Review of Dragonfell, by Sarah Prineas

Dragonfell

by Sarah Prineas

Harper, 2019. 261 pages.
Review written December 24, 2019, from my own copy purchased via amazon.com

People in Rafi’s village are afraid of him. He’s different. He’s got fire-red hair, he likes to hang out up high on the fell where a dragon used to hoard teacups, there’s a spark in his eyes, he isn’t bothered by heat or cold, and most alarming of all, he has been seen to start fires by looking at something.

But when people come from the factory owner from the big city and they notice Rafi, that’s when trouble starts up. They threaten his Da and threaten his village if he doesn’t come with them.

With one thing and another, Rafi sets out on a quest to find and save the dragons. But he’s being followed. The factory owner Mr. Flitch wants something from Rafi, and he’ll take it from Rafi’s village if Rafi won’t give it up.

I like the dragons in this book. They’re varying ages, abilities, and sizes, and they all hoard something distinctive, things like knitted items, or pieces of glass, or spiders. Rafi has to travel far to talk to the different dragons. Mr. Flitch is after the dragons, and they’re in danger. Is there anything Rafi can do about that?

I also especially like Maud, the companion Rafi meets along the way. She says she’s a dragon scientist, and she’s interested in dragons for the love of them. She’s not bothered or scared by the ways Rafi is different, and she helps him along the way.

Despite being chased, this book comes across as a gentle story of a kind-hearted boy who’s dragon-touched and is trying to figure out what that means.

sarah-prineas.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Sun Flower Lion, by Kevin Henkes

Sun Flower Lion

by Kevin Henkes

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 32 pages.
Review written October 3, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is a brilliant book for very young children or very beginning readers. The language is simple. The pictures are simple. But it’s got patterns and a progression.

We’ve got four things – the sun, a flower, and a lion, that are all drawn with the same basic pattern. We’ve also got six chapters. Each chapter is just one spread or a spread-and-a-half.

Here are the words for the first chapter:

This is the sun.
Can you see it?

The sun is in the sky.
It is shining.
It is as bright as a flower.

In the next chapter, we meet the flower, and then the lion.

My favorite page is this one:

The lion runs home.
Can you see him?
No, you can’t.
He is running too fast.

And it all ends with him cozy and back with his family.

Amazing that Kevin Henkes can tell a satisfying story with so few words – and so few shapes.

kevinhenkes.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley

Firekeeper’s Daughter

by Angeline Boulley
read by Isabella Star LaBlanc

Macmillan Audio, 2021. 14 hours.
Review written September 21, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Firekeeper’s Daughter is an amazingly good mystery/thriller for teens by an indigenous author. From the cover image, I mistakenly expected a fantasy, but got a lovely contemporary novel focusing on Daunis Fontaine, the daughter of a Native American Firekeeper and a non-Native woman. Only her mother is still alive, but Daunis has embraced Native American spirituality and the traditions of her people.

Since I listened to the audio version, I don’t trust myself with spelling the Native American terms freely used through this book in a natural way, but the narrator helped make their use seamless. As the book begins, Daunis has graduated from high school, but has not left for college because she doesn’t want to leave her grandmother, who recently had a stroke, and who is being cared for by Daunis’s mother. Daunis is also troubled by the recent death of her uncle, a chemistry teacher, which neither she nor her mother believes was really from an overdose of meth.

Daunis had been a star on the hockey team, but an injury has sidelined her, though she still supports the team with her brother the captain this year. An attractive new kid has come to town, but he turns out to have some secrets.

And before long, there are more deaths and more people using meth, and Daunis gets pulled into the investigation and mystery of who is behind the meth ring and how does that relate to her uncle’s death. It all seems tied up in the reservation and the hockey team, and Daunis has insider information on both.

This book is wonderful on many levels. Yes, it becomes suspenseful and yes, our main characters are in danger. But it also works as a richly emotional story before any suspense is present, about romance and family and belonging and caring for others and learning to trust. There are also underlying issues as to Native American people and their treatment by law enforcement, and citizenship issues on the border with Canada.

Something I loved about this book was the same thing I loved about Darcie Little Badger’s Native American fantasy, Elatsoe — Daunis is part of a community and gets help from the community. She respects and values her elders and gets important help from them, and it’s lovely how it works out.

angelineboulley.com

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Review of What Linnaeus Saw, by Karen Magnuson Beil

What Linnaeus Saw

A Scientist’s Quest to Name Every Living Thing

by Karen Magnuson Beil

Norton Young Readers, 2019. 256 pages.
Review written January 14, 2020, from a library book.

This book is a middle school and up biography of Carl Linnaeus, who founded the science of taxonomy by coming up with a system to classify and name all creatures on earth. He even thought at the time that he could complete this task. But in his attempt, he furthered scientific progress tremendously by giving scientists all over the world a way to know they were talking about the same animals.

Carl Linnaeus was born in 1707 in Sweden. His parents badly wanted him to be a pastor, but he wasn’t suited for that at all. He headed into medicine, much to their disappointment – being a medical doctor wasn’t a respected profession at that time. But it was a profession suited for someone obsessed with botany, the study of plants. At those times, doctors made their own medicines. His study of plants and his methodical nature ended up changing the world.

Part of what’s so interesting about this story is how differently the world was seen in those days. Something that earned Linnaeus fame was determining that the Seven-Headed Hydra of Hamburg was a fake. I love that it took a scientist to figure that out!

The book is full of illustrations, and many of them are reproductions from Linnaeus’s notebooks. There are sidebars with interesting notes, and the story of his life is told in an engaging way. This is an interesting story about someone I never before realized was so important.

nortonyoungreaders.com

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Review of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V. E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

by V. E. Schwab
narrated by Julia Whelan

Macmillan Audio, 2020. 17 hours, 10 minutes.
Review written October 5, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

This is the amazing epic tale of a girl who sold her soul to the god of Darkness.

She was at her wits’ end. She lived in a small village in France in 1714. At 23 years old, her family had decided she must marry an older man from the village. Her life stretched out before her bleak and hard. She wanted to live! And she wanted to be free.

But when she prayed desperately to the gods on the day of her wedding, she hadn’t realized that the sun went down and it was the Dark who answered. He was happy to give her the wish – but when she got tired of living, her soul would be forfeit.

However, in granting her wish to be completely free, the Dark cursed her to never be remembered. She could interact with people, but as soon as they turned their back or a door closed between them and Addie, they would completely forget her. And there was more – she couldn’t speak her name or tell her story. If she tried to write words or make any kind of mark, it was instantly erased. In fact, the only person who remembered her and knew her name was the god of Darkness himself.

First, her family and the friends in her village forgot her, as if she had never existed. But Addie quickly learned that it was difficult even to order food or rent a room. Eventually, she learned that she could steal, because that is anonymous. But if someone saw her stealing and was able to stop her, she would still suffer.

She could suffer – but she did not age or get illness or lasting wounds. She had immortality – and the Dark underestimated her stubbornness, as well as her excitement in discovering new things. She wasn’t willing to forfeit her soul. She even learned, over the years, that ideas are more lasting than memory. While she never could have an accurate painting or photograph made of her, she could and did inspire art and music.

But one day in New York City, almost 300 years from the day she was cursed, she brings a book back to a bookstore that she stole from it the day before – and the bookstore clerk remembers her! And it continues! She finds she can even tell him her name.

And so, after almost three hundred years, Addie LaRue’s life changes. But the reason why this boy can remember her brings with it a new set of problems.

This story tells about Addie’s long life and adventures interspersed with scenes from the present (2014), weaving a rich tapestry of an amazing life, which may not have been entirely invisible.

And of course it raises many questions. Would it be worth living a long life if you couldn’t leave any mark on the world? Is it possible to love people who forget you? What are the things that make life worth living? And of course the big one: What would you be willing to give up your soul to get?

The audiobook was wonderful, giving Addie a slight French accent and distinguishing the characters well, but it’s very long. I enjoyed a trip through Skyline Drive in early Autumn to finish it off, and it made the drive all the more incredible.

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Review of Every Little Kindness, by Marta Bartolj

Every Little Kindness

by Marta Bartolj

Chronicle Books, 2021. First published in Slovenia in 2018. 68 pages.
Review written October 2, 2021, from a book sent to me by the publisher
Starred Review

Here’s a lovely wordless picture book brought to us from Slovenia – and the pictures transcend culture.

As the book opens, a girl wakes up, but drooping. She puts on her red glasses and looks sadly at a pile of posters with a picture of a dog in a red collar.

She goes out to put up the posters, but on her way she sees a man playing a guitar with a cup out for donations, and she gives him her red apple.

A man carrying a red bag sees her kind act. On the next page, he does something kind for someone else. He is watched by someone else with something red, and then that person does something kind.

And so it goes. This book is full of a sequence of kind acts. People see a kindness, then do a kindness. And these are all highlighted with something red in an otherwise subdued-color scene.

The final act of kindness isn’t a surprise when someone finds the girl’s dog and gives her a call.

So we come full circle and end up with a scene including lots of happy people.

Because this is a wordless book, there are lots of things to notice, and I’m sure I didn’t catch everything. “Reading” this book with a child will give them lots to talk about. And besides that, this lovely book will leave you smiling.

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Review of The Oxygen Advantage, by Patrick McKeown

The Oxygen Advantage

The Simple, Scientifically Proven Breathing Techniques for a Healthier, Slimmer, Faster, and Fitter You

by Patrick McKeown

William Morrow, 2015. 352 pages.
Review written August 21, 2020, from a library book

This book took me a long time to read. The author rambles and digresses. But a lot of those digressions are stories of lives who were changed because of these ideas. More are about the science behind the ideas.

The basic theme here is that people get into trouble from overbreathing. That deep breath they tell you to take to relax? The sighs you use to let off steam? Not a good idea.

This book made me wish I were still communicating with my ex-husband, a tuba player. He did some research on hyperventilation syndrome (which can happen to tuba players), and this book bears that out – and gives exercises to counteract it.

This author claims he can cure asthma and increase sports performance. For me, just dabbling in the exercises has cleared up what used to be an always stuffy nose.

An interesting and counterintuitive chapter at the beginning explains that we need to increase our tolerance for carbon dioxide in our blood. I won’t copy the long explanation, but here’s a bit of it:

Think of it this way: CO2 is the doorway that lets oxygen reach our muscles. If the door is only partially open, only some of the oxygen at our disposal passes through, and we find ourselves gasping during exercise, often with our limbs cramping. If, on the other hand, the door is wide open, oxygen flows through the doorway and we can sustain physical activity longer and at a higher intensity. But to understand how our breathing works we must dig a bit deeper into the crucial role carbon dioxide plays in making it as efficient as possible.

The book also talks about the importance of breathing through your nose and not your mouth and the benefits that brings. I’m glad I sleep alone – because I’ve been trying his suggestion of taping my mouth closed at night. I haven’t noticed a dramatic difference when I wake up, but it is true that combined with the breath-holding exercises from the book, I’ve got a lot less nasal stuffiness than before.

I’m not an athlete, so I’m not going to try the exercises that simulate high-altitude training. But I would like the health benefits. He’s got a simple Body Oxygen Level Test (BOLT) score you can use to measure your progress on this. If all he says is true, a higher BOLT score will help your overall physical health.

If any of this sounds at all helpful, the book is worth taking a look! The exercises are not difficult, and if the author is right, they can make a big difference.

buteykoclinic.com

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Review of Here in the Real World, by Sara Pennypacker

Here in the Real World

by Sara Pennypacker

Balzer + Bray, 2020. 308 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 19, 2020, from a library book

I love Sara Pennypacker’s books. Her kid characters have agency. They don’t always ask permission, but they make their own choices – some choices better than others – and live with the results.

In this book, eleven-year-old Ware is planning to spend his summer at his grandmother’s house, when she has a fall and goes to the hospital with rehab to follow. But his parents are working extra that summer, so they need Ware to be in a safe place. They sign him up for all summer at the Rec Center, despite his objections.

Ware has spent lots of time at the Rec Center. He knows the drill. And he is not happy about being there again. When the leader has them march around the Rec Center, faster and faster each time, Ware realizes he won’t be noticed if he climbs the tree overlooking the parking lot. He can watch them go around several times and join them at the end.

But instead, once up in the tree, Ware notices that the church next door to the Rec Center has been demolished. In his new rebellious state, he gets down on the church side of the fence to look more closely.

But in the lot with the demolished church, there’s a girl named Jolene. She says the wrecked parking area is now her garden. She’s planting things in cans full of dirt. Ware says the lot can be her garden if the church can be his castle.

And that’s how Ware’s summer gets off to a much more interesting start than what his parents planned for him.

But how long can Ware and Jolene stay on the lot with the ruined church, planting things and turning the ruins into a castle? What will happen when Ware’s parents find out he’s not going to the Rec Center? Surely they’ll find out? And can Ware change himself into a Normal Kid – the kind of kid his parents want?

The title comes because when Ware says something isn’t fair, Jolene accuses him of living in Magic Fairness Land. But “here in the real world,” bad things happen. Can Ware, perhaps, even in the real world, find ways to fight injustice and unfairness?

sarapennypacker.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Parachutes, by Kelly Yang

Parachutes

by Kelly Yang

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 476 pages.
Review written November 23, 2020, from a library book

Parachutes is a story about a Chinese teen who’s been dropped by her wealthy parents into America to get an American education. Parachutes is the term used to describe these kids, many of whom end up on their own without any supervision, which comes with its own problems.

This book focuses on Claire, a junior in high school who’s sent to America from Shanghai, and Dani, also a junior in high school, whose single mother decided to get some much-needed cash by renting a room to a Chinese student, Claire. They both attend the same private school, but the parachutes are given separate classes from the American kids. Dani’s been working hard on the debate team, and with extra encouragement from her coach, she’s hoping to get to go to an elite debate competition and win a scholarship to Yale. Her after-school job is cleaning houses, where she gets a window into the lives of the rich, including some fellow students.

Meanwhile, Claire spends time with her fellow parachutes, who prioritize shopping and parties. She catches the interest of a boy whose father owns one of the largest corporations in China. Claire’s and Dani’s lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

There’s a content warning at the front of the book: “This book contains scenes depicting sexual harassment and rape.” So it’s not a spoiler for me to tell you that’s in there. My main reservations about the book have to do with how the book ended, so I’m not going to go into detail. This was colored by my recently having read Know My Name, by Chanel Miller, who was the victim in the famous Stanford rape case, and having read that book made me less enthusiastic about how this one ended than I would have been otherwise. (How’s that for vague?)

And I hate that it’s realistic that American teens – and international teens in America – have to deal with these things. The parachutes portrayed were at even more risk, being far from parental supervision and facing peer pressure to spend extravagantly and take advantage of their independence.

The story here was well-crafted, alternating between the two girls’ perspectives, so the reader was more aware than they were about how their lives were intertwining. The book kept me up late reading, and you will be rooting for both girls.

kellyyang.com
epicreads.com

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Review of Popcorn Country, by Cris Peterson, photographs by David R. Lundquist

Popcorn Country

The Story of America’s Favorite Snack

by Cris Peterson
photographs by David R. Lundquist

Boyds Mills Press (Highlights), 2019. 32 pages.
Review written February 8, 2020, from a library book

Fair warning: This book will make you hungry for popcorn. I’m a big fan of popcorn, so I couldn’t resist learning about it in this picture book.

I didn’t realize that popcorn is a special kind of corn grown specifically to pop.

There are four kinds of corn grown in the United States: dent corn, also called field corn, sweet corn, flint corn, and popcorn.

We see those other examples, then we learn how popcorn is grown, harvested, and processed, with photographs all along the way.

There are some interesting spreads when it tells how samples are tested for pop-ability. And then the popcorn is loaded on trucks and ships. I hadn’t realized that the United States produces nearly all the world’s popcorn.

There are more interesting facts at the back. The main body of the book itself is a lovely way to tell young elementary school kids where there favorite snack comes from.

crispeterson.com
boydsmillspress.com

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