Archive for the ‘Stand-outs’ Category

Review of Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson

Sunday, July 5th, 2020

Harbor Me

by Jacqueline Woodson

Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin), 2018. 176 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 30, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#9 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

It’s unfortunate when you read as many children’s books as you can, all put out in the same year, when some of the books lose some of their impact because you’ve read a similar story already. Harbor Me reminds me of Between the Lines by Nikki Grimes. In both cases, you’ve got a group of kids from tough backgrounds coming to care about each other as they open up and share their stories. In Just Like Jackie, something similar happens. I’m a little tired of hearing about teachers pulling this off, because I’m starting to be skeptical – but at the same time, personal stories do have a powerful effect.

In the case of Harbor Me, it’s a group of six 5th and 6th graders in the same class. Every week, they get to meet for one hour in a room without a teacher and say whatever they want. They learn each other’s stories.

It begins with Esteban, whose father was taken away and put in a detention center. Esteban was born in America, but now his mother is afraid she’ll be taken, too.

And Haley, our narrator, who’s thinking back over the year, has a dad who was in prison. She’s lived with her uncle as long as she can remember.

This book isn’t poetry, but Jacqueline Woodson has a poet’s facility with language. This may also explain why my favorite parts of the book were Esteban’s father’s poems, which he wrote in the detention center and sent to his son, who translated them into English.

The book feels a little short – I’d like to know more about more of the kids’ stories – but it’s also refreshing to read a book for 5th graders that’s less than 200 pages long. This book is about kids on the margins, and it is short enough that kids on the margins themselves might not be intimidated by it.

The day I read this, I also reviewed Jacqueline Woodson’s new picture book, The Day It Begins — which is also about making friends by sharing your stories. We are all different, but we all have things in common. When we hear stories, we can find those things in common. The picture book tells about that, and the novel fleshes it out.

Yes. Let’s share stories. And then we’ll have people to harbor us when times are hard.

jacquelinewoodson.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Drawn from Nature, by Helen Ahpornsiri

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

Drawn from Nature

by Helen Ahpornsiri

Big Picture Press (Candlewick), 2018. 60 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 29, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

I don’t think this book is eligible for either the Newbery or the Caldecott Medal, because the author lives in the United Kingdom – but that’s too bad! The art in this book is incredible! (I’m going to wait to post this review until after the Newbery is announced, just to be careful.)

All of the art in this amazing book is made from actual plants. Here’s how the artist explains it in the back:

Everything you see in these pages – from the gleam in a fox’s eye to the delicate line of a cobweb – is made from a plant.

Flowers and foliage are always changing with the seasons, but here they have been paused in their life cycle, kindled with a new story. Ferns have been transformed into feathers, and the colorful wings of insects are formed from the very flowers they feed on.

Each collage is made from hundreds of leaves and flowers, which are responsibly grown or foraged in the wild and preserved with traditional flower-pressing methods. The plants are then delicately arranged into bold new shapes and forms. They are all brimming with the twists and tangles of the wilderness, all capturing a perfect moment in time.

The text is about nature as it goes through the seasons, beginning with Spring and birds building nests, through Summer in the meadow, through Autumn with falling leaves, and finishing with Winter and hibernation and bare branches. But that’s a very brief summary – besides the incredibly detailed illustrations, the words reveal a knowledge of details of life in the wild that show careful observation.

I could look at these illustrations for hours. They are the sort that prompt me to show everyone in the library. One co-worker said that she has ordered cards from this artist on Etsy. The beauty and detail of her work is simply astonishing.

candlewick.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Doughnut Fix, by Jessie Janowitz

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020

The Doughnut Fix

by Jessie Janowitz

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2018. 298 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 20, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

This book is a whole lot of fun to read. Doughnuts! What could be better?

Tristan and his two sisters get taken on a road trip one Saturday – and then told that they’re moving out of New York City to Petersville. Their parents have bought a ramshackle old house a bike ride away from the tiny center of town. His mother is going to open a restaurant.

When Tristan bikes into town the morning after they move, he spots a sign that makes him hungry – “Yes, we do have chocolate cream doughnuts!” Except the trouble is, the sign is a lie. Winnie, the lady in the general store says she quit making the doughnuts because they were so popular, it was too much bother to make them. They were so good, they were in the newspaper.

“Too much work. After that story, people came in here from all over, all hours of the day and night. Nearly drove me crazy. I really had no choice.”

Just in case you think you don’t get it, let me tell you, you do: the General Store’s chocolate cream doughnuts were so good, and people liked them so much, they decided not to make them anymore.

Tristan can’t stop thinking about those doughnuts. So when they’re told that they don’t need to start school until after Winter Break, and his parents tell them to work on a project – Tristan chooses to bring back the doughnuts to Petersville.

It’s not all that simple. He needs to get the recipe from Winnie, and then she wants him to make a business plan. He needs to negotiate a good price on the ingredients, and they have to get a business license, not to mention making the doughnuts and filling them with chocolate cream – despite his four-year-old sister’s “help.”

Maybe that all sounds boring, but the quirky characters in the town combined with Tristan’s unusual family and Tristan’s determination to get these doughnuts made – all add up to a funny and absorbing tale.

Of course, Tristan also needs to make a new friend – and he gains some insight about his former best friend. Meanwhile his gifted and talented sister Jeanine is having more trouble adjusting than he is, which comes as a surprise for him.

There are recipes in the back of the book plus tips on starting a business. The flap says that this is the first book in a series – that makes me happy, because these characters are a whole lot of fun.

Beware, though – This book will make you hungry.

jessiejanowitz.com
jabberwockykids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of House of Dreams, by Liz Rosenberg

Friday, June 12th, 2020

House of Dreams

The Life of L. M. Montgomery

by Liz Rosenberg
illustrated by Julie Morstad

Candlewick Press, 2018. 339 pages.
Starred Review
Reviewed July 7, 2018, from a copy sent from the publisher.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

I am an avid L. M. Montgomery fan. I have read all of her published journals. I’ve read all her novels. Usually when I read a biography, I think how much nicer it was to read about these things in L. M. Montgomery’s own words. But I didn’t feel that way about House of Dreams.

In the first place, Liz Rosenberg did a great job of giving us the high points of L. M. Montgomery’s life. She speaks frankly of bipolar disorder and that there was no real treatment for it in her time. When Maud had a long low period, we don’t have to wade through the despairing journal entries, but we get a summary.

I thought I knew the whole story. But this book was the first I heard a crucial fact about Maud’s passionate love affair with Herman Leard – he was publicly courting another woman. It always made me crazy in her journals to read all the reasons why he wasn’t actually suited to her for marriage. I had no idea that she was protecting herself from jealousy. (I did know that she herself was engaged at that time to Edwin Simpson.)

I also knew that her life ended very unhappily and that she was very disappointed in her oldest son Chester. This book puts perspective on that and gives more details than Maud did about what Chester had done. (It’s this part that makes the book more for young adults than for children.) And I did not know that her death was probably a suicide, though I did know that she ended her days feeling despairing.

Her life ended unhappily, but there was so much inspiring about her life. Her persistent work at writing and her eventual success of climbing “the Alpine path” is always an uplifting story to hear. This quiet imaginative girl from Prince Edward Island achieved fame and wealth and a lasting legacy. The illustrations by Julie Morstad are perfect and make the book a treasure. (I’d love to see Julie Morstad illustrate all of L. M. Montgomery’s novels!)

I’m not going to keep all of the books that publishers have sent me to consider for the Newbery – but this one is going right into my collection of books by and about L. M. Montgomery. It’s a lovely book about a fascinating and inspiring life. I do recommend it to all my friends, teen and up, who love the Anne and Emily books.

candlewick.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Out of Left Field, by Ellen Klages

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

Out of Left Field

by Ellen Klages

Viking, 2018. 314 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 3, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Historical Children’s Fiction

This book is historical fiction set in 1957 when San Francisco is about to get a major league baseball team, the Giants. Katy Gordon is the best pitcher in the neighborhood, and she’s thrilled when she tries out for Little League and makes the team. But when they find out she’s a girl, she’s not allowed to play, and she gets an official letter from Little League saying baseball has always been a man’s sport.

Katy suspects that’s not true. She starts at the library and discovers a woman who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig – consecutively.

One thing leads to another. Katy interviews women, writes letters, and does more research – and uncovers hundreds of women who played professional baseball, some in their own leagues, some in the Negro leagues, and some as barnstormers playing exhibition games along with men.

It’s interesting how much fun it is to read about a kid doing research. Back in 1957, most of these women were still alive, and Katy was able to meet them and talk with them. And Katy’s research is interwoven with her baseball games and perfecting her pitching. I like the part when she gets to pitch to Willie Mays!

With all the kids’ books I’ve been reading, it was refreshing that even though Katy’s best friend Jules got assigned to a different teacher this year, and even though she doesn’t like playing baseball and has other interests instead – the girls stay friends and stay supportive of each other. What’s more, there are no dead parents in this book! Okay, Katy’s parents are divorced, but this doesn’t seem to be traumatic in her life and her father sends supportive messages.

I learned a whole lot about women’s baseball by reading this book – but all the information never got in the way of the story of Katy, the best pitcher in the neighborhood.

penguin.com/YoungReaders

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Lights! Camera! Alice! by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Simona Ciraolo

Saturday, May 30th, 2020

Lights! Camera! Alice!

The Thrilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker

by Mara Rockliff
illustrated by Simona Ciraolo

Chronicle Books, 2018. 56 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

Who knew? One of the first people to create movies was a woman! This is from the note at the back:

Alice Guy-Blaché (1875-1968) was the first woman in the world to make movies – and one of the very first moviemakers, period. Long before Hollywood turned from silent films to “talkies,” Alice directed the first sound films ever made. She was also one of the first to film made-up stories instead of real events. (Some historians say she was the first, while others credit the Lumière brothers or Georges Méliès.) Between 1896 and 1920, Alice made over seven hundred movies, and her studio, Solax, produced hundreds more. She truly earned the title “Mother of the Movies.”

This picture book biography dramatizes Alice’s life without enormous amount of text and plenty of visuals. She grew up in France and got her start there, but came to America and made movies outside New York City. But the rise of Hollywood and the start of World War I meant her studio went out of business.

Each “episode” of her life has a “title card” like the old-fashioned title cards used in silent movies, and it turns out that each one is the title of a movie Alice made, with titles like “A Terrible Catastrophe,” “The Great Discovery,” “Starting Something,” “Imagination,” and “Her Great Adventure.”

There’s lots of back matter, and I took the time to look up one of Alice’s short films on YouTube. I was quite taken with this amazing woman I’d never heard of before – who changed the world.

mararockliff.com
chroniclekids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Drawn Together, by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat

Friday, May 29th, 2020

Drawn Together

by Minh Lê
illustrated by Dan Santat

Disney Hyperion, 2018. 36 pages.
Review written in 2018 from a library book.
Starred Review
2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Picture Book Winner
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #7 Other Picture Books

This almost wordless picture book tells about a boy and his grandfather – who doesn’t speak English.

The boy has been dropped off at his grandfather’s house. They eat together – different foods, and they watch TV together but like different shows. They can’t talk together.

But then the boy gets out his markers and starts to draw. The grandfather sees and his face lights up. He brings over his sketchbook, ink, and brushes.

And they begin to draw – together.

Now, after years of searching for the right words, we find ourselves happily…

Speechless.

I have not discussed this with the Newbery committee, but my personal opinion is that it would be a stretch to give a Newbery award to a nearly wordless book. However, after my first reading, I would not be surprised if this book is seriously discussed by the Caldecott committee. The art is wonderful – using one style for the boy and another for his grandfather, as well as portraying their imaginary battles by each other’s side.

Added later: I was so happy when this was announced as the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award Winner for Picture Books.

minhlebooks.com
dantat.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Ambrose Deception, by Emily Ecton

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

The Ambrose Deception

by Emily Ecton

Disney Hyperion, 2018. 359 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

This book opens with three unlikely candidates from three different Chicago schools being offered a $10,000 scholarship opportunity. When Melissa Burris, Bondi Johnson, and Wilf Samson arrive at the office, they’re first made to sign a form saying they won’t discuss the clues with absolutely anyone. Then they’re given an envelope with three clues and told to take a picture of the clue solution. They are also given a cell phone, a camera, a debit card – and the use of a car and driver to take them anywhere in Chicago city limits.

Now, the kids are pretty sure something’s fishy. Given the title of the book, the reader is pretty sure, too. Wilf decides to enjoy the car and driver while he has them and plans a list of fun activities in Chicago. But Melissa and Bondi start seriously tackling their three clues.

So begins a clever and inventive puzzle novel. The clues all lead to locations in Chicago – and they are clues that require some thought. I now wish I’d tried to solve some using the internet – but I was reading the book in bed and didn’t bother. I imagine kids who live in Chicago might have an advantage, but this is still a legitimate puzzle that you feel like you as a reader can solve along with the characters.

I like the way they repeat the clues periodically – so you don’t have to keep turning back in the book.

I like that the characters are pretty ordinary kids, each with their own quirks. In fact, the drivers also have their own quirks. Wilf is a real slacker, trying to take advantage of this. Melissa is very suspicious, not wanting to even use the debit card or the car and driver. Bondi is a take-charge kind of kid, but he jumps to conclusions in a few spots.

I won’t say what the “deception” is in the title, but it’s all very satisfying when it works out. A puzzle novel with ordinary kids cast as the solvers, kids whom adults had written off.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X. R. Pan

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

The Astonishing Color of After

by Emily X. R. Pan

Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 472 pages.
Review written in early 2018 from a book sent by the publisher
Starred Review
2019 Asian/Pacific American Literature Award Honor
2019 Walter Award Honor
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 Teen Speculative Fiction

Wow. This book ties together symbolism and back story and grief and young love and magical realism and puts it all together into a package with punch. That sounds trite, and this book is anything but trite.

This is how Leigh begins her story.

My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.

I know it’s true the way I know the stain on the bedroom floor is as permanent as the sky, the way I know my father will never forgive himself. Nobody believes me, but it is a fact. I am absolutely certain.

We learn that Leigh’s mother committed suicide. The same day that Leigh’s best friend Axel kissed her and changed everything between them.

But then her mother appeared to her as a giant red bird. She said Leigh’s name. And left behind a feather.

The bird finds a way to tell Leigh to go to Taipei and meet her grandparents for the first time. In Taipei there are more appearances from the red bird. Leigh and Waipo and Waigong start traveling to the places her mother loved. It is Ghost Month in Taiwan. She learns that ghosts move on after forty-nine days. There isn’t much time left for her mother. She wants to figure out what her mother is trying to tell her.

But meanwhile, the red bird shows her a box of incense sticks. When she burns a stick, she sees memories – memories that belong to other members of her family. She begins to understand her mother better, but also her father and her grandparents. She learns why she never met them while her mother was alive. She understands better what her mother was up against.

These memories are interspersed with Leigh’s travels around Taiwan and time with her grandparents and sightings of the red bird. Also interspersed are Leigh’s memories of the last couple years with her friend Axel. The complication when he got a girlfriend who wasn’t Leigh. Their friendship and Leigh’s love of making art – which her Dad thinks she should give up to pursue something “serious.”

I am not always a fan of magical realism. I like fantasy where I understand how it works, which this didn’t fit at all. But Emily X. R. Pan won me over with her well-crafted story. The threads of grief, family history, following your passion, and falling in love with your best friend – all worked together to make an amazing book.

I’m writing this review before I’ve talked with anyone else about it – so this is solely my opinion. I am just not sure if I think this fits the age range for the Newbery. Leigh is fifteen – so there will certainly be many fourteen-year-old readers. I was personally trying to rule out any books that begin with discussions of sex, and this one begins with Leigh thinking about how much she wants to kiss Axel, so it’s not quite that.

I do think that the approach taken in this book is to a child audience – to the teenager as a child. Leigh approaches her grief as a child missing her mother, as a child becoming acquainted with her grandparents. Yes, there’s an aspect of hoping her best friendship with Axel will make the jump to an adult relationship, but that is only starting to happen.

But that’s only my opinion. And I’m only saying I do think this book is distinguished – but I’m making no claims at all to it being most distinguished. Or even if it’s in my top seven. I’m only saying that it made a strong impression on the first reading. I’ll indulge in a little speculation — whatever the committee decides – I hope this will also get some Morris and Printz love. I am amazed that Emily X. R. Pan is a debut author! But even if she doesn’t get any award recognition – this is an amazing book, and I hope many people read it. I will be looking forward to reading more books by this author.

exrpan.com
lbyr.com
theNOVL.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Calling All Minds, by Temple Grandin

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

Calling All Minds

How to Think and Create Like an Inventor

by Temple Grandin
with Betsy Lerner

Philomel Books, 2018. 228 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 23, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

As the blurb on the cover of the book states, Temple Grandin is a “World-Renowned Scientist, Inventor, and Expert on Visual Thinking.” She is also autistic. This book outlines some of the things that fascinated her as a child and led to her becoming a world-renowned inventor.

All along the way in this book, she presents projects for kids to experiment with. And for the most part, we’re not talking about simple craft projects, though there are a few of those. Many things involve sawing lumber or cutting pieces to the right size. I also like the way she suggests tinkering with the creations to get the results you want.

A note to readers and their parents right at the front warns which projects “require the use of sharp objects or power tools.” I think this makes the book all the more fascinating for an inquisitive mind.

I love the way she fills the book with stories of things that made her curious as a child. But I think my favorite part is where she explains about patents and how they work. She’s got many diagrams from patents used in the illustrations. But best of all is that she encourages kids to indulge in this curiosity, too:

My grandfather stimulated my early interest in science and invention. There may even be a genetic link that explains our shared interest. You can look up one of his patents, Patent No. US2383460A, for a magnetic field responsive device. His invention makes the autopilot on airplanes work. A really fun thing to do online is to look up patents. You can easily find any invention; just type in “Google patent” and enter key words for whatever you’re interested in. It’s much easier to search Google than the government patent site, though you can use that, too.

Here’s how she finishes the introductory chapter:

The future holds many crucial challenges such as understanding the impact of climate change, curing diseases, and ending hunger. We need all kinds of minds if we are going to figure out how to adapt. If we lose the ability to make things, we will lose a whole lot more. We need people who can cast iron and chemists who can create new materials that are lighter and stronger than metal. We need new storytellers, filmmakers, musicians, and artists. And we need new technologies to explore the future, including a deeper and more complex understanding of the earth and the ocean and the galaxies.

There is no better way to start than by making things of your own design. All the projects I made when I was young contributed to the inventions I’ve made throughout my life. And they have given my life meaning. I hope these projects and the ones you create will do the same for you.

Encourage the kids in your life to create, to try and try again, to tinker, and to make things with their own hands. This book is going to make some minds take off!

templegrandin.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?