Review of Pax: Journey Home, by Sara Pennypacker

Pax

Journey Home

by Sara Pennypacker
illustrated by Jon Klassen

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2021. 247 pages.
Review written October 16, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
2021 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #6 Children’s Fiction

Wonderful! A sequel to the beautiful book Pax, which is about a boy and his fox, separated by the boy’s father and trying to reach each other despite perilous obstacles — and a war.

In Journey Home, the war is over, but devastation has been left behind. Among that devastation, Peter’s father was killed in the war. And for the wildlife, rivers and streams and a reservoir were polluted. The entire town where Peter had lived when his parents were alive was abandoned.

This is a sequel, and you should read Pax first. I will try not to give away what happens in the first book, but Peter and Pax are again on quests that make them encounter each other.

Pax has a family now, but humans are encroaching too near, and he wants to find them a new den. However, in his search, his most adventurous kit comes along, and they have to take a roundabout path because of more humans.

Peter has lost his family — his father died in the war, on top of the loss of his mother before the first book started. Vola sees him as family, but Peter has learned that it’s better not to love — you’ll only lose them and get hurt again. He goes off to join the Junior Water Warriors, who are spending the summer cleaning up the polluted rivers left behind by the war. Peter does not intend to come back.

But he didn’t expect to encounter Pax.

For awhile, I thought this book a little too bleak, but Sara Pennypacker pulls off a transformation in Peter’s heart with exactly the right touch — not too sentimental and not even too predictable or unbelievable. The result is a powerful and inspirational story of healing. Pax is even more firmly rooted in my heart than he was before.

If you didn’t catch Pax when the book was first published, you now have two books you really should read!

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Review of Every Thing Is Sacred, by Richard Rohr and Patrick Boland

Every Thing Is Sacred

40 Practices and Reflections on the Universal Christ

by Richard Rohr and Patrick Boland

Convergent Books (Penguin Random House), 2021. 220 pages.
Review written October 23, 2021, from my own copy purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review

I was going to say that Every Thing Is Sacred is a study guide to the wonderful book by Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ — but it’s really more of a contemplation guide. There are forty “Reflections” on passages from the earlier book, with “Reflective Exercises” at the end of each Reflection. So it’s a guide to going deeper with the ideas from that book.

Yes, you’ll want to read The Universal Christ before or alongside this book. I am planning to reread both books together.

It’s a little misleading that Richard Rohr’s name is listed first as the main author, because Patrick Boland is the author of the Reflections. But that’s done because all the Reflections springboard from Richard Rohr’s writings.

I recommend beginning with the book The Universal Christ. Then, if you want to go deeper – and I think most people will – “Every Thing Is Sacred” can help you with that.

I also recommend getting a journal for it and doing the Reflective Exercises. Here I have to admit that I didn’t do many of them. I started out at the beginning, but then settled for reading each piece and thinking about it a little bit. This is why I do want to tackle the book again, and I think I’ll get more out of it.

Here’s a section from the Introduction by Richard Rohr, describing what you may get out of the book:

This is incarnational Christianity! Not God reserved for a few but God available to all in a thousand, thousand visible forms, and celebrated, over and over. Not just a problem-solving forgiver-of-sins God but a God whose greatness made sin by comparison unattractive, undesirable, small, and stifling. Once God models poured-out oneness for us, we are on some level allured into doing the same. Growth by “attraction, not promotion,” as the twelve-step program might say. Not so much a Christ coming into the world as coming out of a world that is already soaked with Presence.

And that is what both Patrick and I want you to experience for yourself in this little book. Not just warm thoughts but an entire earth and humanity warmed by the Word becoming flesh. This is a message you cannot know with your mind alone. You must come to know it in the very cells of your body – and see it in the cells of all bodies, which each carry the same divine DNA of their Creator. Think about it. How could they not be?

This book is neither pious nor academic but is filled with spiritual knowing waiting to be transferred to you if you have the right app (if you will allow me to use a mobile device metaphor). The app requires only two functions on your part – curiosity and a bit of love. Yet this book is not a workbook either because it is hardly work at all, nor does it ask for grinding concentration. We might just call it A Guide to Christian Freedom and Fun! (But in a Quite Serious Way). Why not?

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2021 Sonderbooks Stand-outs!

Another year of reading is finished! It’s time to choose my Sonderbooks Stand-outs for 2021!

First, let me make it clear that I am *not* choosing based on literary merit. These lists are *not* predictions for any awards, and they are not chosen by committee. These lists are all about my personal favorites from the books I read this year. I might not have great reasons for my choices, and I try not to overthink when I choose them. These are books I read in 2021 that made me happy when I read them.

I don’t have the reviews of all of these books posted, but I will remedy that as soon as I can and add in the link here.

First, here are my reading stats this year:

Books reread: 6
Fiction for adults: 23
Nonfiction for adults: 24
Fiction for teens: 26
Fiction for children: 52
Nonfiction for children: 108
Picture books: 239

Interesting (to me) is that I read many more adult novels than in previous years — and fewer of almost everything else.

It’s always hard to narrow down my list of favorites, but here’s what I’ve come up with this year, the Sonderbooks Stand-outs of 2021:

Fiction

  1. The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner
  2. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V. E. Schwab
  3. A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik
  4. Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr
  5. The House in the Cerulean Sea, by T. J. Klune
  6. The Hidden Palace, by Helene Wecker
  7. The Jane Austen Project, by Kathleen A. Flynn
  8. This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel
  9. Longbourn, by Jo Baker
  10. The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik
  11. Unmarriageable, by Soniah Kamal
  12. A Song of Flight, by Juliet Marillier

Nonfiction

  1. Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X. Kendi
  2. Intimate Conversations with the Divine, by Caroline Myss
  3. Every Thing Is Sacred, by Richard Rohr and Patrick Boland
  4. The Art of Bible Translation, by Robert Alter
  5. Two Trains Leave Paris, by Taylor Marie Frey & Mike Wesolowski
  6. Subpar Parks, by Amber Share

Teen Fiction

  1. Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley
  2. The Girls I’ve Been, by Tess Sharpe
  3. How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories, by Holly Black
  4. Everything Sad Is Untrue, by Daniel Nayeri
  5. Blackout, by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon
  6. Winterkeep, by Kristin Cashore
  7. Beasts and Beauty, by Soman Chainani
  8. Terciel and Elinor, by Garth Nix

Children’s Fiction

  1. Pony, by R. J. Palacio
  2. Just Like That, by Gary D. Schmidt
  3. Amber & Clay, by Laura Amy Schlitz
  4. Long Road to the Circus, by Betsy Bird
  5. Starfish, by Lisa Fipps
  6. Pax: Journey Home, by Sara Pennypacker
  7. The Beatryce Prophecy, by Kate DiCamillo
  8. In the Red, by Christopher Swiedler
  9. Merci Suárez Can’t Dance, by Meg Medina

Children’s Nonfiction

  1. Unspeakable, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
  2. Boardwalk Babies, by Marissa Moss, illustrated by April Chu
  3. Born on the Water, by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith
  4. Hear My Voice, compiled by Warren Binford
  5. The Great Stink, by Colleen Paeff, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
  6. Geometry Is as Easy as Pie, by Katie Coppens
  7. Code Breaker, Spy Hunter, by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Brooke Smart
  8. A Sporting Chance, by Lori Alexander, illustrated by Allan Drummond
  9. The Pig War, by Emma Bland Smith, illustrated by Alison Jay
  10. Maryam’s Magic, by Megan Reid, illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

Picture Books

  1. Watercress, by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin
  2. The Passover Guest, by Susan Kusel, illustrated by Sean Rubin
  3. Seven Golden Rings, by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan
  4. Fred Gets Dressed, by Peter Brown
  5. The Little Blue Bridge, by Brenda Maier, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez
  6. The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess, by Tom Gauld
  7. Simon at the Art Museum, by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Christine Davenier
  8. Milo Imagines the World, by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
  9. Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum, by Natasha Yim, illustrated by Violet Kim
  10. Lia & Luis: Who Has More?, by Ana Crespo, illustrated by Giovana Medeiros

Happy Reading! I hope you will enjoy these books as much as I did!

Review of Pony, by R. J. Palacio, read by Ian M. Hawkins

Pony

by R. J. Palacio
read by Ian M. Hawkins

Listening Library, 2021. 7 hours.
Review written November 29, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Wow. If you read the author’s book Wonder, you won’t be surprised that she can tell a good story, but this one is completely different from that one – but completely captivating.

We’ve got a 12-year-old narrator named Silas who lives alone with his Pa outside a small town in 1860 in the west. His Pa is a bootmaker who has figured out how to print daguerreotypes on paper. One night, some rough men come to their house and take his Pa away with them, saying they want him to help them out with a job. They bring a pony for Silas, but Pa refuses to go with them if they take Silas. He tells Silas to stay in the house and not let anyone in.

When the pony comes back a couple days later, Silas takes it as a sign that he should go find Pa. Sometime in there we discover that Silas has the ability to see ghosts. And he’s got a ghost companion, a sixteen-year-old boy he calls Mittenwool. Mittenwool tries to convince him to stay home like Pa told him, but Silas is determined to help Pa.

Fortunately, they come across a federal marshal named Enoch Farmer who is on the track of a gang of counterfeiters. They establish that the men he’s after are the ones who took Pa. The marshal helps Silas navigate the wilderness, have food to eat, and follow the track of the counterfeiters. The marshal doesn’t know how much Mittenwool helps them stay on track. But when they’ve found the counterfeiters’ lair, an accident means Silas is going to need to get help on his own.

This story had me not wanting to stop for anything. The part after the dramatic confrontation is a little long, but kids do like loose ends being tied up, so I can’t really fault the author for that. And I was happy to know how things turned out for Silas.

This is a wonderful yarn with danger and adventure and a kid you can’t help but love, a kid who’s got the smartest and best Pa in the world. And the help of a remarkable pony.

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Review of Run, Book One, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, L. Fury, and Nate Powell

Run
Book One

written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
art by L. Fury with Nate Powell

Abrams Comic Arts, 2021. 154 pages.
Review written November 15, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Run, Book One continues the story told in the award-winning series March, about John Lewis’s experiences during the Civil Rights Movement, this one beginning after the Voting Rights Act was signed. John Lewis got to see and approve of almost all the pages in this book before his death. I hope that the collaborators did enough work with him to continue the story, and I’m optimistic about that since they’re still calling it Book One.

We see lots of backlash against what they had accomplished. The book opens with members of the Ku Klux Klan on the march. There’s also conflict in SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the organization for which John Lewis served as chairman for years – until dissent got him removed. The whole principle of nonviolence was being challenged.

A note at the back makes me appreciate how much historical research went into getting the detailed images in this book exactly right. They not only researched things like which models of cars were made that year, but also which cars people in any given neighborhood would drive. There are also short biographies at the back of people who show up in the book, and that section goes on for twelve pages. There’s so much detail and so much to learn in this book.

I thought it was interesting that the Black Panther party produced small comic books “explaining to new voters how they could vote for the new party, as well as the responsibilities and powers of the different elected positions they’d be voting for.” So this graphic novel comes from a long and fine tradition.

I am so thankful to the team of “Good Trouble Productions” for making sure that John Lewis’s voice can still be heard.

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Review of The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik

The Last Graduate

Lesson Two of The Scholomance

by Naomi Novik

Del Rey (Penguin Random House), 2021. 388 pages.
Review written November 16, 2021, from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review

The Last Graduate is the sequel to A Deadly Education, and it looks like this will be a series with more to come — there sure better be more to come! (Both books ended with a dramatic surprise.) You definitely need to read the books in order, and I will try not to give away anything that happens in the first book from my description of the second.

This series is about a school for wizard children — but it upends everything you expect in such a novel. This school, the Scholomance, is out to kill the students. Or at least it seems so. But our viewpoint character, Galadriel, known as El to her friends, turns out to be an underestimated powerful wizard with a prophecy about her and who is only able to learn spells about death and devastation. Against her intentions, she has made friends with Orion Lake, whose favorite thing is killing the maleficaria (malicious monsters) that seek out the school and try to kill the students.

Since El and Orion are seniors in this book, my past experience with stories of wizard schools made me expect the series would end with this book. But I assure you, the story is far from over, though the next volume may not have a school setting.

Normally, every year the seniors make alliances in preparation for the day when they will be sent to the Graduation Hall — and only some of them will make it through alive.

This year, many expectations were upended because of what El and Orion did at the end of the first book. And the Scholomance has ways of making El take on a new mission.

Who knew that an original wizarding school story can still be told? The world-building in this series is amazing and imaginative. I’m not completely sure why it’s marketed to adults and not young adults, except that all the author’s other books are for adults. Teens can certainly handle the death and destruction found here.

And now I very much have to find out what comes next.

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Review of Crazy Contraptions, by Laura Perdew

Crazy Contraptions

Build Rube Goldberg Machines That Swoop, Spin, Stack, and Swivel
With Hands-on Engineering Activities

by Laura Perdew
illustrated by Micah Rauch

Nomad Press, 2019. 122 pages.
Review written April 13, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is another book I’d planned to booktalk in 2020 but hadn’t actually gotten around to reading until the library closed for the pandemic. I still hope to booktalk it some day, and I’d even like to do a Rube-Goldberg-Machine-Building program inspired by its approach.

This is a book that teaches kids how to make Rube Goldberg machines, or I should say inspires kids to create their own Rube Goldberg machines.

I love the approach. First, they start with the overall concept and tell about Rube Goldberg. But then they present each of the six types of simple machines and suggest activities of trying out that type of simple machine in your own creation.

For example, here’s the first activity in the Inclined Planes chapter:

Use an inclined plane and something that can roll or slide down the plane to knock over an object. Yes, this is a ridiculous little task! That’s what crazy contraptions are all about.

With each activity, they have the reader brainstorm ideas and supplies, draw a plan, build, test, evaluate, and possibly redesign.

The next exercise has you build a pyramid and use two inclined planes to knock it down.

Further activities include ringing a bell using both a lever and an inclined plane, watering a plant using a homemade conveyor belt (with wheels), rolling dice using at least one inclined plane, one lever, one wheel and axle, and one pulley, and launching a boat with a contraption that includes a wedge that separates or splits two things apart.

Challenges at the end include making a over-sized contraption in your yard and making a micro-sized contraption that you can fit in a box.

It’s all fun and playful and just packed with science. There are QR-codes linked to videos that demonstrate related principles. I confess I didn’t follow the QR-codes, but kids who do will become even more engaged.

I went through a time when I was a kid that I loved making domino runs. This book will take kids far beyond that. Perfect for kids who like to tinker.

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Review of Terciel & Elinor, by Garth Nix

Terciel and Elinor

by Garth Nix

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2021. 338 pages.
Review written November 29, 2021, from my own copy, preordered from amazon.com.
Starred Review

A prequel to Sabriel! I preordered myself a copy as soon as I found out about it. It’s been a very long time since I read Sabriel, but I still recognized the names of the foes threatening the Old Kingdom.

Terciel is a young man and the Abhorsen-in-Waiting. Elinor is a young woman who has grown up on the south side of the border with the Old Kingdom, isolated in a manor house with her mother, a governess and the governess’s uncle, an old groom. She has been told that the mark her great-aunt put on her forehead when she was young is a disfiguring scar – rather than a charter mark giving her access to the magic of the Charter.

Elinor’s mother gets mysteriously sick, and then the Abhorsen-in-Waiting comes abruptly to her house just in time to protect her from the Greater Dead monster that has inhabited her mother’s body.

After barely escaping that incident, with those she loves dead, Elinor goes to Wyverley College to try to learn magic and go to the Old Kingdom. But another incident with the dead has Elinor traveling north sooner than she expected – and she becomes an important part of working with Terciel and the Abhorsen to stop a great threat.

I think you can read these books in whatever order you like, though I already know about the Abhorsens and necromancers and free magic and charter magic – I don’t know if it would be confusing for someone first picking up the books. But this unusual world and its magic and the dead who walk still has the power to captivate me. In fact, I’m soon going to need to reread Sabriel now that I’ve been reminded of this amazing world.

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Review of A New Green Day, by Antoinette Portis

A New Green Day

by Antoinette Portis

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2020. 32 pages.
Review written July 6, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This book is a series of poetic riddles about things in nature a girl encounters as she goes through her day. They aren’t posed as riddles, but as a description, and then you turn the page to find out what is talking.

Here are a few:

“Morning lays me on your pillow,
an invitation, square and warm.
Come out and play!”

says sunlight.

“I am cool pudding
on a muggy day.
Let your toes
have a taste!”

says mud.

“I race up the hill
while lying at your feet.
Wave at me
and I’ll wave at you,”

says shadow.

The pictures that go with the riddles are quiet, joyful, and evocative, with a palette of mainly greens and browns, appropriate for a day mainly spent outdoors in the summertime.

It’s a simple book, perfect for celebrating simple pleasures in nature.

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Review of Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village, by Maureen Johnson and Jay Cooper

Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village

by Maureen Johnson and Jay Cooper

Ten Speed Press, 2021. 128 pages.
Review written November 27, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

A couple years ago, I read a column by Maureen Johnson with this same theme that got me laughing hard. If you like British cozy mysteries at all (and I’m a fan), then her words ring true. Every one of the scenarios you’ll find in this book sounds familiar to me – I’m sure I’ve read books where people died in these ways in a quaint English village.

Here’s the premise, given in “A Note to the Gentle Reader” at the front of the book:

You’ve finally taken your dream trip to England and have seen London. Then the trouble begins:

You’ve decided to leave the hustle and bustle of the city to stretch your legs in the bucolic countryside of these green and pleasant lands.

You’ve read the books and watched the shows. You know what to expect: You’ll drink a pint in the sunny courtyard of a local pub. You’ll wander down charming alleyways between stone cottages. Residents will tip their flatcaps at you as they bicycle along cobblestone streets. It will be idyllic.

The author respectfully suggests you put aside those fantasies. It is possible that you will find yourself in a placid and tedious little corner of England; it is just as possible you will end up in an English Murder Village. You will not know you are in a Murder Village, as they look like all the other villages. When you arrive in Shrimpling or Pickles-in-the-Woods or Wombat-on-Sea or wherever it is, there will be no immediate signs of danger. This is exactly the problem. You are already in the trap.

However, if you fail to follow the author’s advice and go to the countryside anyway, she has a bookful of things for you to watch out for – ways you may get murdered if you are not wary.

These ways of being murdered are cheerfully and gruesomely illustrated by Jay Cooper.

The focus is on the Village and on the Manor right outside the village, with their separate realms for bumping people off.

Some examples:

Under “THE VILLAGE POND”:

Those ducks didn’t get fat on bread.

under “THE VILLAGE HALL”:

Oh you giggled at Edith’s sonnet? Sounds like someone’s about to be found clubbed to death with a typewriter, their mouth stuffed full of poems.

Someone to avoid:

ANYONE WHO LEAVES A MESSAGE

All messages in a Murder Village are bad news. It means someone Knows Something. Don’t leave messages. Don’t hang around people who do.

At the Manor, beware of “THE FOLLY”:

It’s a small, fake temple at the far side of the pond, perfect for picnics, trysts, and casual strangulations.

At “THE SHOOTING PARTY”:

This is supposed to be a fun day out in which some servants shake birds out of the bushes while other servants carry and reload guns, all so that the aristocracy can shoot at anything with wings. The shooting party is like the village fête – this is how the nobles weed one another out right in the open. Always assume someone is roaming the grounds with a shotgun looking for long-lost cousin Hugo who just showed up and got top billing in the will.

Or “THE DINNER PARTY”:

For when you want to be murdered, but you don’t have an entire weekend to spare.

This should give you an idea of the humor included in this informative little book. And who knows? Purchasing a copy may save your life.

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