Archive for the ‘Stand-outs’ Category

Review of The Grand Escape, by Neal Bascomb

Saturday, September 19th, 2020

The Grand Escape

The Greatest Prison Breakout of the 20th Century

by Neal Bascomb

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2018. 275 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 27, 2018, from my own copy, sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

This nonfiction book reads like a thriller. It covers a breakout from a prisoner of war camp in Germany during World War I.

The book gives us background first about how the war was going, and we meet several individuals important in planning the escape. Most of them had some earlier attempts at escape.

One particularly heart-wrenching attempt was a guy who almost made it to the border – and then he saw a town that matched the name of the Dutch town on his map. Well, it turned out there were two towns with the same name on either side of the border. He was in the German town, and got taken back to camp.

The grand escape of the title happened from Holzminden Camp and involved digging a long tunnel. It was a long, involved process, and we learn all about it in this book.

Usually I read nonfiction slowly, a chapter at a time, and break it up with fiction books in between. But this book was mesmerizing. I wanted to know how they would pull it off and which of these men would make it.

IReadYA.com
arthuralevinebooks.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 The Eye That Never Sleeps, by Marissa Moss, illustrations by Jeremy Holmes

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020

The Eye That Never Sleeps

How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln

by Marissa Moss
illustrations by Jeremy Holmes

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2018. 48 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 7, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

This picture book biography is a fun and entertaining – while factual – story of how the detective Allan Pinkerton became a detective and ended up saving President Lincoln and founding the Secret Service.

The illustrator gave the pages the look of the time but with contemporary colors. Pinkerton fled Scotland on his wedding day, and this story is told with the pictures as well as the text. The Pinkerton agency eventually became known as “the eye that never sleeps,” and Pinkerton’s eyes – and the direction of his vision – are highlighted in orange throughout the book.

The complete package of words and pictures here keeps you turning pages, with the illustrations including panels that almost give the book a graphic novel feel.

Pinkerton did keep Lincoln safe after uncovering a plot to assassinate him when he was first elected. They used a decoy and sent him to Washington by a different route. The book also includes how Pinkerton became a detective and how he was the reason the term “private eye” was coined.

A fun and suspenseful story that’s also true.

abramsyoungreaders.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 Attucks! by Phillip Hoose

Thursday, August 20th, 2020

Attucks!

Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City

by Phillip Hoose

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018. 212 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 14, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

I am not a fan of sports books. Ho hum. Who really cares?

So I was completely surprised to be mesmerized and pulled into this story of an all-black high school in Indianapolis that built a championship basketball program, despite discrimination.

Phillip Hoose puts a special note at the front of the book about an interview he did with Oscar Robertson in 1986 about basketball fever in Indiana.

One scrap from that conversation inspired the book you’re reading now.

“You know,” Oscar said, “when the Ku Klux Klan started our school, they really didn’t understand what they were doing.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“They did something they couldn’t foresee by making Attucks an all-black school. The city of Indianapolis integrated because we were winning. All the black guys, the really great players, went to Attucks. We were winning all those games, and the coaches didn’t like it. And then a lot of black kids started going to other schools . . .”

What could he be talking about? A high school in a major American city – in the North – started by the Ku Klux Klan? And a basketball team integrating that city?

Oscar wasn’t laughing.

Could it be true?

So Phillip Hoose is telling the story of winning basketball teams, building a championship basketball program, and one of the greatest high school basketball players ever – but he does all that against the backdrop of overcoming racism and the whole city of Indianapolis building pride in the championship team at the all-black high school.

There are spoilers in the note at the front. The author doesn’t hide that Oscar Robertson led the Attucks team to state championships in 1955 and 1956. But how they got there – That’s a story!

The Prologue actually begins before Oscar was even in high school – with the game where his big brother had an amazing game-winning shot with seven seconds left.

Then the main text goes back to the founding of Cristpus Attucks high school in 1927 – yes, it was started by the Klan in order to separate the black kids who had been moving to Indianapolis from the south. He carefully gives us several threads to follow, including how the basketball program developed as well as Oscar’s childhood, obsessed with basketball from an early age.

The first basketball coach at Attucks was concerned that his players not offend anyone – which doesn’t make for the toughest team. But even when they got an excellent coach, the larger white schools wouldn’t play against them, and they weren’t even allowed in the statewide tournament until 1942.

The author includes several seasons, including some with real heartbreaker games. He highlights many of their great players (not just Oscar, the Big O). It all builds to a breathtaking finish and a description of their undefeated season when they became state champions.

And I should probably stop saying that I don’t like sports books. This one was outstanding.

philliphoose.com
fiercereads.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 Imagine, by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Monday, August 3rd, 2020

Imagine

by Juan Felipe Herrera
illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Candlewick Press, 2018. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 2, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

I confess – when I first read this book at the library, I looked through it hastily and wasn’t impressed. But when the publisher sent it to my house, I gave it another look, knowing what it was, took my time, and this time was touched by its beauty.

This picture book is an illustrated poem – an autobiographical poem addressed to the reader and intended to inspire.

It’s short – I admit that it’s easy to dismiss if you don’t take your time with it and stop to look at each picture.

Juan Felipe Herrera was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2015 to 2017. This poem shows us his humble beginnings, and his journey to become a poet.

Each stanza ends with the word “imagine” and covers a double-page spread. Here are the first few stanzas:

If I picked chamomile flowers
as a child
in the windy fields and whispered
to their fuzzy faces,

imagine

If I let tadpoles
swim across my hands
in the wavy creek,

imagine

If I jumped up high
into my papi’s army truck
and left our village of farmworkers
and waved adios
to my amiguitos,

imagine

You see the boy gradually getting bigger in the pictures. The poetry also talks about his experiences:

If I moved
to the winding city
of tall, bending buildings
and skipped
to a new concrete school
I had never seen,

imagine

If I opened
my classroom’s wooden door
not knowing how to read
or
speak in English,

imagine

It takes him through writing stories and poetry, singing in front of people, and finally reading out of his own poetry book in front of the Library of Congress as the Poet Laureate of the United States of America.

And then, finally, the book finishes all the sentences:

imagine what you could do.

Inspiring and beautiful – and there’s also a treat under the paper cover! (The stars of the cover are embossed in gold foil on the book with the title.)

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 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 Hey, Kiddo, by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020

Hey, Kiddo

How I Lost My Mother, Found my Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction

by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Graphix (Scholastic), 2018. 312 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 26, 2018, from an Advance Reader Copy.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

Here’s a graphic novel memoir by a bestselling graphic novelist, so it’s sure to be popular. This one, though, isn’t sweetness and light, and the issues addressed go a lot deeper than friends and cliques. We do have a happy ending – Jarrett Krosoczka has achieved success with his art. The book is marketed for 12 and up, so it’s for a somewhat older audience than those who love Lunch Lady.

Jarrett tells about his life. His mother was a heroin addict, and he didn’t know his father. His mother’s parents raised him, and they had their own quirks, being older than his friends’ parents.

Jarrett explains his family history. His grandparents had five kids, and he wasn’t a whole lot younger than his youngest aunt. He lived with his mother the first years of his life, but she couldn’t stay off heroin and out of trouble, so eventually he was permanently with his grandparents.

This book takes Jarrett through elementary school and high school, all the way up to applying to art school for college. He credits the teachers and friends who helped him along the way, as well as offering many tributes to his grandparents, without hiding their prickliness and quirks. His persistence, despite coming from an unconventional family, ended up paying off, and notes at the back bring us to the present.

This book speaks from the heart about a kid growing up in a family with challenges, but a lot of love. He learned to grapple with that, push boundaries, uncover truth, and above all use his art to throw light on shadows.

scholastic.com/graphix

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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 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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