Review of This Book Is Not for You! by Shannon Hale, illustrated by Tracy Subisak

This Book Is Not for You!

by Shannon Hale
illustrated by Tracy Subisak

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2022. 40 pages.
Review written May 3, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

Oh, this book is wonderful! Don’t tell, but this is a message book — for the adults.

Shannon Hale has written many magnificent books, but several of them have “Princess” in the title, including her Newbery Honor book Princess Academy and her beginning chapter book series The Princess in Black. She’s been frustrated when adults tell little boys that her princess books are not for them, even though the Princess in Black has a secret identity and fights monsters. So this picture book points out how ludicrous that attitude is.

As the book opens, a boy named Stanley is happily biking to the bookmobile.

A book called The Mysterious Sandwich sat up tall on the display shelf. Stanley liked mysteries, and he liked sandwiches. Perfect.

But when he asks the librarian if he can check it out, a very old man is there in her place. (I appreciate this touch that the role of mean gatekeeper is not played by an actual librarian.) The old man looks at the back of the book and finds out it’s about a girl and tells Stanley he wouldn’t want to read it.

Stanley really did want to read it, but now he felt embarrassed.

His friend Valeria comes along, and she does get to read the book.

But things start getting silly when the old man finds a cat book but won’t let Stanley check it out. Instead, he gives it to a cat! And when Stanley asks for a robot book, he’s told only robots can read books about robots — and a robot rolls up and checks it out.

After another attempt to read an interesting book that has a girl as a main character, the old man gives Stanley a book to try and he goes over to the field where everyone who got a book is reading.

After that, some secretive trading happens, not only between Stanley and Valeria, but between the cat and the robot as well.

But as they are quietly enjoying books that were not authorized, the ground shakes because a dinosaur is walking to the bookmobile. The dinosaur wants to read a book about ponies. When the old man doesn’t dare deny the dinosaur’s request, Stanley gains the ability to speak up as well.

It’s all silly and delightful and shows how ridiculous it is to insist that boys read books about boys and girls read books about girls. Because who’s going to tell a dinosaur she can’t read about ponies?

shannonhale.com
tracysubisak.com
penguin.com/kids

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Review of Jo Jo Makoons, The Used-To-Be Best Friend, by Dawn Quigley, illustrated by Tara Audibert

Jo Jo Makoons

The Used-To-Be Best Friend

by Dawn Quigley
illustrated by Tara Audibert

Heartdrum (HarperCollins), 2021. 72 pages.
Review written March 12, 2022, from a library book
2022 American Indian Youth Literature Honor Book

This book begins a series about Jo Jo Makoons, who is an outgoing first grade girl who lives on an Ojibwe Native American reservation. Like so many wonderful beginning chapter books, it deals with things that will appeal to other first graders, including school issues and friends. Do Jo Jo’s friends still want to be friends?

There are eight chapters and plenty of illustrations. Jo Jo teaches the reader some Native American words, and I like the way she is delighted with her family, her friends, and her community.

There’s some kid-level humor when she sneaks her cat Mimi in her backpack and Mimi hides in a model tipi. And of course a school story is going to have some friend drama — it all comes out happy in the end.

Here’s a fun scene that shows Jo Jo’s way of thinking:

I like to do math thinking about my Ojibwe community. Like last week Teacher asked us to think about a math problem: Five people want to eat a bunch of four bananas. Each person can have only one. How many people don’t get a banana?

I answered, “Everyone gets some bananas.”

Teacher shook his head no. He said that one person would not get any bananas.

“But we all share what we have,” I said. “That’s what Native people do.”

Teacher didn’t say anything after that. See? I’m good at math.

This is a fun new series for kids ready for chapter books, and I love that Jo Jo’s pride in her people and her home comes through. There’s a blurb at the back for the organization We Need Diverse Books, which has a goal “to create a world where every child can see themselves in the pages of a book.”

dawnquigley.com
moxyfox.ca
cynthialeitichsmith.com
diversebooks.org

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Review of The Whole Language, by Gregory Boyle

The Whole Language

The Power of Extravagant Tenderness

by Gregory Boyle

Avid Reader Press (Simon and Schuster), 2021. 226 pages.
Review written April 26, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

Oh, this book, like Gregory Boyle’s earlier two books, Tattoos on the Heart and Barking to the Choir, just filled my heart with joy! It also gave me sheer amazement at these examples of faith lived out, modeling God’s overwhelming love, and yes, extravagant tenderness.

And who are the recipients of this love? Gang members. Father Boyle, a Jesuit priest, is the founder of Homeboy Industries, an organization that helps get gang members out of gangs. He tells stories from the lives of the men he works with, and I can’t get over how he persists on looking on them with eyes of love no matter what they do — and he conveys the message that this is how God looks on them, too.

And in this message of God loving gang members, I also absorb the message that God loves me, that maybe it’s not all about keeping a lid on sin, that maybe it’s much more about love.

Father Boyle teaches by telling stories. The titles of his books mostly come from sweet things he hears the homies say. For this one, he tells about a gang member impressed with another’s command of Russian. In amazement, he proclaims that the guy spoke “the WHOLE language.”

Mario meant fluency when he said the “whole language.” I wish to suggest the same here. We are on the lookout for a fuller expression and a wider frame within which to view things. Allow the extravagant tenderness of God to wash over us. Permit the lavishing of such love to surround and fill us, then go into the world and speak the “whole language.” This is the fluency of the mystic, who chooses to live in the soul, inhabiting the tender fragrance of love. The longing of the mystic is to be at home with yourself and then put the welcome mat out so that others find a home in you. In this, we want to be “all there.” The Magi hear in a dream: “Depart by a different route.” In this book, I hope to whisper the same invitation. The whole language sees us departing by a different route.

If we’re honest, the world kind of yawns at “religion,” but snaps to attention when offered the authenticity and authority of the fluent, mystical, nondualist view. We want to both hear and speak this whole language, because, mostly, we only know the half of it. We get stuck in a partial view.

This mystical kinship, this speaking the whole language, is the exact opposite of the age in which we currently live: tribal, divisive, suspicious, anchored in the illusion of separation — unhealthy, sad, fearful, other-izing, and demonizing. Mystics replace fear with love, vindictiveness with openhearted kindness, envy with supportive affection, withering judgment with extravagant tenderness. Now is the time, as author Brian Doyle suggests, to embrace “something other than combat.”

This book is packed full of stories of extravagant tenderness. I can’t encourage you enough to try Gregory Doyle’s books. You will be amazed and blessed, and you’ll also be encouraged to look at the world in new ways.

HomeboyIndustries.org
AvidReaderPress.com
SimonandSchuster.com

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Review of Otto: A Palindrama, Jon Agee

Otto

A Palindrama

by Jon Agee

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2021. 144 pages.
Review written April 23, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This book is just so silly. But it’s irresistible if you like palindromes at all. I was sitting and chuckling over it in my office, and had to bring it out and share, which got my coworkers laughing, too.

This is a kid’s full-length graphic novel — in which the only printed text that appears are entirely palindromes. The result is very silly — but it all actually makes sense!

Here are some of the 200 palindromes that appear:

Was it a rat I saw?

No, Son.

Nate Bittnagel, elegant Tibetan.

[In a museum] Gustav Klimt milk vats? Ug!

[On a tombstone] Evil, atonal, racy Carla. Not alive.

Eva, can I stab bats in a cave?

No, Don.

I’m Al, a slob. My symbol: Salami!

Too hot to hoot.

This all happens while Otto is looking for his dog, Pip. And of course it’s the pictures that make it all make sense. It’s all extremely silly, but a whole lot of fun.

We’ll have some more Palindrome Days in March 2023, so this may be the perfect book to pull out for a program.

JonAgee.com
penguinrandomhouse.com

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Review of Tu Youyou’s Discovery, by Songju Ma Daemicke, illustrated by Lin

Tu Youyou’s Discovery

Finding a Cure for Malaria

by Songju Ma Daemicke
illustrated by Lin

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021. 32 pages.
Review written November 29, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Tu Youyou’s Discovery is a picture book that tells the story of how a Chinese lady born in 1930 studied Chinese Traditional Medicine in her modern research lab, and through much hard work discovered a cure for malaria. In 2015, she received the Nobel Prize in Medicine, becoming the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize of any kind.

The story of her life and work is simply told in understandable terms. It tells about her research and stories in traditional medicine of an herbal remedy that sounded promising – but how it didn’t work in her many lab trials.

I like this part, told over four pages with simple illustrations:

Still, the experiments kept failing – more than one hundred with no success.

Some male researchers began to question Youyou’s leadership and doubt the direction of her research. Western countries with advanced technologies hadn’t found a cure. Was using herbal medicine to cure malaria an impossible goal?

But Youyou was stubborn. Her faith in traditional Chinese medicine was unshakable. She kept working and testing.

Then something incredible happened.

After 190 unsuccessful experiments, the test result of sample 191 stunned the team. The qinghao extract prepared at a temperature of only 94 degrees Fahrenheit had killed the parasites completely!

The note at the back tells us that this new therapy saved 6.8 million lives between 2001 and 2015. At the back, there’s also a section “Tu Youyou and the Scientific Method” listing the steps of the Scientific Method and how they were used by Tu Youyou’s team.

A lovely story of a remarkable female scientist.

songjumadaemicke.com
albertwhitman.com

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Review of Ain’t Burned All the Bright, by Jason Reynolds, artwork by Jason Griffin

Ain’t Burned All the Bright

by Jason Reynolds
artwork by Jason Griffin
read by Jason Reynolds and a full cast

Atheneum, 2022. 384 pages.
Audiobook: Simon & Schuster Audio, 2022. 30 minutes.
Review written April 12, 2022, from a library book and eaudiobook.
Starred Review

Ain’t Burned All the Bright is an illustrated poem about a kid and his family at home during the pandemic. That doesn’t sound very exciting — but the poet is Jason Reynolds. And his long-time friend Jason Griffin did 384 pages of art to go with it.

I put a hold on the audiobook before I realized it was an illustrated poem and not a novel. And decided that both listening to the audiobook and looking at the artwork was the perfect way to experience this book.

The audiobook performs the text twice — first with Jason Reynolds reading it, then with a full cast. And then there’s a discussion between the creators at the end (which is also printed in the book). The whole thing only takes 30 minutes, so this is a quick read, but has lovely play with images and language.

Jason Reynolds said this book began thinking about oxygen masks. The way he plays with that image is surprising and lovely.

We’ve got a kid wondering why his mother doesn’t change the channel, a brother playing video games, a sister talking on her phone, and a father ill in his bedroom. And the kid has thoughts about it all.

I’m not even sure how to describe this book. But it’s Jason Reynolds’ poetry along with striking images, and I would really like to talk with a kid who reads this book to find out all the things they notice that I miss. It feels like there’s more than meets the eye here. But I do know I like it.

jasonwritesbooks.com

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Review of Africa, Amazing Africa, by Atinuke, illustrated by Mouni Feddag

Africa, Amazing Africa

Country by Country

by Atinuke
illustrated by Mouni Feddag

Candlewick Press, 2021. First published in the United Kingdom in 2019. 78 pages.
Review written April 26, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This wonderful oversized picture book tells the reader all about Africa. The information is arranged by region, and every single African country gets a page with colorful pictures and information about what makes that country special. The details are given with a clear fondness for the continent, and the introductory page for each region includes ways to say “Welcome!” in the many languages spoken there.

I was hoping that reading this book would make me a better Worldle player. (In Worldle, you see the outline of a country and try to guess the name. Hints tell you which direction the answer is in and how far away from your guess.) I’m not sure I remembered all the information I read, but it gave me appreciation for the wide-ranging variety of climates and landscapes and cities and people found in Africa. If I still had school-age kids, this would be a fun book to leave out for them to browse at will.

Here is a bit from the Introduction. You can get a taste of how enthusiastic the author is about Africa.

Writing this book has been an adventure. I wanted to write it so that I could share the things I find exciting about Africa. But while I was working on it, I found out a zillion more really exciting things.

Did you know that the first human beings to walk this earth were African? They went on to populate the whole planet. So we are all from Africa originally!

Did you know that Africa is gigantic? It is as big as Europe, the United States, Mexico, India, and Japan all put together! . . .

Africa is changing all the time: new countries are being created or swallowed up, old traditions are being lost and new ones developing. This book can only give an idea of what Africa is like in the moment that I am writing. So enjoy this book for what it is: a tiny glimpse into this wonderful continent.

I could not squeeze everything that I know and love about Africa into this book. There is room to say only two or three things about each country. But I hope this book will make you want to find out more about the most amazing continent on the planet!

I learned so much reading this book about modern Africa!

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Review of The Lion of Mars, by Jennifer L. Holm

The Lion of Mars

by Jennifer L. Holm

Random House, 2021. 259 pages.
Review written January 8, 2022, from a library book

This is a book about a kid who has grown up on Mars, who needs to draw on inner resources when he’s the only one who can save the colony.

Now, that description fits a few books I’ve read recently. This one features Bell, an 11-year-old boy who can’t remember ever going beyond the American compound, which is underground on Mars in an empty lava tube. Sure, he’s ridden on rovers and been to the communication station that pokes up above ground, but this is home to him.

There was a time when the Americans cooperated and communicated with the humans from other countries living on Mars. They even built an underground network of trains together — trains that now sit idle. Earth is at war, and Bell has been told he can’t trust people from other nations.

So when all the adults in their compound get sick, the kids are going to have to break some rules.

This is a fun story, though when the real reason for the Americans cutting off from the other nations was revealed, I didn’t buy it. (Won’t say more than that, because I don’t want to give anything away.)

Other books about living on Mars make a lot more of the fact that going outside can easily kill you and the technical details about staying alive. This one was more about a kid growing up not knowing anything different than the small compound where they eat food made from algae and are cared for by the entire compound. (The children growing up on Mars were brought there as orphaned babies, and their family is everyone together.)

This is a fun story about growing up in unusual circumstances, with a message that we all need each other.

jenniferholm.com
rhcbooks.com

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Review of To the Land of Long Lost Friends, by Alexander McCall Smith

To the Land of Long Lost Friends

by Alexander McCall Smith
read by Lisette Lecat

Recorded Books, 2019. 9 hours on 8 compact discs.
Review written June 16, 2021, from a library audiobook

Okay, the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series seems to me like it’s getting more slow-moving than ever. But I have come to love the people who inhabit the pages, and I’m happy to spend time with them. My impatience with the pace is mitigated by listening to Lisette Lecat’s lilting accent during my commute. And I have to say that I did enjoy my time spent listening to this book, visiting with old friends. This is the 20th installment.

The first book in the series had some very clever solutions to cases. This one did cover a few cases, but the solution ended up having some fairly large coincidences bring about a solution. It’s fun, but doesn’t necessarily highlight their detective work.

Mma does reconnect with some long lost friends in this book, which gives the title. As always, this book is loaded with charm and philosophical musings about things such as meeting up with long lost friends.

And Charlie! Charlie, who for a long time was just a “young apprentice” as a mechanic, is now jostling for respect as an “apprentice detective,” and he wants to get married! He has to come to terms with what he’s willing to do to make that happen.

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Review of The Ones We’re Meant to Find, by Joan He, narrated by Nancy Wu

The Ones We’re Meant to Find

by Joan He
narrated by Nancy Wu

Tantor Audio, 2021. 11 hours.
Review written February 1, 2022, from a library eaudiobook
2021 Cybils Finalist, Young Adult Speculative Fiction

The Ones We’re Meant to Find tells two parallel stories in alternating chapters. One story is of Cee, who’s been living for three years on an abandoned island, trying to build a boat so she can go look for her sister, Kay.

The other story is about Kasey, a socially awkward scientific genius who lives in the next-to-the-top level of an eco-city built above the clouds, designed to be safe from all the disasters that have overtaken planet earth. Kasey’s sister Celia went missing three months ago, and everybody thinks she’s dead.

The two stories do come together, but not at all as we expect they will at the beginning.

Before they come together, Cee tries to set out to find Kay, but her boat is swamped by a storm. She washes up back on the island. Not long after that, a boy washes up on the beach, and life on the island changes.

Meanwhile, with the help of a hacker, Kasey finds Celia’s brain interface, which she had removed before she disappeared. Kasey can access Celia’s memories and find out why she left. Oh, and the world faces more disasters for everyone outside the eco-cities.

The set-up is intriguing, and we want to learn about how they connect. For me, several details toward the end stretched credibility, but I can’t list those things because it would give away the big reveal. However, it’s a nice speculative fiction book about how people might respond to manmade disasters threatening to make earth uninhabitable and the kind of dilemmas people might face. A book that makes you think, while providing engaging characters facing difficult decisions and trying circumstances.

joanhewrites.com
fiercereads.com

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