Review of Why Longfellow Lied, by Jeff Lantos

Why Longfellow Lied

The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride

by Jeff Lantos

Charlesbridge, 2021. 134 pages.
Review written January 7, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

My plan was to read this book a little bit at a time, but once I started, it was hard to stop! It takes Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride” stanza by stanza and tells us what really happened on that fateful night that the Revolutionary War began.

But Longfellow made it a poem about one hero, Paul Revere, when actually a long list of people were involved in warning the colonists. So the author also looks at the question of why Longfellow took so much poetic license? What was he trying to accomplish with this poem? (Hint: It was written just before the Civil War began.)

Now, kids today may not be familiar with the famous poem. The author takes care of that by printing it at the front of the book. And the words do have a ring to them. Then he takes the poem a little at a time and tells us what actually happened that night, from revealing the actual mastermind behind the mission to telling us about Paul Revere’s capture before he ever got to Concord.

It turns out that was a momentous and exciting night in American history. The book is filled with plenty of paintings, maps, sidebars, engravings, photographs, and other artefacts. I now have a much better understanding of April 18-19, 1775, than I ever got in History class. Super interesting and informative. And it will help kids think critically about history.

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Review of Abdul’s Story, by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Tiffany Rose

Abdul’s Story

by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

illustrated by Tiffany Rose

Salaam Reads (Simon & Schuster), 2022. 36 pages.
Review written April 20, 2022, from a library book

I usually don’t choose to review picture books that were clearly written to tell a message, but this one came with a story that warmed my heart.

Abdul is a kid who loves to tell stories. But he has trouble trying to write them down. His letters don’t like to stay in straight lines, and sometimes they get turned around. He ends up erasing so much, his pages look like a big smudge. Plus, the stories he reads in books don’t sound much like the stories he tells. He decided his stories aren’t meant to be written down.

But then an author came to his school named Mr. Muhammad. He looked a lot like Abdul. And he read a story about a community that sounds a lot like Abdul’s.

But when Mr. Muhammad encouraged the children to write, Abdul erased so much, trying to make it look right, that he tore a hole in the paper with his eraser.

A moment of truth comes when Mr. Muhammad shows Abdul his own notebook — messy as can be, with nothing in straight lines.

Mr. Mohammed encourages Abdul to fill a messy page without erasing and then look for a story inside it. I like this description of the process:

Over the next few days, Abdul rewrote a less messy mess, then an even less messy mess. He smiled when he read his story to himself.

Abdul still has lots of doubt when it’s time to turn the story in, because he knows there are still mistakes.

But when the writer comes back, he likes Abdul’s story so much, he reads it to the class.

I love the way the book ends, as this is where it won my heart:

When they returned to their writing, Abdul whispered to Mr. Muhammad, “What about my mistakes?”

“Writers make mistakes. We’ll work on them.”

As they worked, Abdul thought:
Some people are writers, and I am one of them.

Yes, it’s a message book. But what a great message to give to kids!

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*Note* To try to catch up on posting reviews, I’m posting the oldest reviews I’ve written on my blog without making a page on my main website. They’re still good books.

Review of The Unselected Journals of Emma M. Lion, Volume 1, by Beth Brower

The Unselected Journals of Emma M. Lion

Volume 1

by Beth Brower

Rhydon Press, 2019. 110 pages.
Review written July 16, 2024, from my own copy.
Starred Review

First, a great big thank you to my sister Becky for sending me the first three volumes of The Unselected Journals of Emma M. Lion to me for my birthday. At first I thought it was one story divided into three volumes, so I was going to wait until I finished it all to post a review. But no! There’s more! I went on Amazon and ordered the books through Volume 7, and then checked the back of it and Volume 8 supposedly will be published soon. So it’s an ongoing saga, and I am decisively hooked.

Emma M. Lion is a young lady of twenty years old who arrives in London on March 5th, 1883. She comes to the house that is her inheritance, which she will own outright when she turns twenty-one, but which is now occupied by her odious Cousin Archibald.

Both Archibald and Emma are glad their relationship is not by blood. Archibald had married Emma’s father’s cousin, and that cousin had died not long after – but left the house, Lapis Lazuli House in St. Crispian’s quarter of London, to Emma’s father, but the books in the library to Cousin Archibald. Emma’s father let Cousin Archibald stay there out of compassion, and wished Emma to do the same. But three years after her parents’ deaths, Emma arrives and the relationship between the two of them is strained. He has her stay in the rooms in the garret, and before long Emma discovers more ways he is working against her.

Some of the situations in these journal selections, which cover March 5th through April 30th, are that Emma is going to let the small subsection of the house – Lapis Lazuli Minor, which was long ago sectioned off from the main house – in order to help make ends meet. A tenant has been found, and he is a man of mystery. Also, as the volume ends, her Aunt Eugenia has just learned that Emma has come to London and is poised to begin interfering. But Aunt Eugenia doesn’t know that Emma has not, after all, engaged a chaperone. Meanwhile, speaking of chaperones, Emma’s school friend Mary is also in London and has hired a man named Jack to pose as her cousin to the owner of her boarding house. Emma is convinced he’s a scoundrel, but Mary is happy with her freedom.

Emma is not a very traditional young lady. This first volume pretty much sets up intriguing situations and characters, and I challenge anyone at all to be able to stop without learning more. When I finished this short volume, I dove right into the next one. So much fun!

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Review of Eyes that Speak to the Stars, by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho

Eyes that Speak to the Stars

by Joanna Ho
illustrated by Dung Ho

Harper, 2022. 36 pages.
Review written April 6, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

Eyes that Speak to the Stars is a companion picture book to Eyes that Kiss in the Corners, by the same pair of creators, published last year. Both books are lyrical, beautiful, and poetic, and both affirm children of Asian descent and how proud they can be of how they look and who they are. Eyes that Kiss in the Corners features an Asian American girl, and this book features an Asian American boy.

Eyes that Speak to the Stars begins as a boy’s Baba notices that he is feeling sad. He explains that his friend drew a picture of their group of friends — and the picture of the boy had slanted eyes and didn’t look like him at all.

When we got home,
Baba stood with me in front of a mirror and said,
“Your eyes rise to the skies and speak to the stars.
The comets and constellations
show you their secrets,
and your eyes can
foresee the future.
Just like mine.”

The boy’s eyes are just like Baba’s and just like Agong’s. And they are also just like his baby brother Di-Di’s eyes.

When Di-Di’s dyelids finally flutter open,
I orbit his crib,
making funny faces and singing silly songs
until his laugh grows so big
it spreads up his cheeks
and makes his eyes squeeze shut again.

And all four have “eyes that rise to the skies and speak to the stars.” They are powerful and visionary

There’s a lot of lofty symbolism in this book, but the author pulls it off along with the beautiful paintings. This book is about a child celebrating who they are and their own proud heritage. It’s lovely.

And for someone reading this book whose eyes don’t have the same shape, we’ve got a lovely window into a wonderful loving family.

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*Note* To try to catch up on posting reviews, I’m posting the oldest reviews I’ve written on my blog without making a page on my main website. They’re still good books.

ALA Annual Conference 2024 – The Newbery Banquet!

Sunday night of ALA Annual Conference is time for the Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy Banquet!

Beforehand, there was a big balcony to hang around outdoors in the breeze – and I got to talk with friends – and author Jason Reynolds!

The Newbery Banquet is always a wonderful chance for a grand celebration with fellow children’s book lovers. There’s always an amazing program with art from the Caldecott medalist, good food, and then the highlight of the night – speeches from the winners. Since I knew the speeches get printed in Horn Book Magazine, I held off from taking notes and just enjoyed the moment this year. I will consult said magazine for some of the highlights from the speeches.

First, the Caldecott Honor winners get to receive their award without having to give speeches. Then the first speech came from Vashti Harrison, Caldecott Medalist for her amazing picture book, Big.

Vashti Harrison began her speech by remarking that people told her right away she was the first Black woman to win the Caldecott Medal. And then she told us about seven Black women who had won Caldecott Honor: Faith Ringgold, Carol Byard, Ekua Holmes, Oge Mora, Cozbi A. Cabrera, Noa Denmon, and Janelle Washington.

Then she talked about her own story. For anyone who’s read the amazing book Big, it wasn’t a surprise, because she portrayed all of this with her art. But she did talk about coming to illustration in film school with animation, drawing Disney-style people who didn’t look like herself. Even as a child, she drew characters thinner than herself, and the images she tended to copy were mostly of white or light-skinned women.

She was empowered to draw beautiful Black women, and got love and support online, but she was still making them impossibly thin.

I love this part of her speech so much, I’ll copy it here:

I resolved to only draw children, children who are allowed to be chubby and chunky and thick, and we love them for it. Children, who have no wrong or incorrect curves or folds. Children, for whom big is good.

Drawing is such an intimate practice. You spend time with characters, you make decisions that seem microscopic but can change a character entirely: the placement of their eyes, the length of their neck. As I made these tiny creative choices, I wondered, At what age does big start being bad? For me it was in second grade, when a girl looked over at my round belly and asked if I was pregnant. That version of me is still inside, still hurting.

I needed to make something to heal myself, and I needed to confront my internalized bias.

And she succeeded! She went on to talk about adultification and Black girls being punished for being too much. Her book takes those on so beautifully.

It was amazing to be in the room when she received this well-deserved medal for creating the most distinguished American picture book of 2023.

Then came the Newbery! First all the wonderful Honor book authors received their plaques. Then came the presentation of the Newbery Medal to winner Dave Eggers, for his book The Eyes and the Impossible.

He began his speech with a delightful story of his first grade teacher helping all her students write books, telling us that great educators expect more of us. And then his fifth grade teacher did the same thing – and entered his story in the state young authors’ contest, and he was chosen to attend a celebration of young authors in another part of the state.

At that conference, he met Gwendolyn Brooks, who called the students “fellow authors.” He was never the same.

His parents died at the ages of fifty-one and fifty-five, and he is now fifty-four. He’d made a vow to himself that if he lived past fifty, he’d write whatever he wanted. I like this paragraph from his speech:

My secret that I can now divulge is that The Eyes and the Impossible was my love letter to being alive past fifty, and how I sometimes cannot believe my luck. To see what I see, to love who I love, to be able to convey these things in a book that I honestly cannot believe made any sense to anyone. This is the most personal book I’ve ever written, and it’s also the weirdest, and the fact that librarians of this great nation have recognized it – that word again! – means to me, and should mean to any writer anywhere, that if we forget our dignified selves and write with a kind of untethered abandon, sometimes that’s exactly what a reader wants. Johannes, the protagonist of this book, gave me a way to write the way I always wanted to write – actually sing the way I always wanted to sing – and the fact that you all have accepted his voice, as unbridled as it is, means the world to me. I thank you.

And I have to add his last two paragraphs where he thanks librarians:

Thank you, the Newbery committee. I can’t imagine how hard your work was, but I am grateful to you, and to all librarians everywhere, for accepting this very strange book, and for accepting all very strange books. Books are simply souls in paper form, so when we accept a strange book, we accept a strange soul. We say that soul, however unusual or unprecedented, how reckless or flawed, belongs among the other souls of the world. And once this soul has been welcomed to the library – which is nothing less than a repository of souls – it cannot be unwelcomed.

More than that, because of you, these souls will be protected. When the small-minded ban books, they are banning souls. They are removing certain voices from the chorus of humanity and the chorus of history. And it is librarians who are tasked with making sure these souls are not removed, that they always have a home and always have a voice. Librarians are the keepers and protectors of all history’s souls, its outcasts and oddballs, its screamers and whisperers, all of whom have a right to be heard. No pressure, but we count on you to save us all, to protect us all, to preserve us all. Thank you and godspeed.

The final award of the night was the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, given to Pam Muñoz Ryan. She gave another lovely acceptance speech.

She began her speech with thanks to the many, many people who have helped her along in her career. Then she talked about how when she started writing, “there were only a handful of stories written by and about Latinos in the United States.” Her book Esperanza Rising parallels her grandmother’s experiences in a Mexican farm labor camp, and that camp is where her mother was born.

She didn’t grow up in a print-rich environment, but both her her grandmothers nurtured her love of story. The small branch library near her house fanned that love into an obsession with reading. She went there to escape from younger siblings and cousins and to get out of the heat.

It was inevitable that, sooner or later, the books would leap from the confines of the stacks and hold me spellbound. Stories are powerful that way, and once I was captured, I carried books to kitchen tables, to the car, and secretly propped them inside textbooks at school. I tried on many lives far more interesting than my own.

As I made my way through junior high, books carried me away from the wrath of mean girls, tallness, big feet, and a big, noisy extended family. I coped through books. It is no surprise that I now often write for readers who are the same age that I was when books made the most profound difference in my life.

She talked about seeing the worth inside each other, as her grandmother did, and she told a story about Pablo Neruda from her book The Dreamer, when he exchanged gifts with a child he didn’t know through a hole in a fence.

As artists and writers, we pass our work through a hole in the fence, never knowing who is on the other side. Never knowing if or when someone might pick up our book and have a reaction, a revelation, a good laugh, or the clutching-to-the-chest moment of a book well-loved and long-carried. We’re never sure if we will incite our reader, cause an indignant rampage, or inspire a cult following. We write and draw, shackled to the beautiful tyranny of now. We work with hearts full of hope for the future, and the promise of unknown communions.

Once again, it was thrilling to be in the giant room with these brilliant creators doing great things for children along with hundreds of other people celebrating distinguished children’s books.

Review of Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers, by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat

Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers

by Rajani LaRocca
illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat

Storytelling Math, Charlesbridge, 2021. 32 pages.
Review written December 28, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This is another book from Charlesbridge’s outstanding Storytelling Math series. The books fit math content naturally into a story about kids’ lives. Most of them also have a cultural element which is presented seamlessly.

In Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers, Bina wants to make rakhi bracelets for her three brothers as the traditional gift on Raksha Bandhan, an Indian holiday. Even though her brothers can be annoying and like to tease, she finds out each one’s favorite color and least favorite color.

Bina and her mother get beads at the store, and Bina and her dog make bracelets using an every-other-one pattern. The use different colors for each brother and the third brother gets two beads for each stripe.

It’s a simple story, but it’s an interesting story with fun characters, and it’s a perfect vehicle for talking about alternating patterns with young kids — and maybe progressing to other patterns.

Like the other books in the series, this one has a cultural note at the back and further ideas for exploring the math in the book. This book makes a great jumping-off point.

rajanilarocca.com
chaayaprabhat.com
terc.edu
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Review of When You Look Like Us, by Pamela N. Harris

When You Look Like Us

by Pamela N. Harris
read by Preston Butler III

Quill Tree Books, 2021. 8 hours, 54 minutes.
Review written March 22, 2022, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review
2022 Odyssey Award Winner for Excellence in Audiobook Production for Young Adults

This audiobook takes the perspective of Jay Murphy, a young Black teen who is tired of covering for his sister. When he gets a call from her late at night, he thinks she’s been sampling the wares of her drug dealer boyfriend and hangs up on her. He covers for her with their grandma in the morning, but then she doesn’t turn up that day or the day after that.

When Jay finally goes to the police, they seem to think a Black teen brought whatever trouble she got into on herself. So Jay’s going to have to track her down himself. He gets some help from the pastor’s daughter — the one he used to tolerate because his grandma made him teach little kids’ Sunday school with her. But when lead after lead turns into a dead end, Jay is afraid his sister has met her end.

And why do people assume he’s trouble just because of how he looks?

This mystery will pull at your heart while drawing you into Jay’s world. Since it’s an Odyssey winner, I wasn’t surprised that the narrator did an excellent job bringing the book to life.

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*Note* To try to catch up on posting reviews, I’m posting the oldest reviews I’ve written on my blog without making a page on my main website. They’re still good books.

Review of Road Home, by Rex Ogle

Road Home

by Rex Ogle

Norton Young Readers, 2024. 264 pages.
Review written June 26, 2024, from an Advance Reader Copy sent by the publisher.
Starred Review

Rex Ogle began telling about what it was like growing up in poverty in the book Free Lunch. He continued, telling what it was like to grow up while getting hit by his mother and stepdad in Punching Bag. He moved in with his father. Then, in Road Home, he tells about living on the streets after his Dad found out he was gay and kicked him out.

It’s not an easy story to read. It’s good to know, right from the start, that he survived the experience and went on to become a successful writer.

You do get pulled into his plight. How can you get a home without a job? And how can you get a job without clean clothes and a shower and a phone and a home address?

At first, Rex moves in with an older guy who gave him his phone number. But eventually, he’s on the streets and learns tricks to finding food and a place to sleep.

As always, this book completely pulls you into Rex’s shoes, so it’s a gut-wrenching story. I’m so glad I knew from the start that the story has a happy outcome and he did not in fact turn out like his father told him he would — dying alone with AIDS. All the same, no one should have to live through what he did. I hope that telling his story will help others who come after him. As he says in the Author’s Note at the front, “No matter how dark the past, or even the present, the sun will always come up tomorrow.”

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Review of My Contrary Mary, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, narrated by Fiona Hardingham

My Contrary Mary

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
narrated by Fiona Hardingham

HarperAudio, 2021. 12 hours, 18 minutes.
Review written March 12, 2022, from a library eaudiobook

Well, this crew of authors who play fast-and-loose with history have finally turned away from Janes to write about Marys — Mary, Queen of Scots, in this case, and an upcoming book about Mary Shelley.

I’m afraid I’m getting a little tired of the style, though it is fun if you’re in the right mood. I liked that this one went back to the world created in their first book, My Lady Jane. In this world, instead of Protestants and Catholics fighting about the thrones of Europe, you’ve got Verities and Edians. Edians are shapeshifters who can transform into their inner animal and believe everyone has one. But Verities believe humans should be human and Edians should be put to death.

Once again, we’ve got three viewpoint characters, each written by one of the authorial trio (though we don’t know which gets which character). Mary, Queen of Scots, has been growing up in the court of France along with her betrothed, Francis the Dauphin of France. The other viewpoint character is Aristotle, who goes by Ari, the daughter of Nostradamus. She does get visions, but they aren’t helpful at all. (The modern reader will enjoy recognizing scenes from modern films.) What Ari is good at is making potions. And that skill is commandeered by Catherine de Medici, Francis’s powerful and scheming mother.

To add to the fun, Mary and her four ladies-in-waiting, who are also named Mary but have nicknames, are all secretly Edians themselves. Mary can turn into a mouse, which is perfect for court gossip – and spying.

But there’s lots of intrigue going on at court, and Mary and Francis are doomed to ascend the throne of France much sooner than they meant to.

I’m not sure how much of real history you’ll learn from this book. The authors give Mary a happy outcome — which is very different from what happened to her in her real life. I confess, I enjoyed her Happily Ever After — even if the repercussions probably would have completely changed the modern world. I also really enjoyed that we saw the characters from My Lady Jane and got to see how well their lives were going.

That book had an outcome that matched very well with history — resulting in Queen Elizabeth on the throne even though Lady Jane Grey and King Edward weren’t actually dead, they were Edians. This book? Well, if it happened, European history would have turned out very differently, with less war and death, which is all good in my book.

Read these books when you’re up for silliness and happy endings involving historical characters who suddenly got much more interesting.

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*Note* To try to catch up on posting reviews, I’m posting the oldest reviews I’ve written on my blog without making a page on my main website. They’re still good books.

ALA Annual Conference 2024 Day 3

Here’s my post about ALA Annual Conference Opening, The Printz Awards, and Day 2.

June 30, 2024, was the Sunday of ALA Annual Conference in San Diego this year, and it was time to meet our Morris Award Winner and Finalists! Well, those who made it, anyway. Pictured above are winner Byron Graves in the center, with Hannah V. Sawyerr and Ari Tyson beside him.

I can’t begin to tell you how lovely it was to celebrate our winning authors. The William Morris Award is for the best young adult debut book of the year, and as a committee we read hundreds, discussed them, and came to a strong consensus about our Finalists. It’s especially wonderful to get to encourage these stellar writers at the beginning of their careers.

So the first event of the day was the YALSA Awards. We got to hang out with the authors in the green room beforehand, and then celebrate the winners with other YA book enthusiasts.

My pictures from a distance came out blurry in the fairly dark room, but let me give some good lines from the various winners.

First up was our winner, Byron Graves, for Rez Ball. (*Such* a good book! Read it, everybody!)

He said that he wrote the book so that a 16-year-old Ojibwe kid like he had been could now see himself in a book. He also gave credit to his mother, who “crafted and freestyled” bedtime stories.

The next award was the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award, won by Dashka Slater, for Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed.

Her book started in the signing line for The 57 Bus, when someone asked her if she’d heard about this incident. And though she very much wanted to write about sweetness and light this time, the story wouldn’t let her go. She wanted to understand what had happened and why, and she very much wishes it had become irrelevant.

Almost all the high schools she’s visited had incidents of online hate – disguised as humor. Kids are having conversations about it. She doesn’t write for teens because she has answers, but because she has questions.

After the Alex Awards were announced (no authors were there), it was time for the Margaret Edwards Award Winner to speak. This award is given for lifetime achievement and was given to Neal Shusterman.

His speech made our jaws drop.

It started innocuously enough. His father wouldn’t read his books because they’re fiction. But he maintains that Fiction is the single most important thing we have.

At 18, he bought the Writer’s Market. He sent 20 copies of his first book to 20 publishers, and they were all rejected.

“Writers today are losing the benefit of soul-crushing rejection. We need to be reminded we haven’t arrived.”

His second book got him an agent, Andrea Brown. She couldn’t sell it. His third book sold when he was 23. “This author is gifted and in serious need of therapy.”

The goalpost has to keep moving. He wrote the Scythe trilogy to disrupt teen dystopia, to show a future when mankind really was getting things right. He came up with Scythe at the end of 2012, after his Mom had a stroke. Dying in the hands of people you love is not the worst way to go.

Then he began talking about Identity. Our identity comes from our people, or it’s forced on us by society or it’s something we choose. It defines who we are, who we love and hate, our whole world. And identity is a fiction.

Isn’t it wild that fiction defines our lives? Take great care in the stories you tell yourself and others.

Then he told the jaw-dropping story about his own identity. He grew up believing he took after a grandfather who was a Sepphardic Jew. But ten years after his parents had died, his son did an Ancestry DNA test – with surprising results that motivated research – and he learned that he was half Black and half Scotch-Irish. So that gave him lots of thoughts about identity.

People tell writers to stay in their lane, and his lanes go every which way now.

There are three kinds of diversity:
We need all kids to see themselves.
We need all writers to be able to speak.
We need all to be able to put themselves in other people’s shoes.

We are all human beings. Every story is our story to tell. He’s chosen a narrative where this is additive in his life.

After the awards celebration, we Morris Committee members who were there got to have lunch with Byron and Hannah! It was a wonderful time. They signed books for us, and we signed one book for each of them. *smile*

After lunch, we walked back to the convention center. I just barely had time to make it to a program I’d been eyeing: Welcome to the Puzzledome! It was a sample program to show how to run a jigsaw puzzle competition! This is something I’ve long wanted to try. I was late, but got there before they started, and joined up with these two from a base library in Japan. Our team came in second place, finishing the 500-piece puzzle in One hour, five minutes. The winning team did it in 58 minutes, but they had four people, so we were quite pleased with ourselves.