Review of Bake Infinite Pie with X + Y, by Eugenia Cheng, illustrated by Amber Ren

Bake Infinite Pie with X + Y

by Eugenia Cheng
illustrated by Amber Ren

Little, Brown and Company, 2022. 32 pages.
Review written July 13, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

My readers won’t be surprised that every time mathematician Eugenia Cheng writes a picture book, it delights my heart. I’ll list this under Children’s Nonfiction, because although it is a story, the emphasis is on the ideas.

This one tells of two kids, named X and Y, who are dreaming of infinite pie — X, pie that is infinitely wide, and Y, pie that is infinitely tall. They think of course that such pie isn’t real, but they ask their Aunt Z, who can create amazing things with her brain.

The book that follows explores infinity in many different ways, and all of them involve pie!

There are infinitely different ways you can make pie, and once it’s done, if you keep eating half your pie, it will last until infinity.

You can make a pie with infinite corners, cut pie crust infinite ways, and even make pastry with infinite layers.

I hope that gives you the idea of ways to explore infinity with pie — it’s all presented in a family setting with a fun aunt bending kids’ minds with tasty treats.

And there’s even a recipe for pie at the back! (After a spread that lays out mathematical ideas presented.) The recipe is for Banana Butterscotch Pie — and believe it or not, I couldn’t resist trying it out. (I hadn’t made a pie with crust in decades.) The pie was indeed delicious, but alas – the instructions didn’t specify how big your pie pan should be. I used a 9-inch one, and my pie was more of a tart — the filling only went about halfway up the pie crust. I think an 8-inch pie pan would do nicely. And it still tasted wonderful.

eugeniacheng.com
amber-ren.com
lbyr.com

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Review of The Princess in Black and the Bathtime Battle

The Princess in Black and the Bathtime Battle

by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale

illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Candlewick Press, 2019. 90 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 9, 2019, from a library book

I love the Princess in Black! These are simple chapter books with lots of pictures. They include fun stories about princesses who disguise themselves as heroes who fight monsters – and one goat boy who disguises himself as the Goat Avenger. They are rewarding for beginning readers and a whole lot of fun.

In this latest installment, the foe is a horrible stinky smell. How do you fight a smell?

As the Princess in Black and the Goat Avenger manage to blow the stink away, it goes into other kingdoms, so other heroes come and investigate. But that’s a good thing. When they discover that the source of all the trouble is a super-stinky monster, the stink is so bad, it takes all the heroes working together to clean up the stink.

I like the way Shannon Hale and Dean Hale use some of the same elements in each book – but add something new every time. In this book, the battle is about bathtime. And I love that all the heroes get to take part.

This book encourages the reader to think what kind of hero they can be.

candlewick.com

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Review of Black Cake, by Charmaine Wilkerson

Black Cake

by Charmaine Wilkerson
read by Lynnette R. Freeman and Simone McIntyre

Random House Audio, 2022. 12 hours, 2 minutes.
Review written August 2, 2022, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

This audiobook had me fully drawn in right from the start. It’s a richly textured story, rooted in the present with a brother and his estranged sister shortly after their mother’s death. Byron and Benny think they knew their parents. They think they lived boring lives, both of them orphans from a Caribbean island who met in London and then built a family in California, where they prospered.

But their mother’s lawyer has a recording for them. And a Black Cake sitting in the freezer which they are to eat when the time is right. In the recording, their mother tells her actual story – how she changed identities three times in her decidedly not boring youth. And they have a sister they knew nothing about.

They also learn where their mother learned to make Black Cake — a traditional cake from the island using dried fruit soaked in rum and port and served at weddings and special events. Black Cake has long been an important part of their lives, and now they learn there was Black Cake at a huge turning point in their mother’s life.

The stories of the past and the present are layered together beautifully. When Byron and Benny need a break from the revelations, the reader gets a break, too. The story is dramatic and heart-wrenching and had me transfixed. The narrators use beautiful accents for characters from the many different parts of the world represented.

This book appeared on Barack Obama’s summer reading list. I felt like a winner because my hold on the eaudiobook had just come in — I’m sure then the list got longer.

As a debut novel, this book is amazingly rich and layered, kind of like cake. I highly recommend it, and especially the audio version enhanced by the beautiful accents.

charmspen.com

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Review of I’d Like To Be the Window For a Wise Old Dog, by Philip Stead

I’d Like To Be the Window For a Wise Old Dog

words and pictures by Philip Stead

Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2022. 48 pages.
Review written July 12, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This picture book is a beautifully illustrated nonsense poem, and it won my heart. The elephant in the illustrations reminds me of the author’s wife’s Caldecott-winning work in A Sick Day for Amos McGee.

How could I be the window for a wise old dog? I’m not exactly sure, but this book makes me want to be one, too. The Poetry is whimsical and rolls off the tongue. The pictures are lovely and somewhat fantastical, but especially lovable are the pictures of the wise old dog by the window.

Here are some of the lovely lines:

Will I ever be the dawdle of a penguin?

Will I ever be the waddle of a snail?

Will I ever be the tumble of a honeybee?

Will I ever be the bumble…

… of a whale?

And each line has big, bright, colorful pictures.

I never before wanted to be a window for a wise old dog, but this book sends my imagination into flight. I would so love to discuss it with a child — I bet their imagination would fly even further than mine. (This might be one to get for my nieces!)

philipstead.com

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Review of All in a Drop, by Lori Alexander

All in a Drop

How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World

by Lori Alexander
illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 93 pages.
Review written April 2, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Robert F. Sibert Award Honor

This book is about the man who discovered that there were tiny organisms in drops of water. And what surprised me is that even the members of the Royal Society in London didn’t believe him for a whole year after his report.

Born in 1632 in the Netherlands, Antony van Leeuwenhoek never studied science, and he became a draper, a seller of cloth. But to examine cloth closely, they used magnifying lenses. After a trip to London, where he saw a book about a new invention called a microscope, Antony decided to make one himself.

What fascinated me is that Antony didn’t make just one microscope and then look at many different things. Instead, he’d glue his specimens to a base, and then make a new microscope to look at that thing. He devised a system, and he’d shape the glass and screw the lenses into focus. They ended up being the best microscopes in the world at the time.

And Antony proceeded to make discoveries. He discovered that insects didn’t spontaneously generate, as was thought at the time. And he found “little animals” in rivers and streams and also in people’s mouths. In fact, he made discoveries in many different fields of science without ever being trained as a scientist, but simply a curious person.

I love it when I read a children’s book and learn about someone I knew nothing about. This short chapter book is full of fascinating information and tells about a man who changed the way we see the world.

lorialexanderbooks.com
vivien.mildenberger.com

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Review of Collective Wisdom, edited by Grace Bonney

Collective Wisdom

Lessons, Inspiration, and Advice from Women over 50

edited by Grace Bonney

Artisan, 2021. 399 pages.
Review written July 23, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This gorgeous volume of photographs and profiles is a perfect coffee table book to read slowly.
I’ve been reading one profile per day for many months now, and I’m inspired. Yes, in my case I used a library book and simply kept renewing, but this would be a lovely investment to enjoy all over again even after you’ve been through it once, especially since 50 percent of the profits are to be divided among the women featured in the book.

There are 80 profiles in this book, all accompanied by full-page photographic portraits. Most of the profiles are of individual women who are over fifty, but also pairs of intergenerational friends, and some featuring groups of older women who have found community together. The majority of the individual women featured are in their seventies and eighties. These are accomplished women, and there were several writers whose work I knew about and admired. There’s great diversity in the profiles, with I think the majority being BIPOC, and queer and transgender women included as well.

I love rereading the Introduction after having read the whole book, because I think Grace Bonney has succeeded in meeting the goals she expresses there. Here’s a sampling from that:

Since the beginning of time, women have been the keepers of stories, traditions, and wisdom. And for too long, the powerful conversations women have with each other have been overlooked, because society often devalues women, age, and knowledge that is spoken rather than written. Collective Wisdom seeks to rebalance these scales by valuing women who have lived long and complex lives — and the experience and perspective that come with that.

My goal with Collective Wisdom is twofold. I want to gather and share stories and advice that we can all return to, over and over, whenever we need help finding our way. But I also want to remind anyone reading that the most powerful and life-changing tools we all have access to are the connections we form with other women….

In sharing and celebrating the stories and the lessons the women in Collective Wisdom have learned, my hope is that anyone reading will feel uplifted, less alone, inspired to reach out to women who are older or younger than they are right now, and moved to nourish and celebrate the relationships they already have. Your whole world can change when you change whom you listen to. Mine has changed from listening to everyone here.

The editor has met that hope in me with her wonderful book!

Another thing she’s accomplished is that listening to the repeated questions and hearing answers from so many different women, I’m mulling over how I, another woman over fifty, would answer them. Questions like: “What does your current age feel like to you?” “What are you most proud of about yourself?” “What misconceptions about aging would you like to dispel?” “When do you feel your most powerful?” “What role do you feel your ancestors, or the women in your family who came before you, play in your life?” “How has your sense of self-confidence or self-acceptance evolved over time?” “What would you like to learn or experience at this stage in your life?” “Knowing what you know now, what would you go back and tell your younger self?”

There’s so much beauty and wisdom in this book! I love the way the large photographic portraits show that each woman is fabulously beautiful, including those wrinkled with age. This book uplifted, inspired, and encouraged me from start to finish.

artisanbooks.com

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Review of Women in Art, by Rachel Ignotofsky

Women in Art

50 Fearless Creatives Who Inspired the World

written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky

Ten Speed Press, 2019. 128 pages.
Review written August 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

I’ve gotten a little tired of collective biographies that tell about a bunch of people and after awhile they all lump together. This one was different and distinctive. It probably helped that I had it checked out while the library was closed during the pandemic, because I found I only wanted to read about one artist per day, since there was so much information packed on each spread. I was in no hurry and didn’t have to worry about having to return the book before I was done.

The stylized illustrations are wonderful, featuring a page that highlights a portrait of the artist opposite the page with the text summary of her life and accomplishments. Both the portrait and the text, though, are surrounded with highlights from her life and images of her work.

There was a huge variety in the types of art these women made. The earliest woman featured combined poetry and painting in ancient China. The book includes more painters and sculptors, but also quilters, graphic designers, filmmakers, architects, fashion designers, photographers, and animators. I’d only heard of a small fraction of them before reading this book.

This wonderful book inspired me and reading it became a delight rather than some sort of educational chore. Here’s a paragraph from the conclusion:

Throughout history, female artists have pushed boundaries, created important works, and inspired the world. Many of these artists had to struggle against sexism, classism, racism, or other obstacles to get their work seen and taken seriously. Now we can include these women in their rightful place in art history and celebrate their contributions. Let us honor their legacy by continuing to create. Build what you see in your wildest dreams! Express yourself by creating something new! Share your ideas with the world! And go out there and make your own masterpiece!

RachelIgnotofskyDesign.com
tenspeed.com

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Review of Guts, by Raina Telgemeier

Guts

by Raina Telgemeier

Graphix (Scholastic), 2019. 218 pages.
Review written 9/19/19 from a library book
Starred Review

Raina Telgemeier does it again! Here’s another autobiographical graphic novel (really a graphic memoir) about when she was in fourth and fifth grade. After catching the stomach flu, she began having trouble with stomach aches when she was worried about anything, and then became excessively afraid of vomiting. The problem fed on itself.

That’s easy to summarize – but seeing it lived out in graphic novel form helps the reader understand and feel for her. There are also some problems with friends and enemies (of course) and small school and family issues. Raina sees a therapist, and I like the way she gets over feeling like that means there’s something wrong with her. She also gets some actually helpful ways to cope with her fears.

Kids are going to love this – the hold list is already long, with both boys and girls on the list. I heard that one child complained there was too much vomiting, so I think a child like Raina herself who doesn’t want to hear about vomit might have trouble with it. But for kids who like gross things, that will be an additional attraction.

scholastic.com/graphix
goRaina.com

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Review of Queen of the Sea, by Dylan Meconis

Queen of the Sea

by Dylan Meconis

Walker Books (Candlewick), 2019. 394 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 20, 2019, from a library book

Queen of the Sea is a beautifully drawn graphic novel about Margaret, a girl who grows up on an island off the coast of Albion, who doesn’t know who her parents were. The only other people on the island are nuns of the Elysian order, sworn to help sailors and their families.

When Margaret prays for a friend her age, a noble lady comes to the island with her son. They are in exile after their family defied the king. Margaret and this boy grow up together, become friends – for a time. But the next new resident of the island is the deposed queen of Albion, and Margaret gets drawn into political plottings. She’s only an orphan girl, but can her actions on a distant island affect the throne?

The story is not actually based on truth, though it seems so close to royal intrigue of Elizabethan times that I wondered if it was. I like the way the author uses a different style of art for tales told by the nuns. This is a gripping but also heart-warming story with beautiful art. And after last year being on the Newbery committee, I can’t help but think that here’s a graphic novel that will be a solid contender. The story itself is solid enough, and the illustrations definitely don’t detract. Because it’s a graphic novel, this can be read quickly, but it’s a tale with some weight.

Royal intrigue, mysterious origins, an isolated island setting, and rich historical details are all to be found in this lovely graphic novel.

walkerbooksus.com

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Review of Maximillian Fly, by Angie Sage

Maximillian Fly

by Angie Sage

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2019. 370 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 15, 2019, from a library book

Here’s a dystopian children’s novel where the main character is a human who has the body of a giant cockroach.

I like the way Maximillian introduces himself:

I am Fly. Maximillian Fly. I am a good creature. I am not bad, as some will tell you.

But I see you do not believe me. You do not like my carapace and my broad, flat head, and I can tell that even my beautiful indigo iridescent wings do not persuade you of my goodness. I know that humans like you call me Roach – even though I am human too. Indeed I was once a squashy Wingless baby, just as you were. But I know very well that if I were small enough you would stamp on me without a moment’s thought. Ha! But luckily for me I am much bigger than you and, I have been told, rather terrifying. So we will have no more thoughts of the trampling and crushing of carapaces. They set my mandibles on edge.

As the story begins, Maximillian sees two children from the notorious SilverShip, “which every year takes a group of young ones away from Hope, never to return,” running away from three Enforcers. The smallest of the children has a hurt foot, and Maximillian does not think they will escape. So he decides to help – to prove he is a good creature.

But helping Kaitlin Drew and her brother Jonno starts a long chain of events that puts Maximillian in trouble, too. We learn about unpleasant aspects of the city of Hope, where they are “protected” by a giant electric orb from the “Contagion” on the “Outside.” Periodically, children get sent away on a SilverShip. They’re told it’s to a wonderful island paradise, on the Outside but safe from the Contagion. However, the children who leave never return.

Trying to save some children puts Maximillian on the wrong side of the Enforcers. Next thing he know, his home is being fumigated. On top of that, one of the children has something very important, which the Chief Guardian doesn’t want to lose.

Now, there are some major coincidences in this book, and some of the details of the world-building seemed like a stretch for me.

But who knew that I could ever come to care about a giant cockroach and fondly hope for his best interests? Even if that were the only fun thing about it (it’s not), this book would be worth the read.

A fast-moving story about a Good Creature trying to help.

angiesage.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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