Review of Ling & Ting: Twice as Silly, by Grace Lin

January 18th, 2015

twice_as_silly_largeLing & Ting

Twice as Silly

by Grace Lin

Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2014. 44 pages.

This is a chapter book for beginning readers. It includes six stories with a surprise, silly payoff for readers who get to the end of each story.

Not to be spoilery, I’ll give an example of one story. Ling and Ting are playing on swings and Ling says she can swing higher than a tree. Ting challenges her, asking “A tree that is taller than a giraffe?” then a building, a mountain, and more. Ling says “Yes” to every challenge. Here’s the end page of that story:

“Okay,” Ting says. “Show me how you can swing higher than a tree.”

“I am doing it right now,” Ling says. “We both are.”

“We are?” Ting asks. “How?”

“It is easy to swing higher than a tree,” Ling says. “A tree cannot swing.”

Another fun thing is that the last story, “Not a Silly Story,” pulls in an element from each of the earlier stories.

This book uses simple words, repetition, and picture clues to help beginning readers. But it is not boring. The silliness and fun little twists at the end will leave readers smiling, over and above the sense of accomplishment they will gain from reading these on their own.

gracelin.com
hachettebookgroup.com/kids

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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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Mystery of the Screaming Clock, by Robert Arthur

January 18th, 2015

screaming_clock_largeAlfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators in

The Mystery of the Screaming Clock

by Robert Arthur

Random House, New York, 1968. 184 pages.

This is Book 9 in The Three Investigators series. This may be about where my brother stopped letting me read his copy when I was a kid. This Interlibrary Loan process is great!

The Mystery of the Screaming Clock is another puzzle-based mystery. It starts with an alarm clock that, instead of a normal ringing alarm, gives off a piercing scream of a woman in mortal terror.

The clock turned up at the junkyard, and now Jupiter Jones wants to solve the mystery of who would create an alarm clock that screams. They discover a whole room full of screaming clocks made by a man who once did sound effects for an old radio mystery show.

Not surprisingly to the reader, this turns to a mystery involving art theft and an innocent person who needs his name cleared and another boy who gets to take part in the investigation.

The clock has a message glued to the bottom:

Dear Rex:
Ask Imogene.
Ask Gerald.
Ask Martha.
Then act! The result will surprise even you.

Clearly, The Three Investigators need to find Rex, Imogene, Gerald, and Martha. This leads them, eventually, to cryptic clues and a puzzle to solve. But they are not the only ones trying to solve this particular mystery. The story does include the usual mortal peril for some of our heroes. It doesn’t include the rival gang of bullies, and I thought it the better for that omission.

I enjoy the puzzle mysteries in this series, though this one had one part of the clues in a form readers couldn’t possibly figure out themselves. But the story of kids chasing down clues and cleverly solving a mystery with fast-moving action does hold up after almost 50 years.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/screaming_clock.html

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

Source: This review is based on an interlibrary loan via 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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Mystery of the Fiery Eye, by Robert Arthur

January 18th, 2015

fiery_eye_largeThe Mystery of the Fiery Eye

by Robert Arthur

Random House, New York, 1984. 164 pages.

This is Number Seven in the series of The Three Investigators. I was terribly disappointed when my interlibrary loan came in and apparently I hadn’t specified that I only wanted the original 1967 edition. However, I’m pretty sure the only change is that Alfred Hitchcock was changed to “Hector Sebastian,” a fictional “detective turned mystery writer” rather than a famous actual movie director.

This is another mystery, full of action and danger. As in many others, two of the Three Investigators get captured at some point in the story. A lot of luck is involved in the successful solution of the case, but there is also some deduction. And, as has become customary (I didn’t even notice this from when I read them as a kid), there is a boy from another country who is in on the investigation. In this case the other country is Great Britain, so at least there are few stereotypical elements in the boy’s personality and way of speaking.

This mystery includes some written clues – thus making it more of a puzzle than some, and also making it a type I particularly enjoy. Though the clues are not quite as clever as those in The Stuttering Parrot, and I thought the whole process of following red herrings had a few too many coincidences. But it’s still a fun puzzle to watch Jupiter Jones work on.

The Mystery of the Fiery Eye is notable in that it finally has a girl make an appearance! Not a very flattering example, but at least this book acknowledges that girls exist! The girl, Liz Logan, is talkative and eager.

“Look, don’t you ever need a girl operative?” Liz was asking eagerly. “I’m sure you must on some of your investigations. There are times when a girl would be a big help. You could call on me. I’m a terrific actress. I can use make-up to disguise myself, and I can change my voice and –“…

Bob took the card and climbed into the truck beside Hans, not even noticing the blue sedan that passed them. He was thinking that Liz seemed like a pretty nice sort, and maybe a girl could help them sometime. It was true Jupiter had little use for girls, but if the right occasion ever arose, he’d suggest they call Liz Logan.

I honestly don’t remember if Liz shows up later or not, but I think I vaguely remember some such thing.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/fiery_eye.html

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

Source: This review is based on an interlibrary loan via 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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Secret of Skeleton Island, by Robert Arthur

January 18th, 2015

skeleton_island_largeAlfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators in

The Secret of Skeleton Island

by Robert Arthur
illustrated by Harry Kane

Random House, New York, 1966. 158 pages.

This is Book Six of The Three Investigators series, and the fourth one I’ve read in my current rereading spree. Reading them out of order so far has not mattered a bit.

This one I actually remembered some crucial plot details because they are so cool, actually involving pirate treasure. I will say no more about that.

This book doesn’t have anything at all about the gold-plated Rolls-Royce and Worthington, the chauffeur, but it has plenty of adventure. Right at the start, Alfred Hitchcock sends them off to Skeleton Island, off the southeast coast of the United States, where a company is making a movie at the old amusement park on the island.

But the movie company is having trouble. Pieces of equipment have been stolen, and their boats have been tinkered with at night. What’s more, a legendary ghost has recently been seen riding the old merry-go-round. The girl died long ago when she vowed to finish her ride in a storm, but was then struck by lightning.

One thing I’d forgotten was how many of these books have a stereotypical ethnic character. In this case, it’s Chris Markos, from Greece, a diver who’s trying to find pirate treasure to help his injured father. The townspeople are stereotypical and superstitious as well, easily falling for the ghost story and gossiping intensely and mistrusting Chris, the foreigner.

But the overall story is fun and adventurous. Pirate treasure. Boats. Being marooned. Making a movie. Scuba diving. Lives in danger and a mystery to solve. This was a fun one to revisit.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/skeleton_island.html

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

Source: This review is based on an interlibrary loan via 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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure, by Robert Arthur

January 18th, 2015

vanishing_treasure_largeAlfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators in

The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure

by Robert Arthur
illustrated by Harry Kane

Random House, New York, 1966. 159 pages.

This is Book Five in The Three Investigators series. I’ve decided to post my reviews of the books in order, even though I’m reading them out of order. As I read, I remembered quite a few details from this one, probably because there are some quite bizarre things.

The book begins with Jupiter discussing how he would steal the Rainbow Jewels from a local museum. The three decide to go to the museum on Children’s Day to practice their investigator skills – and while they are there, a valuable Golden Belt is stolen. Their help on that mystery is refused, but then they are asked to help one of Alfred Hitchcock’s friends, who has been seeing gnomes. It’s a bizarre case – little people with fiery red eyes peering in the windows and digging noises at night. We aren’t surprised when the two cases dovetail.

As usual, I am once again amazed at what the boys’ parents let them go off and do on their own! And once again, they get into danger, but the strategic placement of a chalk question mark (and a very clever and memorable placement in this case) gets them out of it. Once again, we have a stereotypical ethnic character – this time a boy from Japan. At least the author is trying to be cross-cultural, though not perhaps in the politically correct way it would be approached today.

Still no girls at all have appeared in these books, but they are still a quick-reading adventure yarn, where kids figure out a case that has adults stumped. I’m having great fun going back in time with these mysteries.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/vanishing_treasure.html

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

Source: This review is based on an interlibrary loan borrowed via 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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

New Year Review Blitz

January 18th, 2015

For all of 2014, I felt like I was far behind at posting reviews of the books I’ve read. So this year, my plan is to be all caught up posting reviews of books read in 2014 by the end of January.

Why don’t I just post the reviews on the blog? Well, that’s what I’ll do if I run out of time. But what I like to do is get the cover image, make a new webpage for each review, post it on my main site, and feature the book on the main page, sonderbooks.com, and on the page for its genre and age level — Fiction, Nonfiction, Teen Fiction, Children’s Fiction, Children’s Nonfiction, or Picture Books.

However, for these reviews, instead of each getting featured, I will just post the reviews as they will end up after all of their genre are posted. Tonight I’m going to work on the fourteen Children’s Fiction reviews. I’d like to think I can get them all posted tonight, but, well, let’s just see what happens, shall we?

My plan is to start with the Three Investigators books that I read last year. I wanted them all to be featured separately as an Old Favorite. But, well, here goes —

Review of Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown

January 16th, 2015

daring_greatly_largeDaring Greatly

How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

by Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW

Gotham Books, 2012. 287 pages.
Starred Review
2014 Sonderbooks Stand-out, #3 Nonfiction

It was actually my 26-year-old son who gave this book to me – and did a brilliant thing in so doing. Two of my top three Sonderbooks Stand-outs in Nonfiction this year were given to me by him.

Of course, I’d already read and loved The Gifts of Imperfection, by the same author, so I was expecting this book to have helpful insights. I was not disappointed.

Brené Brown got the title phrase from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt. She opens the book by quoting from the speech and then saying:

The first time I read this quote, I thought, This is vulnerablilty. Everything I’ve learned from over a decade of research on vulnerability has taught me this exact lesson. Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.

Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with out vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.

When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be – a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation – with courage and the willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.

Join me as we explore the answers to these questions:

What drives our fear of being vulnerable?

How are we protecting ourselves from vulnerability?

What price are we paying when we shut down and disengage?

How do we own and engage with vulnerability so we can start transforming the way we live, love, parent, and lead?

She takes us on a journey to answer these questions, and the journey takes us in some surprising directions.

First, she looks at what we’re up against in our “Never Enough” culture. She talks about how it’s hard to be vulnerable when you’re wrapped up by a culture of shame.

The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness. . . . There are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.

Next, she debunks some myths about vulnerability and reminds us we’re all in this together.

Then she tackles the topic of how shame fits in and keeps us from being vulnerable.

Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. That’s why it loves perfectionists — it’s so easy to keep us quiet. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.

She talks about combating shame, and the elements of shame resilience.

I mean the ability to practice authenticity when we experience shame, to move through the experience without sacrificing our values, and to come out on the other side of the shame experience with more courage, compassion, and connection than we had going into it. Shame resilience is about moving from shame to empathy — the real antidote to shame.

If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive. Self-compassion is also critically important, but because shame is a social concept — it happens between people — it also heals best between people. A social wound needs a social balm, and empathy is that balm. Self-compassion is key because when we’re able to be gentle with ourselves in the midst of shame, we’re more likely to reach out, connect, and experience empathy.

There’s a section here on how men and women experience shame differently and how lethal it can be to relationships. But she also looks at people who have learned to have shame resilience.

As I look back on what I’ve learned about shame, gender, and worthiness, the greatest lesson is this: If we’re going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of what we’re supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.

Chapter 4 looks at The Vulnerability Armory — the ways we protect ourselves from being vulnerable. And along with that she looks at the strategies that empower people to take off the masks and armor.

The three forms of shielding that I am about to introduce are what I refer to as the “common vulnerability arsenal” because I have found that we all incorporate them into our personal armor in some way. These include foreboding joy, or the paradoxical dread that clamps down on momentary joyfulness; perfectionism, or believing that doing everything perfectly means you’ll never feel shame; and numbing, the embrace of whatever deadens the pain of discomfort and pain. Each shield is followed by “Daring Greatly” strategies, all variants on “being enough” that have proved to be effective at disarming the three common forms of shielding.

And I loved the importance she placed on joy and practicing gratitude.

Even those of us who have learned to “lean into” joy and embrace our experiences are not immune to the uncomfortable quake of vulnerability that often accompanies joyful moments. We’ve just learned how to use it as a reminder rather than a warning shot. What was the most surprising (and life changing) difference for me was the nature of that reminder: For those welcoming the experience, the shudder of vulnerability that accompanies joy is an invitation to practice gratitude, to acknowledge how truly grateful we are for the person, the beauty, the connection, or simply the moment before us.

Gratitude, therefore, emerged from the data as the antidote to foreboding joy. In fact, every participant who spoke about the ability to stay open to joy also talked about the importance of practicing gratitude. This pattern of association was so thoroughly prevalent in the data that I made a commitment as a researcher not to talk about joy without talking about gratitude.

It wasn’t just the relationship between joy and gratitude that took me by surprise. I was also startled by the fact that research participants consistently described both joyfulness and gratitude as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human connectedness and a power greater than us. Their stories and descriptions expanded on this, pointing to a clear distinction between happiness and joy. Participants described happiness as an emotion that’s connected to circumstances, and they described joy as a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude. While I was initially taken aback by the relationship between joy and vulnerability, it now makes perfect sense to me, and I can see why gratitude would be the antidote to foreboding joy.

She looks in great depth at additional ways to combat foreboding joy, perfectionism, numbing, and many other shields we use to hide from vulnerability.

After this she looks at the big picture. How can we cultivate change and fight disengagement and disconnection? And she looks specifically at ways of humanizing education and work to be a better teacher or leader. And she wraps it up with a chapter on wholehearted parenting, “daring to be the adults we want our children to be and raising shame-resilient children.

There are some empowering and inspiring thoughts in this book. As she sums up at the end:

Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where scarcity and shame dominate and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It’s even a little dangerous at times. And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of feeling hurt. But as I look back on my own life and what Daring Greatly has meant to me, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.

I highly recommend this book. It will inspire you to Dare Greatly.

brenebrown.com
penguin.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/daring_greatly.html

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

Source: This review is based on a book sent to me by my son.

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.

Review of Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing, by Megan Smolenyak

January 16th, 2015

hey_america_largeHey, America, Your Roots Are Showing

Adventures in Discovering
News-Making Connections, Unexpected Ancestors, Long-Hidden Secrets, and Solving Historical Puzzles

by Megan Smolenyak

Citadel Press, 2012. 256 pages.
Starred Review
2014 Sonderbooks Stand-out, #8 Nonfiction

I’ve gotten the genealogy bug since I came to work at City of Fairfax Regional Library, where I get to substitute fairly frequently at the information desk in the Virginia Room. I think it’s fascinating to find out about my ancestors, about where they lived and what they did and which fought in wars and when they came to America.

Megan Smolenyak takes genealogy so much further than all that. She shows its tremendous scope. The subtitle begins to give you an idea, but even with those hints, I wasn’t prepared for the wide variety of stories she tells in this book.

I’m going to quote at length from her Introduction, because it gives you a good idea of what you’ll find in this book:

I’m one of those obnoxious people you hear about from time to time who has the privilege of making a living doing what she loves. As a real-life history detective, I wake up excited every day about what I’m going to tackle and what I might uncover.

In this book, I’d like to take you into my world and essentially perch you on my shoulder to see how it’s done. How did I figure out who would be king of America today if George Washington had been king instead of president? How did I come to work with the FBI and NCIS on cold cases and with coroners’ offices to find relatives of unclaimed people? How did I unravel the mystery of a Hebrew-inscribed tombstone found on the streets of Manhattan? How did I successfully trace Michelle Obama’s roots when others had tried but gotten roadblocked early on? How did I research Hoda Kotb’s Egyptian heritage in no time flat for a Today show appearance? How did I use DNA to learn that the Haley family of Roots fame is Scottish?

This book includes more than twenty of my favorite investigatory romps, all of which extended my understanding of our history in some way. Following the path of a Bible that traded hands during the Civil War gave me a fresh perspective from both the Confederate and Union viewpoints. My first case with the FBI was an in-your-face education about the civil rights movement. And pursuing the real Annie Moore, first to arrive at Ellis Island (whose place had been usurped by an imposter), informed my understanding of the tenement life so many of our immigrant ancestors endured.

Given my proclivity for resurrecting the historically neglected, it’s no accident that many of the chapters in this book feature women and African Americans – both harder to research, but all the more rewarding because of it. So I’ll introduce you to everyone from Mabel Cavin Sills Leish Whitworth Davis, a partially paralyzed prostitute (yes, you read that right) who taught me about the realities of life in a Western mining community, to Philip Reed, the slave behind the installment of the Freedom statue on top of the Capitol dome.

Along the way, you’ll also find a healthy dose of my opinions, so consider yourself forewarned if you still believe your name was changed at Ellis Island!

It is my hope that by the end of this book, you will find yourself looking at some aspect of our history a little differently than you did at the outset – and better yet, feel compelled to reach into the past and contribute a few pixels yourself. It’s high time for all of us to let our roots show!

Who knew that a book on genealogy would read so much like a book of detective stories? I was amazed by how entertaining Megan Smolenyak made these stories, as well as the wide scope of them. She talks about identifying remains of missing soldiers in Vietnam, finding serial centenarians in a family, showing how all of us have some famous cousins, and tracing Barack O’Bama’s Irish roots, besides all the stories she hints at in the Introduction.

I took a long time to read this book, because it is like a book of short stories. But I was entertained and enchanted with each story, and indeed all the more curious about the past of my own family.

megansmolenyak.com
kensingtonbooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/hey_america.html

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

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

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

Review of Call the Midwife, by Jennifer Worth

January 15th, 2015

call_the_midwife_largeCall the Midwife

A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

by Jennifer Worth
read by Nicola Barber

HighBridge Audio, 2012. Book originally published in 2002. 12 hours on 11 CDs.
Starred Review
2014 Sonderbooks Stand-out, #9 Nonfiction

I’ve been watching the BBC series Call the Midwife on DVDs from the library. When I watched the special features after the second season, they mentioned how the producer had loved the book when she read it, and decided then and there to make it into a series. That was enough recommendation for me!

Indeed, I found the book just as charming as the television series. Mind you, they romanticized some things in the series. I was a little disappointed not to hear about any romance with Jimmy. And if Chummy has a romance with the police officer she ran down on the bike, it hasn’t happened yet. But in some ways, it’s more interesting, because it’s all true.

Jennifer Worth was a midwife in the East End of London in the 1950s. It was the beginning of the National Health Service, and in the past, pregnant women were dealt with by amateurs and charlatans, with a lot of deaths. As it is there’s plenty of poverty and eye-opening situations, and they make riveting listening.

There’s the family with 24 children, whose mother does not speak English. There’s the young immigrant girl from Ireland who got tricked into prostitution. And especially lovely are the nuns whom Jennifer works with. (I liked being able to picture them from the TV series. The reader did a great job with their different voices.)

Mind you, this is not family listening. The part where she describes the past of the young prostitute is particularly graphic. However, it also includes more about the restoration of Jennifer’s faith than the series does. The author clearly had a deep love for the people of the East End and communicates that love to the listener. I was happy to see that my library owns two more volumes on audio CD.

highbridgeaudio.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/call_the_midwife.html

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

Source: This review is based on a library 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.

Review of The Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew

January 14th, 2015

shadow_hero_largeThe Shadow Hero

story by Gene Luen Yang
art by Sonny Liew

First Second, New York, 2014. 158 pages.
Starred Review
2014 Sonderbooks Stand-out, #6 Teen Fiction

The story of why this graphic novel exists is so interesting, I’m going to copy text from the author’s note at the back of the book (minus examples from the actual Green Turtle comics):

[Chu] Hing was among the first Asian Americans working in the American comic book industry. This was decades before the Asian American movement, though, so he wouldn’t have self-identified as such. Most likely, he would have just called himself Chinese.

For Rural Home, Chu Hing created a World War II superhero called the Green Turtle. The Green Turtle wore a mask over his face and a cape over his shoulders. He defended China, America’s ally, against the invading Japanese army. He had no obvious superpowers, though he did seem to have a knack for avoiding bullets.

So those are the facts. Here are the rumors.

Supposedly, Hing wanted his character to be Chinese.

Supposedly, his publisher didn’t think a Chinese superhero would sell and told Hing to make his character white.

Supposedly, Hing rebelled right there on the page. Throughout the Green Turtle’s adventures, we almost never get to see his face. Most of the time, the hero has his back to us.

When he does turn around, his visage is almost always obscured by something – a combatant or a shadow or even his own arm….

The Green Turtle’s face isn’t all that Hing keeps from us. Over and over, the Green Turtle’s young Chinese sidekick, Burma Boy, asks him how he came to be the Green Turtle. Every time, an emergency interrupts before the Green Turtle can give his answer.

So Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Llew have stepped in and written an origin story that fits everything that appears in the short-running comic book series.

The Shadow Hero is our answer to Burma Boy’s question, our imagining of the Green Turtle’s origin story. We firmly establish him as an Asian American superhero, perhaps even the first Asian American superhero. Our Green Turtle is a shadow hero. Not only is his identity secret, so is his race….

But let me end on a fact: Studying Chu Hing’s comics, imagining what might have been going through his head, and then writing this book in response were a lot of fun – a crazy, Golden Age sort of fun. I hope reading it is, too.

And that brings me to the story found in these pages – the origin story of the Green Turtle. The story is indeed tremendous fun.

Hank is a Chinese boy living in San Incendio, America, with no ambitions other than to be a grocer like his father. However, his mother has ambitions for him.

After she is saved by a superhero from a carjacking by a bank robber, Hank’s mother decides that he needs to be a superhero.

Her methods are hilarious, including pushing him into a toxic spill and trying to get him bitten by a dog used for scientific research. Eventually, she settles for arranging for him to learn to fight.

But his first efforts toward fighting for justice end up getting his father shot. However, what Hank and his mother don’t know is that a spirit from ancient China was residing with Hank’s father. Now that he is dead, the spirit – shaped like a turtle – will stay with Hank – and grant one request.

This book has plenty of humor and plenty of adventure. It nicely captures the flavor of Golden Age comics. (I know a little bit about this because my son is a fan.) At the end of the book, the first Green Turtle comic is reproduced in its entirety. I like the way the source of all the details in the comic has been revealed (including our hero’s unnaturally pink skin).

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