Archive for the ‘Starred Review’ Category

Review of Strong Voices, introductions by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Saturday, July 4th, 2020

Strong Voices

Fifteen American Speeches Worth Knowing

Introductions by Tonya Bolden
illustrated by Eric Velasquez
foreword by Cokie Roberts

Harper, 2020. 128 pages.
Review written April 9, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is a book of great American speeches, so it is by its very nature inspiring. I was familiar with more than half of them, but I’m happy to have made a new acquaintance with the rest, and this is a fine collection covering the scope of the history of our nation and the important issues we’ve faced.

Tonya Bolden has written a detailed introduction to each piece and the speaker, and the speeches are spread out nicely on the pages, beginning with a spread that includes a painting of the speaker. The attractive format of the book appropriately showcases the words.

The speeches chosen place an emphasis on rights and freedoms, but also on inspirational challenges. It begins with Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” in 1775, and finishes with Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” in 1995.

In between, of course we’ve got Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself,” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” but we’ve also got a speech in 1805 by the Native American Red Jacket, “We Never Quarrel About Religion,” Lou Gehrig’s “Farewell to Baseball,” and Fannie Lou Hamer’s “I Question America.”

There’s a Timeline at the back. At first I liked how it places all the speeches on the line with historical events marked as well, going from the Boston Tea Party in 1773 to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech in 1995. I also liked that it has a series of shaded dots next to the line for long time periods – various wars, as well as the Jim Crow laws. But then I noticed that the spacing between things on the timeline isn’t proportional at all. World War I, from 1914-1918, takes up five shaded dots, for example, but World War II, 1939-1945, takes up thirteen shaded dots. But the Vietnam War, 1955-1975, takes up 93 shaded dots. So it’s mainly to lay out the events and speeches in order, and they’re spaced out to read clearly, but not so much to reflect how long different things lasted. So the timeline makes it look like the speeches were spaced out evenly throughout American history, but actually six of the fifteen happened after 1950.

Reading this book made me want to stand with these Americans and continue working for freedom and justice! I hope it will inspire children and teens the same way.

tonyaboldenbooks.com
ericvelasquez.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 Vanishing Stair, by Maureen Johnson

Friday, July 3rd, 2020

The Vanishing Stair

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2019. 373 pages.
Review written March 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The Vanishing Stair is the second book in the Truly Devious trilogy. Yes, you need to read the books in order, because this is a mystery series, and clues are revealed along the way.

Stevie Bell was invited to Ellingham Academy to work on a decades-old mystery about the kidnapping of the wife and daughter of Albert Ellingham, the founder of the academy. In the first book, though, a present-day student dies, and another one disappears.

This book begins with Stevie back with her parents because of the death at Ellingham Academy. But, no surprise to the reader, she quickly gets back to the school, and more of the old and new mysteries unfold. In fact, this volume has Stevie making a major breakthrough about the old case – but we also have another death.

Fortunately, this time I’m reading with the book that comes next checked out and ready to go! I read the first book much too long ago, but anyone who starts the series now will not have the same problem. Check all three books out – you’re in for a well-crafted mystery, with many different layers. On top of that, the characters are quirky, interesting, and fun to spend time with.

Stevie does make a breakthrough in the old case in this book, but there’s still a lot to find out. These books finish at a satisfying place, but still make you eager to find out more.

maureenjohnsonbooks.com
epicreads.com

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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 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 So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo

Thursday, June 18th, 2020

So You Want to Talk About Race

by Ijeoma Oluo
read by Bahni Turpin

Blackstone Audio, 2018. 7 hours, 41 minutes.
Review written June 17, 2020, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

I wish I already knew the things talked about in this book. I wish the topic wasn’t so timely in 2020. And I wish it hadn’t taken timely current events to get me to listen to this book. However, all things taken together, I’m very glad this book exists to educate me about issues of race and how black people in America have many very different experiences than I do. And I’m glad I finally listened to it.

This book is a black person telling things like they are. She doesn’t hold back to spare your feelings. So much of what she says was eye-opening for me. I hadn’t thought much about how the world responds to black people, because the world doesn’t respond to me that way.

I was surprised by how long the book was. It turned out that she had plenty of things to cover, and covered them well. Whatever else I was feeling as I listened to this book, I wasn’t bored for even a second.

I liked the way she approached explaining privilege. She first talked about ways in which she herself is privileged. One of those ways is by having a college degree. Yes, she worked hard for that degree. It did help that she was born into a family that valued education. But once she got the degree, she was able to get better-paying jobs, even when they didn’t use anything she learned while gaining the degree. Just having the degree got her a higher income. Then she encourages the listener to consider their own privilege.

Something disturbing happened during the week I was listening to this book. There have been many protests going on, and some friends of mine actually posted things that exactly fit what Ijeoma Oluo had talked about. One was accusing protesters of “making everything about race.” Another said “I want my country back!,” and yet another posted a video of a white man who’d traveled across America and said what good people he’d found throughout this country and that we should all calm down. That story was nice, but he seemed completely oblivious to what I’d just learned, that if a black man traveled throughout this country, he couldn’t count on a positive and helpful attitude in every neighborhood where he shows up as a stranger. The very idea that black people and people of color have very different experiences in America than white people do was an insight I became much more aware of from listening to this book.

I still have a long way to go. This author, like others, said that you’re going to make some mistakes. But better that than continuing on my oblivious path. And she finished the book with some practical steps those of us with privilege can take.

ijeomaoluo.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 eaudiobook 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 The Queen of Nothing, by Holly Black, read by Caitlin Kelly

Saturday, June 13th, 2020

The Queen of Nothing

by Holly Black
read by Caitlin Kelly

Hachette Audio, 2019. 9.5 hours on 8 CDs.
Review written February 28, 2020, from a library audiobook
Starred Review

The Folk of the Air trilogy is so good! The Queen of Nothing is the third and final volume of the trilogy. The whole series is full of twists and turns and reversals. Each book has multiple moments where you’re not sure how the main character is even going to survive, let alone triumph. The books are full of assassinations and betrayals and political intrigue, and each book is more intense than the one before. I listened to this audiobook on my commute, and it’s one of those that once I got somewhere near the end, I had to bring the final CD inside the house to listen because I couldn’t bear to stop.

Jude has been brought up in Faerie after the redcap former husband of her mother killed both her mother and father, but pledged to take care of her and her twin sister. This adopted father taught her to be a deadly fighter, but at the start of this book, he’s fighting on the other side.

I don’t want to say much about how the book opens, because it gives away some of what went before. (And, yes, you must read these books in order.) I’ll just say that Jude is in exile in the mortal world. Her twin sister, Taryn, convinces Jude to go into Faerie “just for a few hours” pretending to be Taryn, so she can truthfully testify in the case of Taryn’s murdered husband.

Not surprisingly, things do not go as planned, and Jude is trapped in Faerie with people planning to make war against the High King of Faerie. Perhaps Jude can get information to use against them….

Twists and turns and treacheries follow. Holly Black is unsurpassed in her ability to surprise and shock her readers. But she is also able to delight us.

It is just as well I listened to this book, because in print form I don’t think I would have been able to stop. This way the enjoyment lasted longer. As it is, this book is responsible for me not remembering where I was going on an evening when I planned to go to choir rehearsal after work.

blackholly.com
HachetteAudio.com

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

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 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 Dreadnought, by April Daniels

Monday, June 1st, 2020

Dreadnought

Nemesis, Book One

by April Daniels

Diversion Books, 2017. 279 pages.
Review written April 8, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

I picked up Dreadnought because of a recommendation by a transgender woman I follow on Twitter, and was so glad I did.

The set-up for this book is maybe a little typical: A fifteen-year-old is present when a superhero dies, so the mantle is passed to her and she gains all the powers of the superhero, to be the next one with that persona.

But in this case, there’s an extra twist. Danny, the person who received the mantle and the superpowers, is a transgender girl, who wasn’t out to anyone but herself. But part of the superpowers includes Danny receiving her ideal body – and in Danny’s case, that’s the body of a woman. She now looks like the girl she’s long known she is.

So besides figuring out what to do with her new superpowers and whether to let the world even know she has them, Danny also has to navigate suddenly looking female.

Danny’s abusive father does not take it well. He insists on bringing Danny to doctors and trying to set up testosterone therapy. Danny’s former best friend thinks he’s doing Danny a favor when he says he’s willing to date her. And the local Legion of superheroes doesn’t allow underage “white capes,” and not everyone currently in the Legion is okay with being joined by someone who’s transgender.

Meanwhile, Utopia, the supervillain who killed the last Dreadnought, is still out there. Danny does make a friend in Sarah, who has her own super abilities and acts as a “gray cape,” not affiliated with the Legion. Sarah convinces Danny that they need to deal with Utopia, and Danny thinks she owes it to Dreadnought for the wonderful gift of a female body.

The story that follows is intense. First, Danny’s father greatly increases his abuse, and then Utopia threatens the Legion itself as well as the world. And she hints that there’s something even more dangerous coming, something called Nemesis. Since right on the cover, we see Nemesis – Book One, I’m looking forward to reading more.

This book is beautiful with all the things any superhero book might have about grappling with new powers and whether great power really does bring great responsibility. But layered on top of that, Danny grapples with what it means to finally have a body that reflects the person she’s always been, and how people react to her. Danny has a very hard time with her father’s abusive words, and I appreciate that no simplistic answers are given to that. Even with superpowers, it’s hard to stand up to abuse.

This is a wonderful book, and I’m looking forward to reading the follow-up. (As soon as I can get to the library.)

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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 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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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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