Review of Welcome, by Mo Willems

February 24th, 2018


A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals

by Mo Willems

Disney Book Group, 2017. 28 pages.
Starred Review

Yay! I have been invited to a baby shower, so I have a reason to purchase this book! I actually read it last year when visiting my newborn niece, but I didn’t have a chance to write a review. Now I’ve been enjoying the book before I wrap it up….

What I need to do is simply urge you to read this book. It’s brilliant. You will enjoy it.

I’ll say a little bit about it. It’s written as a sort of travel guide for a new baby, telling them what to expect. The illustrations are essentially icons, as found in manuals. It’s funny and charming.

A wonderful touch is that most pages end with the words “while we read this book together.”

Here’s a nice page at the start:


Many activities are available for you to enjoy,
including, but not limited to:

[All the capitalized words have icons on the facing page.]

Other options are available upon request
and will be updated on a regular basis.

Of our current offerings, I can personally recommend
your being right here with me . . .

while we read this book together.

And here’s a nice page at the end:


We will strive to make your stay
as comfortable as possible. However . . .

There will be TURBULENCE.
There will be HUMAN ERROR.

Fortunately, we are happy to provide you LOVE

At no extra cost.

A warm and delightful book that tells newcomer what they can expect out of life, and that they have people standing by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to provide Love.

May this book get many chances to be read child and parent together.

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2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting, Part 1 – Toxic Stress in the Library

February 23rd, 2018

I went to ALA Midwinter Meeting in Denver, Colorado, on February 8 through 12, and I want to blog about the conference, as usual.

But this was a new sort of conference experience. I am a member of the 2019 Newbery Committee and was to meet with my committee for the first time. To avoid any appearance of conflict of interest or bias, I wasn’t going to look for pictures with authors this time. I wasn’t going to get any 2018 books signed. I had agreed never to mention eligible books online – so that meant no pictures of all the advance reader copies I picked up.

I also knew that I didn’t really need to pick up too many advance reader copies – before too much longer, publishers are going to start mailing me finished books to consider. However, my plan is to use any advance reader copies to give to kids who come to my Newbery Book Club at the library. So I did want to pick some up, and also see if there are some titles I’m excited about. (I won’t tell you which those are!)

Now, I have a doctor’s note, written in 2011, to permit me to use a wheeled cart on the exhibits floor. I felt a tiny bit guilty using it, because it’s so old. But I had a vertebral artery dissection happen in 2011 when I slept on a plane on the way to ALA Midwinter without a neck pillow, and the plane encountered some turbulence while I was sleeping. I know that carrying books in a shoulder bag that weekend didn’t help. In fact, for the next four weeks I had a headache, centered in my neck, that I just couldn’t get rid of. Then I went back on birth control pills (to help with ovarian cysts) – and the next day had a stroke. They determined that a vertebral artery dissection was the cause, so I figured out what caused the four weeks of headaches at the same time.

Anyway, I’d been told that people who have had a vertebral artery dissection shouldn’t carry heavy loads. I wasn’t sure if it still applied. But I brought my wheeled bag (my carryon, emptied out) onto the exhibit floor. I showed lots of restraint! I only filled the bag with advance reader copies. I pretty much only took books for middle grade readers (which I’d be able to use with my Newbery Book Club), and I left the exhibits when my bag was full.

But I still had to get the bag back to my hotel room. I lifted it up the steps of the shuttle bus and lifted it onto the seat next to me. (There had also been some lifting during my flight earlier that day when I put my carryon in the overhead bin.) Whatever the reason – that night my neck was aching badly, just exactly where my vertebral artery dissection had happened seven years before. It had me awake and scared most of the night. Fortunately, when I got up in the morning, it got better. And it didn’t bother me too much the rest of the conference. But I was a lot more careful about lifting things with my right arm. And I no longer feel guilty about using that old doctor’s note!

[I also want to add that a friend who’d recently had surgery asked about how I get this permission. I told her it’s an easy process, which it is. The ALA Accessibility Services folks are very helpful and accommodating. However, there have been times in the past when I’ve seen angry posts on Twitter about people bringing rolling carts into the exhibit hall. Don’t worry, folks, if we don’t have a doctor’s note, they won’t let us in. Many disabilities cannot be seen by the casual observer. Just saying.]

On Saturday, the first full day of the conference, I decided to keep myself AWAY from the Exhibits, since I’d had such a bad night. So I decided to go to “Leadership and ALSC,” which was happening at a hotel.

“Leadership and ALSC” happens every conference, and chairs for ALSC (Association of Library Services for Children) committees attend. I went when I was chairing the Grants Administration Committee. They always have an excellent speaker, as well as getting to meet other people in ALSC leadership. Our Newbery committee chair had suggested attending this session (You do not have to actually be in ALSC leadership.), so when I was looking for a way to keep from being tempted by the exhibits, this seemed like a good idea.

First we heard from ALA’s Washington office. We expected the library budget to get zeroed out again, so we need to advocate. (Indeed it was zeroed out.) You can find helpful information at They need our stories about grants or federal funding and the good work they have done.

Also check where the Washington office posts national concerns for libraries. We have the skill set to advocate for libraries. We are storytellers!

Then we had our main speakers, Dr. Janina Fariñas and Dr. Johanna Ulloa Giron. They spoke on “Toxic Stress in the Library: The Upstream Impact of Life Adversity on Children.”

Here are my notes:

Trauma and toxic stress pervades our experiences.

Protective factors are influences that help children bounce back: Relationships, nurturing caregivers, routines, stabilities, good books, etc.

How can we make systemic change?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are unfortunately not rare. Signs are easily seen. ACEs include abuse, witnessing abuse, parental divorce, neglect, household dysfunction, and more.

A major study on ACEs was done that was one of the largest ever of its type. There’s direct correlation between ACEs and social, emotional, and cognitive impairment. The study showed that they impact people throughout their lifetime.

But that study mainly looked at a white population. These speakers said we also need to look at the huge stress of immigration and acculturative stress (having to adapt to a new culture).

For the speaker, when she was a child, going to the library was stressful, because she didn’t know the culture.

There’s also deportation and detention stress – fear that causes excessive stress which is prolonged over time.

Stress exists on a continuum from positive to tolerable to toxic. Toxic stress is completely overwhelming.

Microaggression stress is another kind of stress that immigrants face. It comes from behavior that’s aggressive toward an oppressed community.

What kind of microaggressions are we allowing in the library? (By definition, we’re unaware. They’re assumptions.)

Chronic stress leads to hypervigilance. And the stressful experience cycle directly affects the brain over time. The hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal gland all start chronically vibrating and the executive functioning parts of the brain go offline.

Equality is not the same as Equity. Equality treats all kids the same. Equity gives all kids what they need.

There is hope! Children are resilient. How can we support that?

A counterbalance to ACEs are BCEs, Benevolent Childhood Experiences. BCEs predict less stress.

How do we help develop BCEs for all?

In the speaker’s experience, books literally saved her life. Now she’s working to build cultural proficiency on behalf of vulnerable communities.

We need to hold all forms of culture and history difference in high esteem.

There’s a continuum of Cultural Competency: From racism to curiosity to competent. It’s more than ethnicity and race.

Conduct self-examination about how you are serving families in your community. How can we support people from different cultures?

Develop a no-nonsense understanding of the stresses in your community. Consider carefully where you stand on immigration. Children are now in foster care because their parents were deported. This causes fear. At least 4 out of 10 children carry stress.

Help communities reclaim their experiences. Partner with people doing this work. Choose to share power – who gets to make decisions about how libraries work?

Information is power! So public libraries have huge power in changing communities. Stand in solidarity for rights of immigrant children and students.

We are not neutral! Libraries are for those families. You are welcome here!

Then they talked about some programs going on in their own libraries. An example: World Language Storytimes. Storytimes in many languages, and the families are in charge. (They get training.)

Another program is a pen pal program with a library in Nicaragua.

Kids being able to help others is a BCE.

Another program is using a green screen to create pictures as if in another country.

And of course have multicultural books!

Another program is partnering with community experts and providing therapy services in nontraditional spaces.

They have intentionally created a very safe space for immigrant families. These programs create benevolence in the community.

The library should be in the list of protective factors for children.

We are an environmental factor. Make that a benevolent one.

Schools are heavily monitored. Can that hypervigilance relax in the library?

Assume you’re having an impact! Decide what that impact will be.

Review of The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal

February 23rd, 2018

The Willpower Instinct

How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It

by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.

Avery (Penguin), 2012. 275 pages.
Starred Review

A big thank you to my friend Kevin, who recommended this book to me more than once. When Kevin out-librarianed me and recommended it to someone else as among three books that help build leadership skills, I finally took note enough to put it on hold.

This book is similar to The Four Tendencies, by Gretchen Rubin, in that both talk about motivation and getting done the things you want to do, but The Willpower Instinct is more helpful and more comprehensive. Although The Four Tendencies has the fun side of trying to tell you something about yourself, The Willpower Instinct is more science-based, and everyone will find insights about willpower that they can use among this wealth of material.

The Four Tendencies made me think, “I’m an Upholder! I will do what I want to do!” The Willpower Instinct showed me exactly how I fool myself. For example, I learned about moral licensing and why thinking about getting up in the morning makes me feel like I can reward myself by falling back asleep.

Kelly McGonigal teaches a popular class on the science of willpower at Stanford. She offers actual science about the various self-control challenges we face.

Here’s a section from the first chapter where she explains the three parts of willpower and where she’ll go in talking about it:

“I will” and “I won’t” power are the two sides of self-control, but they alone don’t constitute willpower. To say no when you need to say no, and yes when you need to say yes, you need a third power: the ability to remember what you really want. I know, you think that what you really want is the brownie, the third martini, or the day off. But when you’re facing temptation, or flirting with procrastination, you need to remember that what you really want is to fit into your skinny jeans, get the promotion, get out of credit card debt, stay in your marriage, or stay out of jail. Otherwise, what’s going to stop you from following your immediate desires? To exert self-control, you need to find your motivation when it matters. This is “I want” power.

Willpower is about harnessing the three powers of I will, I won’t, and I want to help you achieve your goals (and stay out of trouble). As we’ll see, we human beings are the fortunate recipients of brains that support all of these capacities. In fact, the development of these three powers – I will, I won’t, and I want – may define what it means to be human. Before we get down to the dirty business of analyzing why we fail to use these powers, let’s begin by appreciating how lucky we are to have them. We’ll take a quick peek into the brain to see where the magic happens, and discover how we can train the brain to have more willpower. We’ll also take our first look at why willpower can be hard to find, and how to use another uniquely human trait – self-awareness – to avoid willpower failure.

Since self-awareness does help avoid willpower failure, reading this book, and learning the ways we trick ourselves, is a great way to build that self-awareness.

Here are some of the things that struck me as I read this book:

In the section on the physiology of self-control, we learn that in today’s world, we need a pause-and-plan response more than a fight-or-flight response.

The pause-and-plan response puts your body into a calmer state, but not too sedate. The goal is not to paralyze you in the face of internal conflict, but to give you freedom. By keeping you from immediately following your impulses, the pause-and-plan response gives you the time for more flexible, thoughtful action. From this state of mind and body, you can choose to walk away from the cheesecake, with both your pride and your diet intact.

We also learn that willpower is a muscle. It can be strengthened with exercise, but can also grow tired. When our body has energy, it will do better. There’s even a physical test – heart rate variability – which you can use to predict who will resist temptation and who will give in. The author has plenty of ideas for how you can build up your physical willpower reserve.

Then there is the chapter on moral licensing.

When you do something good, you feel good about yourself. This means you’re more likely to trust your impulses – which often means giving yourself permission to do something bad….

Moral licensing doesn’t just give us permission to do something bad; it also lets us off the hook when we’re asked to do something good. For example, people who first remember a time when they acted generously give 60 percent less money to a charitable request than people who have not just recalled a past good deed. In a business simulation, managers of a manufacturing plant are less likely to take costly measures to reduce the plant’s pollution if they have recently recalled a time when they acted ethically. . . .

Another study found that merely considering donating money to a charity – without actually handing over any cash – increased people’s desire to treat themselves at the mall. Most generously, we even give ourselves credit for what we could have done, but didn’t. We could have eaten the whole pizza, but we only ate three slices. We could have bought a new wardrobe, but we made do with just a new jacket. Following this ridiculous line of logic, we can turn any act of indulgence into something to be proud of. (Feeling guilty about your credit card debt? Hey, at least you haven’t robbed a bank to pay it off!)

I liked this insight:

To avoid the moral licensing trap, it’s important to separate the true moral dilemmas from the merely difficult. Cheating on your taxes or your spouse may be morally flawed, but cheating on your diet is not a mortal sin. And yet, most people think of all forms of self-control as a moral test. Giving in to dessert, sleeping late, carrying a credit card balance – we use them to determine whether we are being good or bad. None of these things carry the true weight of sin or virtue. When we think about our willpower challenges in moral terms, we get lost in self-judgments and lose sight of how those challenges will help us get what we want.

Another chapter talks about how attracted we are to the promise of reward – even if the reward itself doesn’t turn out to be all that wonderful. And she discusses how retailers use this to manipulate us. Make us think we’re “saving,” and we’ll spend more! But she also suggests using this on yourself – come up with a reward for your “I will” challenge, and “dopamize” the task. Suddenly, it will be much more attractive.

But another thing that leads to giving in is feeling bad.

Why does stress lead to cravings? It’s part of the brain’s rescue mission. Previously, we saw how stress prompts a fight-or-flight response, a coordinated set of changes in the body that allows you to defend yourself against danger. But your brain isn’t just motivated to protect your life – it wants to protect your mood, too. So whenever you are under stress, your brain is going to point you toward whatever it thinks will make you happy. Neuroscientists have shown that stress – including negative emotions like anger, sadness, self-doubt, and anxiety – shifts the brain into a reward-seeking state. You end up craving whatever substance or activity your brain associates with the promise of reward, and you become convinced that the “reward” is the only way to feel better.

This same chapter explains why guilt is not a good motivation to change, and why berating yourself for past failures doesn’t help.

Whatever the willpower challenge, the pattern is the same. Giving in makes you feel bad about yourself, which motivates you to do something to feel better. And what’s the cheapest, fastest strategy for feeling better? Often the very thing you feel bad about.

What’s more, when experimenters gave subjects the message not to be too hard on themselves, that everyone indulges sometimes – encouraging them to forgive themselves – subjects were far less likely to overindulge in the next part of the test.

If you think that the key to greater willpower is being harder on yourself, you are not alone. But you are wrong. Study after study shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. It is also one of the single biggest predictors of depression, which drains both “I will” power and “I want” power. In contrast, self-compassion – being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure – is associated with more motivation and better self-control. Consider, for example, a study at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, that tracked the procrastination of students over an entire semester. Lots of students put off studying for the first exam, but not every student made it a habit. Students who were harder on themselves for procrastinating on their first exam were more likely to procrastinate on later exams than students who forgave themselves. The harder they were on themselves about procrastinating the first time, the longer they procrastinated for the next exam! Forgiveness – not guilt – helped them get back on track.

These findings fly in the face of our instincts. How can this be, when so many of us have a strong intuition that self-criticism is the cornerstone of self-control, and self-compassion is a slippery slope to self-indulgence? What would motivate these students if not feeling bad for procrastinating the last time? And what would keep us in check if we didn’t feel guilty for giving in?

Surprisingly, it’s forgiveness, not guilt, that increases accountability. Researchers have found that taking a self-compassionate point of view on a personal failure makes people more likely to take personal responsibility for the failure than when they take a self-critical point of view. They also are more willing to receive feedback and advice from others, and more likely to learn from the experience.

Another chapter looks at our tendency to believe Future Me will take care of whatever challenges come their way. It gives us some strategies for delaying gratification for a bigger reward.

Another chapter looks at how Willpower is contagious, and ways you can use this to your advantage. (Okay, maybe the people that Gretchen Rubin calls “Obligers” will benefit most from this chapter.) But yes, telling someone about your goals – or being around other people who meet goals – will help you meet those goals.

And the final chapter, “Don’t Read This Chapter,” looks at the specific challenges of willpower in “I won’t” situations. I thought this chapter was especially good for trying to eliminate thoughts you don’t want to bother you. I have a friend who had a tendency to scold me when I spent too much time thinking about my ex-husband, for example. (Thankfully, this problem is long past, but there are still times I want to change where my thoughts are going.)

This chapter confirms that self-scolding simply makes you think all the more about the forbidden thoughts.

Trying not to think about something guarantees that it is never far from your mind. This leads to a second problem: When you try to push a thought away, and it keeps coming back to your mind, you are more likely to assume that it must be true. Why else would the thought keep resurfacing? We trust that our thoughts are important sources of information. When a thought becomes more frequent and harder to pull yourself away from, you will naturally assume that it is an urgent message that you should pay attention to.

The solution is elegant and practical:

How can you find your way out of this confounding dilemma? Wegner suggests an antidote to ironic rebound that is, itself, ironic: Give up. When you stop trying to control unwanted thoughts and emotions, they stop controlling you. Studies of brain activation confirm that as soon as you give participants permission to express a thought they were trying to suppress, that thought becomes less primed and less likely to intrude into conscious awareness. Paradoxically, permission to think a thought reduces the likelihood of thinking it.

This solution turns out to be useful for a surprisingly wide range of unwanted inner experiences. The willingness to think what you think and feel what you feel – without necessarily believing that it is true, and without feeling compelled to act on it – is an effective strategy for treating anxiety, depression, food cravings, and addiction. As we consider the evidence for each, we’ll see that giving up control of our inner experiences gives us greater control over our outer actions.

So those are some of the points that stood out for me in reading this book. (I hope by writing out lots of quotations, I’ll be more likely to remember them.) Here’s a summarizing paragraph from the last chapter:

If there is a secret for greater self-control, the science points to one thing: the power of paying attention. It’s training the mind to recognize when you’re making a choice, rather than running on autopilot. It’s noticing how you give yourself permission to procrastinate, or how you use good behavior to justify self-indulgence. It’s realizing that the promise of reward doesn’t always deliver, and that your future self is not a superhero or a stranger. It’s seeing what in your world – from sales gimmicks to social proof – is shaping your behavior. It’s staying put and sensing a craving when you’d rather distract yourself or give in. It’s remembering what you really want, and knowing what really makes you feel better. Self-awareness is the one “self” you can always count on to help you do what is difficult, and what matters most. And that is the best definition of willpower I can think of.

I highly recommend this book, if you have willpower challenges, or even if you think you don’t. There are many more ideas and many more descriptions of fascinating studies all about doing what we really want to do.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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

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

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

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Review of Out of Wonder, by Kwame Alexander

February 20th, 2018

Out of Wonder

Poems Celebrating Poets

by Kwame Alexander
with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth
illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Candlewick Press, 2017. 50 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

Here’s a beautiful large-format book of poems celebrating poets. Kwame Alexander and his two co-authors have written poems in three sections. Poems in the first section match the favored style of the celebrated poet. Poems in the second section incorporate the feelings and themes of the celebrated poet’s work. And poems in the third section respond to the celebrated poet with thanks.

It’s all done with large, lovely paintings accompanying the poems, in a book in large format. To hold this book and leaf through it gives you a feeling of grandeur, nicely setting off the importance of these poets.

Kwame Alexander puts it well in the introduction:

A poem is a small but powerful thing. It has the power to reach inside of you, to ignite something in you, and to change you in ways you never imagined. There is a feeling of connection and communion – with the author and the subject – when we read a poem that articulates our deepest feelings. That connection can be a vehicle on the road to creativity and imagination. Poems can inspire us – in our classrooms and in our homes – to write our own journeys, to find our own stories….

Allow me to introduce you to twenty of my favorite poets. Poets who have inspired me and my co-authors with their words and their lives. They can do the same for you. Some of the poets we celebrate in this book lived centuries ago and wrote in languages other than English, while others still walk the streets of San Antonio and New York City today. Chris Colderley, Marjory Wentworth, and I had two requirements for the poets we would celebrate in Out of Wonder: first, they had to be interesting people, and second, we had to be passionately in love with their poetry. Mission accomplished!

I believe that by reading other poets we can discover our own wonder. For me, poems have always been muses. The poems in this book pay tribute to the poets being celebrated by adopting their style, extending their ideas, and offering gratitude to their wisdom and inspiration.

Enjoy the poems. We hope to use them as stepping-stones to wonder, leading you to write, to read the works of the poets celebrated in this book, to seek out more about their lives and their work, or to simply read and explore more poetry. At the very least, maybe you can memorize one or two.

We wonder how you will wonder.

This is one of those books where you need to see for yourself how striking it is. Check it out!

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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

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

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

What did you think of this book?

February 2018, 24-Hour Book Challenge Finish Line

February 19th, 2018

For my first 24-Hour Book Blitz of 2018 – And I hope to have several more – I have my results:

I read for 7 hours and 30 minutes.
I wrote reviews and blogged for 3 hours and 40 minutes.
Coming to a grand total of 11 hours and 10 minutes.
I finished 4 books and read a total of 647 pages.

This isn’t a great total – but I did have a dental appointment this morning. And, yes, I’m afraid I napped in the afternoon.

So I’m hoping I will be able to beat these for future Book Blitzes! It’s a start!

24-Hour Book Blitz: Newbery Edition, February 2018

February 19th, 2018

For several years, I’ve done 48-Hour Book Challenges, inspired by Mother Reader.

Knowing that this year I need to read more books than ever before in a year, I first thought I’d try to do one 48-Hour Book Challenge each quarter of 2018.

Well, I still may do that. But last weekend, at ALA Midwinter Meeting and the first meeting of the 2019 Newbery Committee, I decided I need to do more. I’ve got President’s Day holiday coming up – so why don’t I try to do a 24-Hour Book Blitz each month? Starting tonight!

Here are my rules: The object is to spend as much time as I can in the next 24 hours reading and blogging.

I began at 10:15 pm Sunday night, and I will finish at 10:15 pm on Monday night.

It might be smart to just do reading, but I have finished several books that I still need to review, so I’m going to count writing reviews as well. I’m going to make a stipulation, though, that I can’t count more than half as much time writing/blogging as I have spent reading. So blogging won’t get more than one-third of the time.

Now, some years I’ve done better than others, sometimes even skipping trivialities like a shower. However, tomorrow morning I’ve got a dentist appointment to get a permanent crown, so I will have to take time for that and for showering! But I figure this means my first 24-Hour Book Blitz will have a result that I will be able to beat the next time I try it.

Time to get reading!

2018 Youth Media Awards

February 17th, 2018

I’m going to blog about 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Denver – but I think I’ll begin with the Youth Media Awards.

These are always an exciting highlight of midwinter. This year, it was all the more exciting as I anticipate being in the group that decides the Newbery winners next year.

I’ll be honest, knowing that I’d be reading for the Newbery in 2018, I didn’t read as many children’s books in 2017. I hadn’t read either the Printz winner or the Newbery winner. But many of my Sonderbooks Stand-outs and other favorites did win Honor, so I’m going to talk about those.

Looking at my Stand-outs page, none of my Children’s Fiction choices got honor, but a book I almost picked (and loved much), Charlie and Mouse, by Laurel Snyder, won the Geisel Award for beginning readers.

One of my Sonderbooks Stand-outs in Children’s Nonfiction, Grand Canyon, by Jason Chin, won both a Caldecott Honor (for illustration) and Sibert Honor (for children’s nonfiction). I was thrilled about that!

One of my Sonderbooks Stand-outs in Picture Books, A Different Pond, by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui, won Caldecott Honor. Huzzah!

I never did review Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James, a picture book about an African American boy getting a haircut – a wonderful book that made me smile. But Crown impressively won Coretta Scott King Honor in both the Illustrator and Author categories – and then went on to win Caldecott Honor and Newbery Honor. Now, it’s very rare for a picture book to get Newbery Honor, since that is for the text. But the Coretta Scott King committee also thought the writing was distinguished – so we can’t chalk it up to a fluke on the part of this particular Newbery committee.

I was excited and surprised that three of the four Printz Honor books were Sonderbooks Stand-outs. (I don’t usually see eye-to-eye with the Printz committee, and I hadn’t even read the winner or the other Honor book.)

I was especially happy about the Printz Honor for Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor, since fantasy doesn’t often do well with the Printz committee – and Laini Taylor created an amazing world in this book.

Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds, cleaned up four Honors – Newbery Honor, Printz Honor, Coretta Scott King Author Honor, and Odyssey Honor for the audiobook read by the author.

And The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, won the Morris Award for debut fiction for young adults, won the Odyssey Award for the audio version (which is how I read the book), plus Coretta Scott King Author Honor, and Printz Honor.

Some books I reviewed but did not name as Sonderbooks Stand-outs also won some awards. I was happy about Silent Days, Silent Dreams, by Allen Say, winning a Schneider Family Book Award, for excellence in portrayal of a character with a disability.

Another one I have reviewed – but it looks like I haven’t posted the review yet – is Out of Wonder, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, written by Kwame Alexander, which won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award.

You can see the big award winners are missing. But this will give me some reading to do!

And it’s always a wonderful experience to be part of the thrill of books being honored. You either have wonderful books brought to your attention, or you have wonderful books affirmed to the world.

But next year’s going to be much more exciting!

Review of Long Way Down audiobook, by Jason Reynolds

February 17th, 2018

Long Way Down

by Jason Reynolds
read by the author

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2017. 2 hours on 2 discs.
Starred Review
2018 Odyssey Honor

I already wrote about how amazing this book was in my review of the print version. I found new levels of amazing by listening to it.

Jason Reynolds reads his own poetry, so he knows exactly how each line was intended. I noticed details I didn’t notice when I read it myself.

This audiobook is about a kid in a situation where what he thinks he needs to do is kill the person he’s sure murdered his brother. And then on each stop of the elevator someone gets on who was a victim of the same rules Will is trying to live by.

There’s whole new power in listening to Jason Reynolds read the words himself.

It’s a short book in either form, but it’s not one you’ll easily forget.

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook 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 Silent Days, Silent Dreams, by Allen Say

February 8th, 2018

Silent Days, Silent Dreams

by Allen Say

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2017. 64 pages.
Starred Review

This book is the story of artist James Castle, told from the perspective of his nephew.

James was born deaf and mute. Moving things seemed to frighten him, but he couldn’t even hear himself shriek. He eventually learned to draw, but he never did learn to speak, read, or write.

When James got upset, he’d scream. His father started locking him up in the attic to calm down. Eventually, he spent so much time there, it became his room. He’d draw pictures of the furniture he wanted to have.

For years, he went to the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind, along with his sister who had become deaf after having the measles. James didn’t learn to read or write or speak, but he did learn how to sew books together, and he did more and more drawing. Now his drawings included houses with his name on them – but that was the only intelligible word he would write. He did put in symbols that looked like the alphabet, but if they had any meaning to him, he never told anyone else. When James was fifteen, the school told his family that he was “ineducable.”

When he no longer had access to drawing materials, he made his own from soot and spit. He drew on scraps of paper and even made books out of them. He continued to draw, and even made cut-out dolls, furniture, farm animals, and birds out of cardboard.

James Castle’s art went unappreciated for most of his life, until his nephew showed some of his drawings to an art professor. The art professor arranged an exhibit, and later James got to see his work displayed in an art gallery.

Allen Say does a beautiful job of telling about this artist’s life. He does most of the drawings in the style of James Castle and communicates how difficult life must have been for the artist – without any communication. In fact, he lets drawings tell much of the story. The drawings are especially poignant that show Jimmy shrieking when he couldn’t even hear himself, or being taunted by other children.

But the story ends hopefully. When Jim’s sister got him a mobile home to work in, replacing the old chicken coop, his nephew heard him laugh for the first time.

After thirty years in the chicken coop, Uncle Jim finally got his Dream House, as the family called it. He worked in it for fifteen more years, in the same way he had when I was a kid – drawing with soot and spit on scavenged paper. I think he was happy.

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

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

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

What did you think of this book?

Review of Parrotfish, by Ellen Wittlinger

February 7th, 2018


by Ellen Wittlinger

Simon & Schuster, 2007. 287 pages.
Starred Review

I have a transgender adult daughter. So it’s high time I read this by now classic teen novel about a transgender teen boy. Though I wish I’d read it before I had a specific reason to do so – this is simply good writing.

Grady has decided to start his junior year of high school as the person he truly is – a boy. But when he tells his family and his former best friend to call him Grady instead of Angela, the reactions are mixed. When he tries to explain to his teachers and get them to use his new name, the responses are also mixed.

But this is ultimately a hopeful and uplifting novel. Grady makes a new friend, a nerdy guy named Sebastian who’s in his TV Production class. Sebastian asks Angela to the school dance, so Grady has to explain. Sebastian tells him that’s just like the stoplight parrotfish, which he’s doing a report on for Environmental Science. In fact, Sebastian tells him that there are many fish and other animals which change gender.

I thought you’d like some real evidence here that you are not alone in the animal world. There are other living creatures that do this all the time. ‘Nature creates many variations.’ I’m using that line in my paper.

The story of the book plays out as Grady’s Dad is preparing the Christmas Extravaganza their family does every year – even though everyone else in the family is tired of it. Grady’s younger, spoiled brother wants a dog, and his younger sister is embarrassed that everyone’s talking about Grady now. Meanwhile, Grady’s former best friend Eve has gotten in with the in-crowd of the school – led by a girl who’s a real bully, and sees Grady as a target.

And meanwhile, Grady’s making new friends, including a girl he has a crush on – but who’s the girlfriend of one of his new friends from TV Production class. Can a freak like him even dare to fall for someone? But maybe these new friends don’t see him as a freak. In fact, he finds himself giving advice to both the girl and the guy in that relationship – and they both appreciate that Grady is good at understanding both sides.

This is an excellent story about navigating relationships with friends and family in high school. And the main character happens to be transgender. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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

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

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

What did you think of this book?