The Digital Divide, Fairfax County, and E-textbooks

I came across this outstanding article about the Digital Divide the other day. I forget who posted it first on Twitter, but thank you very much! Seanan McGuire is the blog author.

I was going to copy out paragraphs to discuss here, but the entire post is so good, I would end up copying the whole thing. Here’s a crucial sentence: “Every time a discussion of ebooks turns, seemingly inevitably, to ‘Print is dead, traditional publishing is dead, all smart authors should be bailing to the brave new electronic frontier,’ what I hear, however unintentionally, is ‘Poor people don’t deserve to read.'”

Strongly put, you say? The writer definitely backs up her point and tells us why personal experience causes her to react this way.

So I was upset when I heard one of my co-workers say that, here in Fairfax County, at her daughter’s Back-to-School Night, she was told that all social studies books are now online, and they are moving to all textbooks online, “because it’s the wave of the future.”

Now, this is the same county that has drastically cut library hours. I know for certain that lots of kids get their only Internet access at the library, and that their local branch is not open every night after school. Now they can’t even read their textbooks without a computer?

I also very much hope that the people making the decisions about this have grappled with the things Seanan McGuire mentions:

“Some people have proposed a free reader program aimed at low-income families, to try to get the technology out there. Unfortunately, this doesn’t account for the secondary costs. Can you guarantee reliable internet? Can you find a way to let people afford what will always be, essentially, brand new books, rather that second- or even third-hand books, reduced in price after being worn to the point of nearly falling apart? And can you find a way to completely destroy—I mean, destroy—the resale market for those devices?

“Do I sound pessimistic? That’s because I am. When I was a kid with nothing, any nice thing I had the audacity to have would be quickly stolen, either by people just as poor as I was, or by richer kids who wanted me to know that I wasn’t allowed to put on airs like that. If my books had been virtual, then those people would have been stealing my entire world. They would have been stealing my exit. And I don’t think I would have survived.”

My co-worker’s reaction to the school’s announcement was that this will make the gap wider between the Haves and the Have-Nots. And she hadn’t even read this article! I hope the leaders of Fairfax County will think hard about the Digital Divide when they contemplate “the wave of the future” and keep from turning it into a tsunami for the many, many people in this county living in poverty.

Let me close off the same way Seanan McGuire did:

“Libraries are losing funding by the day. Schools are having their budgets slashed. Poor kids are getting poorer, and if we don’t make those books available to them now, they won’t know to want them tomorrow.

“We cannot forget the digital divide. And we can’t—we just can’t—be so excited over something new and shiny that we walk away and knowingly leave people on the other side.

“We can’t.”

Preach it, Sister!

Review of Bigger Than a Bread Box, by Laurel Snyder

Bigger Than a Bread Box

by Laurel Snyder

Random House, New York, 2011. 226 pages.
Starred Review

The more I read Laurel Snyder’s work, the more I like what she does! This is a wonderfully written story of a girl dealing with her parents’ divorce. She finds a magic bread box that will grant wishes — as long as the item wished for can fit in the bread box. But of course wanting her parents to get back together doesn’t fit in a bread box.

Now, honestly, this book was painful for me to read, because it’s too soon after my own divorce. It had me crying. I just hate what kids have to go through when their parents divorce, and that got me mad at my husband again for leaving, and that makes me realize I have more forgiveness work to do. It’s one thing to forgive him for what he did to me, but harder to forgive him for what that meant for our kids. But let’s face it. I’m doing great. Yes, my younger son had an especially hard time, but he is doing great now. We just had a wonderful evening together playing a game. Holding a grudge on his behalf will definitely not help things. (Okay, I’m talking to myself now… I digress…)

Anyway, this book doesn’t give generalizations about divorce. It doesn’t preach. But it shows how it feels to one kid in this situation. And you can’t help but notice that her parents aren’t paying a lot of attention to how she feels.

The book starts with Rebecca overhearing a fight when their power went out. This is an efficient way for the author to show us something’s up and what some of the issues are. It works very well, with the viewpoint firmly from Rebecca’s perspective. I like her observation when the power came back on:

“I stood up. I made myself walk. I kept my eyes on my feet. Even so, out of the corner of my eye I could see Mom leaning against the side of the recliner, still wearing her blue scrubs from work, her arms limp and her face all wet. Dad was sitting on the couch, staring past her at the blank TV. He looked sad too, but also, weirdly, he looked a little like he wanted to smile. I guess maybe that was because now everyone knew he had paid the power bill.”

A few days later, on Halloween, her mom takes her two-year-old brother Lew trick-or-treating, and Dad stays home with Rebecca, which is a first. But she doesn’t think much else has changed, except for her dad sleeping on the couch.

Then her mom packs them up in the middle of the week and takes them from Baltimore to Atlanta, where Rebecca’s Gran lives. She doesn’t get to say good-by to her friends, and leaving her dad is awful.

“That was how we left him, through an open car door. My mom stepped on the gas. The car began to move. My dad jumped back to the sidewalk, off balance. When I turned around, I could see him standing in the street. He was calling after us. My dad was yelling in the street for everyone to hear; then he was running behind the car. He was calling, ‘Come back! Come back!'”

When they get to Atlanta, Rebecca learns that her mom has gotten a temporary job and enrolled Rebecca in school. She doesn’t whine about it, but she does get mad. Readers can easily see for themselves that her mom isn’t thinking a whole lot about what this means for Rebecca.

When she goes to the attic to sulk, she finds a collection of bread boxes, and one is bright and shiny. She takes it down to her room and feeling homesick for Baltimore, she wishes there were gulls in Atlanta. And then she hears the cry of a gull — in the bread box!

Naturally (after shooing the two seagulls out the window), she tries out what the bread box can do. It can give her money; it can give her food; it can’t give her things that don’t exist, like a real magic wand, or things that don’t fit in a bread box like wishing she were home.

So Rebecca has to adjust to a new school, where right away everyone calls her Becky. She figures she can be a different person here, someone cool. She has the bread box, after all. She can wish for little gifts for her new friends. She can wish for an ipod and listen to music. She can wish for a little TV and watch shows under the covers.

But magic always has a catch. And when Rebecca finds out what’s really going on with the bread box, it seems like she’s in a worse fix than ever.

This isn’t a problem novel. This isn’t trying to teach anyone how to deal with divorce. But it does tell Rebecca’s story in a tough situation that a lot of kids also have to face. Rebecca has magic to help, but that doesn’t solve the real problems at all.

Now, as I mentioned, I was extra sensitive to this story. I’m afraid I cheered for Rebecca when she finally had her meltdown:

“But Mom didn’t apologize. Instead, in an angry, grown-up voice, she said, ‘I am in charge of this family, young lady, and what I do, I do for you. I only want what’s best for you–‘

“Hearing those words, I didn’t feel bad anymore. I felt justified. ‘That’s a lie,’ I said. My voice was rising, and I couldn’t help it. ‘Because what’s best for me is home, and Dad. Anyone could tell you that, even Gran. But you don’t care about that, not at all. You aren’t thinking about me, or Lew. You’re thinking about yourself, and what you want and what you need.’ I spat this last part in her face. I couldn’t believe I was talking to her this way. I meant to keep my cool, stay calm, but I couldn’t. I forgot about ‘less is more,’ and the words just flew from me like fire — and exploded into loud, angry sounds.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. The author does not present this as the solution to the problem. Like real life, the blow up creates more new problems, including hurting her mom and getting her mom angry. But I wanted it to be said, and I think it does remind her mom that she needs to consider her daughter more than she has been doing. Rebecca also gets new problems when she tries to solve the problems she inadvertently created by using the bread box.

Anyway, I liked it that someone wrote a book from the perspective of a kid caught up in the middle of her parents’ divorce. The feelings ring true. The story is compelling. And it does make you wonder: If you had a magic bread box, what would you wish for?

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Source: This review is based on an Advance Review Copy I picked up at ALA Annual Conference.


At KidLitCon in Seattle a couple weekends ago, there was a session on reviewing critically, and lots of discussion about how a critical review is not necessarily a negative review.

But then a statement about reviewing critically on the Cybils site, and a comment about book recommendations vs. critical book reviews in an excellent wrap-up article had me feeling a little bit defensive. I do only review books I like. But I maintain that by no means disqualifies me from calling them “reviews.” Yes, I’m writing recommendations, but I try to tell the reader why I liked the book.

The word that came to mind was “flavor.” I want to give my readers enough information for them to figure out if they will like the book I’m reviewing. I want to give them the flavor of the book, so they know if that’s what they are in the mood for. This is why I so often include quotations from the books I review. Then my readers can “hear” the voice the author is using and see if it appeals to them. I want people to get a feel for the book.

As a librarian, my mantra is “every book for its reader.” I don’t like to write negative reviews, since I don’t want to imply judgment of the person who enjoys that sort of book. Now, I do think that every book I review on my site has some level of excellence. (And believe it or not, despite my volume of reviews, there are some books that I read but don’t review because I don’t really recommend them.) But I want to give you enough information about the book so you can decide if it is right for you at this particular time.

Mind you, judging for an award is quite different. I enjoy the Heavy Medal blog very much, which discusses potential Newbery books, and love debating in the comments the strengths and weaknesses of the books they mention. That’s a different kind of critical thinking. After all, choosing a book for an award requires different information and different discussion than telling a friend this is a good book and I think you might enjoy it; here’s what it’s like.

To me, it’s the difference between telling someone the flavor of a cookie or critically evaluating the skill with which the cookie was made. Both are a lot of fun, and I very much hope I’ll get to be on an award committee some day. But on this blog, I’m trying to let you know all the wonderful flavors that are out there.

Review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

by Laini Taylor

Little, Brown and Company, 2011. 420 pages.
Starred Review

This book is incredible. However, I’ll tell you right up front that there was one thing I hated about it: The last three words, those horrible words: “…to be continued.”

Perhaps if I had realized this book was simply Part One, I wouldn’t have minded quite as much. As it was, I was frustrated. The characters are left in quite a fix.

However, if I had known, I might not have rushed to read this, and I’m so glad I did. I will definitely want to reread it when the next book comes out, and to get my hands on the next book just as soon as possible.

I maintain that Laini Taylor’s imagination is advanced beyond the realm of mere mortals. (In fact, the main character has hair of an unusual color, so perhaps this book is simply autobiographical?) This book creates a world out there, parallel with ours, and it takes the whole book to understand the ins and outs, the ramifications.

Karou is a student living in Prague who’s been brought up by demons. She still does errands for Brimstone, bringing him teeth. She doesn’t know what he uses the teeth for, but he does supply her with small wishes. And plenty of money to purchase the teeth.

Just to let you know, the book begins with frank sexuality. Karou’s ex-boyfriend, whom she caught cheating on her, is not-at-all-subtly trying to win her back. He gets a job posing nude in her life drawing class. Her use of small wishes to get rid of him is a lovely and brilliant example of fitting revenge.

But the rest of the book is much more serious, much more dangerous. Angels are coming to earth and placing black handprints on every door where Brimstone has a portal. Karou gets a rare opportunity to find out more about Brimstone — and he has a very disturbing reaction. She’s cut off from the only family she’s ever known.

And then, why is Karou so powerfully drawn to one particular angel?

But the overarching question, the one it takes the entire book to answer, is the one everyone’s asking her: “Who are you?” Karou doesn’t know the answers herself. When she finds out, it will make all the difference.

This is an incredible book. About love and loyalty and war and life and death. A tale not quite like any other I’ve ever read.

“It wasn’t like in the storybooks. No witches lurked at the crossroads disguised as crones, waiting to reward travelers who shared their bread. Genies didn’t burst from lamps, and talking fish didn’t bargain for their lives. In all the world, there was only one place humans could get wishes: Brimstone’s shop. And there was only one currency he accepted. It wasn’t gold, or riddles, or kindness, or any other fairy-tale nonsense, and no, it wasn’t souls, either. It was weirder than any of that.”

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2011 National Book Festival Report

This year, I had to work on the Saturday of the National Book Festival, but that worked out nicely, because this year they decided to extend the Festival to Saturday and Sunday. I was happy to attend Sunday, since that was the day Gary Schmidt would be speaking, author of the book I’m rooting for to win the Newbery Medal, Okay for Now. Since events started at 1:00 on Sunday, instead of at 10:00, as on Saturday, the event ended up being less tiring for me this year. That was a good thing, since exactly two months after my stroke, I’m still not quite up to the same energy level I used to have.

So, right after church, I headed downtown. I did arrive on time for most of Susan Cooper’s speech.

Susan Cooper is the amazing author of the Dark Is Rising series and many others, like the Boggart books and a wonderful book about writing.

She talked about the magic of reading, and how a book is the ultimate door to the imagination. She talked about the magical connection that’s made between readers and writers. And she had the whole audience shut our eyes and she led us through the reading of a poem to see a unicorn. It was a lovely talk, and I was thrilled to hear her.

Next, I went to hear Terry McMillan.

She read from her work-in-progress, currently titled You’re Telling Me? It’s going to be good! I laughed in many places, but the only line I wrote down was: “You get used to men, just like you do a household pet.” (The main character’s husband has dementia.)

Then I waited in line to get two copies of Okay For Now signed by Gary Schmidt.

I had a chance to tell him a little story that a friend of mine told me: She is a girl scout leader and was discouraged about a poor kid in her troop with NO family support. She read Okay For Now right when she was most discouraged, and it reminded her that though she couldn’t change that girl’s family, she could touch that one girl’s life. (Such a great book!)

While waiting in line, I got a good view of Garrison Keillor, also signing autographs.

Then my plan was to go to the Teen tent and sit there for the rest of the afternoon. First up, I got to hear the end of Kadir Nelson’s talk.

He told the entertaining story of how he’d dress up like the historical characters he was going to paint if he couldn’t find a model. Even the women. He says, however, that those pictures have been burned.

Patricia McKissack is someone I probably wouldn’t have gone to hear if she hadn’t been in the tent where I wanted to be. But her talk was delightful! (And that’s one thing you can be pretty sure about at National Book Festival. The speakers will be good.)

She said that she writes to tell the different story. And that she’s a listener first. She gave us the background of some of her books, like The Dark Thirty, in a most entertaining way. Then she talked about writing her first science fiction trilogy by taking the news and doing some “What-Iffing.” She started with a news article about cloning bacteria that would eat oil spills and went on to think up an entire future society where human clones are created to do certain jobs. She made clone codes based on the old slave codes of the past. Don’t teach the clones to read. Don’t let the clones gather in groups of more than three or four. She made these books sound very fascinating.

Finally, it was time to hear Gary Schmidt, the author I’d particularly wanted to hear. My phone ran out of batteries just as his talk started, so I wasn’t able to Live Tweet his speech, as I had the others. However, before it ran out, I was able to connect with Sara Lewis Holmes and sit with her, which added to the fun.

Gary Schmidt was, no surprise, a wonderfully funny speaker. He told about the real things from his life that he put into his books — like having to be in Mrs. Baker’s class every Wednesday afternoon and scraping gum off desks until the principal intervened.

He said that his books answer one question: In times like these, how does a child turn his face to adulthood?

Particularly in a culture where we don’t want children to grow up?

For the humor, he takes real things, and heightens them.

For him, it’s all about voice. He has to hear who’s talking.

Why does he do it? In a world where we throw kids away, books are companions. He told a story about visiting a group of teens in a high-security prison. Books can reach kids like that. Books provide friends.

Someone asked if his faith affects his writing, and he said that it does. He believes that grace is given to everyone. That was why he gave the father at the end of Okay for Now a small moment of grace. He’s gotten all kinds of flak about that! But he believes there’s hope for everyone.

Afterward, my friend Sara talked about how Gary Schmidt’s books are like Shakespeare — they take the ordinary and make you believe in the extraordinary. She said that with both, you shouldn’t ask if this is realistic. They take you to a place where you believe the extraordinary can happen. We were talking so much, all the people clamoring around Gary Schmidt had left, so she told him about the Shakespeare Camp she’d just been to, and then I got a picture with him and Sara.

So it ended up being a lovely afternoon. I’d been feeling quite tired and fuzzy-headed in the morning, but National Book Festival perked me right up! It did help that I stayed sitting the last few hours. But it was a lovely time to stop and hear people talk about how wonderful books are.

KidLitCon 2011

I spent last weekend in Seattle at KidLitCon and had a fabulous time!

KidLitCon is an annual gathering of bloggers who specialize in children’s books. I went when it was in Washington, DC in 09, and loved it. Last year, it was the same weekend as the Horn Book Colloquium at Simmons, and that was closer, so I went to Boston instead, and got to be a fangirl meeting Megan Whalen Turner. But this year, especially when I heard it would be in Seattle, I wanted to go to KidLitCon again.

What did I take away from KidLitCon?

1. Connection!

KidLitCon is the friendliest conference you could ever hope to attend. I figure it’s because almost no one who attends blogs for their job — they do this because they love it. So you’ve automatically got about a hundred people who love what you do. Definitely a bunch of kindred spirits!

This year, there was a special connection for me. You see, seven years ago, I posted a review of The Hollow Kingdom, by Clare Dunkle. Clare also lived in Germany at the time, and she got in touch with me, and we became friends. Clare was the one who put me in touch with Farida Dowler. Sure enough, our reading tastes made us friends and we became e-mail buddies. Later, when my marriage was falling apart, I needed friends to talk to about it who didn’t know my husband, so I could say all I needed to say without hurting his reputation. Farida provided a kind and helpful ear, and over the years I came to think of her as a dear friend.

So, at KidLitCon, I finally met her!

Here I am with my dear friend Farida, finally meeting in person! (And I was delighted when her round up of the conference also talked about how nice it was to meet!)

Some other lovely connection moments were meeting my roommate, Lisa Song of Reads for Keeps (we’d worked out the arrangements via e-mail, and she ended up being delightful); having a spontaneous dinner with Dorine White of The Write Path; and finishing off the conference with breakfast with Liz Burns, of A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, whom I first met at KidLitCon09, and saw again at two ALA conferences. But that doesn’t mention all the many interactions with so many wonderful and friendly people. From start to finish, KidLitCon is the perfect place to meet people who love what you love and are happy to meet you, too.

Here’s a lovely group of people I had lunch with:

Above are Lisa Song, Melissa Fox, Maureen Kearney, Liz Burns, and me.

Let me repeat that the people I met at KidLitCon (including the ones I didn’t get pictures of) are fantastic people! Passionate about books and reading and literacy and libraries, and just a wonderful community to be part of.

What else did I get out of KidLitCon?

2. Encouragement!

A lot of the panels were about doing what I believe I’m already doing: Blogging about both old and new books; writing reviews that tell why I reacted a certain way to a book; trying to do good with my blog. These panels were inspirational, and gave me additional ideas to do what I do even better. They rekindled my excitement about being a book blogger.

Chris Singer of Book Dads reminded us that the books you choose to review can make a difference.

The panel with Maureen Kearney, Melissa Fox, and Jen Robinson encouraged that blogging a variety of types of books can keep your passion alive.

The panel on Critical Reviews, with Kelly Jensen, Abby Johnson, Julia Riley, and Janssen Brandshaw, gave us some nice tools of things to look at when analyzing why a book worked or didn’t work for you.

Richard Jesse Watson talked about using your blog to play, to express yourself. He said, “Isn’t blogging like yodeling into the abyss?” He also said that play is one of the most important ways to rejuvenate your voice. He left me inspired to have fun with blogging and try new things.

3. Fascinating Information!

Friday night, we met a whole bunch of Seattle-area authors, as they got to talk for 90 seconds about their latest book. Of course my to-be-read list just got longer.

The Keynote Address by Scott Westerfeld on Saturday morning was wonderful. He talked about how he came up with the idea for the Leviathan series and how working with an illustrator changed how the story went. He talked about how technology changes our lives, but you can’t predict ahead of time how it will go. He showed some fan art and said that, thanks to fan art on the internet, we may be living in the age of the illustrated novel again. Another good quote: “In the west, we crazily think that illiteracy is related to pictures.”

In the panel “Moving Beyond Google Reader,” Jen Robinson gave some good instruction about how to set up a weekly or biweekly newsletter with your blog. Since that’s how Sonderbooks started, I definitely plan to follow her instructions to get back to that.

And the final panel, “Prejudice and Pride,” on Diversity, was simply amazing in all the good stuff that came out.

In the picture are Brent Hartinger, Sara Ryan, moderator Lee Wind, Justina Chen, and Sarah Stevenson.

Some quotables from that panel:

“What we are doing is art, not sociology.” — Brent Hartinger

“We’re writing a character, not an archetype.” — Lee Wind

“Do you have the right to write a character who isn’t you? YES!”

“This is a call for a plenitude of stories.” — Justina Chen

More than one author pointed out that the more stories there are about a group, the less tense people get. So the solution: Let more stories be told!

“You have tremendous power in what you choose to talk about.”

Also, we do need a certain distance from a topic, so sometimes people NOT in a particular group can tell a story better.

Remember: “People are not only one thing!”

So, that begins to tell you how wonderful KidLitCon was. I never would have gone if I’d realized I’d be recovering from a stroke, but I’m so glad I did! And it did not solve my problem of needing more sleep, and so getting way behind on blogging. However, it did remind me how much I love blogging and books and bloggers and book people. And it reminded me I’m doing it for fun, but I am also doing good while I’m at it.

Finally, big kudos to the organizers who put together a fabulous conference! Here are Jackie Parker of Interactive Reader and Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray:

Thank you so much, ladies, for planning a weekend I will never forget!

National Book Festival Tips

I’ve lived in Virginia for five years now, and I’ve been to the National Book Festival four times. The first two years weren’t as good an experience as the next two, so I thought I’d share some tips.

1. Purchase books you want signed ahead of time!

I just ordered two copies of Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt, one for me and one for a gift. This is what made me think of writing this post. This year, I have to work on the Saturday of the Festival (September 24), but this year they are extending the festival to two days, so I can attend on Sunday, which is when Gary Schmidt is speaking.

The reason for this tip? The tent where they sell books is a crowded, awful place. You will have a hard time looking at books and a long line to pay for them. They will be sold at full price. But if you are like me, you will see books you want and purchase them on a whim, only to discover that you can’t make it to the long line when that author is getting books signed. Much better: If you really want to get a book signed, purchase it ahead of time and bring it to the festival.

Last year, I didn’t get any books signed, and enjoyed the Festival tremendously, with more time to listen to authors. The year before, I got a book signed by Shannon Hale, and was unutterably thrilled when she knew who I was (from my website) as soon as I told her my name.

2. Plan your schedule.

The Library of Congress Festival website has the schedule of when each author will speak and when they will get books signed. Getting books signed will require waiting in line, probably starting before the scheduled time. If you just stroll around the festival, looking for what’s interesting, you’ll have trouble getting into a tent and you’ll miss out. And might get rained on.

3. Plan to get a good seat in a tent — and stay there!

Most years that I’ve gone to the National Book Festival, it’s been raining. Last year, instead it was blazing hot. Either way, you’ll be much much more comfortable in a tent. However, the tents do not have enough seats for everyone who wants to hear these incredible authors speak. So a couple years ago, when I very much wanted to hear Mo Willems speak, I planned to get in the tent to hear the speaker before him. Sure enough, you can usually find a seat up close when one speaker finishes, if you’re right there to grab a seat from departing people.

I discovered two years ago that if there are two speakers you want to hear who are speaking in the same tent, you will be treated to some fabulous speakers you might not have heard otherwise if you just STAY IN YOUR SEAT! Seats are gold — try not to leave once you snag one!

So those are my three big tips. I’ll see if I get new ones this year, when I’m only going to the half-day events on Sunday. Here is my post about National Book Festival from ’09, but it doesn’t look like I posted any last year, probably because I didn’t bring my camera and only took pictures on my phone. But I heard some great authors, just by sitting in a couple tents all day (in the blazing heat). I’ve got to share!

Here’s Rebecca Stead, not long after winning her Newbery Medal for When You Reach Me:

And here’s M. T. Anderson, talking about the Flame Pits of Delaware:

Anita Silvey, of the Children’s Book a Day Almanac and the book, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book:

Katherine Paterson, our current distinguished Ambassador for Children’s Books:

Here’s Judith Viorst, the author of the classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, reading the new utterly delightful book Lulu and the Brontosaurus. (Alexander himself was in the audience!)

And finally, Jerry Pinkney, now a Caldecott Medalist. I’d discovered what a great speaker he is the year before, at the National Book Festival, and have now heard him speak three times, once receiving his well-deserved medal. I love it when he takes questions from the audience, because he does so well with the children who ask questions.

Oh, and one final tip! Last year, some local book bloggers got together and had dinner in DC after the Festival. That’s a super way to finish it off. Anyone going to the Festival on Sunday? Leave a message in the comments or contact me on Twitter at @Sonderbooks! It’s a great time to get together with other book lovers.

Review of You Can Count on Monsters, by Richard Evan Schwartz

You Can Count on Monsters

The First 100 Numbers and Their Characters

by Richard Evan Schwartz

A. K. Peters, Ltd., Natick, Massachusetts, 2011.
Starred Review

When I first heard of this book, I was delighted, and rushed to order my own copy. I was even more delighted when I read the book. I requested that the library system order it as well. This book would have been absolutely perfect when my sons were young and exploring numbers. I hope I get a chance to share it with a child.

I love it so much because of my experience making my prime factorization sweater. I chose a color for each prime number, then made a chart of all the natural numbers up to 100, showing their prime factorization with colors. I loved all the patterns that resulted.

Richard Evan Schwartz uses a similar idea, but adds a lot of creativity: For each prime number, he creates a monster! Then composite numbers are shown with the monsters from their prime factorization interacting together. It’s a lot of fun to look through the pictures and see the way he’s worked in the monsters. He’s also got an arrangement of dots on each page that demonstrates more about the number and the way it’s composed.

He says he created the monsters to explain prime numbers and factoring to his daughter, and I would love to share this book with a child. You can look at it again and again.

There’s a lovely simple explanation of multiplication and factoring at the front of the book. Then he explains the method behind the monsters:

“Each monster has something about it that relates to its number, but sometimes you have to look hard (and count) to find it.”

“For the composite numbers, we factor the number into primes and then draw a scene that involves the monsters that match those primes.

“It isn’t always easy to recognize the monsters in a scene. For instance, here is the scene for the number 56. You should see three 2-monsters buzzing around one 7-monster. Recognizing the monsters in the different scenes is part of the fun of the book!”

This book would also be great support for a child learning the multiplication tables. If you visualize monsters, they’ll be much easier to remember!

Most of all, I love the way this book showcases the playful, creative, and beautiful side of mathematics. You can count on Monsters to show you just how much fun math can be!

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Source: This review is based on my own copy of the book.

Attention Math Nuts!

I maintain that I have proved my status as a Math Nut when I displayed my prime factorization sweater on my blog. (I remain very proud that when you insert the term “prime factorization sweater” in Google, my picture comes up.)

However, I haven’t posted a whole lot of mathematical content. Probably more mathematically-oriented books than most book blogs, but definitely not the majority of my posts.

But that may be about to change! Because my attention was directed to a post called The 50 Best Twitter Feeds for Math Geeks. It’s on the blog Best Colleges Online.

Anyway, these feeds sound so good (and some are the feeds of authors whose books I’ve reviewed), I will probably follow all of them. So — once I’m getting more Math News, I’m sure to pass on more Math News… We shall see…

If you are a fellow Math Nut, you will want to check out these Feeds!

Review of Radioactive, by Lauren Redness


Marie & Pierre Curie

A Tale of Love and Fallout

by Lauren Redniss

!t Books (HarperCollins), 2011. 205 pages.
Starred Review

This book is amazing, and like no book I’ve ever read before. It’s a biography, a record of love and scientific discovery, but it’s also a work of art.

There are striking images on almost every page. The artist used cyanotype printing, which she explains in a note at the back.

“Using this process to create the images in this book made sense to me for a number of reasons. First, the negative of an image gives an impression of an internal light, a sense of glowing that I felt captured what Marie Curie called radium’s ‘spontaneous luminosity.’ Indeed, the light that radium emits is a cyan-like, faint blue. Second, because photographic imaging was central to the discovery both of X-rays and of radioactivity, it seemed fitting to use a process based on the idea of exposure. Last, I later learned, Prussian blue capsules are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a “safe and effective” treatment for internal contamination by radioactive cesium and radioactive thallium. (After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, cyanotype ingredients were spread on the grass in North Wales to safeguard grazing animals.)”

The story told in the book is also fascinating. She tells how Marie met Pierre Curie and their progress in science together. She tells about Pierre Curie’s tragic death and Marie’s life afterward and continued distinguished work. Throughout the story, she provides images and clips and stories about things that happened with radioactivity later, such as Hiroshima, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl.

I had no idea how radium was touted and marvelled over when it was first developed. The Curies did not patent their findings, but others were not so scrupulous.

“A fictitious Dr. Alfred Curie was hatched to shill Tho-Radia face cream. Radium-laced toothpaste, condoms, suppositories, chocolates, pillows, bath salts, and cigarettes were marketed as bestowers of longevity, virility, and an all-over salubrious flush.

“Radium was also touted as a replacement for electric lighting. Early electric light was both brilliant and blinding. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, ‘Such a light as this should shine only on murders and public crime, or along the corridors of lunatic asylums, a horror to heighten horror.’ Even after the development of softer, incandescent bulbs, some lamented that electric light would ‘never allow us to dream the dreams that the light of the living oil lamp conjured up.’ The fragile glow of radium, on the other hand, offered a retreat into forgiving shadows and candlelit intimacy. Radium let the wistful romantic pose as champion of scientific advance. A chemist named Sabin von Sochocky concocted a luminous goulash of radium and zinc sulphide, with dashes of lead, copper, uranium, manganese, thallium (a neurotoxin discovered by chemist and Spiritualist William Crookes), and arsenic, and sold it to the public as ‘Undark Paint.’ Undark was marketed for use on flashlights, doorbells, even ‘the buckles of bedroom slippers.’ ‘The time will doubtless come,’ von Sochocky declared, ‘when you will have in your own house a room lighted entirely by radium. The light thrown off by radium paint on walls and ceilings would in color and tone be like soft moonlight.'”

The story is fascinating and surprising. The images are stunning and memorable. This book is definitely not for children, but if it were, I would think this was a sure winner of the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished picture book providing a visual experience. Spend a little time gazing at the pages of this book, and you will be amazed. Spend a little time reading the pages of this book, and you will be intrigued.

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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 the Fairfax County Public Library.