Review of Liar & Spy, by Rebecca Stead

Liar & Spy

by Rebecca Stead

Wendy Lamb Books, 2012. 180 pages.
Starred Review

Georges has just had to move; his Dad lost his job; his Mom is working extra shifts at the hospital; his best friend started sitting at the cool table; and he’s dealing with more and more bullying at school. Then there’s a post in the laundry room: “Spy Club today.” When Georges investigates, he meets a kid named Safer.

Safer and his family aren’t much like the other kids Georges knows. Safer plans to train him to be a spy. It starts with things like watching the lobbycam but goes on to checking the laundry of Mr. X, the man who dresses only in black, and progresses to breaking and entering.

I think Safer pictures a little box of evil in a corner of Mr. X’s apartment, and he thinks that if he can find it, he’ll save the world, or at least a small part of Brooklyn.

And who am I to say that he’s wrong?

This is a quiet book, but has more of what Rebecca Stead does well: quirky characters who feel just quirky enough to be real; group dynamics of classes of kids; the strange details of middle school; and especially making new friends.

This book is a lot like When You Reach Me, but without the time travel, so it’s a quieter book. The result is not as flashy, but still excellent, about an ordinary kid coping with a lot of things, and doing it with some stumbles, but coming out on top.

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely 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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of One Dog and His Boy, by Eva Ibbotson

One Dog and His Boy

by Eva Ibbotson

Scholastic Press, New York, 282 pages.

This book could have been named, A Poor Little Rich Boy and his Adventures with Five Dogs, but the actual title does tell you about the central story of one boy finding the dog who’s right for him, and that dog finding the boy.

The book begins with the boy:

All Hal had ever wanted was a dog.

He had wanted one for his last birthday and for the birthday before, and for Christmas, and now that his birthday was coming around again he wanted one more desperately than ever. He had read about dogs and dreamed about dogs; he knew how to feed them and how to train them. But whenever he asked his mother for a dog she told him not to be silly.

“How could we have a dog? Think of the mess — hairs on the carpet and scratch marks on the door, and the smell. . . . Not to mention puddles on the floor,” said Albina Fenton, and shuddered.

And when Hal said that he would see to it that it didn’t smell and would take it out again and again so that it didn’t make puddles, she looked hurt.

“You have such a beautiful home,” she told her son, “I would have thought you would be grateful.”

This was true in a way. Hal’s parents were rich; they lived in a large modern house in the suburbs with carpets so thick that your feet sank right into them and silk curtains that swept to the floor. There were three new cars in the garage — one for Albina, one for her husband, and one for the maid to use when she took Hal to school — and five bathrooms with gold taps and power showers, and a sauna. In the kitchen every kind of gadget hummed and buzzed — squeezers and coffeemakers and extractors — and the patio was tiled with marble brought in specially from Italy.

But in the whole of the house there was nothing that was alive. Not the smallest beetle, not the frailest spider, not the shyest mouse — Albina Fenton and the maids who came and went saw to that. And in the garden there were no flowers — only raked gravel — because flowers mean earth and mess.

When Hal persists in asking for a dog, his father gets a bright idea. He will rent a dog from Easy Pets for the weekend. After all, “By the time the dog has to go back, Hal will be tired of him — you know how quickly children get bored with the things you give them. He only played with that indoor space projector we got him for Christmas for a couple of days and it cost the earth.”

Well, you can imagine how well it goes over when Albina has to bring the dog back. (Hal’s father was so conveniently scheduled to leave on another trip before Easy Pets opened.)

Hal ends up running away with his dog, heading to his grandparents, who live in the north of England. But he ends up traveling with a girl whose sister worked at Easy Pets and four other dogs who also were not where they belonged.

The story includes lots of coincidences, but it’s sweet and happy and funny. Spoiler alert: All the dogs end up where they should be, but the process is reminiscent of the great adventure in Dodie Smith’s The 101 Dalmatians.

Here’s a story of great love between a dog and a boy, and best of all, no dogs are harmed in this story! Here’s a dog story that doesn’t end in tears, but with lots of smiles. Okay, maybe it’s not the likeliest of stories, but it’s a fun read.

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Source: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy I got at an ALA conference.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely 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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Sonderling Sunday – Harry Potter in Three Languages

It’s Sonderling Sunday, that time when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books. You do not have to speak German to enjoy this — I am not at all fluent myself. The fun is in getting a window into a different way of looking at things.

Tonight, I’m going to tackle three languages. Because, yes, it’s time to start in on Harry Potter. As it happens, copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in other languages were fun souvenirs my husband could buy as he traveled around Europe with the US Air Force Band. So we currently have 9 editions of the book, from 9 different countries.

From the top, this picture has a book from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, America, China, Israel, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. I’ve read four of them, the American, British, German, and French. I hasten to add that I managed to read the German and French editions with copious checks back to the original. But I thought it would be fun to add some French to this week’s Sonderling Sunday. I will refer, of course, to the original British edition, though it won’t hurt to see if I can find some differences between it and the American edition.

At first glance, it looks like the Germans translated their title from the more classical British edition, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but that the French translated from the American, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (Incidentally, I didn’t like that change. I guess they thought Americans were too stupid to know what the classical Philosopher’s Stone was?) But looking closer, the French title, Harry Potter à L’École des Sorciers means “Harry Potter at the School of the Sorcerers,” which seems like a good title, more about Hogwarts, which is really what the first book is about. The German title, Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen means “Harry Potter and the Stone of the Wise.” When I ask Google to translate “Philosopher’s Stone” into German, Stein der Weisen is indeed what it comes up with.

Let’s go on to the first chapter, first sentence. I can’t imagine figuring out all the symbols in Bulgarian, Hebrew, Chinese, or Japanese, but just for fun, I think I’ll include the Czech first sentence as well as English, German and French:

“The Boy Who Lived”

“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

Auf Deutsch:

Ein Junge überlebt (“A boy survives”)

Mr. und Mrs. Dursley im Ligusterweg Nummer 4 waren stolz darauf, ganz und gar normal zu sein, sehr stolz sogar.
(“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley at Privet Way number 4 were proud to be totally and completely normal, very proud indeed.”)

En Français:

Le Survivant (“The Survivor”)

Mr et Mrs Dursley, qui habitaient au 4, Privet Drive, avaient toujours affirmé avec la plus grande fierté qu’ils étaient parfaitement normaux, merci pour eux.
(“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, who lived at 4, Privet Drive, had always affirmed with the greatest pride that they were perfectly normal, thank you.”)

And in Czech:

Chlapec, který z?stal naživu (“The boy, who remained alive”)

Pan a paní Dursleyovi z domu ?íslo ?ty?i v Zobí ulici vždycky hrd? prohlašovali, že jsou naprosto normální, ano, d?kujeme za optání.

Fed into Google translate, this comes out: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of house number four, Privet Drive always proudly claimed that they were perfectly normal, yes, thank you for asking.”

Okay, that took lots of time, so I think that’s all I’ll do with Czech! And, of course, I have absolutely no idea how you pronounce it. I think someone decided to switch all English’s most obscure letters, like z and v, and turn them into vowels. (When we were in the Czech Republic, playing the alphabet game on the road was really fun, because it totally switched which letters were difficult and which were not. We had to find an English language truck for one of the letters that is normally simple, but all the normally hard letters were ridiculously easy.)

Going on, I’ll focus on interesting phrases. One thing I do remember from reading this: German is so logical about potions, wands, and spells. They are simply magic drinks, magic sticks, and magic words. I’m not sure we’ll get to those in Chapter One, but if I remember right, French tended to have special words, like English does. The Germans are more economical and logical in their language.

Still from the first paragraph:
“strange and mysterious”
= merkwürdige und geheimnisvolle (“noteworthy or mystery-full”)
= d’étrange ou de mystérieux (That’s almost too close to be interesting!)

= Bohrmaschinen (“boring machines”)
= perceuses

= bullig
= massif

“a very large mustache”
= einen sehr gro?en Schnurrbart
= une moustache de belle taille (“a mustache of good size”)

“for spying on the neighbors”
= zu den Nachbarn hinüberspähen
= pour espionner ses voisins

= Nichtsnutz (“nothing-use”)
= bon à rien

= undursleyhaft
= un Dursley

“shuddered to think”
(not translated directly in German, just made into a question – “What would the neighbors say, should the Potters one day cross their street?”)
= tremblaient d’épouvante à la pensée (“trembled with fear at the thought”)

“dull, grey Tuesday”
= trüben und grauen Dienstag
= mardi . . . gris et triste

“most boring tie”
= langweiligste Krawatte
= cravate la plus sinistre

“None of them noticed a large tawny owl flutter past the window.”
= Keiner von ihnen sah den riesigen Waldkauz am Fenster vorbeifliegen.
(“None of them saw the giant wood owl that flew by the window.”)
= Aucun d’eux ne remarqua le gros hibou au plumage mordoré qui voleta devant la fenêtre.
(“None of them noticed the large owl of bronze plumage that fluttered past the window.”)

“pecked Mrs Dursley on the cheek”
= gab seiner Frau einen Schmatz auf die Wange
= déposa un baiser sur la joue de Mrs Dursley

“tried to kiss Dudley goodbye”
= versuchte es auch bei Dudley mit einem Abschiedskuss
= essaya d’embrasser Dudley

“having a tantrum”
= einen Wutanfall hatte
= était en proie à une petite crise de colère
(“was suffering from a small crisis of choler” – the French make it sound so refined!)

“throwing his cereal at the walls”
= die Wände mit seinem Haferbrei bewarf
= s’appliquait à jeter contre les murs de la pièce le contenu de son assiette de céréales
(“applied to throw against the walls of the room the contents of his plate of cereal” – again, so refined.)

“Little tyke”
= Kleiner Schlingel
= Sacré petit bonhomme

= gluckste
= gloussa

“the first sign of something peculiar”
= zum ersten Mal etwas Merkwürdiges auf
= la première fois un détail insolite

“a cat reading a map”
= eine Katze, die eine Stra?enkarte studierte
= un chat qui lisait une carte routière

“a tabby cat”
= eine getigerte Katze (“a be-tigered cat”)
= un chat tigré

“a trick of the light”
= eine Sinnestäuschung (“a sense-illusion”)
= abuser par un reflet du soleil sur le trottoir (“fooled [abused] by the reflection of the sun on the sidewalk”)

= Rückspiegel
= rétroviseur
(I think I’m going to call my rearview mirror my rétroviseur from now on.)

This is a word I know well from living in Germany. We always thought it funny the German word is simpler than the English:
“traffic jam”
= Stau
= embouteillages

“some stupid new fashion”
= irgendeine dumme neue Mode
= une nouvelle mode particulièrement stupide

“a huddle of these weirdos”
= eine Ansammlung dieser merkwürdigen Gestalten
= un groupe de ces olibrius

“The nerve of him!”
= Der hatte vielleicht Nerven!
= Quelle impudence! (I like the French translation best here!)

“some silly stunt”
= eine verrückte Verkleidung
= une animation de rue

“collecting tin”
= Sammelbüchse
= la moindre boîte destinée à récolter de l’argent
(“the lower box destined to harvest money”)

And this one is given a cultural slant:
“a large doughnut”
= einem gro?en Schokoladenkringel
= un gros beignet

That’s enough for tonight! I’ll stop with visions of doughnuts, Schokoladenkringeln and beignets.

It takes much longer to do three languages, but I am finding it fun. I thought of German as the wordier language, but French really seems to draw it out with long phrases instead of long words.

Perhaps this activity is merely une animation de rue, but it’s diverting. And I never did claim to be normal like the Dursleys. In lieu of an Abschiedskuss for my readers, I’ll give my son a Schmatz auf die Wange and call it a night!

Review of Attached, by Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller


The New Science of Adult Attachment
and How It Can Help You Find — And Keep — Love

by Amir Levine, M. D., and Rachel S. F. Heller, M. A.

Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2010. 294 pages.
Starred Review

Perhaps it’s silly for me, recently divorced, to read books on relationships. But I think it’s important to figure out what went wrong and how I could do better next time, if there is a next time. There’s much here that’s applicable to any relationship, not just a romantic one, and it also gives me insight into myself and what makes me anxious. What’s more, I would love to be more secure in relationships, and this book has much to teach me about that, too.

If I ever decide to seriously date again, I am definitely going to buy myself a copy of this book. I think this is one of the best guides I’ve ever read to choosing a partner with whom you can more easily build a harmonious relationship. By the same token, if my ex-husband were ever to want to reconcile, I’d buy myself a copy of this book, in order to avoid some of the mistakes of the past, which I can see clearly written here. Meanwhile, while neither of those conditions is true, I definitely have enjoyed reading the insights this book provides.

The first paragraph of the Author’s Note at the beginning sums up what the authors are doing here:

In this book we have distilled years of adult romantic attachment research into a practical guide for the reader who wishes to find a good relationship or improve his or her existing one. Attachment theory is a vast and complex field of research that pertains to child development and parenting as well as to romantic relationships. In this book we limit ourselves to romantic attachment and romantic relationships.

Some more background from the first chapter:

Adult attachment designates three main “attachment styles,” or manners in which people perceive and respond to intimacy in romantic relationships, which parallel those found in children: Secure, Anxious, and Avoidant. Basically, secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving; anxious people crave intimacy, are often preoccupied with their relationships, and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back; avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.

Armed with our new insights about the implications of attachment styles in everyday life, we started to perceive people’s actions very differently. Behaviors that we used to attribute to someone’s personality traits, or that we had previously labeled as exaggerated, could now be understood with clarity and precision through the lens of attachment. . . .

What we really liked about attachment theory was that it was formulated on the basis of the population at large. Unlike many other psychological frameworks that were created based on couples who come to therapy, this one drew its lessons from everyone — those who have happy relationships and those who don’t, those who never get treatment and those who actively seek it. It allowed us to learn not only what goes “wrong” in relationships but also what goes “right,” and it allowed us to find and highlight a whole group of people who are barely mentioned in most relationship books. What’s more, the theory does not label behaviors as healthy or unhealthy. None of the attachment styles is in itself seen as “pathological.” On the contrary, romantic behaviors that had previously been seen as odd or misguided now seemed understandable, predictable, even expected. You stay with someone although he’s not sure he loves you? Understandable. You say you want to leave and a few minutes later change your mind and decide that you desperately want to stay? Understandable too.

But are such behaviors effective or worthwhile? That’s a different story. People with a secure attachment style know how to communicate their own expectations and respond to their partner’s needs effectively without having to resort to protest behavior. For the rest of us, understanding is only the beginning.

They talk about their quest to translate attachment theory into a practical guide that can help people’s lives.

We discovered that unlike other relationship interventions that focus mostly either on singles or existing couples, adult attachment is an overarching theory of romantic affiliation that allows for the development of useful applications for people in all stages of their romantic life. There are specific applications for people who are dating, those in early stages of relationships, and those who are in long-term ones, for people going through a breakup or those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. The common thread is that adult attachment can be put to powerful use in all of these situations and can help guide people throughout their lives to better relationships. . . .

This book is the product of our translation of attachment research into action. We hope that you, like our many friends, colleagues, and patients, will use it to make better decisions in your personal life. In the following chapters, you’ll learn more about each of the three adult attachment styles and about the ways in which they determine your behavior and attitudes in romantic situations. Past failures will be seen in a new light, and your motives — as well as the motives of others — will become clearer. You’ll learn what your needs are and who you should be with in order to be happy in a relationship. If you are already in a relationship with a partner who has an attachment style that conflicts with your own, you’ll gain insight into why you both think and act as you do and learn strategies to improve your satisfaction level. In either case, you’ll start to experience change — change for the better, of course.

Highly recommended for anyone who is in a romantic relationship or wants to be in one.

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely 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.

Review of The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art

Winning the Inner Creative Battle

by Steven Pressfield

Rugged Land, NY, 2002. 165 pages.

Well, I’m reviewing this book partly to figure out what I think about it. There’s a whole lot I agree with, and a whole lot I don’t agree with.

You’ll understand what he’s getting at right at the start of the book:

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? Have you ever bailed out on a call to embark upon a spiritual practice, dedicate yourself to a humanitarian calling, commit your life to the service of others? Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment? Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.

Now I’ve got an automatic resistance to the whole idea that if you want to create something positive, You Will Face Resistance. I don’t like the whole mystique of the Suffering Artist or Tortured Writer. In fact, I loved Jane Yolen’s book on writing Take Joy! because it said what I believe — that if you don’t enjoy the process of writing, you probably shouldn’t do it.

But I can see that sometimes we don’t do the things we want to do if we think we should do them. Actually, I began reading a book that talked about tricking yourself around that tendency. It was called The Art of Procrastination, and I didn’t get around to reading it before it was due back at the library!

So I’m not sure if I want to see Resistance as this big bad force that you will inevitably encounter. But I have to admit that the book does have some excellent tips on getting around whatever Resistance you do encounter. So does that mean I admit I do encounter some?

And in a lot of ways, he’s saying the same thing as Jane Yolen does, just in a different way. Here’s a short chapter I just turned to:


Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They’re the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.

But later he says that signing up to be an artist is signing up to be miserable, because war is hell. I don’t think I agree with that!

The second section, though, is about habits of a professional as opposed to habits of an amateur. That whole section was excellent.

I liked the chapter about how we’re all Pros already in one area: Our jobs. In our jobs, we do all these things that define us as professionals:

1. We show up every day.
2. We show up no matter what.
3. We stay on the job all day.
4. We are committed over the long haul.
5. The stakes for us are high and real.
6. We accept remuneration for our labor.
7. We do not overidentify with our jobs.
8. We master the technique of our jobs.
9. We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
10. We receive praise or blame in the real world.

The third and final section gets into more mystical things and is a little less practical. But one excellent concept it contains is the idea of having a territorial orientation as opposed to a hierarchal orientation. You don’t have to be above others to be good at what you do. The value of art lies in its existence, not in where it falls in some ranking.

On the last page of the book, you’ll find these words:

Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

Do it or don’t do it. . . .

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.

Now, as I’m writing this review, I’m in the middle of reading a book called Too Good to Ignore which says the whole “Find your passion” teaching is dangerous. Reading it is making me look at The War of Art with different eyes.

But I don’t think Steven Pressfield is telling readers to find their passion and quit their jobs and go follow it. He’s talking to people who know they have creative pursuits inside them that aren’t getting out. He’s giving them tips to fool and get around their own Resistance or maybe fight it head on and win.

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely 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.

Review of Dying to Know You, by Aidan Chambers

Dying to Know You

by Aidan Chambers

Abrams, New York, 2012. 275 pages.
Starred Review

In Dying to Know You, Aidan Chambers writes a young adult novel from the perspective of a 75-year-old writer with writer’s block, and accomplishes the surprising feat of pulling it off.

I had meant to return this book along with several others that I just wasn’t getting around to reading. But when I looked inside to get a grasp of what it was about, I was pulled in, took it back home, and couldn’t stop reading until I finished.

The writer who tells the story is approached by Karl Williamson, a young man who doesn’t read. His girlfriend Fiorella insists that Karl must write about himself if they are to continue their relationship. Now, Karl has dyslexia, and he doesn’t want Fiorella to know it. So he approaches Fiorella’s favorite writer, figuring that he can write something that will satisfy her.

Why, exactly, the writer agrees to help Karl is something we don’t fully understand at first. But no, the novel is not all about how Fiorella is deceived and finds out much later what’s going on. No, Fiorella, finds out fairly early on and isn’t happy about it. Along the way, the writer comes to care about Karl and his mother. They form a friendship that provides insights into both of them and their vocations.

In fact, this book is about much more than one boy and his relationship with a girl. There’s a lot here — vocation, love, friendship, adversity, expressing feelings, and art.

Here’s a small taste, not about a major point, just a little thought along the way:

It seems to me there are two kinds of people. There are those who prefer everything to be spelt out, clear and direct, nothing left to doubt. The others are people who prefer to read between the lines, who don’t want every i to be dotted, every t to be crossed. They need room to decide for themsleves what you mean.

I have to confess that by nature I belong to the spellers-out. But I was learning that Karl belonged to the understaters, the ambiguists.

Sometimes the spellers-out need to restrain themselves, and sometimes the understaters need to be given a hint, a clue to help them.

This book is a good story in the spelled-out sense with a whole lot under the surface to please any ambiguist.

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely 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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Cybils Round One Fun

Tonight my plan was to post Sonderling Sunday on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone looking at the translations in German — and French!

But instead, I took a longer Sunday afternoon nap than planned. And then my sister called. To say the traditional “Tomorrow we can say tomorrow is Christmas!” Yay! And then our Cybils Round One chat went way longer than I thought it would.

So next week I will plan to do an unusual tri-lingual Sonderling Sunday.

But meanwhile: The Cybils: What fun!

I’m on the Cybils Round One panel for Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy. So I’ve been reading like crazy. And still feel like a slow reader compared to the others. We had at least two people read every title nominated — at least read enough to know if they needed to read on, anyway. And we all read any title that anyone shortlisted. Or at least we will have come very close to that by the time we finalize the list.

Round One is fun because you get to read widely, and you’re going for a list, so you don’t feel too bad if one you don’t like ends up on the shortlist. If people you trust loved it, it’s probably got a lot of merit. We found our group doesn’t have a whole lot of consensus — and we haven’t made a final list yet, but discussing these books is a lot of fun. It’s always a fun challenge to be able to come up why you like or dislike a book.

The Cybils strives for a combination of literary merit and kid appeal, so besides coming up with what we like or dislike, we also tried to figure out where that was from good or bad writing and which things would matter to kids.

This is much more than my reviews. In my reviews, I admit I like to focus on recommending books and telling what’s to like about them. It’s kind of fun to tear apart books I don’t like — in the privacy of a committee where most people will never ever see it. I hope I won’t like it so much that I do that sort of thing more widely! But there is some value in figuring out precisely where a book fell short. And was it a flaw? Or simply a personal preference?

I warned them in advance, and it proved to be true: My demon is internal logic. If a fantasy book has problems with the internal logic, it really really bugs me. There were a couple books that, to me, really dropped the ball at the end. I didn’t believe the characters would act that way, or I didn’t believe the magic would work that way. And there was one that I thought was lacking in explanation of the fantasy all the way along.

But it’s nice that I’m just one person on the panel. So my personal preferences and idiosyncracies won’t dominate the list, just influence it. I think we have a nice variety of viewpoints and preferences in our panel.

We now have settled on only one book that will definitely be on our shortlist. (Not that any of us think it’s the best — just that there was one book we all agreed on.) We have several to keep for now to discuss later, and we have several more that we sent to a corner with cookies to possibly come back if the list needs rounding out. We’ll be reading and rereading and discussing again later this week.

And we will announce our shortlist to the world on January 1st! Stay tuned!

And don’t forget to tune in next week to look at Harry Potter #1 in British, German, and French!

Review of Twelve Kinds of Ice, by Ellen Bryan Obed

Twelve Kinds of Ice

by Ellen Bryan Obed
illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Boston, 2012. 61 pages.
Starred Review

It doesn’t seem like it would work in a children’s book — an adult talking about what it was like for her growing up as a child in Maine. But the story is told firmly from a child’s perspective, and it does work, completely. I’m afraid it may cause a wave of discontent across America. If I had read it as a child growing up in Los Angeles, already sad because I never got to have snow, it would have added a new thing to wish for — ice.

The story is told beautifully and simply. You’d think it would lose effectiveness because it’s about all their childhood winters, and isn’t the story of one particular year — but it stays wonderfully evocative.

And who knew it took so long before they could use their vegetable garden as a rink? The beginning “chapters” (almost more like poems) are simple:

The First Ice

The first ice came on the sheep pails in the barn — a skim of ice so thin that it broke when we touched it.

(There’s a full page illustration of three kids looking in the bucket.)

The Second Ice

The second ice was thicker. We would pick it out of the pails like panes of glass. We would hold it up in our mittened hands and look through it. Then we would drop it on the hard ground to watch it splinter into a hundred pieces.

(This time the illustration shows a girl looking through a round pane of ice.)

The different types of ice continue. There’s field ice and stream ice and black ice, where they can skate on the lake. All of those come before they’re ready to turn their summer vegetable garden into a skating rink for the entire community — Bryan Gardens.

Then the book changes. She talks about rink rules, her Dad’s skating tricks, skating parties, and having a big Ice Show. Here’s a chapter from later in the book:

Late-Night Skate

After homework was done, after Dad had flooded, after lights were out in neighbors’ houses, my sister and I would sometimes go out for a skate. Late-night skates were more exciting than daytime skates. We were alone with our dreams. We would work on our figure eights. We would work on our jumps and spins. We would put on music and pretend we were skating before crowds in a great stadium. We would try out moves that we’d seen figure skaters doing on television or in a picture in the newspaper. We were planning and practicing for some distant Olympics.

This is a lovely little book. It’s short and not intimidating, but it’s going to be hard to know which children might be interested in it. It will be a good choice for readers beginning with chapter books. There’s definitely not an action-packed story, but the reader who tackles it will be drawn into a world of anticipation, joy, and skill. I’m looking forward to finding out what kids say about it at our Mock Newbery Book Club in January.

I’m not sure what to call this book. My friend who grew up in Maine says things aren’t like that any more there, so I think the closest category is Historical. I’ll probably cop out and call it a beginning chapter book, since it’s so short, has lots of pictures, and is non-threatening. It pulls you into a time where children’s activities were centered around the world outdoors. Even reading about such a time and place is refreshing.

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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.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely 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.

Prime Factorization Blanket – Second Row

I’ve finished the second row of numbers (third row of rectangles) in my Prime Factorization Blanket!

The fun part was that my brother and his wife found out on the 17th of December that their baby is a girl. So, since I was coming up on the prime number 17, I chose to use pastel pink to represent 17. For good measure, I used a pretty rose pink to represent 19.

I only hope that having all that turquoise blue won’t make people think it’s a blanket for a boy, but I’m hoping it’s multicolored enough, it won’t give that idea.

I couldn’t manage to write in all the numbers on the picture, like I did after the first row, but in real life I assure you, you can tell when there are two factors of the same prime.

So here’s how you read the blanket:

The bottom row starts with a blank space for 0.

1 is the same as the background color, since 1 is a factor of every number.

2 is turquoise blue.

3 is yellow.

4 = 2 x 2, so two sections of turquoise.

5 is green.

6 = 2 x 3, so a section of turquoise and a section of yellow.

7 is purple.

8 = 2 x 2 x 2, so three sections of turquoise.

9 = 3 x 3, so two sections of yellow.

Then I did a row of white rectangles (diamonds). Second row of color:

11 is red.

12 = 2 x 2 x 3, so two sections of turquoise and one of yellow.

13 is brown.

14 = 2 x 7, so a section of turquoise and a section of purple.

15 = 3 x 5, so a section of yellow and a section of green.

16 = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2, so four sections of turquoise.

17 is Pink!

18 = 2 x 3 x 3, so a section of turquoise and two sections of yellow.

19 is rose pink.

Next I’ll do a row of white rectangles, then start the next row with 20. The primes in that row will be 23 and 29, so I’ll have to bring in two new colors.

The color sections will show up better after I’ve knitted the white rectangles, but I was impatient to show what I’ve done!

I’m very pleased with how this is turning out. I may have to make myself a Pascal’s Triangle Shawl when I’m done….

My posts on Mathematical Knitting and related topics are now gathered at Sonderknitting.

Review of Feynman, by Jim Ottaviani


written by Jim Ottaviani
art by Leland Myrick
coloring by Hilary Sycamore

First Second, New York, 2011. 266 pages.
Starred Review

How to make the life and work of a brilliant, if quirky, physicist accessible to the general reader? Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick have done an amazing job by putting the biography in graphic novel form.

Not only do they present the scope of Richard Feynman’s accomplishments, including such a wide variety from work on the atomic bomb to work on the committee investigating the space shuttle’s explosion, they also present the basic idea of some of his pioneering concepts in physics. And they talk about his personal life, including his first wife who died not too long after their marriage, and his defense of a man who was running a strip club, and his decision to give up drinking.

The one thing I didn’t like? It was hard to tell apart all the physicists in their shirts and ties. I finally got to where I could spot Feynman by his crazy hair, but that was about as far as I got.

However, this book inspired me to want to read more about Feynman, and it was a fascinating and interesting story in its own right. It didn’t inspire me the way Feynman’s Rainbow did, but it was another side to a man who made a big difference on our planet.

This is Teen Nonfiction, and I decided to post it on the regular nonfiction page rather than the Children’s Nonfiction page, because even in the graphic memoir format, it’s going to go way over the heads of most children, but most adults won’t mind reading a comic book about a great scientist.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely 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.