Review of Black and Blue Magic, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

June 24th, 2014

black_and_blue_magic_largeBlack and Blue Magic

by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Atheneum, New York, 1975. 186 pages.
Starred Review

Well, my co-worker opened up the floodgates when he decided to order Three Investigators books via Interlibrary Loan. That got me thinking about the other books I loved in childhood but that are no longer in print.

Many other books by Zilpha Keatley Snyder are still in print, so I don’t know why Black and Blue Magic is not among them. It’s the one I checked out from the library over and over again and dearly loved.

And it was just as good as I remembered it! (A lot shorter than I remembered it, but just as good!) Harry Houdini Marco is clumsy as can be, always tripping or running into things. His mother says he’s just still growing, but all he knows is that he’s clumsy. And Harry believes that if his father were still alive, Harry would be a disappointment to him. Harry’s father was a skilled magician, and wanted Harry to be the same, which explains the name he was given. He even brought him to the Great Swami and got a prophecy that Harry’s “magic will be of a very special kind.” But Harry has tried doing magic tricks, and he’s just not coordinated enough.

But then one day Harry sees a little man who’s clumsy lose his big suitcase on the bus. Harry gets off the bus and takes it to him. The man’s a salesman, so Harry recommends his mother’s boarding house. Before the man leaves, he gives Harry a magical reward. It’s an ointment, and when Harry puts a drop on each shoulder, he sprouts wings!

Harry has to learn how to use the wings safely and unobtrusively. He’s accidentally seen by a few people, and it’s quite amusing the conclusions those people draw.

This book is wonderful because there’s magic and adventure combined with character growth and personal problems that Harry is able to solve.

It’s a delightful book about a good-hearted kid who finds out that special magic might make him a little black and blue. And it definitely stands the test of time.

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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 Great American Dust Bowl, by Don Brown

June 23rd, 2014

great_american_dust_bowl_largeThe Great American Dust Bowl

written and illustrated by Don Brown

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. 80 pages.
Starred Review

When I see a history book for kids presented in comic book form, full of facts and graphic details, I think, “Goodness! Why don’t they all do it this way?” I can’t call it a graphic novel, but it’s a graphic history book. It’s in comic book form and doesn’t only tell you what the Dust Bowl was like, it also shows you.

I’ve heard a lot about the dust bowl. But now, with the aid of these pictures, I feel like I know what it was like to experience it.

Don Brown gives us an overarching view, even giving the factors that built up to it, but he also focuses in on the experiences of people. He shows how small people and cars and telephone poles were compared to the clouds of dust. The page about bugs has quite a gross-out factor:

Bugs that should have died in colder, wetter weather or been eaten by birds and bats killed by the drought now turned up everywhere. Centipedes crawled across ceilings and walls, tarantulas marched across kitchens, and black widow spiders lurked in corncribs and woodsheds.

“The ants were so thick and so bad that you could swipe handfuls of them off the table and still have more ants on the table.”

The picture with that shows the woman who is speaking looking askance at a table covered with ants.

There’s a dramatic page, mostly filled with a dust cloud, dwarfing a car and telephone poles. The words written in wavy lines across the cloud say:

Storms could blow for days and be immediately followed by another and another, making for unrelenting blows for weeks on end.

Raging, grit-filled winds shattered windows and scoured the paint off houses and cars.

Trains derailed. Telephone poles were knocked to the ground.

Altogether, Don Brown gives readers vivid detail about the Dust Bowl, and they understand some of the causes and the scope of the problem. (I had never realized before that during that time, even New York City got hit with a dust storm that made lights necessary during daylight hours.) They even have some warnings that it could happen again.

The book is artistic as well. If you leaf through the pages, you notice right away that Don Brown has used different panel arrangements on each set of pages, and keeps the story varied and interesting.

This is history that will stick with you.

hmhbooks.com

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

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

Review of The Science of Happily Ever After, by Ty Tashiro

June 21st, 2014

science_of_happily_ever_after_largeThe Science of Happily Ever After

What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love

by Ty Tashiro, PhD

Harlequin, 2014. 278 pages.

I began this book when I had recently decided to try online dating. When I finished it, I was already in a relationship. By the time I’m posting the review, I’ve broken up with that first person. But the overall idea of the book fits perfectly with the reason I’d decided to try online dating.

I’d noticed that once I actually meet someone, it’s harder for me to see the ways they are not necessarily good for me. Once my emotions get involved, it’s harder for me to exercise good judgment. So my thinking with trying online dating was this: Why not screen out people who obviously wouldn’t be great for me right from the start, before I even meet them in person?

The Science of Happily Ever After fits perfectly with that idea, because it presents some objective things to look for when contemplating a long-term relationship. In fact, it’s given me some things to look for once I meet people that might be red flags. Why not optimize one’s chances of happily ever after?

In the introductory chapter, the author talks about his reasons for writing this book:

Although supportive friends, self-confidence and communication skills contribute to healthy romantic relationships, a much stronger predictor of romantic success is the type of partner you choose in the first place. The traits that a partner possesses before you ever start dating, such as his or her personality and values, are among the strongest indicators of whether a romantic relationship will be happy and stable many years later. However, for people who say they will choose a better partner for the next relationship, the intention to choose a better partner does not guarantee that they will end up making better choices. How many times have you witnessed friends who are smart and effective people in most aspects of their lives repeatedly choose the same dysfunctional partners and then appear surprised when the relationship is a disaster a few months later?

This book does give tips as to how to help yourself pull off a good choice.

This is not a prescriptive self-help book promising a soul mate in three easy steps. Love is too complex and too personal for a stranger to tell a unique individual like you precisely what to do with your love life. Instead, my goal is to help you clarify your version of “happily ever after” and then to provide you with the information needed to make wise decisions when choosing a partner….

The Science of Happily Ever After is about making smarter choices. It’s about learning to weed out the undesirable traits and rethinking our views about what really matters in a romantic partner.

Along the way, Ty Tashiro discusses studies that have been done on what makes an enduring relationship. These give you some ideas on what you should look for. He points out that you’re not going to get everything you want, since no one is perfect, and gives you ideas for which “three wishes” you should prioritize.

I think this paragraph from later in the book sums up things nicely:

The fact remains that when it comes to choosing a romantic partner, what you see is what you get. Forever. Although this second type of change is possible, why would you go into a marriage relying only upon a partner’s willingness to manage their negative traits, rather than choose someone from the start who gives your relationship the best chance of success? Partners who give your relationship the best chance of success also tend to be the kind of people who are most likely to manage whatever weaknesses they have with maturity. So, once again, finding happily ever after begins with choosing someone with the right traits.

I do love it that this book came in right when I’d started dating someone. And I’m proud that, for the first time in my life, I broke up with someone – and stayed friends with him. Whatever my future holds, I feel like this book is helping me evaluate relationships from a more rational place, thus increasing my odds of one day living happily ever after.

tytashiro.net
harlequin.com

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

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite, by Barry Deutsch

June 20th, 2014

mirka_met_a_meteorite_largeHereville

How Mirka Met a Meteorite

by Barry Deutsch

Amulet Books, New York, 2012. 126 pages.

This is the second graphic novel about Mirka, an 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish Girl who dreams of fighting monsters and having adventures. At the start of the book, she’s grounded because of her adventures in How Mirka Got Her Sword. And just as soon as she’s ungrounded, she goes looking for trouble again. And finds more than she bargained for.

A meteorite is hurtling toward Hereville, about to kill everyone. Mirka gets the witch to help – and she transforms the meteorite into a girl who looks just like Mirka. And the meteorite, to whom they give the name Metty, is faster and stronger and even cleaner than Mirka.

At first it seems like it will be nice to have a double, and Metty can do chores and other unpleasant things. But it doesn’t turn out so nice. For starters, they can’t both show up at meals or Mirka’s stepmother would find out what’s going on. So Metty gets the first few meals. That’s only the beginning of the troubles.

This book is full of fun details and readers will be delighted with Mirka, who doesn’t necessarily think before she acts, but has plenty of heart. As the caption on the front says, here is Mirka, “boldly going where no 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl has gone before.”

hereville.com
amuletbooks.com

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

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 A Little Book of Sloth, by Lucy Cooke

June 19th, 2014

little_book_of_sloth_largeA Little Book of Sloth
by Lucy Cooke

Margaret K. McElderry Books, New York, 2013. 64 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s children’s nonfiction at its incredibly cutest.

In a sleepy corner of Costa Rica there’s an upside-down world where sloth is a virtue and not a sin. A sanctuary – the first in the world – devoted to saving this much maligned animal.

Home to one hundred and fifty orphaned and injured sloths, Slothville is an idle idyll where the sloths’ every whim is catered for by the celebrated sloth whisperer Judy Arroyo.

This book reveals some of the secrets behind the sloth’s smile and introduces you to a handful of the sanctuary’s superstar sloths. I think we have much to learn from their mellow ways. So take a break from the hectic world around you, kick back, relax, and enjoy hanging with the sloths.

The picture-book-sized pages in this book feature large photographs of baby sloths. Baby sloths are cute. Very cute. Along the way, we learn lots of facts about sloths, like the two main types of sloths and how much of their lives they spend resting (70%). Did you know that sloths aren’t monkeys or bears, but Xenarthrans? I didn’t until I read this book.

Sloths are born needing hugs, so orphaned sloths are given a stuffed toy to hug in place of their missing mother. We get to see pictures of Mateo trying to decide in a basket of stuffies, before he settles on Mr. Moo, a stuffed terry cow. We’re told, “If any of the other baby sloths tries to sneak a Moo hug, a fight breaks out – a very, very slow fight, in which the winner is the last sloth to stay awake.”

This book is hard to resist, simply from all the pictures of the cuddling, laid back sloths. Reading it may be all it takes to get you to join the Sloth Appreciation Society.

slothville.com
slothsanctuary.com

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

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Mating Season, by P. G. Wodehouse

June 7th, 2014

mating_season_largeThe Mating Season

by P. G. Wodehouse
narrated by Jonathan Cecil

Sound Library (AudioGO), 1992. 6 hrs 51 min on 6 CDs.
Starred Review

I keep exclaiming on how much fun Jeeves & Wooster CDs are to listen to in the car. This one had delightfully absurd situations.

Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia has asked him to visit Deverill Hall, and he dare not disobey. He is to participate in a concert in the village, which is being organized by the vicar’s niece, Bertie’s good friend Corkie, who is also a Hollywood star. Meanwhile, Gussie Fink-Nottle has been told to visit Deverill Hall by his fiancé, Madeleine Basset. Living at the hall is Esmond Haddock and his five aunts.

As if that situation alone weren’t enough, Bertie ends up going to Deverill Hall pretending to be Gussie, and Gussie comes later, pretending to be Bertie. Once at the hall, romances are all tangled up. Corkie loves Esmond, but he is too cowed by his aunts. Gussie falls for Corkie, which puts Bertie in peril of being engaged to Madeleine Basset. And Corkie’s brother, Catsmeat, is in love with Gertrude Wentworth, a daughter of one of Esmond’s aunts. But Catsmeat fears that Gertrude is falling for Esmond, who is trying to make Corkie jealous.

As usual, there’s a grand comical mess, and only Jeeves can possibly hope to straighten it all out. Along the way, we get to hear Bertie’s hilarious understatements and apt similes all told in Jonathan Cecil’s wonderfully versatile British accent. He’s consistent in using different voices for each of the many characters, so you can tell who is speaking by just listening to his voice. A marvelously entertaining audiobook.

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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 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.

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

Review of An Eye for Art, Presented by the National Gallery of Art

June 6th, 2014

eye_for_art_largeAn Eye for Art

Focusing on Great Artists and Their Work

presented by the National Gallery of Art

Chicago Review Press, 2013. 177 pages.
Starred Review

Here is a fabulous overview of great artists and their work. I ended up reading it by looking at one artist per day. There are seven sections: Studying Nature, Exploring Places, Examining Portraits, Telling Stories, Observing Everyday Life, Questioning Traditions, and Playing with Space. Each section features several individual artists, with more than 50 featured in the book.

Each artist gets four pages. First, a title page, filled with the detail of the featured piece of art. When you turn the page, you get an oversized double-page spread that includes a picture of the entire work of art, usually a picture of the artist, and information about the artist and what they did that was notable in the work of art. Sometimes more than one work of art is included.

The final page on each author has either “explore more,” “try this,” or “another view.” “Explore more” looks at more of the artist’s work and suggests a way kids can explore that idea. Some examples are “Keep a cloud journal of your own” or “Make a self-portrait.” “Try this” also springboards from the work of art to project ideas. Examples here include “Create a colorful collage” or “Leaf rubbing.” “Another view” takes a look at another artist who did something similar to the featured artist. The text compares with the original artist and gives the reader a broader view of that trend in art.

This book is fascinating, beautiful, and informative. The cover explains that it includes 40 activities, so it is also inspiring. This is a wonderful book for a school library or a home collection or anyone who’s interested in art.

nga.gov
chicagoreviewpress.com

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

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

Review of The Mystery of the Green Ghost, by Robert Arthur

May 31st, 2014

green_ghost_largeAlfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators in

The Mystery of the Green Ghost

by Robert Arthur

Random House, New York, 1965. 181 pages.

My co-worker and I got to talking about The Three Investigators series, which we both enjoyed as kids, and he ordered the first three via Interlibrary Loan. After he let me read the first one, I went ahead and ordered number four, The Mystery of the Green Ghost. However, it came in before numbers two and three, so I had to read them out of order.

But that really doesn’t matter. I think reading the first one first is good, but each adventure is basically self-contained.

And, no, it doesn’t hold up perfectly over the years. But they’re still full of adventure and highlight kids outsmarting adults. Now, this one is terribly politically incorrect, with lots of Chinese people who are treated quite stereotypically. We’ve got a kid who’s one quarter Chinese whose nickname is Chang, and who talks about his “honorable aunt.” There are still no girls in the book whatsoever.

But the adventure is good. And Jupiter’s deductions are quite plausible, but still very clever.

It begins when Bob and Pete hear piercing scream coming from a supposedly haunted house that’s about to be torn down. Then a group of men happen to be wandering by, and when they go inside, all of them see a green ghost, dressed in long flowing green robes. They’re sure he’s the ghost of Mathias Green, who died in the house long ago.

And the ghost is seen around town, even at the graveside of Mathias Green by the chief of police. And when they explore the house further, a skeleton of Mathias Green’s missing wife is discovered, wearing a string of valuable “ghost pearls.”

And then the trail leads up north to a vineyard in Verdant Valley. Pete and Bob are invited to the home of the woman who inherited the house, who has a nephew, Chang, the boys’ age. They’re ready for action when the pearls are stolen. Meanwhile, back in Rocky Beach, Jupiter is making deductions — which are crucial when Bob and Pete and Chang disappear.

It’s all fast-moving and action-packed. All three investigators contribute to solving the mystery. In this one, there’s not as much focus on their cool headquarters with its secret entrances, and they never even ride in their gold-plated Rolls-Royce. But what they do is solve a mystery with brains and action and working together (and okay, some luck of being in the right place at the right time) — a mystery that stumps adults.

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

Source: This review is based on an 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!

Review of Singing School, by Robert Pinsky

May 28th, 2014

singing_school_largeSinging School

Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters

by Robert Pinsky

W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2013. 221 pages.

Singing School is a collection of great poetry. Along with the poetry, analysis is given as to why the poems work. The reader’s attention is drawn to effective techniques, sonorous sounds, and apt images. And challenges are given. For example, with Jonathan Swift’s, “A Description of the Morning,” we have the caption, “Try your own, contemporary version of this, in your own world, keeping it fresh yet recognizable – good luck.”

Robert Pinsky explains the motivation for this book in his Preface:

That the poem by Milton (1608-1674) had gotten under the skin of Ginsberg (1926-1997) exemplifies the ideas that govern this book: examples precede analysis; young poets can learn a lot from old poetry. Models provide inspiration, which is different from imitation. The visual artist looks at the world, but also at art. Similarly, the musician listens, the cook eats, the athlete watches great athletes, the filmmaker watches great movies, in order to gain mastery from examples….

If you want to learn singing, you must study – not just peruse or experience or dabble in or enjoy or take a course in, but study –monumental examples of magnificent singing: study not just a pretty good poem in a recent magazine, or something that seems cool or seems to be in fashion, or that you have been taught in school, but examples that you feel are magnificent. “Magni-ficent”: the Latin roots of the word mean “making great.”…

The four section headings and their order, though not exhaustive, do represent essentials. “Freedom” is where the artist begins: there are no rules, and the principles and habits are up to you. Having confronted and embraced freedom, the poet engages in the particular work of “Listening”: sentences have melodic patterns of pitch, as well as cadences, and great work can help you hear them. So too can the speech you hear every day. The third section uses the word “Form” in a sense related to form in dance or sports – the effective shapes and arrangements of energy – rather than particular “forms” and their required patterns. Finally, “Dreaming Things Up” affirms that many essential and thrilling elements of poetry have to do with what cannot be explained: something new, waking life transformed.

I confess that I didn’t read this book to learn to write poetry. I read this book, a couple pages a day, in order to enjoy some great poems. Having aspects of their greatness pointed out to me made the experience that much better.

favoritepoem.org
wwnorton.com

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

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design, by Chip Kidd

May 26th, 2014

go_largeGo

A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design

by Chip Kidd

Workman Publishing, New York, 2013. 150 pages.
Starred Review

Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design is a wonderfully visual introduction to all that goes into graphic design. Chip Kidd takes the approach that everyone is a designer, and he teaches the reader to be more conscious of design decisions, along with the effects they have.

He begins with an overview of design in general and graphic design in particular. He goes on to look at specific elements of graphic design: Form, Typography, Content, and Concept. Each element is looked at in great detail, and with lots of examples for each aspect. For example, under Form, he looks at things like Scale, Image Quality, Symmetry/Asymmetry, and Color Theory, to name just a few. Absolutely every concept has an example. There are no pages in this book consisting only of plain type.

Many of Chip Kidd’s book cover designs are featured in the book, showing that he really does this professionally, and giving examples of what works and the rationale behind them. But those are by no means the only examples.

The book finishes with 10 Design Projects for kids to try on their own, thus giving them a way to use the concepts they’ve learned. What’s more, he asks them to send copies of their projects to his website, gothebook.com, so not only are they encouraged to be creative, they get ideas for how to be creative, and they get to show off their creativity.

gothebook.com
Chipkidd.com
workman.com

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

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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.