Review of One Day, the End, by Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Fred Koehler

June 2nd, 2016

one_day_the_end_largeOne Day, The End

Short, Very Short, Shorter-than-Ever Stories

by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
illustrated by Fred Koehler

Boyds Mills Press, 2015. 32 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book

Here’s another picture book about the power of imagination and writing your own stories.

The first spread sets the tone and explains what’s going on:

For every story, there is a beginning and an end, but what happens in between makes all the difference.

The rest of the book gives many short, very short, shorter-than-ever stories about one little girl. That is, it tells the beginnings and ends of stories. The pictures vividly show what happens in between. Truly, that makes all the difference!

Here are some examples of the stories in this book:

One day… I went to school. I came home. The End

One day . . . I lost my dog. I found him! The End

One day . . . I made something. I gave it to Mom. The End?

One day . . . I wanted to be a spy. I was. The End

The front flap introduces the girl character with the heading, “Meet the Storyteller.” She’s busy and imaginative. The pictures show her all over the place in a way that conveys boundless energy.

I am very curious as I write this how much direction the author gave the illustrator. Did she simply come up with these simple frameworks and let him fill in the rest? Or did she supply a few of the ideas? All of the ideas?

However they came up with it, the combination works beautifully!

With each story, the little girl makes her way across the page, full of energy, doing things, having adventures. Most of them end with a smile, but there are some interesting variations (such as when the dog jumps into the tub with her).

The final story reads, “One day . . . I wanted to write a book. So I did. The End”

The pictures for that review all the previous adventures found in this picture book, leaving the reader with a reminder that all you need for a story is a beginning and an end . . . and let your imagination run wild with the in-between.

rebeccakaidotlich.com
freddiek.com
boydsmillspress.com

Buy from Amazon.com

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

What did you think of this book?

Review of The New York Times Book of Mathematics, edited by Gina Kolata

June 1st, 2016

ny_times_book_of_mathematics_largeThe New York Times Book of Mathematics

More than 100 Years of Writing by the Numbers

edited by Gina Kolata
Foreword by Paul Hoffman

Sterling, New York, 2013. 480 pages.

If you’re at all interested in mathematics, this is a fascinating book covering the history of major developments in mathematics in the twentieth century and the start of the twenty-first, as told in the pages of The New York Times.

Since the articles are from The New York Times, they are written for the general public, and the articles aren’t too lengthy. I mostly read one a day for a very long time. Incredible as it may seem, the book was never on hold when I wanted to renew it.

My only complaint was that I had to learn to check the date – given at the end of each article – before reading the article rather than after, because all are reported as happening in the present – it was nice to know when the major development had actually happened in 1936 (though there are more from recent years than going that far back).

Of course, having once been in a PhD program in Mathematics (though I settled for my Master’s), I was extra interested to get tastes of what’s going on before and after my time in the math department. For me, it was interesting to place the articles as before or after my time at UCLA.

The articles are grouped in chapters of related articles. You’ll get an idea of what to expect from the chapter titles: “What Is Mathematics?”; “Statistics, Coincidences and Surprising Facts”; “Famous Problems, Solved and As Yet Unsolved”; “Chaos, Catastrophe and Randomness”; “Cryptography and the Emergence of Truly Unbreakable Codes”; “Computers Enter the World of Mathematics”; and “Mathematicians and Their World.” Try this book for a bird’s-eye view of that fascinating world.

sterlingpublishing.com

Buy from Amazon.com

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

What did you think of this book?

Review of A Hungry Lion or: A Dwindling Assortment of Animals, by Lucy Ruth Cummins

May 30th, 2016

hungry_lion_largeA Hungry Lion

or

A Dwindling Assortment of Animals

by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 2016. 36 pages.
Starred Review

The title alone of this book makes me laugh. I think the book is probably a bit too violent (though all off-stage) for preschoolers, but could be very fun to book talk in the elementary schools. (“Who knows what ‘Dwindling’ means?”)

I once had a co-worker who especially enjoyed picture books where someone gets eaten, and I’ve gained an appreciation for them myself. In fact, I’ve got a Pinterest board with this theme. Such books are especially good when they add an unexpected element.

In this book, the beginning is sweetness and light:

Once upon a time there was a hungry lion, a penguin, a turtle, a little calico kitten, a brown mouse, a bunny with floppy ears and a bunny with un-floppy ears, a frog, a bat, a pig, a slightly bigger pig, a woolly sheep, a koala, and also a hen.

The assortment of animals on each page rapidly dwindles.

But just when you think there has been off-stage violence… we see that the animals were preparing a surprise party and a large cake for the lion!

But alas… the cake does not, actually, stop the off-stage violence.

And then who should show up fashionably late to the party but a “really ravenous T. Rex”!

The lone survivor from the original assortment of animals is a satisfying surprise.

Like I said, I wouldn’t necessarily use this with preschoolers or any child who will be distressed by the sweet animals who disappear. But a child who enjoys I Want My Hat Back would be a good audience for this book, or any child who is learning to make inferences and read between the lines (and pictures). Though it’s better if the inferences they make do not distress them – so this is a bit better for kids who enjoy a little cynicism!

There’s no real moral to this story, except perhaps that you should think twice before planning a birthday party for a hungry lion. Or maybe that bullies should beware that there’s always someone bigger. Or maybe that sometimes hiding is the wisest plan. But moral or no, I place this picture book firmly in the “Delightfully Silly” category. It makes me laugh.

Buy from Amazon.com

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

What did you think of this book?

Review of Green Lizards vs. Red Rectangles, by Steve Antony

May 30th, 2016

green_lizards_vs_red_rectangles_largeGreen Lizards vs. Red Rectangles

by Steve Antony

Scholastic Press, New York, 2015. 32 pages.

Okay, there’s something that simply pleases me about this book.

Why green lizards and red rectangles? I have no idea, and we’re never told. What we are told is that the green lizards and the red rectangles were at war.

The story is simple, and the pictures are everything. This book is primarily about clever graphic design. Which is tremendously clever and fun.

But it does also have a good message. Sometimes fighting is not a good idea, and if you work at it, you may find a solution.

This is the sort of book that makes me laugh because of what’s taken for granted. Green lizards and red rectangles? At war? How on earth did the author come up with that? I don’t know, but the result is beautiful, clever, and has a good message.

The next time you’re tempted to fight, ask yourself, Are we like green lizards and red rectangles? If we think hard enough, is there a way we could get along?

steveantony.com
scholastic.com

Buy from Amazon.com

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

What did you think of this book?

Sonderling Sunday — Drachenreiter — A Meeting in the Rain

May 29th, 2016

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books, or, in this case, the English translation of a German children’s book.

This week, we’re looking at Drachenreiter, by Cornelia Funke, known in English as Dragon Rider.

Drachenreiter

It’s been a few years since I looked at Drachenreiter. We are ready to begin with Chapter Two, Versammlung im Regen, “A Meeting in the Rain.” This is Seite 14 auf Deutsch, page 7 in English.

We’ll start with the name of a dragon:
Schieferbart = “Slatebeard”

I like the way this sentence sounds:
Seine Schuppen schimmerten schon lange nicht mehr = “His scales no longer glowed”

aber Feuer speien konnte er noch = “but he could still breathe fire”
(“but fire spewing could he still”)

nicht weiterwussten = “at a loss” (“not further-knew”)

Missmutig = “gloomily”

Feuchtigkeit = “damp”

Gelenke = “joints”

wichen = “made way” (“evaded”)

Schwefelfell = “Sorrel”

Kobold = “brownie”

scheifendem Schwanz = “dragging tail”

Schnaufend stieg = “Breathing hard”

verscheuchen = “deal with it” (“scare away”)

flink = “nimbly”

Rascheln = “rustling”

knabberte = “nibbling”

belauschen = “eavesdrop”

Barthaar = “whisker” (“beard-hair”)

überschwemmt = “flooded”

spöttisch = “sarcastically”

rümpfte = “wrinkled”

Hohlkopf! = “dimwit!” (“hollow-head!”)

schmilzt = “melts”

Verflixt! = “Oh, drat it!”

Das war töricht. = “It was a foolish hope.”

Der Saum des Himmels = “The Rim of Heaven

Hängen = “slopes”

Bergkuppen = “mountaintops”

fröstelnd = “shivering”

Blödsinn = “nonsense”

strömenden Regen = “pouring rain”

stapfte = “trudged”

Da platzte Schwefelfell der Kragen.
= “This was too much for Sorrel.”
(“There burst Sorrel her collar.”)

hinter den Ohren kraulen = “scratch you behind the ears” (“behind the ears fondle”)

I like this one. I’ve heard people speak schnippisch.
schnippisch = “sharply”

Keulenfüßigen Trichterling = “Tedious toadstools”

meckern = “complain”

And the last sentence of the chapter:
Bestimmt nicht genug, um dich mit dieser holzköpfigen Pilzfresserin zu Ende zu streiten.
= “Certainly not enough time to finish your quarrel with this dim-witted mushroom-muncher.”
(“Certainly not enough, for you with this wooden-headed mushroom-devourer to end to argue.”)

And that’s all for tonight! Please try not to call anyone a holzköpfigen Pilzfresserin this week!

Bis bald!

Review of Raymie Nightingale, by Kate DiCamillo

May 25th, 2016

raymie_nightingale_largeRaymie Nightingale

by Kate DiCamillo

Candlewick Press, 2016. 263 pages.
Starred Review

No one does quirky like Kate DiCamillo.

And her quirky, unique, like-no-other characters are all the more real that way.

Raymie Clarke has a plan. She wants to win Little Miss Central Florida Tire by learning to twirl a baton. Then her father will see her picture in the paper and come back from wherever he ran off to with the dental hygienist.

At baton-twirling lessons, taught by Ida Nee, a former champion of multiple contests, Raymie meets Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski. Louisiana also wants to become Little Miss Central Florida Tire, but Beverly wants to sabotage the contest.

First, they have very short-lived lessons together. Ida Nee doesn’t waste her time with lollygaggers and malingerers or fainters.

But the girls start helping each other out. Raymie needs her library book on Florence Nightingale rescued from under a bed in a nursing home. (Now there’s a story!) And Louisiana wants to rescue her cat Archie from the Very Friendly Animal Center.

All the adults they encounter along the way are quirky as well. Raymie’s mother is still mourning her father’s loss. Louisiana’s grandmother is an adventurous driver. Different adults in Raymie’s life offer her different kinds of comfort about her father’s abandonment.

All the quirks make the story feel true. You end up loving these three girls and rooting for them as they stumble through as best they can, trying to follow a Bright and Shining Path. Together.

katedicamillo.com
candlewick.com

Buy from Amazon.com

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

What did you think of this book?

Review of Anna and the Swallow Man, by Gavriel Savit

May 18th, 2016

anna_and_the_swallow_man_largeAnna and the Swallow Man

by Gavriel Savit

Random House Children’s Books, 2016. 232 pages.
Starred Review

Wow. I read this book on the first half of a flight to Portland, and sat stunned when I’d finished at just how rich and beautiful this novel is.

It’s a World War II story, so some awful things happen. It’s listed as a children’s book, but here’s a heads’ up for parents that it’s a book about war, and most of the bad things happen off stage, but there are some bad things that happen. Personally, I’d rather give the book to teens than children. (And by the end of the story, Anna is a young teen.)

There’s not really a moral to the story, but it’s beautiful. Memorable, luminescent, and beautiful.

How does Gavriel Savit do it? One of the things he does is taking a unique character and then drawing wise conclusions about life.

We meet Anna on November 6, 1939 — the day her father, a university professor, was required to attend a meeting that ultimately ended in his being taken to a concentration camp. She is seven years old.

Anna’s father was a professor of linguistics at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and living with him meant that every day of the week was in a different language. By the time Anna had reached the age of seven, her German, Russian, French, and English were all good, and she had a fair amount of Yiddish and Ukrainian and a little Armenian and Carpathian Romany as well.

Her father never spoke to her in Polish. The Polish, he said, would take care of itself.

One does not learn as many languages as Anna’s father had without a fair bit of love for talking. Most of her memories of her father were of him speaking — laughing and joking, arguing and sighing, with one of the many friends and conversation partners he cultivated around the city. In fact, for much of her life with him, Anna had thought that each of the languages her father spoke had been tailored, like a bespoke suit of clothes, to the individual person with whom he conversed. French was not French; it was Monsieur Bouchard. Yiddish was not Yiddish; it was Reb Shmulik. Every word and phrase of Armenian that Anna had ever heard reminded her of the face of the little old tatik who always greeted her and her father with small cups of strong, bitter coffee.

Every word of Armenian smelled like coffee.

When Anna’s father doesn’t return, she begins following the Swallow Man, but is instructed not to draw attention to herself. When I read this passage, I realized that this is one of those books that is wonderful because of the universal wisdom. It’s got particular, unique characters, but universal wisdom:

Anna very much wanted to avoid attention, and it was not long before she discovered the trick of doing so. A well-fed little girl in a pretty red-and-white dress immediately raises alarm if her face is covered with concern and effort, if she strains to see what is far ahead of her, if she moves only in fits and starts — and this was precisely what her present labor required her to do. At one intersection, though, she felt certain she had seen Monsieur Bouchard, her father’s old French friend, in the street ahead, and suddenly, impulsively, abandoning all effort of following the tall stranger, she smiled and ran gleefully toward the familiar man.

In the end he was not Monsieur Bouchard, but the effect of this burst of glee was immediately apparent to her. When she passed through the street hesitantly and with concern, the grown-ups who saw her seemed to latch on to her distress, trying to carry it off with them despite themselves, and the strain of the effort would cause a kind of unwilling connection between the adult and the child until they were out of one another’s sight. For the most part Anna felt certain that their intentions were good, but it seemed only a matter of time before someone stopped her, and then she did not know what might happen.

On the other hand, when she ran through the street with a smile of anticipation, passing adults still took notice, but they did not try to carry off her joy with them — instead it engendered a kindred kind of joy inside of them, and well satisfied with this feeling, particularly in the eternally threatening environment of a military occupation, they continued on their way without giving her a moment’s thought.

It was with joy, then, and not concern, that she followed the thin man past the guards at the outskirts of the city — they didn’t give her a second glance — and by the time Anna was alone in the twilit hills, this effort of counterfeiting happiness had brought to bear a true sort of excitement within her.

You read that and realize that this is true. This would work.

So universality and particularity combine with lovely language — and the result is this amazing book.

It’s a war story, and doesn’t really have an obvious moral, though there are certainly morals you can pull out of it. I’m not crazy about the ending, and some terrible things happen along the way, things that will wrench your heart.

But this book is truly beautiful. Everyone should read this book. When you’ve done so, please tell me what you think!

gavrielsavit.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/anna_and_the_swallow_man.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 Advance Reader Copy I got at an ALA conference.

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 Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton

May 6th, 2016

rebel_of_the_sands_largeRebel of the Sands

by Alwyn Hamilton

Viking, 2016. 314 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a debut fantasy novel about finding one’s identity and place in the world.

This is wonderful fantasy, but not your traditional medieval European world – this one involves Djinns, Ghouls, Skinwalkers, Nightmares, and other desert beings. We’ve got an oppressive regime and unjust society, and we start by focusing on someone caught in that injustice.

Amani is an orphan living with her uncle in a world where girls have no rights. Everything she has belongs to her uncle – and will belong to her husband after he marries her off. That event is looking harder and harder to avoid, and Amani is desperate to escape.

When the book opens, Amani is risking all the money she has managed to scrape together over the past three years to enter a shooting contest in Deadshot. If she can win the prize, she’ll be able to buy train passage to the capital city.

Amani has the shooting ability to win – but not the ability to overcome the way the contest is rigged. But during the contest she meets a mysterious foreigner who is also a skilled shooter, and she becomes part of a brawl that sets the whole place on fire.

So the next day, she’s back home in Dustwalk, tending her uncle’s shop, hoping no one recognizes her as the blue-eyed boy at the shoot-out. And who should run into her shop but the foreigner from the night before? And he’s followed by a group of soldiers, but Amani lets him hide behind the counter and covers for him. After all, he saved her life the night before. Then when it turns out he’s been shot, she returns the favor.

But while she’s tending his wounds, she hears the bells that mean a Buraqi has been sighted – a desert horse, made of desert sands. When the horse is captured and forced to stay materialized with iron shoes, the Buraqi provides a way out of Dustwalk for Amani – and the foreigner along with her.

But that’s only the beginning of the saga. She continues in an adventure across the desert. The soldiers are looking for her because she’s been seen with the foreigner. And it turns out, he’s involved with the Rebel Prince, who some say is the rightful ruler of Miraji and wouldn’t give their country over to the Gallans.

Along the way, Amani meets others in the rebellion and learns startling things about who she is and where she belongs.

This is a very satisfying fantasy adventure novel. It ends at a good place, finishing one segment of the story, with no cliffhangers (which is how I like it), but still leaves you hoping to hear more about these people and this world. It’s a debut novel, and is a wonderfully propitious start. I hope there will be many more books about Amani and Jin and desert magic and the struggle for the Rebel Prince.

penguin.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/rebel_of_the_sands.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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Ada’s Violin, by Susan Hood and Sally Wern Comport

May 5th, 2016

adas_violin_largeAda’s Violin

The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

by Susan Hood
illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2016. 40 pages.
Starred Review

This picture book tells the story of Ada Rios, who grew up living in the main garbage dump of Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay. Her family worked in the landfill as a recycler, finding trash they could sell.

One day Favio Chavez came to town, offering music lessons for the children of the town, Cateura. There weren’t enough musical instruments to go around — so they made instruments out of recycled materials they found in the landfill.

They formed an orchestra, and Ada practiced hard. They performed concerts and ended up being able to travel around the world, even performing at a Metallica concert.

The picture book tells the story simply enough for children. Material at the back fills in the details for adults, complete with YouTube links.

Music and creativity combined with time and dedication brought music and new life to the children of Cateura.

The last paragraphs of the Author’s Note at the back is filled with hope:

Money from the orchestra’s concerts goes back to Cateura to help families rebuild their homes, their music school, and their lives. “Not too long ago we purchased a piece of land where we will build houses for fifteen orchestra families,” said Chavez. “Ada has a new house there.” This land is out of the flood zone. These families will never again have to face the evacuations that displace Cateura villagers every year when the river rises.

What started as a music class for ten kids has swelled to orchestral rehearsals for two hundred students, with more than twenty-five instructors. Chavez quit his ecology job to work with the orchestra full-time. Now plans are afoot to use the Recycled Orchestra’s experiences as a model to help other children living on landfills around the world.

recycledorchestracateura.com
susanhoodbooks.com
sallycomport.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/adas_violin.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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of $2.00 a Day, by Kathryn J. Edin & H. Luke Shaefer

May 4th, 2016

2_dollars_a_day_large$2.00 a Day

Living on Almost Nothing in America

by Kathryn J. Edin & H. Luke Shaefer

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2015. 210 pages.
Starred Review

This book was published in 2015, so it was written before the election season got going, but it has strong political repercussions.

The book puts faces on extreme poverty, but the approach is a scientific one. Nothing here is sensationalized. The authors took statistics and facts, then dug deeper to give an understanding of what’s going on so that such deep poverty has become so widespread. At the end, they offer some ideas for things we can and should do about this.

This book is based on academic studies and census data. In the 1990s, author Kathryn Edin did an in-depth study of welfare recipients. But in 2010, she found more families in much worse shape.

In the summer of 2010, Edin returned to the field to update her work on the very poor. She was struck by how markedly different things appeared from just fifteen years before. In the course of her interviews, she began to encounter many families living in conditions similar to those she would find when she met Susan and Devin Brown in 2012 — with no visible means of cash income from any source. These families weren’t just poor by American standards. They were the poorest of the poor. Some claimed food stamps, now called SNAP, for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A few had a housing subsidy. Most had at least one household member covered by some form of government-funded health insurance. Some received an occasional bag of groceries from a food pantry. But what was so strikingly different from a decade and a half earlier was that there was virtually no cash coming into these homes. Not only were there no earnings, there was no welfare check either. These families didn’t just have too little cash to survive on, as was true for the welfare recipients Edin and Lein had met in the early 1990s. They often had no cash at all. And the absence of cash permeated every aspect of their lives. It seemed as though not only cash was missing, but hope as well.

Edin dug deeper and met Luke Shaefer, a leading expert on the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).

That fall, during an early morning meeting in her office in Cambridge, Edin shared with Shaefer what she had been seeing on the ground. Shaefer immediately went to work to see if he could detect a trend in the SIPP data that matched Edin’s observations. First, though, he needed to determine what income threshold would capture people who were experiencing a level of destitution so deep as to be unthought-of in America. Accordingly, he borrowed inspiration from one of the World Bank’s metrics of global poverty in the developing world — $2 per person, per day. At the time, the official poverty line for a family of three in the United States worked out to about $16.50 per person, per day over the course of a year. The government’s designation of “deep poverty” — set at half the poverty line — equated to about $8.30 per person, per day. As far as Shaefer and Edin could tell, no one had ever looked to see whether any slice of the American poor fell below the even lower threshold of $2 a day for even part of a year. With the SIPP, it was fairly easy to estimate how many American families with children were reporting cash incomes below this very low threshold in any given month….

The results of Shaefer’s analysis were staggering. In early 2011, 1.5 million households with roughly 3 million children were surviving on cash incomes of no more than $2 per person, per day in any given month. That’s about one out of every twenty-five families with children in America. What’s more, not only were these figures astoundingly high, but the phenomenon of $2-a-day poverty among households with children had been on the rise since the nation’s landmark welfare reform legislation was passed in 1996 — and at a distressingly fast pace. As of 2011, the number of families in $2-a-day poverty had more than doubled in just a decade and a half.

It further appeared that the experience of living below the $2-a-day threshold didn’t discriminate by family type or race. While single-mother families were most at risk of falling into a spell of extreme destitution, more than a third of the households in $2-a-day poverty were headed by a married couple. And although the rate of growth was highest among African Americans and Hispanics, nearly half of the $2-a-day poor were white.

One piece of good news in these findings was that the government safety net was helping at least some households. When Shaefer added in SNAP as if it were cash — a problematic assumption because SNAP cannot legally be converted to cash, so it can’t be used to pay the light bill, the rent, or buy a bus pass — the number of families living in $2-a-day poverty fell by about half. This vital in-kind government program was clearly reaching many, though not all, of the poorest of the poor. Even counting SNAP as cash, though, Shaefer found that the increase in the number of families with children living in $2-a-day poverty remained large — up 70 percent in fifteen years. And even after throwing in any tax credits the household could have claimed in the prior year, plus the cash value of housing subsidies, the data still showed a 50 percent increase. Clearly, the nation was headed in the wrong direction.

Reflecting on these numbers, we, Shaefer and Edin, sought out even more confirmation that what we had found represented a real shift in the circumstances of families at the very bottom. With this in mind, we began to look for other evidence, beyond the SIPP, of the rise of $2-a-day poverty. Reports from the nation’s food banks showed a sizable rise in the number of households seeking emergency food assistance since the late 1990s. A look at government data on those receiving SNAP revealed a large increase in the number of families with no other source of income. And reports from the nation’s public schools showed that more and more children were facing homelessness. Taken together, these findings seemed to confirm the rise of a new form of poverty that defies every assumption about economic, political, and social progress made over the past three decades.

The questions the authors bring to these numbers reflect what they’re trying to explain in this book:

Statistics can help identify troubling trends like these, but they can’t tell us much about what’s going on beneath the numbers. In fact, these statistics led to more questions than answers. What had caused the rise in $2-a-day poverty among households with children? Was the landmark welfare reform of 1996 partly to blame? Were these families completely detached from the world of work? Or were they enmeshed in a low-wage labor market that was itself somehow prompting spells of extreme destitution? How was it even possible to live without cash in modern America? What were families in $2-a-day poverty doing to survive? And were these strategies different from those poor families had been using prior to welfare reform, when AFDC still offered such families a cash cushion against extreme destitution? What was so indispensable about cash — as opposed to in-kind resources such as SNAP — for families trying to survive in twenty-first-century America?

In 2012, they launched an in-depth study in four different areas in America.

In each of these places, we looked for families with children who had spent at least three months living on a cash income of less than $2 per person, per day. In most cases, these spells of such dire poverty proved to be much longer. We visited with these families over the course of many months — and, in some cases, years — talking with them frequently, sharing meals, and observing their daily lives. As common themes emerged from their stories — such as their surprisingly high level of attachment to the formal labor market and the frequency with which doubling up with family or friends precipitated a spell of $2-a-day poverty — we looked back to the SIPP and to other sources of data to see if we could see them there as well.

In the end, we followed eighteen families, eight of them featured here. As had been true of those Edin first encountered in the summer of 2010, some of these households received SNAP or lived in subsidized housing. But others weren’t getting even those benefits. During the course of our fieldwork, some of these families escaped $2-a-day poverty; others did not. Most escaped only to fall back into extreme destitution again.

The book does show the reader these families, helps the reader understand what’s going on, puts faces on this level of poverty. Rather than demonizing the poor as just looking for government hand-outs, we can see and begin to understand how people can get trapped in this.

Here’s the concluding section of the Introduction:

America’s cash welfare program — the main government program that caught people when they fell — was not merely replaced with the 1996 welfare reform; it was very nearly destroyed. In its place arose a different kind of safety net, one that provides a powerful hand up to some — the working poor — but offers much less to others, those who can’t manage to find or keep a job. This book is about what happens when a government safety net that is built on the assumption of full-time, stable employment at a living wage combines with a low-wage labor market that fails to deliver on any of the above. It is this toxic alchemy, we argue, that is spurring the increasing numbers of $2-a-day poor in America. A hidden but growing landscape of survival strategies among those who experience this level of destitution has been the result. At the community level, these strategies can pull families into a web of exploitation and illegality that turns conventional morality upside down.

None of the people whose stories appear in this book see a hand-out from the government — the kind that the old system provided prior to welfare reform — as a solution to their plight. Instead, what they want more than anything else is the chance to work. They would like nothing better than to have a full-time job paying $12 or $13 an hour, a modest dwelling in a safe neighborhood, and some stability above all else. In the 1990s, we, as a country, began a transformation of the social safety net that serves poor families with children. More aid has been rendered to a group that was previously without much in the way of government assistance — the working poor. Extending the nation’s safety net in this way has improved the lives of millions of Americans. But there are simply not enough jobs, much less good jobs, to go around. And for those without work, there is no longer a guarantee of cash assistance.

$2.00 a Day shows that the transformation of the social safety net is incomplete, with dire consequences. We believe the time has come to finish the job. Doing something more to help these families won’t be easy; it will require a commitment by all of us. The government’s emphasis on personal responsibility must be matched by bold action to expand access to, and improve the quality of, jobs. But there will always be circumstances in which work as a primary approach to alleviating poverty won’t work. In those cases, we need a system that truly acts as a safety net for families in crisis, catching them when they fall.

The bulk of the book looks at the lives of these eight families in detail. It helps you understand and feel the pain of the plight they face. You have to admire some of the creative ways they’re finding to survive.

The authors particularly look at things like “perilous work” — jobs that even endanger health, that don’t offer reliable hours and terminate employment at the slightest “offense.” They look at housing problems and cobbled-together solutions, and what the poor will do to try to keep their children safe.

This is an academic study, but the authors are good at telling the stories of the people they encountered.

In their chapter on solutions, the authors don’t advocate going back to welfare, since it robbed people of their dignity and self-worth. They point out that the Earned Income Tax Credit has the opposite effect.

In-dept interviews with 209 EITC claimants in the Northeast and Midwest in 2007 showed that while TANF receipt confers stigma and shame, claiming the EITC gives people dignity and restores their pride. First, the EITC is tied to employment. Second, tax credits are included as part of your federal tax refund — along with wages that were overwithheld. This lends the impression that the government benefit is “earned,” a just reward for hard work. Third, you don’t have to go to a welfare office to apply — an address that in and of itself connotes stigma. Instead, roughly 70 percent of EITC beneficiaries find their way to a professional tax preparation firm such as H&R Block, Liberty Tax Service, or Taxman. There you are not a supplicant. Instead you are a customer, there to claim your tax refund like any other American.

I could relate to this because, when my husband joined the Air Force, before I found a job at our new assignment, we qualified for WIC. But to get the benefits, we had to sit through a “class” teaching about nutrition, and all the staff pretty much treated the applicants as idiots. I never went back. Fortunately, I found a part-time job, but I remembered that getting this government assistance meant giving up my dignity. (The Earned Income Credit, though, was another story.) That’s one thing I love about libraries. We offer help to all, and there is no shame tied to it.

The authors go on:

We are not arguing here that the EITC is a solution to $2-a-day poverty. But it does offer a critical lesson in how antipoverty policy ought to be crafted. Too often, America has gone down the road of trying to shame those in need. We’ve put up barriers. We’ve made people jump through hoop after hoop — all based on the not-so-subtle presumption that they are lazy and immoral, intent on trying to put something over on the system. TANF is a perfect example. Yet research shows that the intrusive treatment people typically receive at the welfare office can undermine their confidence in government and erode political participation. It stands to reason that this kind of treatment could also erode the very confidence that is so necessary for pulling yourself out of $2-a-day poverty. Shame may act as a barrier to claiming that little bit of cash that might stop a downward spiral. As a nation, the question we have to ask ourselves is, Whose side are we on? Can our desire for, and sense of, community induce those of us with resources to come alongside the extremely poor among us in a more supportive, and ultimately more effective, way?

There are many more ideas of things we can do in that final chapter.

Our approach to ending $2-a-day poverty is guided by three principles: (1) all deserve the opportunity to work; (2) parents should be able to raise their children in a place of their own; and (3) not every parent will be able to work, or work all of the time, but parents’ well-being, and the well-being of their children, should nonetheless be ensured.

There’s so much more in this book I’d like to copy out. Don’t rely on my review, because you’ll miss so much. This book is worth reading! It’s impeccably researched and clearly presented, and it will stir your heart.

hmhco.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/2_dollars_a_day.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.

What did you think of this book?