Archive for the ‘Starred Review’ Category

Review of Three Keys, by Kelly Yang, read by Sunny Lu

Wednesday, May 5th, 2021

Three Keys

by Kelly Yang
read by Sunny Lu

Scholastic Audiobooks, 2020. 6 hours, 11 minutes, on 5 discs.
Review written April 6, 2021, from a library audiobook
Starred review

Three Keys is a sequel to the wonderful Front Desk, continuing the story of Mia Tang, who immigrated with her parents to California in the 1990s and ended up becoming owners of the motel they were managing.

In this segment of the story, now although they don’t have a harsh owner to work for, they still need to manage the motel in ways that will make a profit. The investors give them a hard time if profits are down. Mia learns that her parents have dreams of their own, since her mother was an engineer and her father a medical researcher in China. But now they’re busy cleaning rooms.

Meanwhile, the author takes on social issues again, setting the story in 1994, when Governor Pete Wilson was running for reelection and pushing the passage of Prop 187, which would crack down on undocumented immigrants and not allow their children to go to school or for them to receive any services.

I no longer lived in California in 1994, but my family did, so I had a sinking knowledge as I read the book of who would win the election. The book showed some of the hate crimes and strong anti-immigrant sentiment that came out at that time. Meanwhile, Mia’s best friend Lupe’s parents are undocumented, and her father gets arrested with looming deportation. But Mia is determined to fight it.

Even knowing what would happen with the proposition, this book still managed to be hopeful and show a human face to immigration and make you care about these kids, trying to spread concern for others. They encounter obstacles, but make a difference with many of those obstacles.

Oh, in the author’s note at the back, the author does connect the dots between Pete Wilson’s campaign in 1994 and Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016, and how both stirred up hatred and fear against immigrants. She mentions that Prop 187 was struck down by the courts, but her characters would have been worse off in 2020 than they were in the book world in 1994. She does point out this is a timely topic.

Mia’s a character you can’t help but love. I hope there will be more books about her and her struggle to make the world a better place, even if it’s in small ways.

frontdeskthebook.com
scholastic.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.

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 Fountains of Silence, by Ruta Sepetys, read by Maite Járegui

Tuesday, May 4th, 2021

The Fountains of Silence

by Ruta Sepetys
read by Maite Járegui

Listening Library, 2019. 12.5 hours on 10 CDs.
Review written April 23, 2020, from a library audiobook
Starred Review

This is a richly detailed historical novel set in Franco’s Spain after World War II. The Spanish people have learned to be silent about injustices.

The book features a cross-cultural attraction. Daniel’s family is visiting Madrid. His father is a rich oil executive from Texas who wants Daniel to take over the family business, but Daniel wants to be a photojournalist. He’s hoping to get photographs in Spain to win a contest and get a scholarship to journalism school.

Anna is a maid at the hotel, assigned to facilitate things for their family. Her family was on the wrong side of Franco, but her sister has always looked after her. Anna is tempted to tell Daniel what things are really like in Spain, and he wants to get photos that look deeper.

Anna’s brother is helping a friend who plans to be a matador, though he has to train in secret. And several family members are on the edge of something going on with dead babies and the orphanage and adoptions.

There’s a slow pace to this book that gives you portraits of many people. I like the slow build of the feelings between Anna and Daniel. I have some quibbles with some big coincidences that happened, but I still enjoyed the story and learned much about life in Spain under Franco.

This was the audiobook I’d been listening to in the car before the library closed for Covid-19. So I brought it into the house, and now I think I’m hooked on listening to an audiobook while making dinner. New times, new habits. This was a good way to begin that new habit.

listeninglibrary.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 audiobook 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 Eclipse Chaser, by Ilima Loomis

Monday, May 3rd, 2021

Eclipse Chaser

Science in the Moon’s Shadow

by Ilima Loomis
with photographs by Amanda Cowan

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 80 pages.
Review written April 27, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Eclipse Chaser is part of the wonderful Scientists in the Field series, which uses the tagline, Where Science Meets Adventure. These books show actual scientists on actual expeditions. They explain what the scientists are trying to figure out, the importance of their endeavors, and the obstacles, challenges, and successes they meet with.

This book features the scientist Shadia Habbal and her expedition to get vital scientific information during the Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017. This makes the book especially pertinent, since many of the readers, like me, will have experienced that eclipse themselves.

It tells about the many other total solar eclipses Shadia has seen, how that gives her an exceptional look at the sun’s corona, and about some of the breakthroughs she has discovered in her previous work. Shaddia is studying solar winds, and to do that, she uses special filtered cameras that show the location of certain elements in the sun’s corona, as well as photos of certain iron ions that give the temperature in the corona where they’re present.

The book is full of photographs. There’s plenty of drama about setting up all the expensive equipment to take photographs in a short period of time. Since I was present for a solar eclipse in Germany in 1999 where clouds covered the sun in the last minute before totality, I was extra appreciative of those worries. We were told about past expeditions where weather wiped out all their plans.

It’s all fascinating information that helped me understand better why solar eclipses are so important for scientists. There are several photos of the sun’s corona taken during eclipses to help you grasp what they can find out and understand what they’re talking about with the term “solar wind.”

A map in the back of paths, dates, and durations of solar eclipses between 2011 and 2060 says there’s going to be another total solar eclipse in America in April 2024. We’ll want to prominently display this book on our library shelves when that event approaches.

ilimaloomis.com
amandacowanphotography.com
hmhbooks.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 How Big Is Zagnodd? by Sandra Boynton

Sunday, May 2nd, 2021

How Big Is Zagnodd?

by Sandra Boynton

Little Simon, 2020. 16 pages.
Review written December 4, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is the very first time I’m reviewing a board book. But it’s a new Sandra Boynton board book!

Honestly? I don’t often even notice the board books that come into the library because you can’t put them on hold so I can’t look them over as they come in. But today I was pulling a bag of board books for a customer (we’ve had them on an ask-for-a-bag basis during the pandemic so they don’t collect drool), and saw this one, read it and was utterly charmed.

Spoiler alert: Zagnodd is SO big!

And then we’re asked more questions about other aliens. “How long is Boknuk?”, “How fuzzy are Fleeb, Fleeeb, & Fleeeeb?”, and “How bright is Igwak?”

But the place where I laugh out loud is, “How dancey are the nimble Klorggix of Planet 9?” And after that, we see one earthling named Steve who is SO lost.

If you delight in reading nonsense words, obviously this is the board book for your family.

Sandra Boynton’s genius is in making books that are short and sweet but delight little ones and adults alike. My own 32-year-old daughter had a set of Boynton board books and I swear her first word was “Fffff!” when reading the book called Doggies that had a WOOF! on each page. How Big Is Zagnodd? is a worthy addition to her offerings.

sandraboynton.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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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 Stranger Planet, by Nathan W. Pyle

Friday, April 30th, 2021

Stranger Planet

by Nathan W. Pyle

Morrow Gift (HarperCollins), 2020. 144 pages.
Review written September 21, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a second volume of cartoons from Nathan Pyle’s webcomic about alien beings who do the things that earthlings do – but talk about them in a straightforward manner that’s hilarious.

I follow Nathan Pyle on Facebook, so I already had many favorite cartoons from this book. For example, there are a few rewritten songs that fit perfectly in the tune of the original. I’m thinking about trying “The Small Eight-Legged Creature” during Storytime at the library.

The author’s insights are devastating. The purpose of board games is: “For the group: Entertainment. But individually: Domination.” And there’s even a Library cartoon!

This structure is full of texts.
For us to purchase.
No, we simply take.
This is incredible, by which I mean difficult to believe.
Observe this: I briefly possessed this though I did not read it.
There is no shame.
There are no expectations.
They expect you to return them.
It is the core concept.

One thing I love about these beings is that gender is not obvious or indicated by their words. So the transgender friends I have wouldn’t have to worry about what their kids should call them. In fact, I’m thinking of asking my own offspring to call me “Lifegiver.”

This book delightfully points out the amusing aspects of everyday existence by showing us how they’d look if aliens did them.

nathanwpyle.art
harpercollins.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 Kent State, by Deborah Wiles

Friday, April 30th, 2021

Kent State

by Deborah Wiles

Scholastic Press, 2020. 132 pages.
Review written October 22, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This short novel in verse could almost be listed as nonfiction, because the author strives to accurately present a picture of what happened fifty years ago, on May 4, 1970, when the National Guard opened fire on college students, and four were killed and nine wounded.

The story isn’t told in one neat, tidy package. Instead, we get multiple voices. It’s not defined who’s speaking, but the voices are delineated by font and size and position on the page. We can eventually figure out who’s speaking. Some, in fact, have to work to be heard.

The effect is a well-rounded picture. I liked the way it reminded me of the conversation today around the protests in Portland. Some say they’re peaceful protestors. Others that they’re terrorists. Some say they were exercising their first amendment rights, and others that they were thugs destroying property. Some say there were outside agitators. That’s the kind of thing we find here, as Deborah Wiles lets many voices speak – fellow students, townspeople, National Guard members, faculty, members of Black United Students, students who did not agree with the protests, and more.

But the big point of the book is about the four children who died. We do get to hear a lot about them. One wasn’t even involved in the protests, but was simply walking to class. The National Guard troops who fired were barely older than the ones who were killed.

Some of the voices say that the white students didn’t really believe the National Guard would use real bullets. The black students did, so most of them heeded a warning to stay away. We get all the circumstances leading up to the deaths and then the tragic order to fire.

The opening chapter addresses the reader as a new friend who needs to hear the story. The different voices are going to tell this new friend what happened. Here’s how that chapter ends:

Let me make room for our new friend.
We don’t want to scare you away, friend.
Take the most comfortable chair.
Sit. Listen.
Make up your own mind.
Open your heart.
Here is what is most important:

They did not have to die.

Pull up a chair, take an hour, and read this book. It will open your eyes. With the author, I hope that this knowledge will help avoid future tragedies.

***

After the audiobook version won the 2021 Odyssey Award for the audio production, I decided to listen as well and add a review of that.

I can easily see why it won. The production features a full cast, and they included sound effects, especially the sound of bullets, plus original music in the transitions, music that sounded appropriate for the time of the story.

The book was narrated by a full cast, which is sometimes hard to follow, but in this case it was easier to instantly tell who was speaking and remember things they’d said before. For example, a voice representing students repeats the same line several times, and when I was hearing her voice speaking the line, I easily remembered that I’d heard that person say the same thing before. The producers did a good job of using voices that sounded different from each other — voices for students, for townspeople, for the National Guard, for the black students — and it was easier to have an idea of who was speaking from the voice than it had been from simply a change in font.

The audio production is short — only two hours — and even though I’d already read the book, I was riveted by the audio version, making the words come to life. Since the book was written in the form of unrhymed poetry spoken by different people affected, and since they did a great job with the sound effects, the audio version is the perfect way to experience this book.

deborahwiles.com
scholastic.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 The Oldest Student, by Rita Lorraine Hubbard & Oge Mora

Friday, April 30th, 2021

The Oldest Student

How Mary Walker Learned to Read

by Rita Lorraine Hubbard
illustrated by Oge Mora

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written January 23, 2020, from a library book

I know a book is worth reviewing when I can’t resist telling my coworkers about it. This is an amazing true story, beautifully told in a picture book.

Mary Walker was born into slavery in 1848. Of course slaves weren’t allowed to learn to read. She was freed when she was fifteen years old, but there was still hard work in her life. Now she was too busy to learn to read. She was given a Bible and planned to learn to read some day, but at the time she had work to do.

This picture book shows her busy life bringing up children, working in people’s homes, and raising money for her church. She’d bring her Bible to church, but she still couldn’t read it.

Mary had her three sons to read to her. But they died before she did. Her eldest son died when he was ninety-four, and Mary was alone at 114 years old.

So Mary learned to read.

She went to a class in her building, and at 116 years old received a certificate that she could read. The US Department of Education heard about her and declared her the nation’s oldest student.

Mary felt complete. She still missed her sons, but whenever she was lonely, she read from her Bible or looked out her window and read the words in the street below.

From then on, Chattanoogans honored Mary’s achievement with yearly birthday parties. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent well wishes on Mary’s 118th birthday, and in 1969, President Richard Nixon did the same. Mary was now 121 years old.

I love the way the book finishes, with an illustration of a friendly crowd clustered around Mary:

Each year, before her birthday celebration came to an end, someone would whisper, “Let’s listen to Miss Mary.”

The shuffling and movement would fade away until not a sound was heard.

Then Mary would stand on her old, old legs, clear her old, old throat, and read from her Bible or her schoolbook in a voice that was clear and strong.

When she finished, she would gently close her book and say,

“You’re never too old to learn.”

The endpapers show photos of Mary after she’d learned to read. The whole book is full of the wonderful Oge Mora’s joyful cut-paper illustrations. I’m amazed at how she conveys so much personality with simple shapes.

This book is a delight. There’s even a picture of Mary’s first airplane ride. A whole lot changed during her lifetime! And the message is clear: You’re never too old to learn.

ritahubbard.com
ogemora.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 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 Chicken Little and the Big Bad Wolf, by Sam Wedelich

Wednesday, April 28th, 2021

Chicken Little and the Big Bad Wolf

by Sam Wedelich

Scholastic Press, Spring 2021. 40 pages.
Review written March 8, 2021, from an advance reader copy sent by the publisher
Starred Review

In this book, Chicken Little, who is well known for leaping to conclusions, is knocked down by a wolf jogging by. It must be the Big, Bad Wolf! He’s certainly big anyway.

And when Chicken Little tells another chicken about it, the whole flock is all aflutter. What should their reaction be, fight or flight? And will either one work for a bunch of chickens?

While the flock is laying plans, Chicken Little decides to bravely investigate. She asks the wolf, “Are you bad?”

And the wolf answers:

Me? I don’t think so. I suppose we all have light and dark in us. . . but I try to make good choices if that’s what you mean.

It turns out that the wolf is a vegetarian, which made it hard for him to fit in with other wolves. After Chicken Little convinces the flock, they think of a way to make him feel at home.

It all adds up to a delightfully silly story about not jumping to conclusions and being willing to make others feel welcome.

scholastic.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 Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X. Kendi

Monday, April 26th, 2021

Stamped from the Beginning

The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

by Ibram X. Kendi

Bold Type Books, 2016. 583 pages.
Review written April 25, 2021, from my own copy
Starred Review

I got to hear Dr. Ibram Kendi and children’s author Jason Reynolds speak about this book at ALA Annual (Virtual) Conference in June 2020. Jason Reynolds used the research from this book to write a version for young people. Soon after the conference, I listened to the audiobook where Jason Reynolds reads his version, and I was amazed. I ordered myself a copy of the original book – and it took me much longer to read it and absorb the information.

It’s not that it’s not amazingly good and thorough and eye-opening. But it’s densely written and packed with information. I only read a chapter at a time, so it took me a long time to get through it, but I’m deeply glad I did.

This book doesn’t make me comfortable. I didn’t know much about systemic racism at all. I didn’t recognize the racist ideas that I always accepted as normal, from the time I was a kid. But wow – it is a good thing to learn about.

This is a book about racist ideas, not a book about racist people. It’s fascinating to me that the author presents that a single person can have both racist ideas and antiracist ideas. And those may change over time. It’s not that a person is hopelessly racist, but they may put forward racist ideas and act on racist ideas.

He also distinguishes between two kinds of racist ideas – segregationists and assimilationists. I’ll quote a section in the Prologue that talks about the three kinds of ideas, and this will also give you an idea of the style of the book.

In 2016, the United States is celebrating its 240th birthday. But even before Thomas Jefferson and the other founders declared independence, Americans were engaging in a polarizing debate over racial disparities, over why they exist and persist, and over why White Americans as a group were prospering more than Black Americans as a group. Historically, there have been three sides to this heated argument. A group we can call segregationists has blamed Black people themselves for the racial disparities. A group we can call antiracists has pointed to racial discrimination. A group we can call assimilationists has tried to argue for both, saying that Black people and racial discrimination were to blame for racial disparities. During the ongoing debate over police killings, these three sides to the argument have been on full display. Segregationists have been blaming the recklessly criminal behavior of the Black people who were killed by police officers. Michael Brown was a monstrous, threatening thief, therefore Darren Wilson had reason to fear him and to kill him. Antiracists have been blaming the recklessly racist behavior of the police. The life of this dark-skinned eighteen-year-old did not matter to Darren Wilson. Assimilationists have tried to have it both ways. Both Wilson and Brown acted like irresponsible criminals.

Listening to this three-way argument in recent years has been like listening to the three distinct arguments you will hear throughout Stamped from the Beginning. For nearly six centuries, antiracist ideas have been pitted against two kinds of racist ideas: segregationist and assimilationist. The history of racial ideas that follows is the history of these three distinct voices – segregationists, assimilationists, and antiracists – and how they each have rationalized racial disparities, arguing why Whites have remained on the living and winning end, while Blacks remained on the losing and dying end.

The title of the book is taken from a speech by Jefferson Davis and points out his racist, segregationist thinking. But it’s tougher to recognize that assimilationist thinking is also racist. Here’s more from the Prologue:

It may not be surprising that Jefferson Davis regarded Black people as biologically distinct and inferior to White people – and Black skin as an ugly stamp on the beautiful White canvas of normal human skin – and this Black stamp as a signifier of the Negro’s everlasting inferiority. This kind of segregationist thinking is perhaps easier to identify – and easier to condemn – as obviously racist. And yet so many prominent Americans, many of whom we celebrate for their progressive ideas and activism, many of whom had very good intentions, subscribed to assimilationist thinking that also served up racist beliefs about Black inferiority. We have remembered assimilationists’ glorious struggle against racial discrimination, and tucked away their inglorious partial blaming of inferior Black behavior for racial disparities. In embracing biological racial equality, assimilationists point to environment – hot climates, discrimination, culture, and poverty – as the creators of inferior Black behaviors. For solutions, they maintain that the ugly Black stamp can be erased – that inferior Black behaviors can be developed, given the proper environment. As such, assimilationists constantly encourage Black adoption of White cultural traits and/or physical ideals.

He admits this is a complicated book:

There was nothing simple or straightforward or predictable about racist ideas, and thus their history. Frankly speaking, for generations of Americans, racist ideas have been their common sense. The simple logic of racist ideas has manipulated millions over the years, muffling the more complex antiracist reality again and again. And so, this history could not be made for readers in an easy-to-predict narrative of absurd racists clashing with reasonable antiracists. This history could not be made for readers in an easy-to-predict, two-sided Hollywood battle of obvious good versus obvious evil, with good triumphing in the end. From the beginning, it has been a three-sided battle, a battle of antiracist ideas being pitted against two kinds of racist ideas at the same time, with evil and good failing and triumphing in the end. Both segregationist and assimilationist ideas have been wrapped up in attractive arguments to seem good, and both have made sure to re-wrap antiracist ideas as evil. And in wrapping their ideas in goodness, segregationists and assimilationists have rarely confessed to their racist public policies and ideas. But why would they? Racists confessing to their crimes is not in their self-interest. It has been smarter and more exonerating to identify what they did and said as not racist. Criminals hardly ever acknowledge their crimes against humanity. And the shrewdest and most powerful anti-Black criminals have legalized their criminal activities, have managed to define their crimes of slave trading and enslaving and discriminating and killing outside of the criminal code. Likewise, the shrewdest and most powerful racist ideologues have managed to define their ideas outside of racism. Actually, assimilationists first used and defined and popularized the term “racism” during the 1940s. All the while, they refused to define their own assimilationist ideas of Black cultural and behavioral inferiority as racist. And segregationists, too, have always resisted the label of “racist.” They have claimed instead that they were merely articulating God’s word, nature’s design, science’s plan, or plain old common sense.

Racist ideas began in fifteenth-century Europe – and were developed and promoted in order to justify slavery. In this book, Dr. Kendi traces those ideas from their origin all the way through Obama’s presidency. There’s a little bit in the Preface to the Paperback Edition about the election of Trump, but not much because it had recently happened. He does sum up what comes across in the book, that the history of racist ideas is not a simple progression:

Stamped from the Beginning . . . does not present a story of racial progress, showing how far we have come, and the long way we have to go. It does not even present a story of racial progress of two steps forward – as embodied in Obama – and one step back – as embodied in Trump.

As I carefully studied America’s racial past, I did not see a singular historical force arriving at a postracial America. I did not see a singular historical force becoming more covert and implicit over time. I did not see a singular historical force taking steps forward and backward on race. I saw two distinct historical forces. I saw a dual and dueling history of racial progress and the simultaneous progression of racism. I saw the antiracist force of equality and the racist force of inequality marching forward, progressing in rhetoric, in tactics, in policies.

When the Obamas of the nation broke through racial barriers, the Trumps of the nation did not retire to their sunny estates in Florida. They created and sometimes succeeded in putting new and more sophisticated barriers in place, like the great-grandchildren of Jim Crow voting laws – the new age-voter ID laws that are disenfranchising Black Americans in the twenty-first century. And the Trumps of the nation developed a new round of racist ideas to justify those policies, to redirect the blame for racial disparities away from those new discriminatory policies and onto the supposed Black pathology.

That gives you an idea of how dense and packed with information this book is. It includes what scholarly and popular discussions occurred at various times in American history and is backed up with amazing research. I do highly recommend approaching it the same way I did and listening to or reading the young adult version by Jason Reynolds first. That will give you the big picture before you tackle this high-level academic tome. I’m planning, in fact, to listen to the Jason Reynolds book again, in order to solidify the ideas in a more graspable form, now that I’ve dived deep.

This is an amazing work of scholarship, and I highly recommend it for every American. You’ll gain a much better understanding of racist ideas and where they came from, and your eyes will be opened to some of them that you may have always taken for granted.

ibramxkendi.com
boldtypebooks.org

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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 Amber and Clay, by Laura Amy Schlitz

Sunday, April 25th, 2021

Amber & Clay

by Laura Amy Schlitz
with illustrations by Julia Iredale

Candlewick Press, 2021. 532 pages.
Review written April 17, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

How to explain a Laura Amy Schlitz book? Except to say it isn’t like anything else you’ve read.

Amber and Clay is “the tale of a girl as precious as amber, the tale of a boy as common as clay.” That’s what the god Hermes tells us right at the front of the book. He also tells us that though the boy was a slave boy, the girl started out life lucky. That is, she was lucky, “except for one thing: she died young.”

I let that comment pass, thinking it would happen tragically soon after the book ends, but, reader, that’s not what happens. It’s also not a love story between the two, so her death doesn’t feel as tragic as it might have in that case. The link between the two of them is that the mother of the boy, Rhaskos, is the slave woman who was sold to tend the girl, Melisto.

This is a tale of ancient Greece. Throughout the book eighteen “Exhibits” are shown – archaeological findings from ancient Greece. It’s not clear, but these are probably invented findings, based on actual findings, with the texts changed for our characters. (They could be actual findings, but in that case, I don’t think the illustrator would get credit.) They give the impression that our story actually happened.

Don’t be daunted by the size of the book, because much of it is done in verse, so it reads more quickly than you’d think. The author’s note at the back reveals that she used poetic forms from the poetry of Greece. Gods and goddesses provide some perspective, and we hear about the two children, Rhaskos and Melisto. Their stories start out separate, but begin to come together after Melisto’s death.

My favorite thing about the book was Rhaskos’ friendship with Sokrates. (Which I learned is pronounced So-KRA-teez.) In their conversations, Sokrates asks questions, and we learn much about his philosophy. It also takes us through the trial and death of Sokrates. We end up with a children’s book that helps you understand Sokrates’ philosophy and makes you sad about his death – which is really quite a notable feat.

The story itself captured my mind more than it did my heart. The details about ancient Greece were so fascinating! I didn’t find the characters terribly likable at first, but they grew on me. By the end, I at least hoped for a happy ending for those who were still alive!

And the craft and research that went into creating this book were amazing. I tell people that I can’t possibly predict what any Newbery committee will select – but I have a good idea what makes a contender. I believe this book will be scrutinized by the committee as an amazing accomplishment. And if there are still kids out there obsessed with Greek mythology, this book pulls the reader fully into the daily life of ancient Greece.

Let me conclude with a section from Sokrates’ trial:

So now perhaps someone will say, Aren’t you ashamed, Sokrates, to have devoted your life to asking questions that may get you killed? And here’s my answer: When someone takes a stand, he has to hold his ground and face the danger. When I fought in the battles of Potidaea and Amphipolis and Delion, I held my ground and obeyed my commanders. And when the god tells me to live a life in pursuit of wisdom, questioning myself and others, I cannot desert my post.

candlewick.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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