued her from a dragon. She doesn’t remember anything from her life before. As they journey back to the castle, Emory kills a mother lynx that he thought was threatening Ama (she wasn’t), and Ama takes the baby with her to the castle. She names the baby lynx Sorrow.

At the castle, Ama must learn her place. There are still some months before midwinter, and she must learn her role in the scheme of things. But it’s almost as hard for Ama to fall into place as it is for Sorrow.

The reading of this story is outstanding, but this is not a family tale. There are many vulgar moments, and sexual things explicitly described. And Prince Emory is not a nice man.

Honestly, if I didn’t expect Ama to triumph, I would not have been able to listen to this story, so I think it’s safe to tell you that the horrible things that happen along the way make the ending of this audiobook all the more sweet.

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Conference Corner: Printz Awards

The final event I attended at ALA Annual Conference 2019 in DC was the presentation of the Michael Printz Awards. These are the top young adult books of the year. The only one I read in my Newbery reading was the winner, Poet X. I hope to fix that situation soon!

For the Printz Awards, even the Honor winners give speeches. First up was Elana K. Arnold, who wrote the book Damsel.

Her book was an exploration of embodied female rage.

It’s an original fairy tale. The prince must rescue a damsel and kill a dragon.

Damsel is a book about how patriarchy hurts everyone.

All of her books end with a girl stepping alone, head high, into her future.

It’s a book about boundaries.

As children, we operate inside borders. The teen years are when we notice the walls. Do we keep them or tear them down?

Examining real world problems through a fantasy lens.

She’s pushing down walls along with other writers.

Next up was Deb Caletti, Honor winner for A Heart in a Body in the World.

This book is about a marathoner who runs across the country after a horrible crime against her.

The author just made the same journey by plane, Seattle to DC.

She didn’t know all the places, but she knew her character’s heart.

She was a kid who needed books. They told her, “I see you. I understand you. Keep going.”

Then she repeated her childhood and chose a sometimes scary partner.

After some time, she went from voiceless to having a voice.

Then she read in the news about a kid who committed violence against his “dream girl” who broke up with him.

She wanted to tell what she knows about the story, about the slow progression of guilt and fear.

Misogyny sneaks in, barges in, rages in.

It’s confusing — we’re told we’re responsible.

Are we powerful? We can make men do awful stuff! Or are we powerless?

She’s heartbroken that the book is called timely. It’s been timely for way, way too long.

She still believes in the power of one voice and in the voice of her readers.

Then came Mary McCoy, who won Honor for I, Claudia.

She works at Los Angeles Public Library. It’s a book about politics and power.

This is about a girl who leaves her quiet life and grabs power.

Nixon’s people ratfucked their opponents. But fifteen years earlier, they’d done the same thing as students at USC. Corrupt politicians practice.

When she first wrote the book, she thought it was a tragedy that Claudia went into politics.

After 2016, she’s not sure anyone has the luxury of staying out of politics.

She would vote for Claudia — because she’s there to make a difference.

As people who work in libraries, we give a lot of fucks.

We know something about being a force for good in the universe.

And the final speaker was Elizabeth Acevedo, who won the Michael L. Printz Award for Poet X.

She’s talking about inscriptions.

When she was in high school, a teacher put Heaven, by Angela Johnson, into her hands. It was the first time she read about a teen father in a book. She had questions, and her teacher told her to write to Angela Johnson.

She didn’t answer, but then a book about that teen father was published — The First Part Last. It was inscribed to Elizabeth Acevedo and the students at her school. It was the first time she saw her name in print. That book won the Printz Award.

Later, as a teacher, she just tried to get the kids to love reading.

A kid asked her, “Where are the books about us?” She pulled authors who write about people of color. They read those and kept asking, “What’s next?”

That’s why she wrote Poet X.

She wasn’t going to make accommodations.

That’s why the inscription — to that student. This girl gets to see her name in print.

She’s thankful the family she married into supported her going to grad school in creative writing.

Her book ends: “Isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.”

She hopes young people will allow themselves to be opened up.

Her role as a writer is to empower other people to write.

We’re here and deserve to be here.

We are still here and we can still heal.

Conference Corner: Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy Banquet!

On Sunday of ALA Annual Conference, I had big plans. I had a full day’s schedule worked out and was planning to change clothes for the banquet in a hotel restroom. And I managed to get out of bed. And I thought to myself Why? And I went back to bed.

I ate a late and leisurely lunch and got dressed for the banquet and left around 3:30 to get to the 5:00 Cocktail Party for those sitting at the HarperCollins table, including Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Brian Lies (Caldecott Honor winner), their family members, and some more committee members.

The party was on a top-floor terrace of the same hotel where the banquet was happening. I do not know why I did not take any pictures. It was lovely.

Around 5:45, we went to the Green Room. There, lots of pictures were taken. I’ll just include ones I took, though many of them aren’t very good. (My camera doesn’t do a great job in low light.)

First, we met the John Newbery Baby! Yes, Emily gave birth the Saturday before deliberations began on Friday! Yes, she came and deliberated! And her baby is completely adorable!

With Lali:

With his Mom:

I was all dressed up:

Ellen Riordan, our committee chair, with our winners: Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Veera Hiranandani, and Meg Medina:

All the winners! Left to right, back row: Veera Hiranandani, Christopher Myers, Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Oge Mora, Brian Lies.
front row: Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Sophie Blackall, Juana Martinez-Neal

With Meg (and noticing we have almost identical glasses):

With Veera and Catherine:

At the banquet, I got to sit next to Catherine! There are always really wonderful programs made by the Caldecott Medalist.

With Ellen during the break after the meal:

I decided for once not to take notes on the speeches, because they had a card with links to the speeches on the table, and I knew they’d be printed in Horn Book Magazine.

First was Sophie Blackall’s Caldecott Speech:

Then Ellen took the podium to give out our awards!

There we are! (Rats! I was in a hurry to take the picture before standing up, so it’s blurry.)

I got a close up look at Catherine’s Honor Citation!

(I tried to take Veera’s picture collecting her citation, but it came out too blurry, alas!)

Then it was time for Meg’s speech!

I noticed I had a nice angle on some committee members and Meg’s daughter watching the speech:

A couple things happened at the actual speech that weren’t in the pre-written speech that is on the website. Meg did name all committee members in her speech — but instead of listing our full names, she called us all by our first names, and she used Sondy for me instead of Sondra. She also mentioned the amazing evening we’d had together the night before.

Another thing was that the night before Candlewick had given us bicycle bells in honor of Merci. Written on them, it says, “Take a deep breath and ride” — Merci Suárez

Well, naturally I brought mine to the banquet to ring every time the crowd was applauding Meg. Toward the end of the speech, she thanked Candlewick for the bicycle bells, and naturally I rang the bell then — but this time everyone heard me do it and the entire enormous ballroom laughed! (I immediately hid the bell and pretended it wasn’t me.)

The next speech was Christopher Myers accepting the Children’s Literature Legacy Award on behalf of his father, Walter Dean Myers.

And finally, when the banquet was all done, I got a picture with one of my all-time favorite authors, Shannon Hale!

The whole thing added up to an amazing evening, the culmination of our two years (really) on the Newbery committee!

Review of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

by Meg Medina

Candlewick Press, 2013. 260 pages.
Starred Review
2014 Pura Belpré Award Winner
Review written July 5, 2019, from my own copy obtained at 2019 ALA Annual Conference

A wonderful thing happened at ALA Annual Conference – as the exhibits were closing, I was able to grab free copies of two of our Newbery winner’s backlist titles. Then, with it in my bag, I did some reading later while waiting in line, so this was the first book I read after the conference.

The story is told in the voice of Piddy (short for Piedad) Sanchez. It begins with a bang:

“Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.”

A kid named Vanesa tells me this in the morning before school. She springs out with no warning and blocks my way, her textbook held at her chest like a shield. She’s tall like me and caramel. I’ve seen her in the lunchroom, I think. Or maybe just in the halls. It’s hard to remember.

Then, just like that, Vanesa disappears into the swell of bodies all around.

Wait, I want to tell her as she’s swallowed up. Who is Yaqui Delgado? But instead, I stand there blinking as kids jostle for the doors. The bell has rung, and I’m not sure if it’s only the warning or if I’m late for first period. Not that it matters. I’ve been at this school for five weeks, and Mr. Fink hasn’t remembered to take attendance once. A girl near his desk just sort of scans the room and marks who’s out.

It turns out that Yaqui Delgado is a bully, and Piddy is in real trouble. It starts with small things that Piddy can’t pin on her, such as a chocolate milk thrown in her direction that explodes all over Piddy’s clothes. But Yaqui becomes hyperaware and starts living her life to avoid Yaqui Delgado. Her grades suffer. But she can’t tell her mother what’s really going on.

If only they could move back to their old neighborhood. But Aunt Lily teaching her to salsa dance may have been what got her into this mess. She’d been walking with a swing in her hips. That will certainly stop, as now she’s living in fear.

You might think this couldn’t fill a whole book, but it does, and does it well. If nothing else, I learned from this that bullying isn’t simple and doesn’t have simple solutions. And yet it can be overcome.

You’re with Piddy in her fears, frustrations, and gut-wrenching decisions. And ultimately, you’re with her as she figures out how to rise above the fear.

This is a lovely book that immersed me in a world I didn’t know. I was touched by the author’s note at the back:

Years ago, when I was in school, a girl in a rabbit-fur jacket cornered me in the school yard and announced that one of our school bullies was going to beat me up. What I remember most from that time was loneliness and all the risky choices I made as I embarked on the search for a tough-girl shell that could withstand any attack. But as I struggled against the dread of being in school, I became someone else entirely. I hid every talent and interest I had in the hope of appearing fierce and untouchable to the bully and the rest of the world. It was a struggle to find my identity and inner strength – as a student, as a young woman, as a Latina. I was in a fight for my dignity.

Meg Medina brings us into this fight for dignity in this beautiful book.

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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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